[IDW] Break the Chain 07

Sunstreaker has Sideswipe up against the wall, legs wrapped around Sunstreaker’s hips, his field urgent and hungry. He’s two vents from plunging into him when someone knocks on their door.

Sunstreaker ignores it, mouthing hard at his brother’s neck, tasting the cables, the pulse of life. The stench of spilled energon and plasma discharge clings to both of them like expired perfume.

“Come on, Sunny,” Sideswipe pants, clutching at his back, fingers digging into his seams, pressing hard at the cables beneath. The rock of his hips is a demand.

The knock repeats, louder and more insistent.

Sunstreaker growls.

Sideswipe knocks his forehead on Sunstreaker’s shoulder. “It’s probably Slipshod with our earnings,” he groans. “Of course he’d pick now to be early.”

“He can wait,” Sunstreaker insists, tightening his grip on Sideswipe’s aft, rolling his hips to leave a wet smear of lubricant.

“He starts taking higher cuts when we make him wait,” Sideswipe reminds him.

Sunstreaker’s engine revs. He reluctantly puts Sideswipe down. “Stay,” he says with a palm against his brother’s chestplate, pushing his back against the wall.

Sideswipe smirks and holds up his hands. “Whatever you say, master.” He offers an exaggerated wink.

Aft.

Sunstreaker stomps to the door and doesn’t bother to stow his equipment because he can’t. He’s too revved. If Slipshod hadn’t wanted an opticful, he shouldn’t have been early.

He slams his palm on the door. “What?” he demands and the anger flares brighter when he realizes it’s not Slipshod on the other side of it.

Instead, it’s a smirking Seeker, leaning casually into the frame, arms folded over his cockpit.

“Why hello, is that for me?” Starscream purrs with a long look up and down Sunstreaker’s frame, gaze lingering on Sunstreaker’s bare equipment. “I’m flattered really. But don’t you think that’s a little too fast for us?”

“Starscream,” Sunstreaker growls. “What are you doing here?”

Starscream pushes off the frame. He tries to peer past Sunstreaker’s shoulder. “Aren’t you going to invite me in? I brought your pay.” He pauses and his optics flash. “Trust me, what I have to say, you don’t want said here in the hallway.”

“We don’t trust you,” Sideswipe says from behind Sunstreaker’s shoulder. He pats Sunstreaker on the back. “Let him in, bro.”

Sunstreaker shifts out of the doorway and snatches up a meshtowel from a pile near the door. They’re dirty, covered in filth and energon from the haphazard wipe he and Sideswipe had given themselves after the bout. But it’s better than nothing. Sunstreaker drops down into a chair and drapes it over his lap as Starscream slinks into their closet-sized room and the door shuts behind him.

“Here,” Starscream says. “Your earnings.” He flicks a datachip at Sideswipe who plucks it out of the air.

“Why do you have it?” Sunstreaker demands.

Starscream smirks and plants a hand on his hip. “Really? You two don’t honestly think you can fight in one of Megatron’s arenas and not get noticed? Especially since the last time you were here, it was with an Enforcer.”

“No one knew he was an Enforcer,” Sideswipe counters as he plugs the datachip into a reader to check the balance. “And he was invited.”

“Mm. Yes he was.” A look of irritation crosses Starscream’s face. Ahh. Someone’s not fond of Prowl’s recruitment. Good to know. “That’s Megatron’s little pet project.”

Sunstreaker exchanges a glance with Sideswipe that speaks more than words. “That still doesn’t answer why you’re here,” he says pointedly.

“I have a proposition for you, of course,” Starscream says, and his gaze drops to Sunstreaker’s lap and the meshtowel draping it. “Though not the one you’re hoping for, I’m sure.”

Sideswipe nods a confirmation over the datachip before stowing both away. “And we’re going to tell you the same thing we told the last recruiter. We’re not interested.” He moves behind Sunstreaker, draping his arms over Sunstreaker’s shoulders and pressing his chest to Sunstreaker’s back.

“You’re sure about that?” Starscream tilts his head and tucks his hands behind his back. He looks around the small room, frowning, probably at the mess and squalor. “What if your friend were to join us? Would that change your mind?”

“Even if it did, we wouldn’t tell you,” Sideswipe says. He slides a hand down Sunstreaker’s chestplate, palm flat over the seam bisecting his hood. “We’re not that easy to sway.”

“Besides, you have enough grunts,” Sunstreaker adds with a scowl. “We’re not cannon fodder.”

Starscream’s lips curve. “You think I make it a habit to personally recruit cannon fodder? That’s what the other mooks are for. I personally invite those who could serve a, shall we say, greater purpose.”

“And what purpose would that be?” Sideswipe asks.

Starscream idly peers through the sad excuse for a window, which looks out on a dirty alley. “If Megatron’s plan works and we acquire a tactician in the form of your friend, there will be backlash from both sides of the equation. He’ll need a keeper.”

Sideswipe’s field flickers with anger. Sunstreaker’s echoes it.

“You want us to protect him,” Sunstreaker says.

“In part.” Starscream’s grin is sly. He crosses the floor slowly, aiming for the door. “We also have a task force that we think you’d be uniquely suited for. Not quite special operations. It’s a little more visible than that. But I assure you, it’s not because we intend for you to die nameless on a battlefield.”

Sideswipe snorts, and his fingers curl against Sunstreaker’s chestplate. “Nice to know you care, since you don’t seem to be bothered by the deaths of the nameless thousands you’ve taken into your fold.”

Starscream shrugs, and his wings flick. “There will always be sacrifices.” He cycles an audible ventilation. “Let’s face it. These mechs would have died anyway. Whether from overwork or overdose. At least this way, they are dying for a better future, for something they believe in.”

