[CtE] Bears and Bunnies

“You like him, don’t you?”

Snarl looked up from the circuit board he was welding and blinked at the mech leaning into his personal space. Small blue grounder, with a visor, somewhat defensive posture and a field Snarl had made himself memorize.

“What you Breakdown say?” It came across more aggressive than he intended, but Snarl hadn’t managed to find that nice middle ground between hostility and calm.

Breakdown’s faceplate visibly flushed, the natural red darkening in hue. “Knock Out,” he clarified, and his engine gave a little rev. “You like him.”

“Me Snarl think that obvious.” Snarl snorted and returned his focus to the circuitboard. He’d promised he’d have it done before he left for the day. “Of course me like him Knock Out.”

“No. I mean…” Breakdown cycled a vent and scratched his chin, like he found words difficult. “You want to… to partner him. Right?” He leaned closer, energy field all scratchy and anxious, and this was probably the closest he’d dare get to Snarl.

Breakdown was like a little rabbit, Snarl thought with an internal laugh. He frightened easily, and he ran when startled, and his visor got big and hopeful when he was trying to be earnest. Adorable. Snarl wanted to pet him.

With permission, of course. Grimlock had sat down and very painstakingly gone over what consent meant and how to obtain it and what Snarl was and wasn’t allowed to do. Grimlock had also admitted, with a flush of shame, that a lot of what they’d figured out for themselves was wrong. Snarl suspected Grimlock had learned that lesson the hard way.

Perhaps by sharp and angry Seeker talons.

Snarl carefully finished soldering the circuit before he set down the iron. This was going to be a delicate conversation. Maybe uncomfortable. He’d seen the way Breakdown looked at Knock Out, and he knew how other Cybertronians tended to view relationships.

The solution was obvious, but some people were oblivious. Sometimes, it took a Dinobot to see what everyone else had missed.

“Him Knock Out smart and pretty. Me Snarl like him,” Snarl confirmed as he swiveled to face Breakdown, trying not to loom and scare the bunny.

“That’s what I thought.” Breakdown slumped like he’d just been rejected by Knock Out himself. He tapped his fingers together. “It’s just–”

“You Breakdown like him Knock Out, too,” Snarl supplied. He figured if he left it up to Breakdown, they might be sitting here all night while Breakdown said everything but what he’d come to say.

Breakdown’s head snapped up and his visor flushed a rosy pink. “Yeah, but…” He shrugged helplessly, trailing off, his field buzzing with assumed rejection.

Time to be obvious.

“Me Snarl like him Knock Out,” Snarl said as he rapped his fingers over his thighs. “But like you Breakdown, too.” He paused and gave Breakdown a pointed look, gaze flicking up and down the little speedster’s frame. “You cute.”

Breakdown squeaked, like the cute bunny he was. “I am?”

“Me Snarl no lie.” He grinned, maybe a bit too big because it showed off his denta, but funny how that never seemed to bother Breakdown. Well, once he realized Snarl wasn’t going to bite and/or eat him.

Though if this whole relationship worked out, biting might come back into the picture. Just a little nibble. Here and there. Breakdown’s fingers demanded small kisses, and Snarl really wanted to get a taste of his intake.

Breakdown, however, sagged and slumped into the empty seat at Snarl’s side, the one Knock Out occasionally used when he came by to watch Snarl work. “Dinobots are weird,” he said as he rubbed at his forehead.

Snarl snorted. “Me Snarl think everyone else weird.” Dinobots were the only sane ones. It took Grimlock to take down Megatron, and he’d been the one saying how off the whole situation with the humans was to begin with.

Cybertronians could be so blind sometimes. So wrapped up in their past and their heads that they couldn’t look past it. They needed the Dinobots, if you asked Snarl. Someone needed to make sense around here.

“Of course you do.” Breakdown chuckled and leaned against the desk, propping his head on his fist and his elbow on the edge. “So. Sharing, huh? Just how do you think that’s gonna work anyway?”

“Patience. Talking. Agreement.” Snarl grabbed his soldering iron again and bent over the delicate circuit. He still had a lot of work to do before Knock Out returned. “You Breakdown no want?”

“I didn’t say that.” Breakdown whooshed a vent, and his field tentatively reached for Snarl’s. “It’s just weird. Never thought about you like that.”

He sounded preoccupied, but Snarl noticed he was inching closer. Like he was considering touching Snarl. But he was also Breakdown, a scared little rabbit, and he wasn’t one to make the first of any kind of move. He must have been gathering the courage for this little conversation for weeks. Maybe even months.

Snarl attached another important bit and vented over it, blowing the thin curl of smoke away. It looked perfect, so he set the solder aside and returned his attention to Breakdown, who had inched even closer, until their arms brushed. The electric contact of their fields sent a wave of heat up Snarl’s spinal strut.

Brave little bunny.

Snarl turned toward Breakdown and scooped the smaller mech up with barely any effort. Breakdown squeaked in surprise, his visor flaring brightly, even more so when Snarl plopped the part-combiner in his lap. Breakdown went still, his mouth dropping open in surprise.

Snarl really wanted to kiss him.

“There,” Snarl said as he cupped Breakdown’s face with both hands. Gently, of course, because his hands were big and strong enough to crush Breakdown’s head if he weren’t careful. “Now you say if okay.”

Breakdown visibly swallowed, and his energy field went all liquid and warm against Snarl’s. “Okay,” he said. He darkened his visor and pursed his lips in what Snarl assumed was an invitation for a kiss.

Snarl chuckled quietly. Breakdown was adorable and no one could convince him otherwise.

He brushed his lips over Breakdown’s, catching a hint of those sour-sweet candies he was often nibbling on. He flicked his glossa out, getting a deeper taste of the rich treat. Mmm. As sweet as Breakdown himself.

Breakdown’s vents audibly caught and then suddenly, he threw his arms over Snarl’s shoulders and leaned into the kiss, returning it with a ferocity that surprised Snarl. His glossa plunged into Snarl’s mouth, aggressively sweeping around, albeit a bit unskilled. But Snarl liked his determination!

He swept his hands down to Breakdown’s hips, cupping the small aft, tugging Breakdown a little closer to him. Their armor came into delicious contact, Breakdown’s field sliding shivery and hot against Snarl’s.

Breakdown’s engine gave a little rev and he pulled back from the kiss, though reluctance flicked through his field. “Okay,” he said, visor bright as his glossa swept over his lips. “I think I can get used to this.” He grinned.

Snarl bounced the speedster in his lap, making Breakdown squeak and clutch him harder. “Good,” he said. “Now we convince him Knock Out.”

“He can’t ignore both of us.” Breakdown giggled.

Snarl was charmed. Most Cybertronians didn’t giggle. It was unseemly or something. But Breakdown had gone from half-afraid to completely at ease, and he was so relaxed in Snarl’s lap. Maybe that meant he wasn’t afraid to be himself.


“Nope!” Snarl enunciated the word with a pop of his lips. “But now me Snarl finish circuit board,” he said with a squeeze to Breakdown’s aft, preparing to lift the speedster back to his abandoned chair. “We tackle him Knock Out later.”

“Okay.” Breakdown nibbled on his bottom lip, and his fingers tickled at the back of Snarl’s neck. “One more kiss though? For, you know, practice.” He grinned, and there was in it, the sly edge of a Decepticon.

Snarl rumbled a laugh and sealed his lips over Breakdown’s, indulging in the sweet taste of him. Though if he wasn’t careful, he’d let his indulgence carry on for too long, and Dinobots weren’t really that great at avoiding temptation.

Snarl had only to look at his other brothers for proof.

It was okay. Phase one of his plan to acquire a pretty speedster on each arm was now complete. Next, he just had to convince Knock Out. Should be easy. Everyone knew that Dinobots were irresistible. Besides, Knock Out needed someone looking after him just like Breakdown did.


It was win-win-win.


[IDW] Get Around This

The meditative lessons start out as an innocent, inoffensive hobby. A way to present himself as harmless to his new crew. He doesn’t expect much from it, and is pleasantly surprised when more than a handful show up to his first class.

Most don’t even snicker. Much.

Drift guides them through the easier of the poses, the moments of silence, and the meditative exercises. He hands out sample bags of incense and energy crystals and copies of his future schedule in case anyone wants to attend further lessons.

After a few months, someone asks him about instructional videos, for the busy mech who misses a lesson or two, or just wants to try it on his own. Drift figures it can’t hurt and tapes a few of the basics, plus a couple routines depending on the desired effect. He sells them, not that he needs the creds, and makes a tidy sum. He tucks his earnings away because he learned that lesson the hard way.

Then Huffer asks if Drift has any alternative remedies for his achy joints, and Drift teaches him a few things the residents of Crystal City taught him. Huffer blabs, as Huffer does, and the next thing Drift knows, he’s got a client list longer than his Great Sword. Every last one of them are interested in methods to treat their aches, pains, and maladies without relying on script chips or welds or replacements.

Or Ratchet’s scathing criticisms.

Ratchet doesn’t seem to mind that some of his patients have hared off to Drift’s unlicensed, alternative practice. Especially when all the whining, hungover mechs start banging on Drift’s door first thing in the morning instead of his.

Drift still refers the serious cases to Ratchet, an actual medic, but if someone wants to treat their rustmite infection with electrolysis instead of a stasis bath complete with Ratchet Lecture™, well, Drift lets them. It helps that they have no problem shoving handfuls of creds into his hands.

He hadn’t set out to be some kind of alternative solutions guru, but that’s what he’s become. His crew likes him better for it, and Drift admits he likes feeling less like the odd mech out, the once-Decepticon just waiting to snap.

The downside is time, or rather, his increased lack of it. With his duties as third in command, his burgeoning relationship with Rodimus, and now this unexpected business, something has to give. He’s taken on far more than he can fit into a schedule already packed to the brim.

It isn’t until Rodimus starts pouting that Drift realizes which of the three obligations he’s unconsciously deemed the ‘least important.’ And by then, he wonders if it might be too late.


It’s supposed to be a hobby. Something to pass the time and keep him from thinking about the past so much. Drift slides from one obsession to the next. It’s a thing that Drift does. Rodimus knows this.

He doesn’t expect Drift’s hobby to be anything more than that.

Until it suddenly becomes a Thing™. A Thing that takes Drift’s time and attention away from Rodimus, has him giving both to other members of the crew who aren’t Rodimus. Crew members who wouldn’t have given a damn about Drift before, and still wouldn’t now, except that Drift is suddenly useful and non-threatening.

Rodimus has spent so long urging Drift to put his past behind him, and now he’s having a hard time convincing Drift to even look at the future.

Or at least, a future that seems to have Rodimus in it.

There are only so many missed dates, forgotten moments, promises to return calls that aren’t actually returned, before a mech starts to get desperate.

And sitting here, blowing out candles as the special energon congeals into a sticky, unappetizing clump, Rodimus starts to feel desperate. This is the third time in a row Drift has stood him up, without so much as a comm or a message.

He’s not on shift, Rodimus checked. Which means someone has come to him with their idea of an emergency, and Drift hasn’t learned the meaning of the word ‘no’. Not when he’s trying so hard to get people to like him.

Rodimus growls out a sigh and shoves to his feet, denta grinding so hard he can taste the sparks on his glossa. He misses his lover. He misses laughing. He misses Drift, frag it.

He activates his comm, the anger broiling inside of him, and waits for Drift to pick up. He taps his feet, and switches his weight from one hip to the other, and gets sent to voicemail twice before Drift actually picks up. The gall!

“Rodimus, what’s wrong? Is it an emergency?”

Rodimus grinds his denta again. “Do you have any idea what time it is?” he demands and is proud of himself for managing not to snarl or hiss.

Drift chuckles, like Rodimus is calling to tease him or make a joke. “Of course I do. Why? Is your chronometer broken?”

“No, but yours must be!” Rodimus snaps, and throws his arms into the air, even though Drift can’t see it. “Dinner. Tonight. My place. Does that ring a fragging bell?”

Great. He’s already yelling. There goes his intention to address this in a calm, rational manner. Hah. Who’s he kidding? He’s past the point of being calm.

There’s a moment of silence before Drift hisses a ventilation. “Oh, frag. That was tonight? I’m sorry, Roddy. I had a late appointment and–”

“Save it,” Rodimus bites out, because he’s tired of this. Tired of the excuses and the apologies and the explanations.

Late appointments. It’s always a late appointment. Maybe one he shouldn’t have made in the first place given that they had a date!? One they set a week ago, no less, when Drift’s schedule finally had some room in it for Rodimus.

Drift sighs, sounds faintly irritated. “Look. I’m sorry, okay. I’ll make it up to you. Dinner tomorrow?”

This is starting to sound familiar. Rodimus feels like he can quote Drift’s answers by now, they’re so common. It’s always “I’ll make it up to you” until he forgets that date, too. And the one after that.

Rodimus can’t remember the last time he actually spent extended time with his so-called lover, time that wasn’t interrupted or longer than a stolen frag in a storage closet. It’s always one thing or another, and that one thing is never as important as Rodimus.

Hurt twinges in his spark. He shoves it down and buries it with anger.

“Don’t bother,” Rodimus snaps, and there goes the rest of his patience. “You won’t show up for that either.”

He ends the comm in the middle of Drift’s reply, his spark pounding in his chassis. Rodimus sends any further calls to his voicemail and slumps back into a chair, burying his face in his hands. What the frag is he supposed to do now?

How is he supposed to spend any time with Drift if Drift is always working? Rodimus gets it, he does. Drift is glad people aren’t cringing when he comes near now, and he’s glad they’re actually listening to him, and maybe people are still whispering, but it’s not half as bad as it used to be.

Rodimus gets it.

He’s still not happy about it.

He just wishes Drift would make a little time for Rodimus in his busy schedule.

Wait. Schedule.

Rodimus sits up straight. Maybe it’s time for something non-conventional, a little drastic even.

If Drift doesn’t have time for Rodimus because he’s so busy with his clients, Rodimus will just have to become a client, too. Drift will have to pay attention to him then.

Rodimus scurries over to his console, drops down in the chair, and powers up the main intranet. He spends a few minutes searching for Drift’s Alternative Medicine page, and finds the self-scheduler. He picks the first available slot tomorrow – Hound won’t mind covering for him, right? This is important.

Appointment set, Rodimus flops onto his berth. He might as well recharge since there’s no point in staying awake. Drift’s not coming tonight, and his dinner is ruined.

Tomorrow had better be a better day.


Tomorrow is not a better day.

Rodimus shows up for his appointment bright and early. Ultra Magnus would admire his timeliness, that’s how on-time he is. He sits in the chair placed outside the door of the room Drift had appropriated for his office and he waits, optics on his chronometer.

He grins and waves as a few mechs pass him in the hall, giving him confused, startled looks. Frag them. So what if Rodimus has to make an appointment to see his lover? Doesn’t everyone?

The door opens, and Huffer emerges, peering carefully at some instructions printed on plastifilm. He’s muttering to himself and doesn’t even notice Rodimus, too busy scowling at the small print.


Rodimus leaps up from the chair and strolls into Drift’s office, his spoiler at a jaunty tilt on his back. “Good morning!” he chirps.

Drift looks up from his datapad with a frown. “Rodimus, I have a client right now.”

“Yeah. I know. You’re looking at him.” Rodimus flops down on the ridiculously comfy sofa Drift had dragged in here, wriggling to get comfortable. Damn, he needs one of these for his quarters. Seriously.

Drift’s optics narrow. “You made an appointment?”

“How else am I going to see you?” Rodimus lounges across the sofa, stretching his arms over his head, trying to catch the angles of the light to highlight his newly waxed armor. “How does it go?”

He widens his grin and puts on his best, theatrical performance. “Doc, you gotta help me,” he pleads with a wink at Drift. “I’m feeling oh so lonely lately, and I just don’t know what to do.” He slides one hand down his frame and cups his array for emphasis.

He waits for Drift to laugh.

Drift doesn’t.

If anything, he glares at Rodimus, and there’s just a bit of Deadlock behind that glare. “What the frag do you think you’re doing?”

“Whining to you about my troubles. Isn’t that what everyone else does?” Rodimus sits up and slouches in the sofa, slinging his arms across the back of it and spreading his thighs. Can’t help but show off the goods, maybe that’ll entice his lover back.

A low growl emerges from Drift’s engine. “Everyone else has a legitimate reason for being here,” he bites out. “So why are you wasting my time?”


Rodimus mouths the words. Wasting.

He grinds his denta and grips the back of the sofa, feeling the plush fabric beneath his fingertips. “Wasting,” he repeats aloud. “I scheduled this time, you fragger. How can I be wasting it when I went through all the proper avenues and everything!?”

“Someone who actually needs to see me could have used this time, Roddy,” Drift retorts, sounding exasperated and irritated. His finials twitch, optics flashing, and yeah, he’s definitely edging toward Deadlock territory there.

Pfft. Rodimus isn’t afraid of that anymore. Especially not now. He’s too angry to be afraid. No, he’s past angry. He’s furious.

He loses the humor. The act. He frowns.

“Maybe if you actually showed up for a date once in a while, I wouldn’t have to resort to this,” Rodimus snaps.

Drift pinches the bridge of his nasal ridge. “I apologized for that.”

“I’m tired of apologies. They don’t mean anything anymore.” Rodimus chews on his bottom lip, aware that the last came out more of a whine. He hadn’t wanted to sound like a spoiled sparkling, but there he goes anyway.

Frag it.

“I just… damn it. What’s wrong with wanting to see you?” Rodimus demands. He snaps his knees back together and lowers his arms, drawing into himself. “You don’t have time for me anymore.”

Drift leans back in his chair, looking tired and old, like he’s Ratchet or something. He’s been playing this game so long, he’s even fooling himself, isn’t he?

“I have responsibilities,” Drift says. “You should understand that. You’re captain of this ship. You should be just as busy.”

Rodimus’ mouth drops open. Did Drift just… chastise him? For not doing his job?

For a moment, Rodimus has no words. All he can do is splutter, outrage mixing with anger and hurt cresting all of it, until the first thing he spits are words he shouldn’t have.

“Your real job is being third in command of this ship!” Rodimus jumps to his feet, agitation making his plating clamp and flare intermittently. “This stupid stuff is just a hobby! And these mechs you’re so dedicated to? They don’t care about you! All they care about is what you can do for them. They don’t even like you!”

He knows he shouldn’t have said it the moment the words leave his lips. The way the color drains from Drift’s face tells him that. As does the thin line of his mouth as his lips press together. Hurt flares in Drift’s field, before the rest of his emotions are dropped down behind a Decepticon-thick iron wall.

It’s all true. But he shouldn’t have said it. Not that way at least.

“Please leave,” Drift says, his tone tight, his fingers creaking where they grip a stylus. “I have another client soon, and I have to prepare for them.”