“If that’s what you tell yourself to recharge at night,” Sunstreaker mutters. He leans back, soaking in his brother’s embrace. “We’re not buying what you’re selling, Decepticon.”

“I’m offering you an opportunity,” Starscream says, drawling the syllables of the last word. If their refusals anger him, he doesn’t show it. “A chance to be on the winning team. Unless you prefer fighting for the very mechs who keep you shackled.”

“Not sure how ‘free’ we’d be under your master.” Sideswipe shrugs, Sunstreaker feeling the motion against his upper back. “But tell you what, get Prowl to cross over, and we’ll be right there with him.”

Sunstreaker smirks. “Wherever Prowl goes, that’s the winning team. So until he moves, we’re staying put.”

Irritation flickers over Starscream’s face, and his wingtips twitch. “Whatever did he do to earn such loyalty and faith?”

“None of your business,” Sideswipe says, his tone so painfully cheery it’s obviously fake. It’s his favorite method of slagging someone off.

Sunstreaker braces. As he’s learned to do when Sideswipe starts running his mouth and causing trouble, inevitably leading to a scrap or two.

Starscream, however, merely chuckles. “Fair enough.” He kicks a heel against the floor before sliding toward the door, one hand hovering by the lock. “I’ll leave you be then. Until Megatron’s little experiment fails or succeeds.”

The door slides open, letting in dingy light from the corridor. Starscream casts a winged shadow back into the room.

“See you soon,” he purrs, and then he’s gone.

“Finally,” Sideswipe grunts and sags against Sunstreaker’s back as though someone cut his strings, and he can’t hold himself upright anymore. “Thought he’d never leave.” He tucks his face against Sunstreaker’s neck, ex-venting hot and wet.

Sunstreaker presses the knuckles of one hand to his mouth. “He’s not wrong,” he comments against his knuckles, staring off into space, seeing without seeing.

Sideswipe sighs and knocks his forehead against the nape of Sunstreaker’s neck. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Wherever Prowl goes, remember?”

“Yeah.” Sunstreaker reaches behind him with his free hand, cupping the back of his brother’s head.

“Good.” Sideswipe’s lips curve in a tangible grin against Sunstreaker’s nape. He slides back, circles Sunstreaker and whipping away the dirty meshcloth he’d used as a drape.

Sunstreaker’s spike remains half-pressurized, liberally slick with his own pre-fluid. Sideswipe drags a finger up the length of him, and Sunstreaker shivers, watching his brother with heat in his optics.

“Still ready for me,” Sideswipe murmurs and drops down into Sunstreaker’s lap, thighs bracketing Sunstreaker’s hips. He drapes his arms over Sunstreaker’s shoulders, shimmying close until their chestplates bump.

“Now I think we were in the middle of something,” Sideswipe says, all cheeky need and teasing as he licks Sunstreaker’s cheek. “Don’t leave me hanging, bro.”

Sunstreaker huffs a laugh and cradles Sideswipe’s hips, squeezing them. He nuzzles his brother’s cheek, angling for a kiss.

This is so much simpler than the war brewing outside the door. And right now, Sunstreaker can use simple.

~

Prowl throws himself back into the investigation after his meeting with Megatron. He has to prove the Decepticons are innocent. He’s certain, down to his very protoform, Megatron is not behind this. But someone out there is playing a very dangerous political game, and there are sparks at stake. Innocent sparks.

He starts with the list Senator Shockwave gave him. There are a dozen names on it: two of which are no longer viable as they are already deceased. He’s spoken with Shockwave already. That leaves nine more potential victims, nine potential leaks, nine possible informants.

No one’s been nominated to take Bracket and Deltus’ place. Perhaps no one dares. Have they made the connection between the victims yet? If so, no one announces it. Not even the news has given motive to their Decepticon accusations.

Prowl starts at the top and works his way down. Senator Sherma is the lead of the committee. He’s a smarmy, self-righteous aft, and Prowl’s armor crawls in the mech’s presence.

There’s history here. History Prowl doesn’t like remembering. Sherma had lobbied to keep Prowl as a soldier, as hard as Shockwave had fought for Prowl’s frame exemption.

“Mechs need to understand their place,” Sherma had said back then, lips twisted into a sneer of disgust. “They need to realize where they belong, lest they think themselves greater than their betters.”

“We need him,” Shockwave had argued. “It would be a waste.”

Sherma had tipped up his nose. “If he were meant to be an Enforcer, he would have been sparked one.”

He’s no more respectful of Prowl now. If anything, he speaks with thinly concealed loathing, and his disdain for Shockwave is evident in every word from his lips.

“He should have never given you that list,” Sherma says with a hard glare and a thin line serving as his mouth. He glares at Prowl’s datapad as though it has personally offended him. “The committee is classified.”

Prowl holds his ground. He’s standing because Sherma has not offered him a chair. “Clearly not classified enough as there are now two members who are dead, and the committee links them.”

“Pah.” Sherma rolls his optics and flicks a hand. “They’re both in politics. It could be anything that connects them. You’re seeing a pattern where there isn’t one.” He chuffs a ventilation. “Of course, failure is what happens when you let a navvy rise above its station.”

Anger flushes Prowl’s spark. He swallows it down with cold disregard. “Motivations for murder are often linked to a specific connection, not a broad one.”

“Motivation,” Sherma echoes, and he snorts. “They were killed by the Decepticons if I recall. That’s motivation enough.” He pauses and peers at Prowl through narrow slits. “But of course, you know better, don’t you? Have to stir up trouble where there isn’t none to prove you belong, is that it?”

It takes all of Prowl’s control not to let his sensory panels flick. “I merely prefer to explore all avenues of possibility so we aren’t caught off guard,” he says, holding to politeness with iron will. “I am thorough.”

“You mean you enjoy riding the clock and wasting everyone’s time.” Sherma scoffs and leans back in his chair, crossing one ankle over the opposite knee. He spins a stylus with his free hand. “It was the Decepticons, plain and simple. They aren’t picking their targets based on a committee no one knows exists. They’re attacking whoever is convenient. That’s it.”

Prowl’s hand tightens around his stylus. “For someone who is not a trained investigator, you sound certain. You’re not at all concerned you may be next?”

Sherma’s optics flash. His feet hit the floor, and he leans forward. “Is that a threat, Enforcer Prowl?”

“No, sir. It is merely a logical question.” Prowl flicks his sensory panels. “Two members of the committee are dead. If I am right and said committee is the link, it stands to reason the other participants are on a hit list of some kind.”

Sherma’s jaw tightens. “I think it’s time time you left.” He rises, his height only somewhat greater than Prowl’s. “I’ve entertained your foolish notions long enough. I have no more time to waste on one of Shockwave’s failing experiments.”

“I am neither an experiment nor am I a failure,” Prowl replies, his tone sharper than he intended, but the insult feels like a knife to the abdomen, cutting into everything he’d been asking himself since Chancellor Bracket’s murder first fell into his lap.

“You are both, and I’ve told you to leave,” Sherma snaps, his tone an order, as though he’s Prowl’s superior. “I’ll not stand here for your wild theories, your accusations, your thinly veiled threats.”

Prowl’s vents hiss. “No, you’d much rather sit there in your arrogance, so certain nothing can touch you that you are blind to all else.”

Sherma’s jaw sets. Anger flashes in his field, broiling through the room. He slams a palm on the intercom, refusing to take his gaze from Prowl for a single moment. “Compute, call security. Enforcer Prowl will need an escort out of the building.”

Prowl’s engine rumbles. “That won’t be necessary. I can see myself out.” He spins on a heel and strides toward the door, every inch of his frame vibrating with anger.

“Your commanding officer will be hearing of this, rest assured,” Sherma calls after him, sly and triumphant. “I do hope you enjoy being sent back where you belong.”

Thankfully, the door shuts before Prowl can retort with something ill-advised. He’s already facing a demerit from Silverspire – since he’s quite sure Sherma won’t forget to make that call. He can’t worsen matters by being further rude.

Instead, he sits in a quiet corner of the ground floor lobby and meditates long enough to get his emotions in check. He’s got eight more potential victims to question, he’s got two murders to solve, and something tells him he’s running out of time.

He’s better than this, better than Sherma’s taunts. He’s a good investigator, a better Enforcer. He was granted a frame exemption for a reason.

He’s meant to be more.

He just has to prove it.

~

The stack of datapads near Megatron’s left elbow wobbles dangerously. He reaches out to steady it without giving the stack a second glance.

It’s much smaller than it had been when he first started, but the size of it remains daunting. Soundwave is nothing if not thorough and productive. There are few in the stack Megatron has had to reject.

Soundwave knows all too well who would suit the Decepticons and who would not. He understands their weaknesses, what they need to bolster. He has fingers and optics and audials in all corners of Cybertron. His network has stretched as far as Praxus to find them allies, and he’s been successful.

There’s a scientist who’s proving to be quite promising. The Senate keeps threatening to withdraw his funding because of his… unique proposals. The potential in said proposals could work in the Decepticon’s favor.

Megatron assigns Starscream to recruit this Mesothulas for the time being.

A rap of knuckles over his door announces a visitor. Odd because only strangers knock. Starscream strolls inside, usually with some loud comment. Soundwave slinks inside and waits quietly to be noticed.

Megatron looks up. An unfamiliar mech lurks in his doorway, but judging by the heavy armor and his bearing, he’s military. There are bare patches on his shoulders, like badges which have been removed. Stripped of rank? Or voluntarily removed?

“Can I help you?” Megatron asks.

This stranger cannot have slipped in here without being noticed. Which means he’s been sent by Soundwave. Perhaps his designation is one of those in the stack of datapads by Megatron’s left elbow.

“I was told to find Megatron if I wanted to seek employment,” the mech says with a dark, dark voice Megatron’s only heard from fellow miners. There is gravel in it.

“By?” Megatron quirks an orbital ridge.

The mech laughs, but it’s short and stunted, more of a grunt. “A very strange mech with an avian mini on his shoulder.” He ducks in through the doorway, his visor casting a sharp amber gleam across it. “Apparently while a dishonorable discharge gets you shunned by your peers, it’s an invitation to a position of honor within the Decepticons.”

Ah, that answers that.

“Depends on the motive behind it,” Megatron says. He gestures to the chair across from him, though on second look, it doesn’t appear to be large enough for this mech’s bulk. “Have a seat.”

The mech slants a look at it. “I’ll stand.” He crosses his arms over his chassis. “You weren’t expecting me, I take it.”

Megatron looks at his stack of datapads. “You’re designation might be somewhere among these.”

“Onslaught,” the mech supplies. He tilts his head, expression inscrutable behind both mask and visor. “Formerly Commander Onslaught of the Beta-Niner Regiment out of Alyon.”

Guardian of a now defunct hot spot. How intriguing.

Megatron rests his elbows on the desk, lacing his fingers together. “And what precipitated your discharge?”

Amusement spikes in the mech’s field before it withdraws. “Difference of opinion with my superior officers.” He shifts his weight. “Rumor has it you’re fighting for a new Cybertron. I want a part of it.”

“You don’t need much convincing, I see.” Megatron doesn’t recall seeing Onslaught’s name amongst the files, but then, there are so many he hasn’t gotten to yet. “How do I know you’ve not been sent to spy?”

Onslaught draws in a loud vent. “You don’t.” His tone is blunt. “But I’m told you’re in need of a tactician, and that happens to be my specialty.” He rolls his shoulders. “You can do all the investigating you like. I’m sure your spy already has. Test me if you want. I’ve got nothing left to lose.”