“Fine,” Rodimus says, because he’s in too deep so he might as well keep going. His optics are hot, and he simultaneously wants to spill apologies and scream that it’s not his fault, that if Drift only paid him some attention, they wouldn’t be here. “I won’t come back either.”

He storms out, the door rattling open and shut as if obeying his sudden urgency to be far away from Drift. He’s in such a hurry, he nearly collides with Recurve, who’s loitering in the hallway for some reason. It’s not like he has an appointment. Recurve’s not one to believe in that alternative stuff.

“Whoa there,” Recurve says with a laugh as Rodimus brushes past him and stomps down the hall. “What’s the matter with you? Usually mechs walk out of Drift’s office looking like they just won the lottery.”

“Frag off!” Rodimus snarls. And then he can hear Ultra Magnus’ chastisement at the back of his processor.

Captains are polite, Rodimus. Captains respect their crew, Rodimus. Captains don’t use vulgar language, Rodimus. Captains don’t storm down the halls, Rodimus.


Rodimus heads straight for Swerve’s. This time of the shift, it’s probably deserted, but it’s not like he wants company. He just wants to drink and bleed off his misery into some high grade.

He grabs the first available seat at the bar, and Swerve wordlessly puts his preferred drink in front of him, maybe scared off by the fury in Rodimus’ field. Usually the little chatterbox has something to say, but not this time. Instead he flounces down to the other end of the bar to flirt (hopelessly) with Skids.

Rodimus sucks down his first drink faster than is wise. Swerve refills it without a word and leaves him to his misery. This one, Rodimus drinks a little slower, the heat in his belly practically ice compared to the heat of anger in his lines. Drift’s words keep echoing in his head, and every time the shame of snapping at Drift crops up, he viciously shoots it down with hurt.

Behind him, the group of mechs at a table laugh. They’re getting louder and louder, and Rodimus has been mostly ignoring them, until he catches a bit of their conversation.

“–seen the way he can bend? Now that’s a racecar I want to ride,” one of them says.

Rodimus’ optics narrow. He half-turns, just enough to see over his shoulder, trying to match face to name.

“Ought to be a law against looking that good,” another one says with a coarse laugh. “Though I hear part of that’s his rebuild in Crystal City. They make ‘em pretty there.”

“You’d have to be pretty, I guess, to survive in the Decepticons,” Idiot Number One comments with a leer. He licks his lips.

Rodimus stiffens. He knows exactly who they’re talking about. Drift, of course. He’s sexy, Rodimus knows that. He’s got a pretty build and a reputation for being easy, not that he is, but rumors like that die hard.

“I spent nearly all my money buying a copy of every volume of those vids,” Idiot Number Two says. He smirks and waggles his orbital ridges. “Best inspirational creds ever.”

“You gotta let me borrow them.”

“Get your own service mags!”

“Well, they’re not wrong,” Swerve says from behind Rodimus, sweeping up his second empty cup with a little laugh. “Get you another, captain? Or maybe you’re after one of those vids they’re talking about, eh? Or aren’t you getting the private show?”

Rodimus snarls and shoots to his feet, the stool clattering as it tips over behind him. “That’s none of your business,” he snaps. “And Drift’s not some… some… some buymech you can all ogle as you please. So just stop it!”

He whirls on a heelstrut and stomps out of Swerve’s. The light buzz from his high grade is gone, burned from his outrage, and what little solace he’d found is gone, too. He’s still angry, now at Drift, now at his crew, now at everything. He doesn’t want to go back to his quarters to sulk, but he doesn’t know what else to do?

How is he supposed to fix things?

This is all Drift’s fault. Drift and his stupid Alternative Medicine nonsense, which is, by the way, illegal and unlicensed. How the frag hasn’t Ultra Magnus shut it down already? Why hasn’t Ratchet?


Rodimus skids to a halt in the middle of the corridor and changes direction. Ratchet. If there’s anyone who can get Drift to see reason, it’s Ratchet. Drift’s got a weird deference to Ratchet sometimes, like he thinks of Ratchet as some kind of mentor he doesn’t want to disappoint.

Rodimus doesn’t know the full story behind that. There are still some parts of himself that Drift likes to keep, well, to himself. He’s so close-mouthed! It makes it hard to figure out what he’s thinking. He keeps laughing things off with a smile, like Rodimus can’t tell how much he’s hurting behind it all.


Rodimus seethes as he stomps toward the medbay, ignoring others in the hallway as he passes them. Ultra Magnus would probably chastise him for that, too. He should be friendlier. He should keep his emotions in check. He should be polite. Captain’s don’t stomp, Rodimus.

Nag, nag, nag.

The main entrance to the medbay gives a cheerful chime as Rodimus steps through it. He doesn’t see First Aid anywhere, but he spies Ratchet in his office, perched behind his desk and looking, for all the universe, as though he’s napping. Must be a slow day. No idiots Lobbing in the halls or playing catch with live grenades.

Not that, you know, Rodimus is guilty of either of those or anything.

Rodimus charges through the open door without so much as a by your leave and drops down in the empty chair across from Ratchet’s desk. He makes a very loud huff, stomping his feet on the floor as he does so.

One of Ratchet’s optics online, the other remains dim. It’s kind of creepy. “Strange. You don’t look injured or bleeding,” he says.

Rodimus snorts. “Not on the outside.” He jabs an elbow on the arm of the chair and sets his chin on his knuckles.

Both of Ratchet’s optics online, and he straightens with a languid, creaky stretch. “Trouble in paradise, I presume?”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Rodimus mutters and kicks out petulantly. “Do me a favor and exert your authority as Chief Medical Officer. Make Drift shut down his little alternative medicine business.”

Ratchet arches his orbital ridge. “And why would I want to do that?”

“Because I’m the captain, and I told you to.”

It’s Ratchet’s turn to snort. “Right. Because I’m known for obeying your commands without question.” He sags back into his chair with the sort of tired slump of the old and rusting. One hand gives an arrhythmic rap of his fingers. “Besides, what makes you think he’s going to listen to me anyway?”

“He looks up to you,” Rodimus says. “He’ll listen to you.”

Ratchet gives him a long look. “Right.” He rolls his optics and his shoulders both. “We both know that isn’t going to happen. Tough break, kid. It just isn’t up to me.”


“Nope!” Ratchet holds up both his hands in a gesture of full-stop. “I’m staying out of this. You want his attention, then talk to him. Don’t come to me.”

Rodimus’ engine revs. “I did talk to him.”

“Actual talking, Rodimus.”

“I used words!” Sure, they were angry words, but they were still words. It’s not his fault Drift doesn’t want to listen to him or pay him any attention.

Ratchet groans and scrubs a palm down his face. He’s got the look he gets when handfuls of the crew show up in his office, hungover and begging for a cure. “Look, Rodimus, I have work to do.”

Rodimus scoffs. “Like what? Another nap?”

Ratchet glares at him through his fingers. “Don’t you have some meteor surfing to do?”

Ah. Point taken. As angry as Rodimus is, it won’t do any good to take it out on Ratchet. If the medic doesn’t want to help, Rodimus can’t make him. Best to retreat while he still can.

“Fine.” Rodimus lurches to his feet and sets his jaw. “I’m going.” He whirls around and stalks out, feeling no more enlightened then when he’d first arrived looking for answers.

There’s no help to be found anywhere.

Rodimus sighs and cycles several ventilations. He doesn’t want to go back to his empty quarters, where the echoes of another failed date still hang in the air. He’s not going to try and comm Drift, that’s pointless. He’s not really interested in company either.

He’s just… just.

Might as well go relieve Hound and finish the rest of his shift. He doesn’t have anything better to do other than his job, and if Drift is going to chastise him about his responsibilities, Rodimus can at least prove that he knows how important they are.

Spoiler drooping, Rodimus trudges toward the bridge.

What a slag-poor excuse for a day.


Anger does not make for a calm state of mind. And someone in an aggravated state does not tend to offer intelligent and useful advice.

Drift uses the last of the time from Rodimus’ appointment to meditate, cycling through multiple ventilations, all in an attempt to clear his processor. His irritation with Rodimus is like a horde of miniscraplets nesting under his armor. He wants to shout about it, or pace, but he can’t, because he has another client with another issue to be solved.

This is important, Drift tells himself as he gestures Sidestep inside and tells him to take a seat. The crew doesn’t flinch at him anymore. They actually obey his instructions because he asked and not because they’re too scared not to. This is as important to them as it’s important to him.

Frag Rodimus if he doesn’t understand that.

Except, well, Rodimus has a bit of a point. Yes, Drift has missed a few dates. Not as many as Rodimus claims, but Drift does realize that his relationship with Rodimus has been set on the backburner. There’s only so much time in a day. Drift can only stretch himself so far.

Rodimus has no right to intrude on his time like that!

Drift seethes throughout his entire appointment with Sidestep, and it takes all he has to show Sidestep a friendly, calm face. He ends the meeting early because he can’t concentrate and promptly sends to a message to the next client on his list to reschedule for another time. He’s no good to anyone like this, especially not himself.

He sits behind his desk and rubs his forehead, feeling an ache building behind his optics. Fighting with Rodimus is nothing new. He can be quite temperamental sometimes. Bossy and pushy, too. But this is different.

Maybe because he feels a little bit guilty.

Drift sighs and leans back in the chair.

His comm chirps. He expects it to be Rodimus, but the ident tag reads Ratchet. Which probably means it’s about Rodimus. Because of course.

Drift pinches the bridge of his nose. “What did he do now?” he asks in lieu of a greeting. No need to make small talk. They’re both too busy for that.

“Asked me for something he’s not going to get,” Ratchet replies, sounding tired and craggy, like he’s not getting enough recharge again. “Though I’m thinking you’re not completely innocent here, Dr. Drift.”

Drift twitches. He’s not called himself a medic by any means. He hasn’t earned that title, but some of his clients have been using it as a joke. “Ratchet…”

“So you haven’t missed any dates with Rodimus?”

Ah. Well, he should have known Rodimus would tattle. But come on. He’d apologized for that! What more does Rodimus want?

Ratchet sighs into the comm. “That’s what I thought,” he grumbles, and Drift can practically see the scowl on his face. “Look, kid–”

“I’m older than you,” Drift reminds him.

“Shut up and listen,” Ratchet retorts, which is his way of saying ‘don’t remind me!’. “If you don’t want to be with Rodimus, you need to tell him.”

Drift flinches. His spark squeezes into a tight ball at the mere thought of it. Rodimus gone? That’s not what he wants at all.

“That’s not it,” Drift protests, and tries to tack on an answer, too. But he can’t figure out the proper words. It’s hard to explain.

Ratchet snorts. “Well, from where I’m standing, I can’t tell. Neither can he. So either make some time for him or cut him loose.”

Drift scrubs harder at his forehead. “Ratchet, I’m busy. You know that. You should understand it. I can’t just–”

“Yes, you can, and you know it,” Ratchet cuts him off, his tone heavy with reproach. Drift flinches like he’s been chastised. “Find time for Rodimus or end it, because right now, it’s not working. You need to remember what’s actually important.”

Drift sighs and sags in his chair, half-wishing he could dissolve straight through to the floor and down to the other side. “I don’t want to end it,” he mutters.

“Then find a way to prove otherwise.”

Ratchet ends the call with as much audible irritation as one can manage over a comm. Drift’s processor rings as he shuts off the line. He scrubs a hand down his face, considering Ratchet’s words.

He knows the medic is right. As much as he hadn’t wanted to admit it himself. He can’t keep dropping Rodimus to the bottom of his priority list. Or he’ll lose the one thing he can’t be happy without.

Drift scrubs his face with his hands. He has to do something.

He taps into his online schedule and blocks off the appointments for the rest of the day, and for tomorrow as well. This, right now, is far more important.


Hound had been delighted to return to his off-shift. So Rodimus works and tries not to think about everything else. He turns his attention to the ridiculously long list of tasks Ultra Magnus has for him, and attends to quite a few of them: inspections, paperwork, performance evaluations, stock capacity, everything the captain of a vessel should be responsible for.

His shift ends, Ultra Magnus takes over and smiles big and broad when Rodimus hands him a list of all the things he actually did today. If Ultra Magnus could swoon, he’s certainly doing it now, his entire energy field alight from happiness.

He’s so weird sometimes.

Uninterested in returning to his quarters just yet, Rodimus detours to his office and starts to tackle the stack of datapads on his desk. Maybe he’ll earn himself another Ultra Magnus Smile of Appreciation™ for his efforts.

That makes it worth it a little. At least he can do this right.

It’s late when he finally decides to go back to his habsuite. He’s tired, but at least his anger has burnt out into a dull ache of disappointment. There’s no point in getting angry, he realizes. It’s not going to get him anywhere.

Drift is probably right anyway. Rodimus has no business demanding Drift’s time like that. If Drift doesn’t want to make time for him, well, maybe that’s a sign. Maybe Rodimus is the only one invested in this. Maybe this is Drift’s way of letting Rodimus know that it’s over.

A sharp pang rips through Rodimus’ spark. His spoiler droops. He hopes he’s wrong, but given the way Drift has been lately, he dreads that he’s right.

Rodimus sighs and keys himself into his habsuite, lacking a distinct pep in his step. He slips inside, the door sliding shut behind him, and a smoky, tangy scent floats to his olfactory sensors. Rodimus blinks and looks up.

His habsuite is dimly lit, the lights at maybe twenty percent. But there are candles everywhere, their pretend flames flickering in the still air. There’s a light, smoky haze – like that caused by incense, and music is playing from his sound system. Soft music, something without words, and not something Rodimus would have in his own collection.

What in Primus’ name…?

Rodimus eases further into the room and spies a tray of goodies sitting on the desk of his workstation. There are all his favorites, and piles of them, too. His mouth lubricates.

“Welcome home.”

Rodimus startles and slowly turns to see Drift sliding off the bed, a small smile on his lips, empty sheaths clanking at his side. He has his hands clasped behind his back, his head dipped a little.

“This is the part where I say I’m sorry,” Drift continues as Rodimus stares at him, unsure if he’s believing his optics, or if he’s fallen asleep at his desk again, dreaming about the things he misses. “You don’t belong at the bottom of my priority list. You should be at the top. I let myself forget that.”

Rodimus works his intake. He turns in a slow circle, taking in the beautiful set-up all over again. It’s like a date. A really romantic date.

“This is… for me?” he asks, his spark doing that pulse again, and this time, it’s more like hope.

Drift chuckles. “Yeah. It’s for you.” His optics soften as he looks at Rodimus, and there it is, what Rodimus has been missing. “I missed so many dates. So I figured I should start making up for it now.”

Rodimus stares at him for a long moment, emotion bursting in his spark, before his feet carrying him to Drift without conscious decision. He throws his arms over Drift’s shoulders, slamming their mouths together, a soft sigh escaping him as Drift’s arms return the embrace, holding him close.

Their nasal ridges bump, but it takes only a few seconds to find the familiar rhythm, and their mouths slot together. Drift tastes sweet, like he sampled the treats he brought, and his frame is so warm against Rodimus’. His field flirts against Rodimus’ own like a secondary embrace.

Damn, but Rodimus missed this.

“This is good,” Rodimus says as he breaks away from the kiss, pressing his forehead to Drift’s. “It’s a good start, I mean. You owe me a lot more.”

“I know.” Drift’s arms tighten around him, their chestplates pressed so close Rodimus can feel the twirl and dance of Drift’s spark. “And I’m sorry.”

Rodimus rests his head on Drift’s shoulder, soaking in their proximity. “Yeah, I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have said that.” Even if it is true.

“Well, you weren’t wrong.” Drift pulls back, one arm sliding free so that his hand cups Rodimus’ face. “So I thought I might spoil you. As an apology.”

“Really?” Rodimus’ spoiler flicks up. “What kind of spoiling?”

“The best kind.” Drift brushes their noses together before he draws back and tangles their hands together, towing Rodimus toward the couch. “We can watch a movie together. And you get to pick.”

Rodimus laughs as he bounces on the sofa after a gentle push from Drift. Armfuls of pillows have been gathered here, and Rodimus sinks into them with a happy wiggle. Drift joins him after grabbing the tray of treats and the remote for the entertainment console.

“How about a romantic comedy?” Rodimus asks as he snuggles into Drift’s side.

“I knew it.” Drift curls an arm over Rodimus’ shoulder, tucking him close.

Okay, so he’s predictable. So what. He’s supposed to be getting spoiled, right? And this right here is pretty close to perfect. He’s got Drift all to himself, and the room is all dim and cozy, and Drift picks one of his favorite movies without even asking.

Drift sets the remote aside and balances the tray between them, propped up on one of the pillows. He selects one of the glazed cakes from the stack and holds it up against Rodimus’ lips.

“Try this one first,” he says, and Rodimus opens his mouth, lets Drift feed him the sweet treat. His lips linger on Drift’s fingers, glossa swiping away the crumbs and sticky residue of glaze.

The treat is delicious, but better is that Drift continues to feed him, all during the movie. One hand guides treat after treat to Rodimus’ lips, while the other strokes his shoulder and his arm and the edges of his spoiler, anything within reach really. Rodimus’ engine purrs with satisfaction.

The rest of his anger vanishes under a tide of gentle touches and delicious candies. Drift’s field is so firmly wrapped around his, he can’t remember he ever felt abandoned.

He laughs when Drift misses his mouth, getting some of the magnesium powder on his nose.

“Oops.” Drift doesn’t sound very apologetic, not as he leans in and licks the dab of powder away. “My mistake.”

Rodimus chuckles and surges up, stealing Drift’s lips, tasting the sweets on his glossa. He forgets about the movie as he deepens the kiss, his engine purring and heat seeping into his lines. It’s not so much arousal as it is… comfort. Affection. He wants to lie here and enjoy this, closeness and kissing.

It’s different. It’s kind of nice. It doesn’t always have to be about interfacing. That’s just a charming bonus.

“Don’t ignore me again, okay?” Rodimus asks as he nuzzles Drift, his spark warm and full to bursting. He snuggles in against Drift, barely noticing that the movie’s end credits have started to play.

Drift sinks into the couch, dragging Rodimus with him. His hands stroke long patterns down Rodimus’ back and over his shoulder, and Rodimus’ frame relaxes into the gentle touches. It feels so good.

“I won’t,” Drift replies, tilting his head back against Rodimus’ with a soft sigh. “But Roddy, I’m not going to close down either. I like what I’m doing and–”

“I don’t want you to.” Rodimus offlines his optics and rests his head on Drift’s chestplate, listening to the pulse of his spark. It’s easier to be honest when he doesn’t have to look into Drift’s optics. “It’s okay. Really. I understand why you’re doing it. I just want you to make time for me, too.”

“I can do that,” Drift murmurs, his fingers tracking a slow, careful path down Rodimus’ spinal strut, like he’s trying to memorize every ridge and seam.

Rodimus hums his approval. He wriggles, notching himself even more firmly on top of Drift. He counts the beats of Drift’s spark, and listens as the movie’s end credits fade into nothing. He might fall into recharge just like this, his tank full, his frame relaxed, his field embraced.

It’s perfect.

[CtE] Undaunted 04

The weight around his intake was negligible, thread-thin, a glint of duryillium which twinkled if it caught the light just right.

It wasn’t immediately visible to the casual observer. Nevertheless, Vortex couldn’t resist touching it, reaching up to trace a knowing finger over the delicate band. The etching in the metal was so light, he couldn’t feel it with his derma. But he knew it was there. He felt the claim deep in his spark, a stamp of belonging for anyone who cared to notice.

“Stop that,” Bluestreak murmured with a warning squeeze to Vortex’s other hand, where their fingers were tangled together, a far more public display of ownership.


He obediently dropped his hand as a thrill ran up his spinal strut. His armor prickled as he felt what had to be dozens of optics watching him, scrutinizing the connection between he and Bluestreak. Their relationship had been something of a curiosity to anyone who knew of Vortex’s reputation, and nothing of Bluestreak at all.

This wasn’t the first time they’d gone anywhere in public together. But it was the first time Vortex had been allowed the visible sign of Bluestreak’s ownership, as understated and concealed as it was. Only those in the knowing would even understand what it meant, but that didn’t matter.

What was important was the claim. The bold declaration that this mech belonged to someone.

It was intoxicating.

Vortex’s knees trembled with the urge to drop to them, shove Bluestreak up against a nearby wall, and swallow Bluestreak’s spike in front of everyone. He wanted the careful touch of fingers against the back of his head, too gentle to be commanding, but dominating nonetheless. He wanted to hear the pleased noises in Bluestreak’s intake, the murmured praise, all too intoxicating, far more than any engex.

A moan worked into Vortex’s intake. He swallowed it down, felt the shift of his cables against the light weight of the collar. Claim and reminder. He never wanted to take it off.

“I know you’re excited, but control yourself,” Bluestreak chastised, too soft for any listener to take it as a rebuke. “You swore you could handle it and I trusted that. You’ve earned this reward. Don’t make it become a punishment.”

Vortex’s rotors jittered in their housing. “I’ll behave.” Though the temptation to see what creative penalty Bluestreak had devised was strong.

He had never felt so mastered with so little effort. Vortex had always assumed that pain was the only teacher, the only lord which could ever get through to his processor. The only thing to cut through the layers of training and indoctrination.

He was wrong. Delightfully so.

“I know you will.” Bluestreak squeezed his hand again, less warning and more approval, as he leaned in close, warm heat against Vortex’s side. “It’s why you’ve earned this reward.”

His engine rumbled. He looked straight ahead, gaze measuring the crowd. Categorizing them. Victims and villains. Easy prey and someone who’d be a challenge. Far too many NAILs – and what a clever if rude name that – and not enough Decepticons, and far too few Autobots, even with the farflung soldiers returning in fits and bursts.

Vortex had no idea what Bluestreak intended for them this evening. But just this little admission of their relationship, this small claim, was enough to make his spark shiver. He felt owned in all the best ways.

“And if I behave?” Vortex asked, purposefully sliding his attention away from a familiar face. He remembered interrogating that mech once. He’d had information integral to an Autobot incursion on a Decepticon outpost.

He’d been quick to offer up the details, while choking on his own energon, Vortex’s fingers buried playfully in the slippery lines of his internals. He’d let the mech live, because Ons told Vortex he’d be useful later.

Good for him. Surviving to see the end of the war.

He didn’t see Vortex, the monster passing within a few strides of him. He didn’t see how the creature had been tamed.

What a thrill.

A warm mouth tasted the curve of Vortex’s jaw. He felt the whisper of a heated ex-vent against his intake. “I’ve a flog with your name on it,” Bluestreak murmured, his glossa flicking over a cable before he withdrew to more proper distance.

Vortex worked his intake again. “Where are we going then?” Mental images chased away the echoes of the war, running heat through his lines.

His master was a maestro with a whip. He could cause pain that didn’t burn, that didn’t hurt, but felt so good. The sheer sound of the flog striking against Vortex’s armor was enough to make him aroused in half a second. Just seeing Bluestreak’s fingers stroke the handle as he circled Vortex was enough to make him weak.

Bluestreak chuckled. “Sweets first. I think I want to be spoiled.” His sensory flats twitched. Vortex felt the touch of one against his back, brushing over his rotors.

He had to resist the urge to touch his collar again. To lift his chin and proudly display the ownership encircling his intake.

All in due time.

This was the first step. There were going to be dozens more. Bluestreak had promised, and Vortex had bowed his head to that vow.


It was not empty nest syndrome, no matter what anyone kept saying to his face or whispering behind his back or teasing him with little laughs and coy looks.

It was simply a task Ratchet couldn’t envision handing over to anyone else. He’d helped Wheeljack raise the Dinobots, and he’d never regretted that. He’d taken the Protectobots, and First Aid especially, under his umbrella because they’d needed that support. They’d needed someone to watch over them.

Ratchet was a medic, a doctor, a healer, and that didn’t just mean physical ills. The war had been hard. So hard on him. Repairing his friends and family only to see them injured, possibly even die, over and over. Was it so hard to understand that he wanted to combat that as much as he could with the positive? That he’d prefer to teach and nurture and guide?

He wanted to be needed. He wanted to care. He wanted to help.

He felt a failure because this was the only end they could devise. This was the only solution. There had been other volunteers, but Ratchet had been firm. Adamant.

He would take care of Flare. He would teach and guide and help the newframe find his passion, his spark, his new life. He could care for Flare, without being hampered by the shadow of ‘Red Alert.’

Red Alert was dead. Red Alert had died in the initial Decepticon attack over five years ago. What they had rescued was an empty shell, a drone for lack of a better word. Red Alert was dead, and Flare was not him.


A gentle touch to his side had Ratchet fully alert. He looked over at the mech next to him – blue and purple, visored, crests instead of sensory horns – and drew to a stop.

“Yes, Flare? What is it?”

The light behind the pale visor skittered. Flare’s denta worried at his bottom lip. “My processor hurts,” he admitted with a soft sigh. “I apologize but–”

“It’s all right.” Ratchet squeezed Flare’s shoulder and looked around them, finally spying a break in the crowd. “Come with me. I’ll fix it.”

He towed Flare toward the empty space between two temporary structures, little pop up shops selling merchandise to the festival-goers. Out of the press of the crowd, with the shelters to buffer some of the noise, it was both quieter and less bright.

“Here, let me see your panel,” Ratchet said, careful to keep his tone gentle as Flare offered him his right arm.

Flare was not Red Alert, but so much of Red Alert was in him. Ratchet had learned to be cautious, gentle, to telegraph his actions as much as possible. Flare was always wary, easily startled, and Ratchet did his best to be a buffer against the frights of the world.

Flare’s medical port popped, and Ratchet withdrew a cable, plugging into him. He didn’t need permissions. Ratchet was Flare’s legal guardian. He had absolute access to Flare’s systems, which was unusual but necessary in this situation. To the human’s, Flare’s current processing capabilities would put him about the age of a child.

“Just ventilate for me, sweetspark,” Ratchet murmured as he carefully moved into Flare’s sensory suites, dialing down his receptors so that the loud roar of his audial feed dulled to a murmur. He examined the anti-anxiety scripts written into Flare’s code. Perhaps they’d need to be tweaked again.

Red Alert had always been so advanced. He could have heard a pin drop from a mile away, if he so chose. His vision had been acute enough to detect the depth and origin of a scratch in a mech’s paint job from across the room. His sensory suites were so fine-tuned as to be obnoxious, but he’d learned how to adapt to them.

Flare was still learning. He still needed help.

Ratchet knew the moment he’d dialed things down to a manageable level, for Flare ex-vented his relief and his taut armor relaxed. His field fluttered again, reaching for Ratchet’s, seeking comfort, and he offered warmth and reassurance in return. Ratchet smoothed the ragged edges of Flare’s processor and left behind a small pain script to ease the lingering ache.

“There.” Ratchet gently disengaged and patted Flare’s arm. The panel protecting his medical port snapped shut. “Better?”

“Yes, Ratchet.” Flare smiled, soft and sincere, the brightness returning to his visor. He was such a reserved mech, echoes of Red Alert in the way he carried himself, echoes of of the spark he still was. “Thank you.”

Ratchet gripped Flare’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Anytime, sweetspark. Do you want to go back to the hab?”

Flare shook his head. “No, it’s not that bad. I promise. Just a little too much, but you fixed that. I don’t want to always hide.” His armor fluttered, such a bright and unusual selection of colors, but ones he’d chosen for himself.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.” Flare straightened, shoulders held back, determination writ into the set of his jaw. “Can we continue please?”

“If you want.” Ratchet released his hand, moving it to Flare’s shoulder instead. He looked over Flare’s head, scanning the crowd and the nearby attractions. “How about the gallery? Should be quiet enough to get your feet beneath you before we risk the crowds again?”

Flare nodded. “That is acceptable. I haven’t seen Sunstreaker or Sideswipe in awhile. We should congratulate them.”

“Yes, we should.” Ratchet urged the younger mech toward the crowd, his hand sliding to Flare’s upper back, between two prominent tires.

They’d opted to alter as much as they could. New name, new paint, new alt-mode. That he’d chosen an alt-mode modeled after Knock Out’s was a point of consternation for Ratchet, but it had been Flare’s choice, so Ratchet had held his glossa. Knock Out, meanwhile, had preened for months.

“Just let me know if it gets to be too much,” Ratchet added as they merged back into the thick press of mechs, most of whom Ratchet didn’t immediately recognize. Their population was growing, not quickly, but growing all the same.

“Yes, Ratchet.” Flare’s field reached out to his with warmth and gratitude, affection also.

It wasn’t empty nest syndrome, Ratchet told himself as he guided Flare toward the gallery. It wasn’t.

Maybe it was, in part, guilt. That in the end, this was the only option they’d had left. To let Red Alert die, and allow his spark to try again, as a new life. He would still have his base coding, that desire to serve, but he could at least choose his loyalties. He could choose his name, his paint, his alt-mode. He could live again, without the burdens of his past life upon him.

Ratchet had been most adamant about the last. Flare should not have to carry the weight of Red Alert. Let Red Alert be among the fallen. Let his name rest with those on the monolith, side by side with his beloved, Prowl. Let Red Alert have his peace.

There were few who knew the truth. That Flare’s spark and Red Alert’s spark were one and the same. Sometimes, if one knew him, echoes of Red Alert were visible in Flare’s carriage. Mere wisps of behavior, but then it was gone again.

It was the best option they had, without memories to offer Red Alert. True, as he matured and settled fully into his coding, he might remember more of Red Alert. What the processor forgot, the spark remembered. One day, Ratchet would have to sit down with Flare and explain to him his origins.

Not tonight, however.

Tonight was for celebration, for Flare taking his first tentative steps into a bright and loud world, where he’d have to battle his extensive sensory suites against the noise.

Ratchet missed Red Alert. Missed the quiet mech with the sense of humor no one would expect of him. He hated that Red Alert himself never got to experience this peace, to relax in it, with Prowl at his side, the two of them finally able to admit their relationship to everyone and publicly bond.

At least, they had Flare. If Red Alert had to die, at least he left them Flare in his place.

Flare was a gift, a treasure, one Ratchet would protect with every strand of his being and every flicker of his spark.

It wasn’t empty nest syndrome, but even if it was, Ratchet preferred this. Teaching and guiding, protecting and nurturing. This was the future he’d always wanted.

And it’d only taken the Pit and high water to get here.


“I knew we should have gone somewhere else first,” Sunstorm said with a little exasperated sigh, though the smile curving his lips belied his irritation.

Thundercracker chuckled and shifted in his seat. “We’re never getting them out of here now,” he agreed as he finished off his drink and set the empty cup on the table.

He looked across the open floor of the arcade and found his partners embroiled in a three on three championship against Sunstorm’s trinemate. They’d moved on to some kind of dancing game, but earlier, they’d been battling one another in various sports-related challenges on the Cybertronian-scaled Wii.

At the moment, it was a bitter contest between Skywarp and Misfire, with Swoop cheering both of them on from the sidelines. The music of the game was obnoxious, but the sight of his partners grinning and having fun made up for it. Barely.

It was loud in here. Thundercracker would have preferred some quiet drinks in Visages, perhaps some snuggling in a dim booth. Or even a walk through the festival grounds, hand in hand with Skywarp or Swoop, with a pause at the concert venue. A little dancing even, if the mood struck him.

This raucous descent into bitter rivalry had never been on the agenda. But Skywarp had asked and Swoop had echoed him with big, watery optics. Thundercracker had been unwilling to turn either of them down.

That was an hour ago.

Sunstorm and his trine had shown up twenty minutes after Thundercracker and his partners, with Misfire gleefully bouncing up to Skywarp and joining the party. Sunstorm had joined Thundercracker at the table at a more sedate pace, with Bitstream trailing in his wake. They’d both sat down with a resigned air.

“Misfire asked,” Bitstream said, and honestly, that was all the explanation they’d needed. Because both Sunstorm and Bitstream had given Misfire such indulgently sappy looks as their brightly colored third shouldered his way into the next match.

Speaking of Bitstream, there he was, returning triumphant with a tray of more drinks and snacks for their table. He’d resigned himself to staying here the rest of the evening long before Thundercracker and Sunstorm and had offered to go retrieve supplies for their stay.

“The service in this place is abysmal,” he said with an ever present scowl. He carefully set the tray onto the table and slouched into the seat next to Sunstorm. “I don’t think either of those two are old enough to have a business license.”

“Eject is probably the oldest mech in here,” Thundercracker corrected as he grabbed a drink from the tray – sadly, neither engex nor high grade. “Believe it or not.”

“I don’t.” Bitstream harrumphed, but he did tilt into Sunstorm’s side, leaning toward the embrace of his trine leader.

Their paint was a contrast of brightness, Thundercracker reflected, with Bitstream a similar blue to Thundercracker’s own, but more reflective and vivid. Not long after agreeing to Sunstorm’s courtship had Misfire adjusted his own paint as well. Still purple and black, the purple now had an optic-watering brightness to it.

Highlighter-bright, as the humans might call it.

Sunstorm chuckled. “There, there,” he said as he patted Bitstream’s hand, which rested on the table. “Thank you for getting the snacks, Bitsy.”

Bitstream scowled at the nickname, but didn’t correct it. He’d gotten used to it, Thundercracker surmised. Most often, said cute names came from Misfire, but Sunstorm had picked up the habit as well. Bitstream had been trined to them for the better part of the year. He knew what he was getting into when he accepted their courtship.

Three years ago to the day, in fact, if Thundercracker recalled. Bitstream had arrived with another group of Decepticon defectors, those who still considered themselves Decepticons but apart from Megatron’s rulership. They’d been led by a mech named Deathsaurus, a massive beastformer who quickly endeared himself to Grimlock for his ethical standards and sense of fairplay. Grimlock pulled Deathsaurus into his command ranks as soon as he could, which wasn’t unexpected, considering he’d lost Krok as a sub-commander.

Save for the top three positions, the Decepticon leadership was still in a state of flux. Mechs retired to pursue a post-war occupation. Others stepped up to take their place, not ready for life outside the rigidity of an army’s command structure. And still more abandoned the leadership roles they’d never wanted in the first place.

Mechs like Thundercracker.

“He’ll have to stop eventually,” Sunstorm said with a critical optic Misfire’s direction. “I can’t miss the ribbon cutting. Starscream will have my wings if I do.”

“You might have to go without him,” Thundercracker said with a chuckle. He snagged an oilcake from the tray. “In fact, leave him with my idiots and the three of us can go.”

Sunstorm snickered.

“That might actually be for the best.” Bitstream fiddled with his drink, an obnoxiously pink concoction that seemed at odds with his personality. “He would only get bored and start making faces again.”

Ah, Misfire. Ever respectable in the face of responsibility.

“How is that going, by the way?” Thundercracker asked of Sunstorm. “I know Star can be… difficult.”

Sunstorm’s amusement softened to admiration. “Not as much as he used to, I think. Without Megatron around to harass him, he’s easy to work with. I mean, he’s not the only person I know who suffers from a lack of tact.” He shrugged.

“Among other things,” Thundercracker said and echoed Sunstorm’s shrug. “Well, that’s good to hear. I’d feel guilty if I tossed a burden on your shoulders that was an aggravation as well.”

“It’s not,” Sunstorm reassured him and sipped at his own drink, a plain cube of mid-grade. “It’s what I’ve always wanted, truth be told. I thank you for the opportunity. I know it must have been difficult–”

“Easier than you’d think,” Thundercracker interrupted, but gently. He offered Sunstorm a small smile. “Star’s my trinemate, and I love him, nothing will ever change that. But I don’t want the responsibility of being his second. I never have. Trust me, this is for the best. For everyone.”

Sunstorm seemed to settle into his chair, as though he needed the relief of Thundercracker’s reassurance. He’d been so reluctant at first, convinced he wasn’t skilled enough, or capable, or that he was usurping something important to Thundercracker. It had taken him awhile to be convinced.

Thundercracker, however, had always been sure. He was more than ready to retire, and Sunstorm was more than ready to take over. Thundercracker was much happier in his current position.

A loud cheer and shout filled the already noisy room. Thundercracker followed the outcry to the game where his partners and Misfire had their hands raised in victory. Skywarp gave Misfire a high-five and then leapt into Swoop’s arms for a messy kiss and embrace. Swoop, he noticed, outright groped Skywarp’s aft in front of all and sundry. Celebrating a win on a game like he’d just solved their repopulation crisis.


Thundercracker shook his head. An idiot he loved, to be fair.

“All votes for leaving them here?” Sunstorm suggested with a wicked grin as he sipped on his drink.

Thundercracker took a huge bite of his oil cake, wiping away the crumbs from the corner of his mouth. “Aye,” he said, echoing Bitstream who was rolling his optics at the antics of their respective partners.

Sunstorm laughed. “It’s settled then. When it’s time, off we go, and they can stay here and have all the fun they want while we do some work.”

Thundercracker honestly couldn’t see how that was any different than usual. He loved Skywarp dearly, but his trinemate simply wasn’t made for the boring duties. The rapid calculations required for his warping meant that his processor wasn’t suited for being idle or focusing on topics he considered boring. Meanwhile, Swoop had his hands full with his medical training under no less than three mentors.