Megatron presses his lips together. He considers Onslaught. Had Soundwave sent him here as a back up plan in case they are unable to recruit Prowl? Or is he a secondary resource no matter what the outcome?

Prowl is more representative of the civilian militia. They’ve yet to recruit anyone from the military. Or at least, anyone of any former prominence. Footsoldiers and cannon fodder, yes. But few with experience. Most soldiers with experience are very, very loyal to the senate and high council.

“A trial period then,” Megatron says as he lowers his hands and starts thumbing through the stack of datapads, searching for Onslaught’s. “To see if your skills are even worth the risk we take on you.”

Onslaught unfolds his arms. “That’s fair. Who shall I report to?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Megatron’s lips twitch as he considers Onslaught. “Nightstalker, I think, will best suit you for now. You can find him by the training grounds.” Though to call them such is being generous. “I suspect Soundwave will find you soon enough, to… corroborate some of your intentions.”

Light flashes in Onslaught’s visor. “Understood.” He takes a step back toward the door without taking his gaze off Megatron. “This is a revolution I wish to see succeed, Megatron. Mark my words.”

“Consider them marked.” His hands find Onslaught’s datapad, and Megatron draws it closer, intending to examine it thoroughly. “Welcome aboard, Onslaught.”

~

Prowl is on a transport, on his way to an interview with Judge Steelwool, when the call comes in. He’s tapped into the broadcast per the usual, since he’s on the clock and actively working a case, so he picks up the call before Silverspire can contact him.

His energon runs cold.

He disembarks on the next stop, shifts to alt-mode, and dives into traffic, lights and sirens blazing as he screeches back the way he came. Vehicles swerve out of his path as Prowl ignores as many speed limits as he can, spark hammering, and despair trickling through him.

Senator Sherma is dead.

It had been only yesterday when Prowl interviewed the Senator and had his warnings summarily dismissed. Prowl would never admit aloud, but he takes a certain triumph in knowing he’d been right, despite Sherma’s insistence otherwise.

He supposes he should mourn Sherma’s death.

He doesn’t.

He has to investigate it, however. The case isn’t his, but Prowl expects it to land on his shoulders. Especially if it follows the pattern of the other two.

By the time he arrives at Topaz Estates, the massive suite complex Sherma calls home, Silverspire pings his comm to let him know of the murder.

“I’m aware,” Prowl answers as he flicks his sensory panels, displaying his Enforcer badge, and the grunt waves him in. “I got the call on my way to interview Judge Steelwool. I’m already here.”

“Well at least you’re proactive,” Silverspire grunts. “Initial reports suggest it matches the same circumstances as the murders of Bracket and Deltus. Which means we’ve got a serial or someone’s trying to make a statement.”

Prowl slips into the lift, poking the bottom for the near-penthouse suite. “I suspect it’s the latter. I’ll know more after I visit the scene.”

“Three deaths, Prowl. Three. Do I need to put someone else on this case? Because there won’t be a fourth,” Silverspire says.

Anger flashes hot and bright. He swallows it down, the sour-rust taste of it. “No, sir. I’m close. I know I am. Sherma’s death will be the last.”

“It had better be.”

The comm ends, leaving Prowl with dead air. The lift dings and deposits him on the appropriate floor. Prowl takes a moment to vent before he steps out and is waved through a sea of precinct mechs from forensics and investigative services. They point the way.

Sherma’s in the main room, sprawled in front of the open balcony. He’s face down, two neat holes drilled through his back – spark and t-cog most likely. His head, or what’s left of it, is a spray of viscera, metal and bits of brain module and fluids soaking the thick carpet beneath him.

There’s no sign of a struggle. The door hadn’t appeared jimmied. The balcony door is untouched. Drips of cerebral fluid along the bottom suggest it was closed when Sherma was killed.

It looks like an execution.

Prowl crouches to examine Sherma without touching the mess. He can’t see any clear signs of a struggle. No scrape marks in the otherwise immaculate paint. No gouges or dents.

The wounds are crisp. Clean. They suggest a blaster, standard Enforcer issue, just like the other victims. They’re accurate. The killer hadn’t needed extra shots. He’s someone who’s comfortable with a gun, who’s had training.

Prowl stands and turns in a slow circle, taking in the room. Everything is in order. No overturned furniture, the vidscreen is still on, showing the daily news at a low volume. There’s a glass sitting by a large, comfortable chair, half-full with what a tentative sniff identifies as expensive engex.

On the wall, painted over artwork that no doubt costs more than Prowl’s yearly salary, is a Decepticon brand, lurid and purple.

Not so much of a coincidence now, is it?

Prowl stares at the dripping Decepticon sigil, still so fresh it shines in spots, and dribbles of paint slowly creep toward the floor.

It was someone Sherma either knew or trusted. Someone he’d let into his home without worry for his safety. Just as it had been with Bracket and Deltus. It was someone whom he’d let down his guard enough to be killed without struggle.

The triple-tap was unnecessary. It was someone who hated Sherma and wanted to ensure there’s little chance of his survival.

Someone… like Prowl.

Ice washes into his system then. He staggers under the weight of the realization, optics cycling wide, ventilations fluttering.

The missing piece of the puzzle clicks into place.

Prowl gathers his composure, walks as if in a dream toward the balcony. There’s no one out there right now, and the noise of the city below crashes over him like a background track to the thoughts racing through his head.

The connection isn’t the Decepticons. They’re just a smokescreen. The connection is him, it’s Prowl.

Minister Deltus had been present at the sparking of Prowl’s batch. He’d presided over it, ushering each new spark toward it’s decided role. He’d been the one who sent Prowl on the road to becoming a soldier, though in the end, Prowl had managed to escape it.

Deltus had argued against Prowl’s exemption, just like Sherma.