“Sounds like a plan,” Bitstream said and pulled another treat off the tray.

Thundercracker snorted and settled in to watching their respective partners make fools of themselves.

Post-war New Cybertron was a strange place indeed.


“You know, there’s a festival going on outside,” Chromedome said from where he sat backward on a chair, watching Rewind who was hunched over a recently recovered text, so ancient it was stored on flimsy datasheets rather than a datapad.

It was a miracle it had survived he fall of Cybertron.

“I know,” Rewind replied without looking up. “But this is just as fun, isn’t it?”

Chromedome chuckled and braced his arm on the back of the chair, his chin on his elbow. “Well, I do enjoy watching you. But wouldn’t joining the festivities be fun, too?”

Rewind ever so carefully turned a page before he shifted in the chair to meet Chromedome’s gaze. “As long as I’m with you, I’m happy. But I see your point.” He chuckled and slid down from the chair, padding over to where Chromedome waited. “What is it you want to do? Go dancing? Shopping?” He paused. “Visit the gallery?”

Chromedome reached out and snagged Rewind’s arm, pulling him closer. It was an easier feat, considering his reach was nearly double Rewind’s. “I can guess what you want,” he said as he leaned back and tugged the cassette into his lap. “The gallery.”

“I guess I’m pretty predictable.” Rewind straddled his hips, hands hooked on the bars of Chromedome’s alt-mode. “But you never answered my question.”

“We could go dancing.” Chromedome cupped Rewind’s aft, bringing their frames closer together, soaking in the heat of the smaller mech. “We could, at least, stop by Swindle’s shop and grab a box of those candies you like so much.”

Rewind chuckled and pressed his mouthplate into the crook of Chromedome’s intake, taunting him with a touch that didn’t come. “I’m sorry, Domey. I know I’ve been busy categorizing all these flimsies Cliffjumper brought me.”

“It’s all right. I understand your work is important to you.”

“And so are you.” Rewind wriggled in Chromedome’s lap, his aft bouncing quite enticingly. “I also promised you my full attention tonight, and so far, I’ve been an aft in regards to that promise. So if you want, we can go dancing.”

Chromedome tilted his head against Rewind’s as their fields tangled together effortlessly. Rewind was far more skilled at energy manipulation than Chromedome was, which he suspected was due to the fact Rewind was so much older than he. Sometimes, it was difficult to remember that little fact.

His hands slid up and down Rewind’s back, thin fingers tracing barely present seams. “Honestly, it doesn’t matter what we do.”

“You just want my attention,” Rewind finished for him and rested his head on Chromedome’s chestplate. “Ask me something hard, why don’t you?”

“Be mine forever?” Chromedome murmured.

Rewind vented a sigh. “One of these days, I’ll say yes and mean it.” His field wrapped around Chromedome’s like a secondary embrace. “But how about this instead? You and me, a blanket, the roof of this building, and the best view of the fireworks on all of New Cybertron?”

“Sounds perfect.”

Someday, Chromedome knew, he might be able to convince Rewind to be his and his alone. For now, he would have to be content with sharing Rewind with his brother, his fellow cassettes, and Blaster. That was the way the world worked when it came to docks and their cassettes.

He couldn’t blame Rewind for his reluctance. They had, after all, only known each other for half a decade. Barely a blip in the lifetime of the average Cybertronian. It would take much, much longer before Rewind could be convinced into a stronger level of commitment.

For now, Chromedome would simply have to be patient. He’d made his offer. All that remained was for Rewind’s trust to lead to acceptance of it.

“Good.” Rewind patted Chromedome on the chest and then leaned back. “Then you go find us a blanket and I’ll just make sure these flimsies are put up somewhere safe, and I’ll meet you on the roof?”

“As long as you don’t get distracted and forget,” Chromedome teased as he rose to his feet and gently set Rewind on his own. Sometimes, their height difference bordered on ridiculous, but Chromedome didn’t pay it any mind. Who cared what other people said or thought?

They couldn’t even touch on the happiness swelling in his spark.

“Promise I won’t.” Rewind snagged his hand and pressed his mouthplate to the back of Chromedome’s knuckles. “Just you and me, Domey. Just like you wanted.”

Chromedome wouldn’t have it any other way.


It was a universal constant.

Businesses were few and far between on New Cybertron. They had at least one of the basics, supplies and the like, but when it came to variety, New Cybertron was sorely lacking. Especially in the neutral territory among the three cities.

But universal constancy.

Where there was habitation, there was a bar. And where the economy began to stabilize, there was always going to be another bar. Because mechs in need of a little intoxication and relaxation wanted to have options.

They could have gone to Visages, but Smokescreen knew his mechs. They’d opted for the rough and tumble of Swerve’s instead. He’d have to make it up to Cliffjumper later, or at least pop in and say hello. He was so proud of the half-pint. And anyway, that one-half of Smokescreen’s gambling crew was some kind of Decepticon meant he probably shouldn’t take them to Visages anyway.

Though he wasn’t sure Brawl counted as a Decepticon anymore.

Besides, here in Swerve’s, they didn’t have to behave. They could be as loud and uncouth as they wanted to be. Plus, sometimes they could convince the titular bartender to sit down and play with them and score up some free drinks.

“All right, mechs, what’s the score tonight?” Smokescreen asked as he pulled out dice, cards, and betting chips. He set them on the table in front of him. “Poker? Blackjack? Yahtzee?”

Brawl snorted. “Yahtzee?”

“It human game. With dice,” Slag answered as he settled down in his chair, which creaked alarmingly beneath his bulk, but held steady. “Me no like it.”

“Why not Uno? Or Phase 10?” Smokescreen suggested with a smirk. “Those are always fun.”

Bulkhead rolled his optics. “Except the last time we played those, we got thrown out on our afts for getting too rowdy. In this bar, of all places, which lets Wreckers dance on the tables for Primus’ sake.” He leaned forward, bracing his brawny arms on the table, which groaned in displeasure.

“It not my fault,” Slag growled.

“It’s entirely your fault,” Brawl said with a laugh as he jostled Slag with his elbow, though jostle wasn’t quite the word for the near-push it actually was. “For a ‘bot who hates to lose, you sure do like gambling.”

“Dinobots no lose!” Slag snorted fire from his nasal ridge, the hot puff of it flooding across the table and causing gray smoke to rise from his nostrils. “Me Slag say him Smokescreen cheated.”

“Smokescreen cheating is a given at this point,” Bulkhead pointed out as he pushed to his feet, shoving the chair out from behind him. “You three pick what we play. I’ll get the first round of drinks.” He held up a finger. “But just because I’m feeling generous.”

“I don’t always cheat!” Smokescreen retorted, indignant. His doorwings hiked up on his back, rigid and playing at outrage.

Brawl huffed as Bulkhead ambled away from the table, quite nimbly for a mech of his size honestly. “Yes, you do,” he said, aiming a finger at the middle of Smokescreen’s chestplate. “Except we’ve cottoned on to it, and we compensate now.”

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Smokescreen retorted. He swept up the dice and left out the cards. “We’re going to play Poker then. Since you’re all refusing to make a choice.”

Slag leaned over the table and snatched the cards before Smokescreen could reach for them. “Me Slag dealer. Only one not cheat.”

“It’s true. He never cheats.” Brawl nodded solemnly.

Slag smirked.

He and Brawl bumped fists, like the best of brothers, only they weren’t related. Years later, and their friendship was still something of a mystery to Smokescreen, who had observed all kinds of interesting connections being made among the Autobots, Decepticons, Neutrals, and everyone else who’d returned to Cybertron.

Bulkhead returned, dropping a tray on the table which was overladen with mugs of engex – whatever Swerve had on tap and was cheap.

“What? Couldn’t spring for something better?” Smokescreen asked as he snagged one of the mugs and took a sip. It was bitter and bubbly, but he knew it would burn just right in his belly.

“Don’t be ungrateful. It’s free,” Bulkhead grunted and slid back into his chair, eying the table. “What’d we decide on?”

“Poker,” Brawl said as he plunked an auto-feeding straw into the end of his mug. Taste didn’t matter to him, only the ability to achieve intoxication.

“You lot have no creativity.” Bulkhead said and tapped the table in front of him. “Deal me in anyway. What’re the stakes this time?”

It wasn’t, after all, like New Cybertron really had a functional economy. They were mostly cred-less, with Swindle the only mech who really had any credits or shanix to speak of, since he did a lot of off-world trade. Everyone else banked on a planet-wide system of give and take.

The betting chips were whatever they wanted them to be. Sometimes percentages of a drink order. Other times fancy tins of wax and polish. But most often–

“Rust sticks!” Slag declared with a gleam in his optics. “Me Slag like rust sticks.”

–candy. If there was one thing soldiers liked, it was candy.

Smokescreen chuckled. “Well, we can hardly argue with a fire-breathing Dinobot, now can we?” He winked at Slag who grinned with a mouthful of denta. His horns wriggled excitedly. “Rust sticks it is.”

“I can live with that,” Bulkhead said.

“Fine. But next time, we gamble for drinks,” Brawl said and there was a clunk as he nudged Slag beneath the table, possibly with his foot. “Deal us in, Slag.”

The Dinobot laughed and started flicking cards across the table with practiced ease. Given that they’d made a habit of meeting once a week for games, this didn’t come as a surprise.

A Dinobot, a gambler, a military tank, and a space bridge engineer. It almost sounded like the beginning of some kind of joke

Smokescreen grinned as he picked up his cards with absolutely nothing to make any use of. This was still the most fun he’d had in centuries.

Thank Primus the war was over.

[CtE] Undaunted 03

“Could you bring me out another box of the tumblers and a small carton of the swirl straws?” Mirage called out to the back as he surveyed his supplies for the evening’s celebration with a critical optic.

He didn’t want to run out of anything because celebrating drunks could quickly turn into angry drunks if they didn’t get what they wanted. Mirage wasn’t above throwing anyone out of his bar – after all, they weren’t a cred-based economy at the moment, so Visages was a matter of fun for him, not necessity. But he still didn’t want the irritation.

“Sure thing!”

Mirage flicked a glance at the chronometer above the bar, cheerfully letting him know that he had fifteen minutes before he’d officially open. Already, night was taking over, stars dotting the dark sky, and streetlamps brightening one by one. Mechs of all shapes, sizes, and affiliations – some no longer even visibly wearing a badge – clogged the streets.

It was going to be a busy night. It was going to be loud, noisy, and above all else, cheerful. After all, weren’t celebrations supposed to be?

Two boxes thumped to the counter in front of him, where space was left open for mixing drinks in front of the flavoring display.

“Anything else I can get for ya, boss?” Cliffjumper asked as he dusted off his hands and planted them on his hips.

Mirage’s lips quirked into a grin. “It will never cease to amuse me that you call me that unironically.”

“What? Boss? That’s what you are. At least in this place.” Cliffjumper made a vague gesture to the entirety of the bar. “Besides, I call lots of people ‘boss’ these days.”

“Speaking of, how is it working with Glyph? Going well?” Mirage peeled the lids off his supplies, examining them with a critical optic before he started pulling them out to put the extra stock behind the bar.

Cliffjumper shrugged and leaned against the counter. He knew better than to offer to help. “He’s not all bad, for a NAIL.”

Mirage gave him a stern look.

Cliffjumper rolled his optics. “Sorry. Neutral.” He spoke the term with evident distaste, nasal ridge wrinkling. “He’s not bossy like some people, and he lets me work at my own pace. Better than calling some fragging ‘Con boss at least.”

More swirly straws filled the cups lined up behind the bar. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay here tonight?” Mirage asked, giving Cliffjumper a sidelong stare.

Recovery had been a long, grueling process for the minibot. Five years since the treaty had been signed, and Cliffjumper had only been released on parole within the last six months, now that the urge to attack anyone wearing a Decepticon badge had been quelled. He was still angry, still bitter, but he had learned the value of restraint.

Mirage didn’t want to compromise Cliffjumper’s growth. Visages was a bar open to all factions, regardless of badge. There were, of course, a few mechs who had been banned from the establishment, not that anyone would know but Mirage and said mechs. He had subtly informed them that they were not welcome anywhere near him.

Or Cliffjumper, who under the terms of his release, had Mirage for a sponsor. A task which Mirage had volunteered for.

Cliffjumper’s day job involved working with Glyph, further and further from the little metropolis of Polyhex, Nova Cronum, and Iacon. They ventured into databases, crypts, barely standing structures – all to find the lost arts, the lost datanovels, the lost histories. Anything that could be preserved of the Cybertron-That-Was.

It was a good job for Cliffjumper. One that kept him well away from potential Decepticon sightings, but enabled him to feel useful without being used. Plus, it would probably surprise many an Autobot to learn that Cliffjumper – brash, bold, and vulgar as he was – loved history and loved to read.

Cliffjumper nibbled on his bottom lip, his gaze drifting away, to the closed sign on the main door. “Honestly, Mir. I’m not sure. I wanna be, because I hate feeling like this, but I dunno. It might be too much.” He shifted his weight, from one foot to the other. “If one of them came walking in here–”

“They won’t,” Mirage interrupted gently. He closed the space between them, carefully laying a hand on Cliffjumper’s shoulder. “Take my word for it. Not a single one of the monsters we loathe will ever step foot in our safe harbor. I swear it.”

Cliffjumper sighed, but his field relented to the warm push of Mirage’s, accepting the comfort for what it is – a resonance of shared pain. “I believe you. But maybe I should stay in the back for a while. Just in case.”

Mirage squeezed his shoulder. “Whatever you think is best, I’ll support you. And you don’t even have to stay if you don’t want to. I know you worked all day.”

“And miss the party? I get some kind of celebration, too, don’t I?” Cliffjumper grinned, and if it was a pale copy of the old brash smirk he used to have, Mirage didn’t comment.

It was still miles above the Cliffjumper who had barely survived Decepticon captivity.

“Besides, Smokescreen’s gonna be here, and you know he’ll pout if I don’t join him for at least one game.” Cliffjumper straightened, his shoulders growing firm, and his field equally so, billowing with strength.

Mirage’s spark swelled with pride. They had both of them come so far. “All right then. If you insist.”

His wall clock chimed a warning sound. Five more minutes to open, and per the usual, his bartender was running late. Mirage would have to fill in until Pipes – who was probably off cavorting with Riptide again – arrived. It would help that friendly competition in the form of Swerve’s – a more raucous and cheap bar across the way – would keep Mirage’s Visages from getting overcrowded.

Mirage stirred into action. “Flip the last of the chairs for me, will you? I’m going to turn on the lights and music.”

Cliffjumper sketched a salute at him. “Sir, yes, sir.”

Mirage chuckled and watched him vault over the bar as though it wasn’t as high as his chin. True minibot mentality that one, no obstacle too large to stand in his way. As indomitable no matter the odds.

What would you think to see us, my love? Mirage wondered as he slipped to the main electrical panel in the back, flipping switches one by one to active the interior and exterior lights.

Would you be proud? Would you be happy? Would you have loved this mess of a world we have left? Would you ever believe me to find a friend and kindred spirit in Cliffjumper?

The world is a strange, strange place.

Mirage flicked on the music and a cheerful, wordless song poured through the speakers. A classic, actually, from Cybertron-That-Was, and a gift from Cliffjumper. One of the first of his finds, an entire datadisc of ancient songs.

I think you would have liked it here, Tracks.

Mirage cycled a deep ventilation, steeling himself for another night, another day in the life of New Cybertron, spinning toward a brighter future. The loss of his beloved was an ache he’d never forget, never lose. But it was getting easier to bear.

“Mirage, it’s time!”


Mirage stepped out of the electrical room and locked the door behind him. Tonight was going to be a good night, he decided. A night worthy of celebration.

He intended to enjoy every minute of it.


Perceptor took one look at the final preparations for the massive colorful display they planned on offering tonight, and lunged across the platform, diving between Wheeljack and Brainstorm in a spectacular display of speed no one could have ever expected of him.

“No! Are you insane?” he demanded as he spun on a heelstrut and planted himself in front of the console, arms splayed wide, defending it with his very spark. “You’ll overload the whole system!”

Brainstorm sniffed and crossed his arms, wings twitching. “What’re you even talking about? The console we’ve built here is more than enough to handle the charge.”

“Yes, for calculations we’ve confirmed thrice over, in a planned display that we’ve tested on countless computer simulations,” Perceptor snapped and flung a quivering hand in Wheeljack’s direction, at whatever newfangled contraption the engineer had appeared with. “That is a disaster in the making!”

Indicators flashed in merry bands of color. “Aw, Percy, don’t you trust me?” Wheeljack asked as he bounced on his heelstruts, craning his frame to look around Perceptor at the waiting console.

“I’ll have you know that my calculations are never wrong, and I’m absolutely sure the addition of this device will not end in disaster,” Brainstorm said with a huff.

“I trust you, Wheeljack.” Perceptor, for the moment, ignored Brainstorm. “I trust that you know what you’re doing, and I trust that since we’re dealing with displays of an explosive nature, your philosophy has always been, the bigger the better.”

Wheeljack laughed. “Well, you aren’t wrong.”

Brainstorm leaned in front of Perceptor, waving a hand wildly in front of his face. “Hey, you’re ignoring me again. That’s still rude.”

“I’ll pay you attention when you have something relevant to say,” Perceptor replied with a roll of his optics.

“This is relevant!” Brainstorm insisted. “We wanted something amazing for the finale, right? Something that would oo and ah everyone?” He flapped a hand toward the box in Wheeljack’s arms. “Well, that’s it right there!”

“We have a finale,” Perceptor retorted through clenched denta. “One we know is safe.”

Wheeljack loudly coughed. “You know, Percy, we could always run the numbers again. It won’t take that long.”

“But test–”

“Come on. We’re all smart mechs.” Wheeljack rolled his shoulders and the brightness of his optics was a peace-making grin. “We don’t need a dozen trials to know if something is going to work or not. I trust all three of us.”

Perceptor sighed and scrubbed at his forehead. He’d lost this battle before it even begun. “Fine,” he said. “Give me your data, and I’ll see what I find.”

Brainstorm shoved a datastick at him. “You’ll find that my calculations are accurate, and you’re making a big deal out of nothing,” he said as he wiggled the datastick. “You’re not the only genius in here, you know.”

“Just the most reasonable one,” Perceptor snapped.

Brainstorm rolled his optics and snatched the box from Wheeljack. “Then while you go confirm that I’m right, I’m going to go ahead and get this set up.”

“You do that.”

Perceptor glared at Brainstorm’s back, more annoyed by the younger scientist’s attitude than irritated in general. There was something about Brainstorm that turned him into an argumentative child, and he wasn’t sure why.

Huffing, Perceptor turned to the main console and plugged in Brainstorm’s datastick. He uploaded the contents to the algorithm he’d been using to determine the level of danger to be expected with their current explosive set-up.

Somewhere, in the background, Brainstorm sat down with much more noise than was necessary and started to unpack the box he and Wheeljack had brought. The amount of clunks and clatters coming from his direction were absurd and made Perceptor’s hackles rise even further.

“You know, he’s only annoying you because he’s trying to impress you,” Wheeljack leaned in and murmured, his field ripe with amusement.

Perceptor’s fingers flew across the keys, his optics locked on the screen and the cascading calculations. “Yes, I’m aware.”

“So. You gonna cut the kid a break or let him down gently?”

Perceptor tapped pause and slanted a look in Brainstorm’s direction as he considered Wheeljack’s honest query. He and Wheeljack had rarely agreed on many things, but he still considered Wheeljack a brilliant mech and a dear friend. Wheeljack often had a social insight which Perceptor lacked.

“He is brilliant,” Perceptor murmured as Brainstorm excitedly talked to himself and wielded screwdriver as though it were an extension of his frame. “Clever. Well-learned.”

Wheeljack chuckled and knocked his shoulder against Perceptor’s. “Not too harsh on the optics either, eh? Gotta love a mech with a spoiler. As sensitive as Seeker wings they are.” He wriggled his own for emphasis, and waggled his optical ridges.

Perceptor snorted a laugh. “You’re ridiculous,” he said. “But not incorrect. He is aesthetically appealing as well. Any other situation, I probably would have pursued his romantic interest in me.”

“But not now?”

“I don’t think it wise.” Perceptor worked his intake and returned his attention to his calculations, unpausing the system to continue its work. “I worry his reverence for my scientific acumen blinds him to my faults. I fear the inevitable dissolution of a romantic entanglement as soon as he realizes that the old adage is true: one should never meet their heroes.”

Wheeljack squinted at him. “Perce, are you telling me that you’re not gonna give the kid a chance because you don’t think he likes who you really are?”

“Is that so improbable?” Perceptor asked.

Wheeljack stared at him and then smacked his palm against his forehead. “My friend, you are really smart, but also, really dumb.” He half-spun and gestured in Brainstorm’s seemingly oblivious direction. “That kid’s been working beside you for three years, which let me tell you something, is no picnic. I love ya, Perce, but you can be a trial and a half and he doesn’t even have half the history we do. But he’s still here.”

Wheeljack turned back toward Perceptor and poked him in the chestplate, right in the middle of his window. “Nobody sticks around for that long just because they admire you. Trust me. He’s still here because he likes you. All of you.”

Perceptor’s face heated. His fingers paused on the keys as he stared without seeing the calculations scroll by. Wheeljack was probably right. He was always accurate about these things. He understood people far better than Perceptor did.

Perceptor was good at numbers. Theories. Scientific advancements. He understood how machines worked, how the universe fit together. He could make sense of the impossible. He could fathom the unknown.

He did not know how to translate people. He only knew how to be himself, cold and awkward and completely wrapped up in the science.

Somehow, Brainstorm was attracted to him? To that sort of personality? It was more than Perceptor could fathom.

“And yes,” Wheeljack added in a quieter tone. “I’m sure.”

Perceptor worked his intake and tried to focus on his calculations, but his gaze drifted toward Brainstorm, who was peering intently at a panel he was welding.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Perceptor replied, just as quiet. He gave Wheeljack a soft smile. “But for later, yes? Best not to distract anyone with this much explosive material around us.”

Wheeljack chuckled. “You’re right about that.” He patted Perceptor on the shoulder. “Ratch would kill all of us if we lost any limbs or so much as scorched our paint.” He turned away from Perceptor, indicators flashing merrily. “Yo, Stormy. Everything good over there?”

Brainstorm tossed a thumbs up their direction as weldfire sparked at the panel. “We’ll be ready on time.”

“Great!” Wheeljack grinned and did a little dance of celebration. “Then we can get this party started.”

Perceptor chuckled and glanced at the screen, pleased to find the calculations had finished – and proven Brainstorm’s theory correct. It was going to be a beautiful show, a celebration truly worth what Cybertron had become.

His gaze slid to the side, where Brainstorm had finished his welding and was patting the panel with a satisfied air about him. His little winglets flicked up and down, a rather adorable little quirk in Perceptor’s opinion.

Yes, tonight was going to be something to remember.

In more ways than one.


Chaos and Noise.

They’d come up with the name together, and it was a perfect fit. This wasn’t a quiet place for weary mechs to come and rest and relax. No. Chaos and Noise was for play and games and social interaction, for laughter and loudness and remembering what it was to have fun.

It wasn’t a club, nothing so fancy. The only music to be found were the various theme songs pouring from the different game consoles spread around the open-floor interior. Arcade machines constantly beeped and dinged and burbled cheerful success. They served basic energon and snacks, but no intoxicants.

It was an arcade. In all honesty.

Frenzy chuckled to himself as he leaned over the ledger and scribbled down another note. He liked to pretend that his and Eject’s business was something grand and important, but really, it was an arcade. It was a collection of different types of game systems, some modeled after those on Earth, some recreated from Cybertron-That-Was, others scaled up versions of Earth consoles, but all of them with a plethora of games that could be enjoyed by the Cybertronian masses.

Pinball was both a classic and a favorite.

Frenzy saved his calculations and powered down the datapad, leaning back in his chair to stretch his arms above his head. He groaned as cables twanged and joints popped. They were open already, but unsurprisingly, no one had come yet. Most mechs were waiting for the party to get started before venturing out of their homes.

Honestly, Frenzy would be surprised if they were any kind of busy tonight. Well, maybe with competitions. Happy mechs tended to get a little competitive. DDR was always popular when it came to wanting to beat the tar out of your enemy, but without blaster or missile.

He glanced at his messy desk, visor spotting a note he’d tacked up there after closing yesterday. A reminder.

Frenzy groaned and leveraged himself out of the chair. “Yo, Eject!” He stuck his head out the doorway.

A voice hollered back at him from the front room where Eject was propped up behind the front counter, ostensibly working. “What?”

“The Atari’s busted again. See if Graham or Doc Green have the time to look at it.”

“Call ‘em yourself!”

“They like you better!”

Frenzy didn’t hear Eject’s response, but was sure it contained nothing polite. Chuckling to himself, Frenzy ducked back into the tiny room they deemed an office and glared at the piles of paperwork sitting discarded on his desk.

Frenzy did not like paperwork. Or datawork. Or arithmetic. Or… this administrative slag. They really needed to think about bringing in a third partner, someone to handle the business side of things while he and Eject had all the fun. Someone who liked datapads and numbers and hassling with Swindle for their supplies.

Speaking of…

Frenzy dug out the bottom-most datapad, battered and beaten all to the Pit, but still perfectly functional and the life’s blood of Chaos and Noise. It was their ledger, listing every console, game and prize available in the arcade.

And yes, there were prizes. Just like some of those places on Earth where people could play games of chance and earn tickets to spend at the prize shop. Currency wasn’t much of a thing on New Cybertron, but prize tickets hardly counted as currency, did they?

Frenzy flicked on the power and swiped the screen to the prize list, which was updated by the hour as tickets were earned and redeemed. They were running low on a few quick and easy prizes, as well as one of the larger, surprisingly popular ones. A talk with Swindle would have to be in order.

Frag it.

Frenzy hated dealing with Swindle. He always walked away feeling like he’d been cheated, though he’d squinted at the terms of their agreements with a practiced optic.

Maybe he could convince Eject to take one for the team.

Frenzy flicked the switch to off and tucked the datapad into his subspace. He fled the office, cutting off the lights behind him, and joined Eject behind the front desk instead.

Sure enough, the cassette was sprawled out in a chair, feet propped up on the counter, the long length of a controller cord drawn taut between his hands and the Sega Dreamcast arranged on a rolling cart. The console was connected to a moderately sized flat-screen monitor and was one of many mobile systems they had. The Dreamcast was Eject’s favorite, while Frenzy was more partial to the 64.

“You know, you could at least pretend to be working,” Frenzy said with a snort. He hooked the other rolling chair and plopped his aft down into it.

“You’re not the boss of me,” Eject retorted without looking away from the screen, his fingers flicking fast over the controller.

Frenzy rolled his optics behind his visor. “Right. ‘Cause we’re partners.” He pulled out the datapad and tapped it against Eject’s shoulder. “And here’s your share of the work, partner.”

“Can’t. Busy.”

Frenzy gently whapped him on the head with the datapad. “Pause it, dorkus. This is important.”

Eject uttered an exaggerated sigh and paused the game, plucking the datapad from Frenzy’s fingers. “You always give me the scut work.”

Frenzy shouldered him aside and snagged the controller from his limp grip, taking over before Eject could say a word. “Well, maybe if you acted like you were doing work more, I wouldn’t hafta.”

He unpaused the game – Marvel vs. Capcom, so predictable Eject – and continued punching the slag out of Spiderman. The graphics were terrible, the music was tinny, and he’d seen better final blows from a Gameboy, but still. Better a little fun than no fun at all.

“What? Negotiate with Swindle? No way. It’s your turn.” The datapad smacked Frenzy in the chest as Eject tried to wrestle the controller away from him.

Frenzy wrenched his frame to the right, putting his back and shoulders between Eject as he tried to maintain control. “Too late. Datapad’s yours.” He snickered as he thumbed through the player selection and tried to pick a cool one.

Eject threw himself at Frenzy, nearly toppling them both to the floor. Frenzy shouted, the controller flying from his hands, as he fought back. He couldn’t stop laughing as the datapad squirted out of the scuffle, clattering to the floor. Good thing it was durable.

“That’s unfair!”

“Who says?”

“I say!”

“You’re not the boss of me!”

“You said that already!”


Frenzy froze; Eject did, too. Their limbs were thoroughly entangled. The television continued to blare the opening credits of the game.

They had a customer standing in front of the counter. Though honestly, Blaster hardly qualified as a customer. No doubt he was just here to check on one of his “kids.” Pfft. Eject wasn’t the one he should worry about. He should be stalking Rewind and that once-Neutral mindwarper he was dating.

“Hi, boss!” Eject chirped and squirmed his way free of Frenzy’s super-effective grappling technique. “What’s up?”

Blaster grinned at them, an orbital ridge raised. “I came by to see if you wanted to watch the fireworks with me, but it looks like the show is here.”

Eject rolled his optics. Frenzy righted himself and snagged the datapad off the floor, making a show of dusting it off.

“I’m working,” Eject said with an indignant tone.

Frenzy snickered behind his hand. “Yeah,” he agreed with a smirk. “We’re working. Can’t ya see how busy we are.” He gestured to the empty playroom.

“Ah, yes. Silly me.” Blaster rummaged about in his subspace and pulled out a box, setting it gently on the counter. “Well, here’re a few snacks for the hard-working cassettes so that they can still enjoy their evening.”

“Snacks?” Eject’s optics got big and round. He pounced on the box, ripping it open with little sounds of glee. “Gummies! Jellies! Rust sticks!? Boss, you really do love me!” He shoved a candied oilcake into his mouth.

No manners that one. Frenzy eyed the box with ravenous intent. As soon as Blaster left, he was going to be all over that thing. There was an energon donut calling his name, iron sprinkles and all.

Blaster chuckled. “Yes, brat, I do. But make sure you share.”

Eject snorted, his mouth coated with powdered sweetening, his cheeks puffed out. His field was all the answer Frenzy needed. They were going to have to fight over that yummy looking nuts and bolts cookie.

Blaster shook his head and turned away, waving goodbye at them. “Alright, I’ll leave you two to your work. Try and stay out of trouble, and yes, I mean you, Eject. Frenzy has been perfectly behaved… for a cassette belonging to that nuisance.”

That nuisance being, of course, Soundwave.

Their rivalry had become a tad more friendly over the years, but Frenzy would never call the two of them friends. There was a lot of history there. It would take more than half a decade for them to get over it. Blaster could seriously hold a grudge.

“Yeah, thanks for the love,” Frenzy shouted at Blaster’s back.

The moment the other dock was out of sight, Frenzy dove at the box of treats in Eject’s clutches. “He said for you to share!”

Crumbs flecked in all directions as Eject tried to refuse around a mouthful of rust cakes. And was that a mercury glaze? No fair! Eject even stuck out his glossa, losing more crumbs in the process, as he tried to run away with the box of yummies.

Frag that!

Frenzy gave chase.

If any customers came in, well, they’d get over it. The arcade was called Chaos and Noise after all. What else could they expect?


“If you get any more polished, you’ll blend right into the scenery.”

The soft chuckle from behind Sunstreaker was the first indication he wasn’t alone. He should have seen movement in the mirror, but Drift was as sneaky as any one of Jazz’s special ops mechs. How someone with nearly all-white armor could walk around and not be noticed, Sunstreaker would never know.

Sunstreaker snorted and glared harder at the mirror, examining his finish with the sort of intensity he reserved for lining a difficult commission. “Maybe that’s the point.”

In the mirror, he spied white arms encircling his frame from behind before he felt the heat of them, and their owner, pressing against his back. Drift’s engine revved gently, vibrating against Sunstreaker’s armor. His face appeared, chin hooked over Sunstreaker’s shoulder, a gentle smile curving his lips and baring his pointed denta.

“But how is anyone going to compliment you if they can’t see you?” Drift murmured into Sunstreaker’s audial. His palms flattened over Sunstreaker’s ventral, black against black.

Sunstreaker cycled a vent, alarmed to find it shuddery, and rested his hands over Drift’s. “I doubt anyone will want to.”

Drift nipped his audial. “You know better than that,” he chastised, though his gentle tone meant it barely qualified as one.

“I know reality,” Sunstreaker retorted and dropped his gaze from the mirror. He turned away from it, easing out of the comfort of Drift’s embrace. It wasn’t rejection.

Drift’s voice followed him anyway. “You’re just nervous.”

Sunstreaker made a noncommittal noise. He pulled a polishing cloth out of his subspace and focused on an invisible mark on his arm. His back was cold without Drift’s warmth, but it was hard to accept that right now. The anxiety was turning his spark inside out, reminding him all too much of that time spent in Shockwave’s custody.

“Okay!” The door to the dressing room slammed open and Sideswipe came strutting inside, a big grin planted on his lips. “We are ready for opening night. In less than ten minutes, we’re going to razzle dazzle everyone.” Sparkles all but glinted in his optics, his field a rolling burst of excitement, nearly enough to combat the tension in the air.

“Not if no one comes,” Sunstreaker muttered, which he thought was overshadowed by Drift’s excited, “Great!”

Unfortunately, Sideswipe heard him. “What?”

Drift rolled his optics. “He’s nervous.”

“It’s not nerves!” Sunstreaker snapped, his fingers clenched around the polishing cloth, which he only barely resisted from tossing at his idiot twin and their just as idiotic partner.

Sideswipe’s mouth twisted in contemplation. “Bro, we’ve been working on this for months,” he said, and he used that tone. That calm, collected tone Sunstreaker simultaneously hated and craved. “We’ve got a line of mechs out there waiting to see the fruits of our labor. We don’t even have to worry about whether or not we’re going to be a hit. It’s a done deal.”

Sunstreaker nibbled on his bottom lip. Every ventilation was a trembling one. He shook his head. “I changed my mind. This is a bad idea.” He tossed the polishing cloth into a bin and spread his hands. “We’re not opening.” He turned toward the door, fully ready to tell everyone not to bother.

Sideswipe intercepted him before he could take more than three steps. He cupped Sunstreaker’s face, hands gentle as he pulled them together, foreheads coming into soft contact.

“Sunny,” he murmured. “You can do this. We can do this. We’re not alone anymore.”

“No, you’re not,” Drift agreed from nearby, close enough to touch, but always waiting for permission, to be invited, especially in moments of weakness like this.

They were bonded, yes, at the spark even. But they weren’t yet mates. It was a very fine distinction. It was a bond they hadn’t made. They were working on it, little by little, month by month.

Drift understood all too well the kind of life Sunstreaker and Sideswipe had survived. He’d been there with them, before the war, and he’d suffered agony of his own.

He was their first choice, five years ago when Ratchet had told them their options. Former Decepticon or not, Drift was kin. He knew the circumstances which birthed them. He’d clawed his way out of the same gutters.

And this? This terrifying, uncertain, glorious event? It was something Sunstreaker had always dreamed of, even in the dark and the dank and the rot. During the war, he’d buried the longing down deep. He stopped thinking of it as a possibility. Frankly, he didn’t think he and Sideswipe would survive the war.

Now here they were, on the precipice, with everything Sunstreaker had ever wanted, and he was too afraid to seize it. He was too afraid of what failure would mean. Too afraid to even try.

Drift moved closer, reaching with his field first, and when they reached back, Drift once again embraced Sunstreaker from behind. Surrounded by his mates, their warmth and their support, the clatter in Sunstreaker’s armor softened.

This was too hard to do alone.

But he wasn’t. He never had been. He’d always had Sideswipe. And now they, together, had Drift. He felt emboldened by them, drawing strength from the bond.

“All right,” Sunstreaker said as he cycled a ventilation, still shaky, but not unbearable.

He had stood down combiners, super soldiers, and Megatron. He might not have always emerged unscathed, but he’d faced them with his head held high, and a fury in his spark. Surely he could face this, these mechs come to view the very spark of him.

“I guess we shouldn’t keep them waiting,” he said.

Sideswipe grinned and pressed a kiss to Sunstreaker’s forehead. “I’m proud of you.”

“As am I.” Drift squeezed Sunstreaker a little tighter, his lips brushing across the back of Sunstreaker’s shoulder. “Now, should we not get out there? Wouldn’t want to be late for opening night.”

“No, we wouldn’t,” Sunstreaker agreed. He pulsed affection and gratitude into his field.

They separated.

“Now that it’s settled. Here. Put these on quick.” Sideswipe pulled something from his subspace and handed them to Sunstreaker and Drift.

They were small sacks. Sunstreaker frowned and drew open the drawstring, peering inside. It was some kind of fabric? He tugged out something long, flat, and black, and it took him several long seconds to realize what it was.

Sunstreaker rolled his optics. “I’m not wearing a bowtie, Sideswipe,” he said flatly.

“Why not?” his idiot of a twin brother asked. Already in the midst of tying his own white bow and adjusting it at the base of his intake, Sideswipe was all but glowing with glee. “I think it’ll make you look dashing.”

“I can’t wear a hat,” Drift said as he held up what could only be a tophat, sized for Cybertronians of course. And with his helm spurs, Drift couldn’t wear it even if he wanted to.

“Then just put on the bowtie,” Sideswipe said as he whipped out a tophat and planted it on his head, cocked at an angle to avoid the issue of his own sensory horns and give him a somewhat dashing air, if not ridiculous. “There. Perfect.”