Bracket presided over the training program Prowl was obligated to attend if he wanted to be an Enforcer. He’d not been happy that a frame-exempt was in the classes, and Prowl wouldn’t be surprised if Bracket was the one responsible for how difficult Prowl’s classes were. He also had a voice in who was promoted, and was probably responsible for every one of Prowl’s rejections.

Then of course, Sherma. Whom Prowl had argued with only yesterday. Who had called and reported rudeness to Silverspire. Who felt as though Prowl had made a threat.

Primus below.

Prowl hunches and grips the balcony rail. He offlines his optics. All three had been killed by a blaster consistent with that of the standard Enforcer allocation. All three knew their killer, trusted him. And who wouldn’t trust an Enforcer?

Even the Decepticon sigil makes sense. What else would an intelligent Enforcer do if trying to shift the blame to a party everyone is already primed to hate?

Prowl would arrest himself at this point. Or at least, bring himself in for questioning. It makes sense, and if he weren’t the one assigned to work the case, he’d have connected the dots already. He still wonders how he missed it.

This has never been about the Decepticons.

He has to go.

Prowl pushes away from the rail and spins back toward the suite. He strides through it, not sparing Sherma another glance, and refusing to make optical contact with anyone. When the forensics come back, he has a feeling the evidence isn’t going to do him any favors.

Maybe this time, there’s video surveillance. Maybe there’s a grainy image that shows some black and white mech coming to visit Sherma. And maybe that mech has sensory panels and a chevron. It’s cheap enough these days to get a partial kibble transplant and a repaint to look like someone else.

Sunstreaker could do it easily. Not that he would.

When was Sherma killed? It doesn’t matter. Prowl’s sure it’s for a time he doesn’t have an alibi, or if he does, it’s one he can’t repeat.

Silverspire’s warnings ring at the back of his head. He’s always asked for too much, pushed for more than anyone wanted to allow him. He hasn’t ever been satisfied with the status quo. He always reaches for a higher calling. He isn’t content to stay in his place.

No wonder he’s being framed. By who? Prowl supposes it doesn’t matter. They’re not going to believe him.

It’s only a matter of time before they arrest him.

Prowl doesn’t run out of Sherma’s tower-suite, but it’s a near thing. Out in front of the building, he’s at a loss for what to do next. He has few friends, fewer allies. He tries calling Shockwave and is sent to the senator’s messaging system. Even Shockwave’s receptionist doesn’t know how to contact his superior.

No one’s heard from Shockwave in several days.

Prowl had visited Shockwave also.

Are the two connected? Probably. But it’s not Prowl’s case. It’s missing persons and as much as he’d like to dial the precinct and figure out whose case it is, something tells Prowl there won’t be any answers.

Does he dare try Orion Pax? Would the renowned, highly decorated officer even believe him? Orion is the shining star of his district. He’s protected in ways Prowl isn’t. Does Prowl trust him with the truth?

No. He doesn’t. He can’t.

For lack of options, Prowl turns to the nearest transport station. He’ll return home, to his apartment. There’s still time. No one suspects him yet. He’s still lead on the case. Though once he doesn’t come up with a designation, Silverspire will force a partner on him, someone who will put the pieces together, if they’re smart enough.

Whoever is doing this, whoever is framing Prowl, they’ll make sure of it. They’ll assign Streetwise or Muzzle, two forged mechs with impeccable records. They’re both good mechs, good detectives. They’ll connect the dots much faster than Prowl, Streetwise especially. They’ll quickly paint him as the criminal.

He doesn’t have much time.

He doesn’t have any time at all.

***

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[TFA] Terms of Service

If Optimus had things his way, he would have sulked in the small room he called his own for the next week. He would have wallowed in his own self-pity and self-hatred until the eviction notice finally forced him out, leaving him to flounder in a society that no longer felt he was of worth.

But a summons from Ultra Magnus was something he could not ignore. There was a tiny niggle of hope, buried in the back of his spark, that maybe the Magnus had changed his mind. Maybe there was forgiveness or a chance. Maybe there was hope.

The smarter, more realistic side of himself dreaded the meeting. There were worse punishments yet, and perhaps Ultra Magnus realized that Optimus had gotten off relatively easy. Perhaps they would strip more from him. His citizenship maybe. Would it be exile? Would he be formally charged? Would he find himself in the Stockade next to thieves and murderers and political dissidents?

He was a murderer. Maybe it was where he belonged.

Optimus’ fingers twisted together. He knew his anxiety showed on his face, but he didn’t have the strength to put up a brave front. Whatever further punishment Ultra Magnus decided for him, Optimus would accept it.

He deserved it.

He arrived at the Magnus’ office and was a bit surprised how quickly they ushered him inside. No one would look him in the optic, and he was taken immediately to the Magnus’ private office, and left alone to buzz the door and announce himself.

Steeling himself, Optimus cycled a ventilation and pressed the call button. The door opened, and when he stepped inside, it closed and locked behind him. Optimus worked his intake. That wasn’t ominous at all.

“Optimus, welcome.”

He blinked. That was not the response he’d been expecting.

Ultra Magnus’ office was understandably large, and the furthest wall was nothing but a long run of windows overlooking Iacon spread out below. Ultra Magnus himself stood in front of the bank of windows, his hands clasped behind his back, but he’d half-turned when Optimus entered. There was even a smile on his face.

“Thank you for coming,” Ultra Magnus said, still in that pleasant voice. “Please join me. Are you in need of fuel?”

Optimus blinked again. “I – umm – No, sir. I’m fully fueled.” His stabilizers carried him forward before he could think otherwise, crossing the massive floor and circling around the desk to join Ultra Magnus at the window.

It was a bit dizzying to be this high up, but exhilarating, too. He could see all of Iacon stretched out below him, and it looked even larger from here. Larger and untouchable.