Sunstreaker sighed. He swept his palm down his face. “No one’s going to take us seriously if we walk out there looking like this.”

“I don’t know. He may have a point about the tie,” Drift replied as he moved to admire himself in the mirror, the bright red bowtie quite fetching against the black of his intake. “It’s simultaneously nonsensical and charming.”


Sunstreaker groaned. If Drift was already falling for Sideswipe’s madness, then Sunstreaker had no choice. He would have to play along as well.

He was not, however, wearing the stupid tophat. Let Sideswipe be the only of them sporting the ugly accessory.

“Looking good, handsome,” Sideswipe purred as he draped himself along Drift’s side and nuzzled his cheek against Drift’s, careful not to disturb his tophat. “And thank you for locking up those swords tonight. We can’t be scaring the customers away.”

Drift nibbled on his bottom lip. “You’re welcome,” he said quietly and after a long moment.

That had been a point of long discussion between Sideswipe and Drift for the past month. Sunstreaker had stayed out of it. Privately, he agreed with Sideswipe. But he also understood Drift’s point.

It still felt anathema to Sunstreaker to walk around without being visibly armed. Of course, no one knew about the blades hidden beneath his forearm armor, or the blaster in his thigh compartment. But visible armament was often a warning and deterrent. He felt vulnerable without them, and knew Drift, who had spent far too long in the company of Decepticons, shared the same apprehension.

With a sigh, Sunstreaker tightened the bowtie around his neck. The weight was negligible and he barely felt the smooth touch of the fabric. He peeked into the mirror and had to admit, it didn’t look as bad as he thought it would.

Like the Pit he’d admit it though.

Suddenly, Sideswipe hooked an arm around his midsection and tugged him toward the mirror. He had Drift on his other arm, and he grinned at the sight the three of them made: shiny armor, bowties, and a lone, crooked tophat.

“We look fantastic,” Sideswipe declared.

Drift grinned.

Sunstreaker rolled his optics. He folded his arms over his chestplate, the perfect shine catching a glint of overhead lighting. Though Sideswipe had a point. They looked great.

“Alright, enough preening,” Sunstreaker said. “It’s time to open.”

Time for all of them to realize their dreams.

His mates smiled and Sideswipe tugged them in for a tighter embrace.

It was a brand new world, after all. They need only reach out and take it.


First Aid didn’t exactly leap out of his chair when he heard the chime for the main door go off, but he was close to it. Excitement made his spark skip an oscillation, and he might have flung himself at his office door, hurrying out to greet his visitor. Or well, he hoped it was a visitor and not a patient at any rate.

When Ambulon came around the corner, spotty paint and all, First Aid’s optics brightened in a smile. “Thanks for coming!” he said as he greeted Ambulon with a massive hug, something the self-contained medic had finally opened up to a couple years prior.

Ambulon’s field was amused and appreciative as he returned the embrace with a quick squeeze. “You don’t have to thank me for this kind of thing.”

“Well, I kind of do.” First Aid shrugged and released Ambulon. “I know I didn’t have to be on shift. We’re all supposed to be dismissed, but someone has to be ready for all the high grade related mayhem.”

Ambulon’s smile was soft and sincere. “To be honest, that kind of noisy revelry is not something which appeals to me. I wouldn’t have attended on my own. I would have stayed in Nova Cronum for the same reason.”

First Aid chuckled and turned, gesturing for Ambulon to follow him. “Then it’s a good thing you’re here. You’ll have a better view of the fireworks later, and my window overlooks the stage.”

“All of the entertainment without any of the crowds or ambient noise,” Ambulon murmured. “Yes, that is quite preferable to me.”


The Autobot medbay in Polyhex was located in a building that faced the neutral territory in the middle, where the three cities had started to merge together to form a sort of triumvirate. The memorial obelisk and the spacebridge also occupied this tri-state area and it was where the ever-growing celebratory festival set up every year. Though this year was truly the first time it could be called a festival.

First Aid had a wonderful view of the events, though he didn’t want to attend in person. It had only been five years. He still wasn’t ready to accidentally bump into a Decepticon, former or otherwise, and he’d rather serve his purpose as a medic. Besides, he was on the fast track to being Chief Medic, what with Ratchet gradually stepping back in his duties.

Ratchet, after all, had a youngling to raise.

“And what if I told you our night might involve inventory?” First Aid teased as he led Ambulon to the rather spacious and lush break room. They would still be within audible range of the front chime.

Ambulon twitched. “… even so,” he said.

First Aid chuckled and gestured Ambulon toward the most comfortable seat in the room, located at the best table with the best view of the tri-city area. “Well, we won’t be entirely without fun.”

“Oh?” Ambulon slid into the seat and braced his elbows on the table.

First Aid rummaged in the cabinet for the basket he’d stashed earlier in the week, when Ambulon confirmed that he’d once again be present for their yearly observation of the festivities. It had a delicious array of tasty treats and a few bottles of sweet engex far too weak to get them intoxicated, but pleasant enough to pass the time.

He emerged victorious with the basket and plonked it down in front of Ambulon, sweeping off the cover with a flourish.

“You came prepared,” Ambulon observed with one of his small, telltale grins. He plucked a small box of mercury meltaways from the stack. “And you remembered.”

“That those are your favorite? I sure did.” First Aid dropped into the seat opposite of Ambulon and started laying the spread across the table. “It’s the least I can do if I’m going to steal you away for the evening.”

Ambulon chuckled as he peeled back the wrapping around the meltaways. “Spending time with you is hardly a trial.” He sniffed the candy before he popped it into his mouth – an odd little tic he’d had as long as First Aid knew him.

First Aid grinned behind his mouthplate. “Good to know.” He glanced out the window, where bright lights were already making the night a smear of colors and hundreds of mechs had started to crowd the narrow streets.

Maybe one year, he’d actually go out and join them.

“How’s Nickel by the way?” First Aid asked to change the subject. The former medic for the DJD had been released on parole six months ago and assigned to Ambulon’s supervision in Nova Cronum per her request.

“She’s doing well. She’s made friends with Catscan.” Ambulon took a sip of the engex, his gaze falling to the window as well. “She still despises Autobots, but she has no love for the new Decepticon command either. Very little has changed in that regard.”

First Aid made a noncommittal noise. “It is difficult to blame her. She still hates Grimlock for Tarn’s death, despite knowing he would not have surrendered, and she grieves for Vos.”

“Even murdering psychopaths have someone who love them,” Ambulon murmured. He shook his head. “Our world has become a strange and unusual place.”

First Aid deactivated his mouthguard and snagged one of the rust sticks. “But a better one though. Right?”

Ambulon ate another of the meltaways and made a humming noise of approval in his intake. “Getting better by the day.”


[CtE] Undaunted 02

Ceremonies. Traditions. Customs.

All had been lost during the war. Forgotten. Abandoned. Perhaps somewhere in the fractured and rusting libraries on Cybertron were records, step by step explanations of every unique celebration. Perhaps there were speeches and plans, transcripts and videos.

Remembering their history was a challenge for another decade, Soundwave thought. Right now, they had to focus on surviving, rebuilding, welcoming their exiled brethren home and strengthening the ever-fragile peace.

The conjunx ceremony was fraught with tradition. It varied, region by region, city by city, sometimes by altmode or caste or function. It was unique, and so long as one followed the four basic steps, it suited. Registering the bonding with the proper authorities made it legitimate in the optics of the court, but it wasn’t necessary.

They didn’t have a court system right now. They didn’t have a legal process. Hound and Ravage had to do nothing more than declare themselves bonded to their commanding officer and/or respective leader, and update their medical directives, and they would be legitimate.

They didn’t have to have a ceremony.

But Hound wanted one. Had asked for one. And then, in a joining of everything he loved, he planned their ceremony from what he could remember of Cybertron – mostly with Mirage’s advice – with added touches of another culture their war had demolished – that of the humans. Specifically, what would have been more common to their human friends, both the ones who had died, and the ones newly found.

They had wanted to come, these humans Hound and his team had discovered, living off the eastern coast of the United States on a small, self-contained island protected by one of their mad scientist’s experimental defense domes. But Cybertron’s lack of atmosphere made a casual visit impossible, and they lacked the materials to create survival suits for themselves.

Next time perhaps. Soundwave was certain ‘Doc Greene’, as he liked to be called, would collaborate with Wheeljack nicely, and they would have the ability to visit Cybertron within the next year.

For now, they would have to settle for a live feed courtesy of Buzzsaw, who had grumbled aloud about being forced to attend the mushy ceremony, but was secretly pleased to be given such an important task.

Meanwhile, Soundwave had only look to the slightly raised dais to find Laserbeak, on her preferred perch of Optimus’ left shoulder, her optics dimmed as though she’d slipped into recharge. She’d become something of a security blanket for Optimus, a signal of safety and comfort, and neither she nor Soundwave minded.

So long as she was around, Optimus had confessed, he felt there would always be help. Even if all he needed was a chirr, a warm field, and a hug.

Laserbeak was more than thrilled and honored to be so relied upon. If Optimus were a carrier, Soundwave might have worried about him stealing Laserbeak away. But no, she often returned to him, with several nuzzles and reassurances. Her spark, she said, was big enough to love two.

Frenzy and Rumble were both here as well, sitting on the row in front of Soundwave, too small for their pedes to reach the ground, with Bumblebee perched on Rumble’s other side and Eject wriggling in the seat next to Frenzy. The former pair had made themselves official in the past five years, rekindling the fire which had once burned strongly between them.

Soundwave did not know if they intended to become conjunx now or in the future. Everything remained tentative, steps taken as carefully as though they tiptoed over frozen water. They had to relearn one another, so to speak, as both had changed over the course of the war.

Frenzy and Eject had struck up a friendship that seemed built to last, one Soundwave knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was not romantic in the slightest. So far, neither mech seemed interest in romance, and Soundwave doubted that would change. Some mechs weren’t wired that way, and there was nothing wrong with it.

So long as Frenzy was happy. Which he was. The two of them were, in fact, whispering and giggling to each other, and Soundwave sent a stern glance across the bond.

Frenzy peered over his shoulder with a half-guilty look before beaming and offering Soundwave a flippant wave.

I’ll be good, boss. Promise.

And then he whipped back around, he and Eject’s helms near to each other, their whispers continuing but their giggles quieter.

Soundwave considered warning Blaster. But if the other carrier didn’t know what they were scheming, far be it from Soundwave to warn his one-time rival. Let him be the one to find out what the two troublemakers intended to do with several cans of silly string and a catapult.

Someone slipped into the open bench beside him.

“OP looks mighty handsome up there, don’t he?”

Soundwave tried not to stiffen. After five years, he should be used to Jazz popping up around him.

He wasn’t.

He didn’t look at the third in command, choosing instead to keep his gaze forward, not wanting to see the smirk of satisfaction on Jazz’s face. He knew far too well what he was doing.

“Optimus always handsome,” Soundwave answered, and felt the bloom of pride in his spark all over again, for it was true.

Optimus was handsome, though it was his kindness, his firmness, his forgiveness, his very spark that captured Soundwave’s own. He was aesthetically pleasing, but it was everything Optimus was, that made Soundwave love him.

Jazz chuckled and nudged him with an elbow. “Okay, ya win that one. I ain’t gonna argue with that truth.” Peripherally, Soundwave saw Jazz lean back and get comfortable – he intended to stay. How unfortunate. “That’ll be you ‘nd him up there someday, I’ll bet. Magnus’ll preside, that’s the kind of thing Magnus does, and it’ll be so cute. I think.”

Soundwave blinked behind his visor. He finally turned his head, but Jazz wasn’t looking at him anymore. Instead, his gaze was focused on Optimus, something in the tight restraint of his field suggesting Soundwave knew where this conversation was going.

“Perhaps,” Soundwave allowed. “Decision, Optimus’. Jazz disapproves?”

Jazz laughed, but there was no humor in it. “Mech, I’m way too late for disapprovin’ of any kind.” He leaned back, lounging in the bench with the sort of false ease that he’d perfected over the course of the war. “Optimus is happy. He’s glowin’. That’s all a decent mech could ask for.”

“And Jazz?”

“I’ll make do.” Jazz shrugged, again with false nonchalance. “I’ll improvise. It’s what I do. Not like I don’t have any experience.”

There was a wealth of information in that revelation, but now wasn’t the time to peel into it. Perhaps he’d set Frenzy on it. He’d always admired Jazz and given their propensity for mischief, could probably make a friend of the mech. Both of them could use more friends.

“Jazz generous,” Soundwave said after a moment of carefully cycling and discarding through words.

“I know when I’m beaten. I’m just tryin’ to be the better mech here, ain’t nothin’ generous about it.” Jazz’s shoulders rolled, but he was focused up front, where Optimus had turned his head to acknowledge Laserbeak, one hand raised to scratch gently under her chin. “And I think I’ve made all the threats I need ta make. Ya already know what’ll happen if ya hurt him.”

Soundwave inclined his head. “Affirmative.”

Jazz loudly cycled a ventilation and threw himself forward, hopping to his feet with a jaunty move that belied the disquiet in his field. He half-turned to look at Soundwave, still with that damnable grin, no matter how strained at the edges.

“Ya make ‘im happy, all right? Whatever it takes.”

Something coiled in Soundwave’s internals, something a lot like relief. He’d spent so long on edge, waiting for the moment Jazz sauntered into view, admitted the secret in his spark, and effortlessly whisked Optimus away. He was charming, where Soundwave was not. He was affectionate, beautiful, funny, intelligent and devoted. In comparison, Soundwave often wondered what he had to offer, and considered himself lucky Jazz didn’t seem inclined to make it a fight.

Now, Soundwave wondered why he’d even let himself fear. If there was ever a battle, Soundwave had already won. Jazz lost before he even offered himself into the match.

“No intentions otherwise,” Soundwave said, and surprised himself with the conviction in his vocals, before he admitted what he’d told few others, “Optimus is loved.”

Jazz’s lips pulled into a smile, one softer than before. “That’s all I wanted to hear.” He sketched a salute. “Catch ya on the flip side, Sounders.”

And then he was gone, slipping out of the row where Soundwave had chosen to sit, and sliding into one a few back, next to Smokescreen. Soundwave had heard rumors that the two shared berths more often than not, though research seemed to indicate it was less a thing of romance, and more one of comfort.

‘Jazz odd,’ Buzzsaw chirped to him as Soundwave turned back around, directing his attention to the front. He’d been watching the entire time, from his perch in the rafters, where he had the best view of the entire room.

‘Friendship perhaps possible now,’ Soundwave replied.

Buzzsaw sent a sound akin to a raspberry. ‘Still watch for knife in back, boss.’

Soundwave buried a snort. ‘Always.’

Optimus stepped forward, gathering everyone’s attention by lifting his hands and calling for silence, and the rest of the conversation slid away. He had Soundwave’s full attention, not that it was hard, and there Optimus was, at ease in front of the small crowd, a gentle smile on his lips and in his optics.

“Friends and family, I welcome you all to the public conjunx ceremony for Hound of Lower Monoplex and Ravage of Stanix,” Optimus began, his sonorous voice filling every nook and cranny of the small room. “It is my honor to be chosen to conduct this ceremony, and I am proud to be a part of this momentous occasion, this celebration of love enduring. If you would all rise, we can welcome the soon-to-be endura.”

Obedience was almost immediate, though not silent. Too many mechs with too many creaks and whooshes and groans as they rose to their feet and half-turned as one to the open door at the end of the aisle. A song began to play, soft and sweet, one that Soundwave’s memory file tagged as an old ballad he’d thought lost to the war. He wondered how and who had managed to dig it up.

Moments passed, stretched with anticipation, until as one, Hound and Ravage stepped into the doorway, the former from the right and the latter from the left. Hound was beaming, his armor jittering, and Ravage had raised her head high, her optics bright and pleased.

They strode together, step in step, Hound matching Ravage’s stride as though he had been doing so for centuries, as if it were easy to match a bipedal pace to a quadrupedal one. Their size difference was all the more apparent now, and Soundwave knew, the subject of some ridicule among those who had not been taught to keep their prying to themselves. Soundwave wished he could claim said slaggers were only from the Neutrals, but they were evenly spread throughout the three factions.

There were far too many who still didn’t consider Ravage an intelligent being in her own right, one capable of making her own decisions and truly loving another. And while a part of Soundwave would have been glad to hunt down every detractor to inform them the error of their ways, he knew better than to do so.

It would help no one and in the end, they didn’t matter. What mattered, instead, was this. Hound and Ravage together, happy, hoping beyond hoping during the war that they could come to this very moment.

They passed Soundwave’s row and for a moment, Ravage’s gaze flicked away from the podium that was their destination, to land upon Soundwave. A wealth of words carried in the single glance before she focused forward again. The last echoes of the bond thrummed between them, always present for all that Soundwave had broken it. She was imprinted on his spark forever.

And then they were at the podium, standing in front of Optimus, turning to face one another, the love in their field enough to make Soundwave’s knees tremble. Especially when Hound lowered himself to one knee and rested one hand across it, palm up. Ravage lifted a single paw, resting it over his hand. Hound’s fingers curled, the tips of them resting over Ravage’s paw, claiming, but loose enough to set her free if she so wished.

He knew her so very well.

Soundwave strengthened the blocks around his processor again, if only so he could focus. Especially when Optimus beamed down at them, his happiness for their sake nearly blinding.

The crowd seated itself. The music softened, though it continued to play in the background, just enough to maintain the mood. Soundwave made a mental note to acquire a copy of it. He thought Optimus might like to fall into recharge to it.

There were, perhaps, about a dozen Cybertronians in attendance, and an island full of humans through the lens of Buzzsaw’s camera. All watched as Optimus smiled and began to speak.

“There was a time when both of you could only dream of this moment,” he said, voice soft but carrying, and rich with meaning. “When we were all wrapped in the chains of war, and dreams were tiny things to be nestled in our sparks. They were the smallest of hopes to cling to, in the darkest of times, and I believe I speak for all of us when I say how glad I am that you two are here before us today, to finally claim that carefully nurtured dream.”

Hound’s ventilations audibly stuttered, though perhaps only audible to someone with Soundwave’s advanced systems. Ravage, in response, shifted closer to him, lending Hound the strength of her field.

Optimus looked down at them. “It has always been my preference that the two hopeful partners speak their promises to one another without ceremony. We, after all, are only here to bear witness to a truth that the both of you already know.” He gestured to each of them in turn. “Ravage, would you like to begin?”

This, Soundwave knew, had been agreed upon by all parties. Ravage had insisted she be allowed to speak first

“Hound,” Ravage’s vocals crackled with emotion. “I never knew I could fall in love with another spark beyond the definition of family. I did not know I could meet someone who I would grow to need in my life. But from the moment we met, I knew you were the exception. You would always be the exception.”

Soundwave’s spark squeezed at his once-cassette’s frank admission of love, for there were no other words to describe the emotion in Ravage’s spark.

“I love you,” Ravage continued. “I will always love you. I have spent over half a lifetime waiting for this moment, and I intend to spend the rest of my lifetime wherever you are. If you’ll have me.”

“Oh, Rav.” Hound dropped to both knees, his hands cupping Ravage’s face as he pressed their foreheads together. “It’s I who should be begging you to accept me. I’d never seen beauty until I met you. I didn’t know my attention could be captivated by anyone until you eclipsed everything, inside and out.”

Hound’s optics shimmered where Soundwave could see them, and like Ravage, the naked emotion in his vocals, in his expression, turned Soundwave’s spark to mush. He’d not seen a commitment ceremony in centuries, but this one already proved to be the best, the most honest of them.

“You are the strength that kept me together. You’ve always been my strength,” Hound murmured as he held Ravage’s gaze. “And if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life offering my strength in return. Frame, mind, and spark.”

It was the heaviest of promises, the most earnest. Only the sincere offered all three to their beloved, because all three in tandem were the very definition of a mech. Rossum’s Trinity, if you asked the texts.

Ravage lifted a paw, resting it on Hound’s thigh. Her head bumped back against his, leaning into the press of their foreheads.

“You are mine, Hound of Lower Monoplex,” she said. “Always and forever.”

Hound’s thumbs swept over Ravage’s jaw. “I’m yours,” he agreed. “And I take you as my own, Ravage of Stanix, until the Allspark welcomes us and beyond.”

Soundwave’s spark squeezed and squeezed as Hound and Ravage embraced, the tendrils of their fields so tightly knit as to be indistinguishable one from the other. They had wanted this for so long, had put it aside for the sake of others, how could Soundwave be anything but happy for them, here in their moment of triumph?

“Thus the words are spoken,” Optimus said as he lowered himself to one knee, resting a hand on Hound’s shoulder and the other on Ravage’s upper back, between her shoulders. “Thus the vow is made, one to the other. Witnessed by your friends, your family, and the ever-watchful gaze of our creator.”

Ravage, Soundwave knew, believed very little in Primus or the all-seeing optics of any kind of deity, sleeping or dead. But Hound had enough religion for both of them, and she’d conceded to his wishes in that regard.

Give and take. Compromise and adapt. They’d been making concessions for each other for centuries. What was another in the grand scheme of things.

“Hound of Lower Monoplex, and Ravage of Stanix, I officially pronounce you conjunx,” Optimus continued, his optics bright with happiness, his field nearly eclipsing them both with delight. “May your bond be everlasting and your love never falter.”

“Never,” Hound murmured in an echo of Optimus.

The sheen of joy in Ravage’s optics spoke more than enough words. They slid shut, ever so slow, and her field slid into Hound’s, merging into one.

Soundwave’s spark fluttered. He ex-vented, long and slow, even as his remaining cassettes pulsed love across their shared bond. He registered the sound of clapping around him, the engines revving in congratulations. He felt as though he were floating, his shields fluctuating against the strong inflow of positive energy. It was like high grade, like overcharge, and it made him dizzy.

Soundwave whispered a silent prayer as well, to a deity he still wasn’t sure he trusted. He asked the universe, also.

Let her be happy. It was all he could have hoped for any of his cassettes.


It was hard not to feel a teensy bit of envy.

Oh, Jazz was monumentally happy for Hound. He knew how long the tracker had been waiting for this. He’d been there, in all those lonely nights, sharing a berth with Hound because he missed Ravage something fierce but couldn’t admit it, and just wanted a warm frame to platonically cuddle. He’d caught them so many times, curled together, whispering promises to one another, hopes for a future where the war didn’t exist, where they could at last be as one.

Jazz was so, so glad they finally had this opportunity. It was the only good thing to come out of that horrifying year where the Decepticons had won.

But it was also hard not to envy him a little. Well, maybe more than a little. Maybe a lot. Especially as the ceremony ended and everyone started milling around, chatting in little groups, slipping in to congratulate the couple.

Jazz didn’t miss anything. Especially not the way Optimus and Soundwave immediately gravitated together, Soundwave saying something to make Optimus chuckle, and the subtle way Soundwave rested a hand briefly against Optimus’ lower back. Or how Optimus leaned into the touch just enough to draw comfort from it.

Jazz knew Optimus. Knew him inside and out. Knew that Optimus loved Soundwave with every inch of his being, even if their being together was moving at a pace more glacial than continental drift.

Jazz would bet the entirety of Cybertron that at some point in the near-future, maybe before Earth’s sun burned out even, Optimus and Soundwave would be making very similar vows to one another. They were a good match. Jazz couldn’t have picked someone better for Optimus.

Well, unless he looked in the mirror. Except that was kind of a lie because Jazz was not what anyone would call a good mate. His past was even more checkered than Soundwave’s. Besides all that, he was a coward. Because he’d never been able to bring himself to tell Optimus how he felt, and now there was no point. No chance. If there’d even been one in the first place.

Jazz hauled himself out of the bench and slid into the crowd, moving seamlessly amid the chatting mechs, so quiet most didn’t see him. The few that did, Jazz offered grins, handshakes, a joke or two. It was distressingly easy to pull that mantle on sometimes. Scary easy to be ‘Jazz’ when he needed to be.

Of all the personas he draped over his frame, he liked ‘Jazz’ the best. Maybe he’d even keep it, once he was secure and certain in this peace.

“So that’s what you look like when you’re rattled.”

Jazz drew up short and spun slowly, planting a bright grin on his face as he turned to greet one of his last remaining subordinates, though perhaps that was a strong word. Eventually Bumblebee would leave him, too.

That was the way world worked. People came to him, they learned from him, he trusted them, and then, they discovered how to be happy again, and they left him. People were always leaving Jazz.

Maybe he should change his name to Waypoint.

“Who says I’m rattled?” Jazz demanded as he planted his hands on his hips, body language deliberately playful and unbothered. “This is a wedding, mechs. I’m practically giddy.”

“Right,” Rumble drawled as he leaned against Bumblebee’s side, one elbow on Bumblebee’s shoulder, casual as you please. “And those long looks my boss’ direction aren’t ya plotting how to kill him and get away with it.”

Jazz reared back, feigning affront. “What? Of course not! Me and Sounders are the best of buddies now. Just ask him.” He smirked, flashing his denta. “Besides, any good soldier knows when the battle’s lost. Sometimes, ya gotta cut yer losses and run.”

Bumblebee snorted. “You’ve never run from anything a day in your life,” he said, and gave Jazz one of those inscrutable looks he hated so much.

Kid always was too insightful for his own good. Never had any friends because of it. Well, until he joined up with jazz’s crew anyway. Jazz’s kind didn’t mind a mech with talents like that. Was pretty useful out in the field in all.

Couldn’t be a good agent if you couldn’t look through your targets, right to the very spark of them. Pretty annoying to turn on your fellow agents though. They all got used to it.

“You don’t have to pretend you’re okay,” Bumblebee added, hitting the nail squarely on the head, no busted thumbnails for this one. “Not to us.”

“Pfft. I’m fine. There’s nothin’ to be not-okay about.” Jazz waved a hand, flippant, ignoring the way his spark squeezed and stuttered, and flight-or-fight twisted around his tank, strong enough to make his hydraulics rattle.

Danger, Jazzmeister! Thy secret is out!

Jazz squinted at his subordinate and his cozy significant other. “Don’t you two have somewhere else ta be right now?”

It was Rumble’s turn to snort, mates like mates after all. “Yeah. We can see when we’re not wanted.” He shoved off Bumblebee’s side and made a show of dusting off his frame. “But you know, Jazz, regret’s a heavy thing to carry. All the things ya didn’t say especially.”

Jazz twisted his jaw. The light in his visor went flat. “Mech, maybe not tonight is a good night to test me, yeah?” It wasn’t a threat. If anyone asked, Jazz was absolutely not threatening anyone.

Friendly reminders didn’t count as threats.

Bumblebee sighed and curled an arm around Rumble’s elbow. “Come on, dumpling. You should know better than to tug the tail of the tiger.”

“But it’s so much fun!”

Jazz folded his arms under his bumper. “Oh, is it now? And when should we show up for your shotgun bonding, huh?”

Rumble tossed a middle-finger over his shoulder. Someone had been spending a little too much time with the humans. He’d picked up on some nasty habits. Brat.

Jazz snorted and dropped his arms. He searched the crowd, trying to see if anyone had noticed their little conversation and put the hints together. But, no. Everyone was too busy with their own happy lives, content that the war really was over, and danger lurked nowhere.

Ah, civilians. What did that even feel like?

Jazz worked his way to Hound and Ravage, the former of who was grinning so brightly he could serve as a lightbulb, and the latter who was getting twitchier by the moment, probably as a result of all the attention. Ravage had always preferred shadows. This much time in the sunshine was likely driving her crazy.

There was a lull in the congratulations swamping them, so Jazz swooped in to speak his piece, locating his happiness for them and planting it on his face.

“It’s about time,” he said as he slid to a stop in front of them, hands on his hips. “Congratulations you two. So’s you know, I was rooting for you the whole time.”

“Yes, I know,” Ravage said with a roll of her optics. “And I appreciate your discretion. You could have reported us and made things quite difficult.”

“I would never stand in the way of true love.” Jazz pressed a palm to his chestplate, over his squeezing spark. “In fact, I’d like to thank that I had a hand in making sure you two lovebirds finally got to build your nest.”

Hound chuckled. “I’ll be sure to mention you in my speech at the reception.” He shifted closer to Ravage, plating pressed to plating, his field brimming with emotion. “You know, though, if you ever need us…”

“I won’t.” This Jazz knew for sure. “It’s a new world, kiddos. The time of spies and tricksters is at its end. Enjoy your marital life and domesticity.” He gave them two thumbs up, perhaps a touch too overplayed, but damn it, Jazz was ready to get out of here.

Too much joy in the air.

Hound laughed, blind to the subtext, but Ravage’s keen-eyed stare was one Jazz was ready to back slowly away from. So he toned it down and gentled his smile.

“In all seriousness,” Jazz said. “Congratulations. Many happy returns.”

He left before he could make a fool of himself, and they didn’t have time to respond anyway, not with another well-wisher bouncing up to take Jazz’s place. Literally. Eject could be a ball of energy sometimes, and it never took much to drag Frenzy into his pace. Cute as a button, those two were.

Time, however, for Jazz to make his escape.

He slipped into the crowd, aimed himself at the exit, and the fresh air of freedom beyond the door.

He didn’t expect to get intercepted by the last mech he wanted to talk to at the moment. He loved Optimus with all his spark, honestly, but sometimes, Optimus had the worst timing. He could be so unbearably dense. Yet, they’d known each other for so long, Optimus would definitely notice something wasn’t quite right.

“Oh, hey, OP. Great job on the ceremony,” Jazz said, pulling on every mantle of confidence and ease he had in his arsenal. “You haven’t lost your touch.”

Optimus smiled at him, gentle and affectionate. “Thank you, Jazz. I appreciate the compliment.” He tilted his head in confusion. “Leaving so soon?”

“Yeah. I should get there early to help Skybyte finish setting up.”

It was only partially a lie. Jazz probably should get there early to warm up. It was his first public concert in ages. That Skybyte had unbent enough to perform with him was a monumental leap forward in Autobot-Neutral relations. Skybyte was the sort who held onto grudges for ages, even if Metalhawk’s downfall had been brought upon by his own actions. Luckily, Skybyte had no clue about Jazz’s help in that department.

Optimus rested a hand on his shoulder, warm and companionable. “I am glad to see that you, too, are settling into a post-war life, Jazz. It’s what I hope for every Autobot who has fought alongside me.”

Jazz reached up and patted Optimus’ hand before he slid out from under it, the ache of longing threatening to clog up his intake. “You just want everyone to be as happy and snuggly as you are.”

“Guilty as charged.” Optimus chuckled. “We have earned it, I believe. All of us. And you especially.” His gaze turned briefly distant, his words warm. “I don’t think I can ever repay you for your loyalty, for your friendship. If not for you–”

Jazz shook his head, cutting Optimus off. He’d had enough of gratitude, but thanks anyway. He hadn’t done what he did because he wanted Optimus to be grateful. He’d risked life and spark and limb because a world where that monster had his hands on Optimus wasn’t a world worth living in.

“Don’t worry about it, boss. It comes with the territory. It’s what I’m here for.” Jazz grinned, most of it sincere, the rest of it there to hide the emotion his visor couldn’t. “Anyway, I’d better get going. Skybyte bitches worse than Metalhawk if I’m late.”

Optimus laughed. “That I can believe. Soundwave and I will be by later. I intend to catch at least some of your performance.”

“Then I’ll look for you in the crowd.”

Jazz winked and danced backward. He tossed off a friendly salute, careful to keep his smile intact. “Catch ya later, OP.” He slipped into the crowd before Optimus could say anything further and told himself he wasn’t running away.

He waited until he was a fair distance gone to look back, unsurprised to see that Optimus had sought out Soundwave, and the two were now standing together. Optimus had Laserbeak back on his shoulder, nuzzling the side of his head. Soundwave was offering a treat to Buzzsaw. Whatever they spoke about, it made Optimus smile.

He was happy. So happy. He’d improved so much since that horrible enslavement five years ago. He wasn’t perfect. The echoes of it still lingered, but Optimus was moving forward. Healing.

He was going to be just fine. And that was enough. It had to be.

Jazz cycled a ventilation and slipped out of the ceremony hall, into a sky twinkling with twilight, manufactured though it was. Cybertron spun endlessly through space. One of these orns, maybe they’d get caught by a star. Or Perceptor and Brainstorm and all the other vastly intelligent mechs would figure out how to put Cybertron somewhere permanent.

Maybe it was for the best they didn’t. No one liked Cybertronians and hadn’t for quite some time. Maybe better that no one could easily find them. And someday, they’d leave Earth behind, too. So the surviving humans could rebuild and forget they ever knew the metal monsters which slayed them.

Jazz chuckled to himself as he hustled toward the temporary stage, constructed for this evening alone. My but he was feeling maudlin tonight. He should be delighted, celebratory even.

Five years of peace! He should be in the highest of spirits! Or something.

The stage came into view, already brightly lit and draped in celebratory banners. An awful sound screeched out of the speakers – probably Blaster checking the sound system again. He could be pretty particular about it, especially now that he could spare the time to focus on his true love.

Music was the rhythm of his spark. It always would be.

Jazz rounded the corner of the stage and spied Skybyte in the center of it, playing straw boss to Blaster’s cassettes – minus Eject and Rewind unsurprisingly – as they ran around to finish the last fiddly bits. Jazz hopped up onto the stage just as Skybyte turned to survey the open area which would serve as the concert hall.

“About time you got here,” Skybyte said, ever so friendly, ever the grump. He planted his hands on his hips. “I thought I would have to start without you.”

Jazz smirked. “I didn’t know acapella was your style.”

“I have recordings.” Skybyte squinted at him, something in the hard edge of his stare softening. “You look like someone snatched your favorite blaster. Is there something I should know about?”

“Nothing treaty-related.” Jazz flicked a hand. “It’s personal. I’ll get over it. Did you decide the set list?”

A mutual enjoyment of music, that had been the ties that slowly drew the Neutrals and the Autobots into something closer to a partnership, rather than bitter enemies. Jazz had been the first to cast the line, but Skybyte had been the first to bite the bait. He’d harbored a deep love of poetry, but never had the skills to attach it to music.

Jazz had hooked him, line and sinker, with a wink and a tidbit of information: there wasn’t an instrument on this planet or any other that Jazz hadn’t fallen in love with. Some he could play like any master. Others, not so much. But the music lived in his spark as much as it did Blaster’s.

And a trio was born. As in three, because what musical group could be complete without someone to smooth over the rough edges? Jazz and Skybyte relied on Blaster to make them sound good.

“Yes, I did. After conferring with Blaster, we thought it most appropriate to start with ‘Exit the Fall.’” Skybyte’s frown did not ease.

Jazz nodded. “Good choice.” He cast about, looking for his electro-bass. One of many instruments he’d be playing this evening. “You got ‘In the Rafters’ on there, too?”

“Of course.”

“Then I’m happy with whatever the rest is.”

He found the bass in its cradle, treated carefully. Blaster’s little mechs knew the value of it, knew how to handle it properly. Good kids, they were. Jazz would have to bring them a treat later.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Skybyte’s frown lingered, less severe, more concerned now. “There is decidedly less… you in your step.”

Jazz barked a laugh as he knelt by his instrument’s case and ran his fingers over the aged metal. It had survived so much, even more than the war, just like its owner.

“I would have thought a poet could come up with a better adjective.” Jazz removed the electro-bass from the case and gave it a testing strum. “It’s been a long half-decade is all. No worries. I’m good to play.”

Skybyte huffed an exasperated sound. “I wasn’t concerned about your ability to play, Jazz.” He rolled his optics, muttered something subvocally, and turned away. “Forget I asked. Let us just concentrate on the show for the evening. I don’t wish to disappoint anyone.”

“Impossible,” Jazz replied cheekily. “We’re the bees knees. Everyone loves us.”

“The bees knees. Primus, you Autobots and that infection you call a human language. If I never have to suffer another ridiculous idiom, it will be a miracle,” Skybyte muttered. He walked away, off to bark another command at Steeljaw as more lights brightened the stage.

Jazz grinned and focused on his electro-bass, giving it another few strums. He looked out over the courtyard where a few curious mechs had already begun to gather.

It was a good future they were building here. Maybe not perfect. Maybe not everything he could have ever wanted.

But good enough.

Definitely good enough.

[CtE] These Small Hours

There’s not much else he can do. His capabilities have shrunken to the bare minimum, and even taking care of himself is a trial these days.

He isn’t even sure what brings him here. What takes control of his feet one day, and why he wanders into the stark, cold bunker. But here he comes, and here he continues to visit.

Every moment he has to spare. Every quiet hour. When the silence in his head gets too loud, and the ache in his spark too heavy, Mirage comes here. It’s not technically a brig, but it is where they are keeping Cliffjumper. For his own safety, they say. And the safety of the surviving Decepticons.

Mirage doesn’t say much. His silence speaks volumes. He recognizes the dark despair in Cliffjumper’s gaze, but he doesn’t comment on it. He doesn’t have to.

They both know the state of their universe.

Sometimes, people don’t need words. Or reassurances. Or empty platitudes. Sometimes, they just need someone who understands, to sit there with them and wait. To be available without pushing. To know they aren’t alone, when they are ready to acknowledge it.