“Thank you for the offer,” Optimus said as he stood at parade rest, unsure of how to proceed. The last time he’d stood before Ultra Magnus, it had been to castigation and a stripping of a rank he’d never managed to embrace.

“Are you certain?” Ultra Magnus’ smile was soft. He half-turned, gesturing with one hand to a nearby table with a tray on it – a decanter of oil, a tray of energon goodies, and a few small cubes of looked to be high grade were laid out on it. “I have plenty to spare.”

Optimus twitched nervously. He licked his lips. Was it ruder to accept or decline? Was he committing some kind of faux pas by refusing?

Ultra Magnus reached behind him and grabbed the plate with the goodies. It looked so small in his hands even as he turned to offer it to Optimus.

“I’ve been told they are quite delicious,” he said.

Optimus lifted a hand and thanked Primus it wasn’t shaking. “I appreciate your generosity, sir,” he said as he picked two goodies from the plate. There were still many left, but hopefully, two was an appropriate amount.

Ultra Magnus set the tray back on the table and turned toward him. “You are most welcome, Optimus.” He smiled softly. “Now, I’m sure you are curious as to why I summoned you here today?”

“Yes, sir.” He braced himself. “I assumed it had something to do with… with my failure.” The tips of his antennae burned. The goodies felt, at once, heavy in his hand.

“The unfortunate accident, yes.” Ultra Magnus nodded solemnly. His gaze slid to the window. “Iacon is beautiful, is it not?”

Optimus blinked. “I… yes, sir.” What an odd segue. “The greatest city in all of Cybertron.”

“That it is.” Ultra Magnus chuckled softly, and his gaze slid back to Optimus. “Please feel free to indulge, Optimus, while I explain why I called you here.”

“Yes, sir.” He shoved one of the goodies into his mouth, and barely resisted from moaning as the sweet, syrupy energon exploded over his glossa. He’d never tasted anything so refined before.

“Good.” Ultra Magnus inclined his head and stepped closer, near enough that Optimus could taste the edges of his field now. “You were an exceptional student, Optimus. You studied hard and trained harder. You would have graduated at the top of your class, if I’m not mistaken.”

Optimus licked his lips clean and jerked his head in a nod. “Yes, sir. That was my intention.”

“You would have succeeded. You have the potential within you, Optimus. Perhaps not to be a hero, but to be a servant to the Autobot cause most certainly.” Ultra Magnus’ smile softened, turned indulgent. “I hate to see such potential go to waste.”

Optimus’ ventilations increased in pace. “What do you mean, sir?” Could it be? Was this the dash of hope he’d been begging the universe for? He nervously squeezed the goodie, and forced himself to eat it, lest he make a mess.

“I mean, Optimus, that I have, through great effort on my part, and no few strings pulled, managed to find you a commission.”

Optimus’ optics rounded. His spark stuttered. He nearly choked on the sweet, jellied energon. “I don’t understand.”

Ultra Magnus rested his hands on Optimus’ shoulder, big and heavy and warm. His thumbs swept inward, resting on Optimus’ clavicular strut.

“I do believe it is possible to offer you a position within our space bridge repair force, and with it, the title of Prime,” Ultra Magnus said as his thumbs stroked over Optimus’ clavicular strut, gentle and oddly intimate. “It will take much pushing on my part, and even as Magnus, I can’t guarantee that I will be successful. But I am willing to put forth the effort for you. That is, if you are willing to put in the hard work necessary.”

“Of course I am!” Optimus blurted out, surging forward, until he remembered where he was and rocked back on his heelstruts. “I mean, I’m sorry, sir. But yes, I promise. I will work very hard. I am grateful for any opportunity you’ll give me.”

He didn’t deserve it, but Primus, he would. He would do whatever it took if it meant they wouldn’t expel him or jail him. All he needed was a chance. He would prove Ultra Magnus’ faith in him. He swore it!

Ultra Magnus leaned closer, the weight of his hands on Optimus’ shoulders somehow heavier. “Are you certain?” he asked. “This is a big responsibility, Optimus. I will be putting an enormous faith in you. I need to know that you will work hard. That you will do what is necessary. That I can trust you.”

Optimus worked his intake. “Yes, sir. I will. I’m just so grateful for the second chance. I promise I won’t let you down.” Whatever it was, he would do it.

Ultra Magnus smiled. “I believe you,” he said, and his thumbs started stroking again, soft sweeps that brushed over Optimus’ intake now. “It is a space bridge repair position, I admit. It is not much, but–”

“Anything, sir,” Optimus insisted, that tiny nugget of hope daring to bloom into something larger. “This is more than I could have hoped for. I will do whatever it takes to prove your trust in me.”

“Excellent.” Ultra Magnus’ field pushed at his, thick with approval and delight. He tilted his helm even as one hand shifted to cup Optimus’ face.

Optimus froze. W-what? What was Ultra Magnus doing?

“I knew there was potential in you. This is a minor setback. One that can be overcome with hard work and dedication,” Ultra Magnus murmured even as his thumb swept over Optimus’ cheek. “You are loyal, aren’t you, Optimus? To this city, to the Autobots, to me?”

He swallowed thickly. “Yes, sir. I am.” His ventilations stuttered. Ultra Magnus’ field pushed at his again, only now it was warm and sticky.

“Good.” Ultra Magnus’ engine purred. “You are quite stunning, Optimus. Has anyone ever told you that?”

Some of the color drained out of Optimus’ face. “No, sir. I’m, um, I’m quite average.” A tremble whipped down his spinal strut.

“You are far from average, Optimus,” Ultra Magnus murmured, and his thumb swept downward, brushing over Optimus’ lips.