Mirage isn’t much good for anything right now. But this… this he can do.

“Why?” Cliffjumper finally asks him, a month later, when the silence stretches long between them, until it grows into a camaraderie no longer uncomfortable or tense, but peaceful and consoling.

He doesn’t have to clarify what he’s asking. Mirage already knows.

Mirage’s fingers work diligently around the metalmesh weave – the humans would have called it knitting. Mirage found he has a talent for the work, which requires nimble hands and light focus. It gives him something to concentrate on that he can’t possibly fail, and he enjoys the way the dyed metal twists and winds together.

It takes a moment for Mirage to answer, mostly because he’s not sure what to say. His first visit had been driven by mystery, as had the subsequent ones. He thinks he has an inkling now, or at least, a partial truth.

“Because if I were any faster, I would have gotten to those monsters before you could,” Mirage replies without looking up from his work.

Cliffjumper makes a noncommittal noise. Peripherally, Mirage sees him sit back into the bench, much more comfortable accommodations than the brig, but still very much a cage. One for his own protection.

Or so they say.

“I don’t think it was the right thing to do,” Mirage continues softly, “but it wasn’t wrong either. Pain is… not so easily assuaged.”

Cliffjumper snorts. His hands drape over his knees. His head thunks against the wall, optics dimming.

“You’ve got that right.”

He doesn’t say anything else. He appears, for all intents and purposes, to slip into a light recharge, a victory in itself.

Mirage is safe, Cliffjumper has decided, and Mirage returns his attention to his weaving, a thin strand of copper tucking under a thin strand of bronze.

Maybe tonight he’ll manage some recharge of his own.


“You going back?” Cliffjumper asks the next day as Mirage sits in his usual chair and pulls out his weaving supplies.

He’s still not sure what it’s going to be. Blanket perhaps. One can never have enough blankets. It’ll feel more like home, to have such a simple comfort. Unnecessary, but also, very much so.

Mirage looks up as he blindly arranges the strips of metalmesh, patting out any tangles. “Hm?”

“To duty?” Cliffjumper clarifies.

“Oh.” Mirage vents a soft sigh. He bends over his blanket, he’s decided. “No. The war is over. I need to find out what that means for me now.”

He’s never wanted to fight. It has only been a matter of necessity. He doesn’t want to do it anymore. He just wants peace.

“Without Tracks, you mean.”

Mirage flinches. He can’t help it. He knows he should be better, that he should have mastered his emotions, as he’s been raised and taught. He knows it’s a weakness, to be so blatant.

His spark, however, hurts. It yearns. There’s a raw, aching silence inside of him, places where Tracks used to be and still is. He’s dead, but he’s not gone, and Mirage still swears he can hear his beloved’s voice sometimes. It tells him to get up, to keep moving forward. That he’s loved and cherished and worth it.

Mirage’s head bows lower. “… Yes.”

Cliffjumper’s field reaches out, wavers, and retracts, as though he doesn’t feel qualified to offer comfort. “You ever thought about following him?”

He knows what Cliffjumper is really asking.

Mirage works his intake, hands stilling on his blanket, as he looks up at a mech who had once been a great bully to him. “Would you be disappointed if I answered yes?”

“Might’ve. Once. Now…” Cliffjumper shrugs, but it’s far from dismissive. It’s helpless, and tormented, and yielding. “Living’s hard.”

Mirage’s fingers tremble around the coiled metalmesh. “Some might say it is a coward’s path.”

Cliffjumper snorts. “Yeah, well ‘some’ can go spend a month in a Decepticon’s tender loving care.” He’s bitter, so bitter, and Mirage can’t even blame him. Can only sympathize.

He braces himself. Cycles a ventilation. “… Have you ever considered it?” Mirage asks, fearing he already knows the answer.

“Not in the way you think.” Cliffjumper shifts on the berth, pulls his back against the wall, legs stretched out in front of him. “The best revenge now is to live, I guess. Well, unless I get to finish my list.”

“You think it’ll help?”

Cliffjumper smiles, crooked as it is. “Can’t make me feel worse.”


“Could I ask a question?” Mirage asks a week later, the curiosity gnawing at him, prompting him to speak first, when he usually lets Cliffjumper lead the conversations.

The minibot stirs from his berth, emerging out of the shadows to come closer. “That’s a first,” he says. “As long as you don’t ask me how I’m doing, feel free.”

Mirage’s lips quirk. “I know better than to offer such a pointless query.” He cycles a ventilation and steadies his hands over his weaving. He always brings it now, to give his hands something to do when Cliffjumper’s silence is oppressive. “You said you had a list.”

Cliffjumper’s optics darken. He scowls. “Yeah. Not that it does me any good. No one will tell me anything about it. Like I have any chance of getting out of here and doing anything with the information anyway.” His fist strikes against the bars of his cell, powered down as Mirage is visiting.

Mirage glances up at the camera. It records video only, he knows. Or perhaps it records audio without his knowledge. Either way, it is nothing difficult for someone trained by Jazz to broadcast a little white noise.

“Would you share it with me?” Mirage asks. “Perhaps there is something I can do.”

“So you can end up in a cell next to me?” Cliffjumper snorts and flops back down on his berth. “While the company would be welcome, it’s not a good idea. Optimus doesn’t need the political flak.”

“You think so little of the skills Jazz gave me?” Mirage lifts an orbital ridge and pointedly flicks his cloak, shimmering in and out of visibility.

“I think that if someone on my list turns up dead, they’ll wonder why. It’s not worth it.”

Mirage’s frown deepens, but he lets the matter rest. For now. Cliffjumper is not the only one who has a list. And if there is someone Mirage can handle in his freedom, then he will.

Not everyone out there deserves a second chance.


The conversations turn, eventually, to the future. It’s a topic Mirage is careful to avoid, aware that they are on two different sides of the cage, but when Cliffjumper mentions it, he is honest.

If Cliffjumper can ask about Mirage’s choice of future, perhaps it means he’s considering his own. Or maybe he’s desperate for a distraction. Either way, it gives Mirage something to ponder that isn’t upsetting.

“A bar?” Cliffjumper echoes when Mirage answers. His tone is almost gleeful, amusement lurking in the gleam of his optics.

Mirage finds his lips curving into a soft smile. “Is it so strange?”

“For you? Frag yeah!” Cliffjumper laughs, though it’s little more than a chuckle. “Prim nobles aren’t supposed to own bars!”

“I am neither prim nor a noble, not anymore,” Mirage replies, more amused than offended. “Besides, it’s less a bar than it is a lounge.”

Cliffjumper’s chuckle is genuine and all the better for it. “A lounge. Yeah, that sounds more like you. There’s the Mirage I know.” He props his chin on his fist. “Tell me about this lounge then. You’re gonna have booze at least, right? Not tea and crumpets?”

Mirage’s lips twitch. “Yes, I will have various flavors of engex and high grade.” Tea and crumpets. Honestly. Though he isn’t surprised Cliffjumper drew the parallel. Nobles are – or were – a bit like British royalty. “Smokescreen has also suggested I include several game tables.”

“For gambling, of course.” Cliffjumper laughs again, his lips stretching wider into a grin. “Good old Smokey. I guess some things never change.”

“Yes, he is a sorely needed burst of stability right now,” Mirage agrees. He looks down at his metalmesh blanket, which he hasn’t found need to weave right now. “And you? Did you have plans for the future once?”

Cliffjumper leans back and crosses his arms behind his head, unflinching in the face of what had to be a painful query. “Yeah. Once. It isn’t possible now, but I used to think that I’d have a life after the war.”

“It’s not impossible,” Mirage replies quietly.

“I’m stuck in here.” Cliffjumper knocks an elbow against the wall. It makes a low donging noise. “And I’m never getting out.” That he doesn’t sound particularly disturbed by this is more worrisome than anything.

Mirage plucks at the weave of his blanket, finding a spot where it isn’t as tight as he’d like. “You never know,” he says. “If I can find peace and open a bar of all things, perhaps there is still hope for you.”

Cliffjumper makes a noncommittal noise. “I guess you’re right,” he says and shutters his optics, as though he intends to recharge then and there, though Mirage knows better.

Night purges, he assumes. They get the better of most survivors.

“Guess we’ll just have to see,” Cliffjumper adds.


“What about before the war?” Cliffjumper asks.

It’s another day, another moment sitting with the minibot during his captivity. Only now Cliffjumper’s been moved, out of the brig and into a secure ward in the medbay. All the better for his recovery, Ratchet claims.

It’s a brighter space. Welcoming. Better for healing.

There aren’t any bars, just locked doors. Mirage has to be buzzed in and out, through several passcode-protected doors. It reminds him of an asylum on Earth, the places the humans kept their mentally ill. Perhaps the comparison suits Cliffjumper well.

They sit at a table. Cliffjumper has some kind of puzzle game spread out across from him. Mirage works on a scarf as he’d finished his blanket. Smokescreen, upon seeing the finished product, had immediately demanded a scarf. So he can look more dashing, he claims.

“You know what I was,” Mirage replies as he carefully straightens out the different colors. Smokescreen has no sense of color and has picked out several obnoxious shades.

“I know you were a noble. But what did you do?” Cliffjumper persists. He focuses on his puzzle, a three-dimensional model of some vehicle, but his field is curious.

Mirage sighs. “Decoration.”

Cliffjumper blinks. “Come on. Be serious. It’s a legit question.”

“And it is a legitimate answer.” Mirage can’t lift his gaze. He feels heat in his cheeks. He hasn’t told anyone the truth of his past in a long time. “My spark and frame were both commissioned by my caretakers for the single purpose of being bonded to the heir of another noble house. We were pledged to be bonded before I even warmed my frame.”

“That sucks.”

“Mmm.” Mirage weaves the shiny copper in with the soft aluminum. “My Intended was not a bad mech. He was as trapped by the situation as I was. Though his caretakers treated him better than mine. I was considered a commodity, and while that meant I received the highest of care, there was no emotion in it. I was meant to be beautiful. A trophy. A gift.”

Cliffjumper scowls, as though outraged on Mirage’s behalf. “Noble houses are slag,” he says and waves one hand in the air, fingers wrapped around a piece of the puzzle. “What kind of fragged up slag is that?”

“The way things were.” Mirage shrugs, but it’s hardly as dismissive as he wants it to be. “I was originally a monoformer, you know. I didn’t even have a transformation cog until the war broke out. Trophies, you see, had no need to transform.”

His tires twitch. He remembers far too many days spent being carried or escorted, not because the ground was too dirty for his dainty feet, but because they dare not risk injury to such a valuable commodity.

“Damn. That sucks.” Cliffjumper shoves a thumb at himself. “Me? I’ve always had wheels. Couldn’t do my job without them. What a terrible transport specialist I’d be if I couldn’t do any transporting, right?”

Mirage raises an orbital ridge. “Aren’t you a little, err, small for such a task?”

Cliffjumper, for once, laughs rather than get offended. “Not everything that needs to be moved is large and bulky. Sometimes people just wanted something small delivered very quickly. Other times huge shipments needed guards to make sure they reached their destination safely.” He smirks. “I’m a Cliffjumper of all trades.”

“I’m quite sure that’s not how the idiom works.”

“Does for me.”

Mirage’s lips curl. The amusement dancing in Cliffjumper’s optics is welcome. He hopes he can continue to coax it out. Somehow, being here for Cliffjumper’s slow but steady progression is helping Mirage as well.

Maybe there is a future to be had. Maybe.

“So I’m guessing this fiance of yours wasn’t Tracks?” Cliffjumper says, getting back to the previous question. He slots another puzzle piece into place. “Since you still don’t sound like you liked him much.”

“He was a caged bird as much as I, but no, it was not Tracks.” Mirage’s smile turns warm as he thinks of his true Intended, the mech he would have claimed if not for the war. “Tracks’ brother had been the one to design my frame, but there was some… familial turmoil so when it came time for the official bonding ceremony, Tracks was summoned to help decorate me for the occasion. We had an instant connection.”

Cliffjumper chuckles. “Love at first sight, eh? Somehow I’m not surprised.” He picks through the pieces spread across the table with genuine interest. “Not that I know what that feels like. I had two amica, but never a conjunx.”


Mirage knows that word all too well. There are far too many Cybertronians now who must use the term ‘had’ to describe someone special once in their life. So many sparks lost to the war, to Megatron’s lust for power.

“I suppose that is the only gift the war ever gave me,” Mirage realizes aloud as he pauses in the midst of his weaving. “If not for it, I’d have found myself bonded to Dune, and I would have never even had the memories I do have with Tracks.”

“They say there’s a silver lining to everything.” Cliffjumper shrugs and clicks a puzzle piece into place. “Guess I’ll let you know when I find mine.”

“Perhaps…” Mirage hesitates, wondering if he’s overstepping, but then barrels forward anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. “Perhaps our friendship is one such lining.”

Cliffjumper cycles his optics and looks up at Mirage. His expression is unreadable at first, but there is surprise in his field. One hand still hovers over the assorted puzzle pieces.

“Yeah,” he finally says, static rasping through his vocals. “You’re right. Who would’ve guessed, huh? You and me getting along like this. Guess there are such things as miracles.”

Mirage chuckles. “I suppose so.”

He turns his attention back to his weaving. Cliffjumper focuses on his puzzle once more. They don’t speak, but somehow, the silence is not uncomfortable, not as it had been in the beginning, when Mirage had done the only thing he could do. When he’d sat across from Cliffjumper in the brig so the minibot wouldn’t feel abandoned and alone.


Mirage goes to First Aid first.

He pleads his case with sincerity. He begs for the chief-in-training to speak with Ratchet, with Optimus, with anyone who will listen.

Cliffjumper, Mirage is certain, deserves a second chance.

“Well,” First Aid admits as he rubs around his face mask. “He has been different lately. He’s been willing to talk. He finally let us repair him one-hundred percent. He’s been fueling as he should. Not recharging as well but…”

“Who among us does,” Mirage finishes with a murmur. He clasps First Aid’s hand, putting as much plea into his tone as he can spare. “Please, First Aid. Caging him is not the answer. Release him into my custody if you must. I’ll take responsibility for him.”

First Aid sighs, and his field flows over Mirage, warm and pleased. “If it were my choice, I’d let him out today. But it’s gotta go through Optimus. You know how it is, with the political ramifications and all.”

“But you’ll bring it up?” Mirage asks.

First Aid’s free hand pats over Mirage’s. “Yes,” he says. “I’ll fight for him. It’s past time Cliffjumper is free.”

Mirage can’t agree more.


It takes almost a year, despite Mirage’s urging.

Not because Optimus and Ratchet disagree, but because the Decepticons are not keen on the idea of letting a mech who once assassinated their own and claimed willing to do it again, free without restraint. But come to an accord they do, and on the day Cliffjumper is set to be released, however limited, Mirage is there.

He’s the one who walks out of the secure unit beside Cliffjumper. The one who stands beside the minibot as he takes his first step into the brightly lit afternoon, the sights and sounds of a city being rebuilt clashing around him.

Mirage watches as Cliffjumper drags in a deep vent. As he stretches his arms over his head and smiles, however small it might be. As his engine settles into a purring rumble before his hands drop back to his sides with a light swing.

“I hear I have you to thank,” he says.

Mirage shakes his head. “I didn’t do anything special. Just what needed to be done.”

“Uh huh.” Cliffjumper gives Mirage a sidelong look. “And I guess Bludgeon’s accident was just that.”

“Accidents do happen,” Mirage dismisses.

Cliffjumper might not have been willing to give Mirage his list, but Mirage had coaxed it out of Smokescreen, and he’d found a single designation that matched his own. It had taken months of planning, watching and waiting, for an “accident” to happen.

Strange how he doesn’t feel the least bit ashamed of himself. Bludgeon is one Decepticon no one will miss, not even his own kind.

“Well, the world is a better place, one less that mech, if you ask me. Safer, too.” Cliffjumper’s grin is more genuine now. “So I hope that means you’re hiring. Because it looks like I’m going to need a job.”

Mirage smiles. “As it turns out, I have an opening that you’d be perfect to fill.”

“Great,” Cliffjumper says and pauses, scratching at the side of his nose. “And, uh, thanks. Not just for the job, I mean. But for, you know, everything.”

Mirage briefly rests a hand on Cliffjumper’s shoulder, ridiculously pleased when the minibot doesn’t flinch. His spark feels warm, like it hasn’t since he was separated from Tracks, only to learn what had become of his beloved.

Mirage smiles, soft and sure. “What else are friends for?”

[TiA] Slices of Life 03

Little Surprises

Fatigue claws at Starscream from top to bottom. He’s been working since before “sunrise” this morning, and it’s long past “sundown.” Meeting after meeting with no break in between. Argument after argument, petty disagreements, everything that no ruler wants to deal with in a single day.

His tanks grumble. He’s starving. All he’s managed to do is scarf down a mil-rat while power-walking from one meeting room to the next. The concentrated, solid energon sits like a weight in his tank, giving him little bursts of energy, but no satisfaction.

And he’s got a couple hours more to go at least.

So much for getting home to snuggle with his racer in a timely fashion. It’s even one of Blurr’s early days, but does Starscream get to spend it with his partner? Of course not. Instead, he has to watch Prowl and Soundwave squabble and give each other the stink optic while Bumblebee sighs and Needlenose proves to be no help at all.

Starscream trudges into his office, hoping for a moment’s peace before the next round of madness begins. The door shuts behind him and he sags against it, ex-venting with relief. His audials are still ringing from the stupidity.

Another vent and Starscream pushes himself off the door, attention focused on his desk and the groaning piles of paperwork. He pauses, however, at the glittery wrapped box in the middle of his datapads. That wasn’t there when he left earlier today.

Starscream circles around the box, optics narrowed, more than a little suspicious. A distance scan reveals no incendiary materials. There’s a tag hanging from the lop-sided bow, and he recognizes the handwriting immediately. Relief floods through him.

Blurr. That charming idiot.

Starscream huffs a laugh and pulls off the tag and attached card, flipping it open.

Knew you’d be working late today. Try not to eat them all, Starshine. You still need to be able to fly home to me. 😉

It’s the winking emoji that does it for Starscream. He sinks into his chair with a snorting laugh while his free hand tears away the glittery paper, revealing the double-stack box of Mixmaster’s specially flavored candies.

His tanks grumble again.

Starscream tucks the little note into his subspace and leans back into his carefully designed chair. He props his feet up on the desk and pulls the box of candies into his lap. The first one he pops into his mouth is sweet and fizzes over his glossa.

Starscream hums with delight and offlines his optics to better enjoy the flavor.

The day is not so shitty after all, he thinks. He’s got a sexy racer waiting for him at home, one thoughtful enough to send along Starscream’s favorite treats just because.


It’s a pretty damn good day.