Optimus could not have gone more still if he tried. “Sir, I don’t–”

“I am putting myself on the line for you, Optimus,” Ultra Magnus said in a smooth, even tone. “I am Magnus, this is true, but even I have limits. Everything you do from now on will reflect back on me. Do you understand the risk that I am taking?”

A shiver crawled under Optimus’ armor. His hands formed fists at his sides. “I do, sir. But–”

“Then you understand why I must know I can trust you,” Ultra Magnus interrupted, still in that even tone, though the press of his field was more apparent now. Heavy like thick oil, and so very hot. It prickled against Optimus’ own. “I must know that my faith in you is not misplaced, and that you will be obedient to the Autobot cause, such as you weren’t when you made the poor choice to go Archa Seven.”

Oh.

Optimus cycled a deep ventilation. “Yes, sir. I understand. What would you have me do?”

Ultra Magnus smiled, and for a moment, it almost felt genuine, were it not for an undefinable something that lurked behind his optics. “There is some paperwork that I need for you to sign,” he said as his thumb moved over Optimus’ bottom lip, stroking it again and again. “Along with your personal reassurance that my faith in you is not mistakenly put.”

Optimus’ knees wobbled. He remained standing only because he knew if he ran out the door right now, that was it. This was his last chance.

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” Ultra Magnus’ hand slid away from his face. The one on Optimus’ shoulder slid to his upper back and further down, until it rested at the base of his backstrut. “The paperwork is on my desk.”

He guided Optimus by the hand on Optimus’ back, urging him toward the desk. “You should look it over, ask me any questions you might have. I want to be sure that you understand the responsibility I am giving you.”

Optimus forced his stabilizers to move. He was very aware of the hand on his back, inches from his aft. The weight of Ultra Magnus’ field against his, the way it pushed and tugged, as if taking over. The heat of him and the fact that Ultra Magnus’ fans were audibly whirring.

There was a datapad on the desk. It was the only thing on the desk as a matter of fact. The rest of the desk was scrupulously clean. A small stylus cup rested in the corner. Ultra Magnus’ in and out box were completely empty. The keyboard for his personal console was tucked to the side. His monitor was powered down.

As if he’d been waiting for Optimus.

Optimus braced himself and reached for the datapad, which was already powered on and open to a document. He expected a lot of legal jargon, but it was actually rather simple.

He picked it up and started to read – or skim, rather. He couldn’t really focus. The hand on his backstrut started to move, short little sweeps down, each stroke coming closer and closer to his aft. Ultra Magnus crowded against his side, so very present and overbearing.

“I, um, don’t know much about repairing space bridges,” Optimus admitted, his vents stuttering as Ultra Magnus moved until he stood behind Optimus, leaning over him. He felt the warmth of Ultra Magnus’ ex-vents over his antennae, and they burned with a mixture of shame and dread.

“You will have a team,” Ultra Magnus murmured, his hands stroking down Optimus’ sides now, until one of them found Optimus’ aft and cupped it. “You are to be their commander. Ensure they stay on track. Log missions. Et cetera. You will report to me.”

That was highly… irregular.

Optimus wondered if part of his duties would now extend beyond space bridge repair. What if Ultra Magnus intended for Optimus to become some kind of personal… um, soldier? Or something.

He didn’t dare think of the possibilities.

“Oh, I see,” Optimus said, and was ashamed that his vocalizer filled with static a little.

Ultra Magnus hummed his amusement. “Do not worry, Optimus. I’m sure you will work hard to prove that you are worthy of this opportunity.” He ex-vented again on Optimus’ antennae.

Optimus opened his mouth to respond, but it dribbled off into a stuttered noise as Ultra Magnus’ lips enclosed around the tip of his antennae. Denta gave it a soft nip, and a glossa flicked over it.

Optimus gasped a vent, sagging a little where he stood. Sensations both hot and cold went running through his frame.

Oh, Primus. Was he going to stand here and let Ultra Magnus do this? Whatever this even was? Did Ultra Magnus want him like that? Did he seriously want to frag Optimus? Was that why he’d been called here?

Realization slammed into Optimus. His spark squeezed.

Was this how he was supposed to prove his loyalty? With his frame? Was that all he was worth now? Some kind of… frag toy? Or a… a buymech?

How could Ultra Magnus do this? He’s supposed to be a leader! He’s always been Optimus’ hero, and here he was, manipulating him. Backing him into a corner.

Despair crowded at the back of Optimus’ intake. He trembled, hands tightening around the datapad. His armor clutched tight to his protoform, his field a wobbly mess.

Ultra Magnus hummed around his antenna before releasing it with a slow slide of his mouth. “You are so responsive,” he murmured. “Is this your first time?”

Optimus’ optics shuttered. “No, sir,” he said, swallowing over a lump in his intake. He didn’t elaborate. He didn’t want to think about the happier times, or the knot in his spark where the happiness he, Sentinel, and Elita shared had come undone.

“Mm. Pity.” Ultra Magnus’ hand slid down Optimus’ aft again, only now his fingers went further, slipping between Optimus’ thighs, the tips of them brushing the panel concealing his interface array. He rubbed the panel gently. “Open for me, Optimus.”

It was not a request. That was clear in Ultra Magnus’ tone.

Optimus gnawed on his bottom lip. His shoulders hunched. What would happen if he refused? Would the datapad be taken from him? The opportunity as well? Would he find himself facing all of those dreaded repercussions he feared when he first received the summons?

Ultra Magnus’ field pushed at his harder, as if swallowing him whole.

Optimus’ helm dipped. He obeyed, a shudder racing down his backstrut, as his panel snicked aside, baring his valve and spike to the air. He wasn’t aroused in the slightest, and both of them reflected that.

“Very nice,” Ultra Magnus said as two of his fingers traced over and around Optimus’ rim, exploring it gently. His other arm circled around Optimus’ frame, his hand flat on Optimus’ chest. “If I am to fit inside this pretty valve of yours, I must prepare you properly.”

Optimus’ ex-vents surged out of him in a shuddery mess. The datapad crackled in his grip.

One finger found his anterior node cluster and gave it a gentle rub. Optimus’ knees wobbled. The most distant stirrings of pleasure woke in his array, and he wasn’t sure if it was actual arousal or anxiety that made his valve twitch.

“Have you taken anyone of my size before, Optimus?” Ultra Magnus asked as he circled Optimus’ node again and again, his lips nuzzling each of Optimus’ antennae in turn.

Optimus curved forward, away from Ultra Magnus’ touch, but there was nowhere to go. He was trapped between the desk and his leader, Ultra Magnus’ presence all consuming.

“No, sir,” he said, truthfully. He didn’t dare admit that he’d taken Sentinel and Elita both at once. He didn’t want Ultra Magnus to get any ideas.

Well, anymore than he already had.

“I see.” Ultra Magnus sounded pleased. He pressed harder against Optimus’ back, his finger dipping into Optimus’ valve as a thin stream of lubricant finally dampened the sensitive protomesh walls. “Well, I have taken someone as small as you before. I will fit with a little work.” He leaned closer and nuzzled the back of Optimus’ helm.

His finger dipped deeper into Optimus’ valve, curling to rub along the ring of sensor nodes just behind his rim. Optimus sucked in a ventilation, his frame twitching, as a tiny jolt of pleasure lanced through his array. Those nodes were particularly sensitive and never failed to excite him.

“Mmm. Very responsive,” Ultra Magnus murmured. His mouth wandered lower, tucking into the curve of Optimus’ intake. His lips brushed over Optimus’ cables, a parody of lover’s intimacy. “Have you finished reading the datapad yet?”

Finished? Optimus couldn’t remember the last time he’d looked at it. He’d been too focused on Ultra Magnus touching him, on tracking the motion of every finger, every ex-vent, braced for every new invasion.

He swallowed thickly as the wet noise of Ultra Magnus slowly fragging him with one finger became louder when Ultra Magnus added a second. Together, they were the width of a regular spike, and Optimus’ calipers clutched at them. Greedily, if you asked him. His frame didn’t seem to care that his spark wasn’t in it. Little bursts of pleasure kept peppering in his array, his nodes sparking to life.

“No, sir,” Optimus admitted, the datapad screen wavering in front of his optics. “I’m sorry.”

“That is quite all right.” Ultra Magnus kissed his intake cables, his vocalizations causing little puffs of warm ex-vents to tease Optimus’ neck. “I’m sure I am distracting you. Set it down, Optimus. There will be time to read it thoroughly later.”

Later.

Optimus slowly lowered the datapad. “Yes, sir.” He rested his hands on the desk to either side of it, braced against the overpowering weight of Ultra Magnus’ frame and field over him.

His aft rubbed against Ultra Magnus’ upper thighs. Two fingers worked in and out of his valve, twisting and stroking, until lubricant trickled free and slicked Optimus’ thighs. His shoulders hunched, his antennae and neck treated to a soft assault of lips and glossa.

“Please, Optimus. We are in private. You may call me Ultra,” his leader murmured, glossa flicking over the tip of Optimus’ antennae.

He eased a third finger into Optimus’ valve, and Optimus hissed quietly. It was a stretch now, forcing the width of his calipers wider. Not bad, not painful, but definitely more tangible. Not that his valve seemed to care. It greedily cycled more and more lubricant and spat charge from his nodes.

Optimus shaped the name of his Magnus with his mouth, but couldn’t bring himself to say it. “Yes, sir. I will… try.”

“That is all I ask.” Ultra Magnus’ lips descended to his audial, ex-venting warm and wet over it. He pressed hard against Optimus’ back, trapping his hand between himself and Optimus’ aft, his fingers still working deep and firm within Optimus’ valve.

“You grip me so tightly. I cannot wait to feel you on my spike,” Ultra Magnus murmured, even as his free hand slid up Optimus’ chestplate, fingers brushing over his intake before they found his lips. He traced them slowly, intently. “However, there is something you could do for me first, if you are so inclined.”

If. He spoke it as though Optimus had the choice.

Somehow, he suspected he did not.

“Of course, sir,” he said, though his internals tightened into uneasy knots, and the goodies he’d consumed sat in his tank like hunks of unprocessed ore.

“Excellent.” Ultra Magnus gave one last stroke to his valve before he withdrew his fingers and leaned back.

The heat of him retreated, and Optimus shivered as cold washed in. He didn’t know if he was overheating because Ultra Magnus was so warm, or because the stress was making his temperature spike. His own engine was producing this pathetic whining noise and he couldn’t seem to make it stop.

Optimus slowly turned, hoping his shame didn’t show on his face. Hoping Ultra Magnus didn’t want him to look eager for it. He couldn’t bring himself to fake it.

No sooner had he turned than Ultra Magnus cupped his face – with the hand still sticky with Optimus’ lubricant – and leaned down, brushing his mouth over Optimus’. The kiss was almost chaste, just a brush of lips together, before Ultra Magnus returned, pressing his mouth firmly to Optimus’. He made a humming noise of delight as Optimus felt the wet poke of a glossa against the seam of his lips.

He shuttered his optics and relented, parting his lips to allow the glossa within. Ultra Magnus purred with pleasure and deepened the kiss, his glossa laying claim to Optimus’ mouth, his grip on Optimus’ helm falsely romantic. Optimus barely responded, passive as he let Ultra Magnus explore his mouth and kiss him as though they were lovers.

His hands clenched at his sides, so tightly into fists that his knuckle joints ached. He was shaking, he knew he was. He could hear his armor clattering, and he couldn’t seem to make it stop.

“Mmm.” Ultra Magnus ended the kiss, but not without nuzzling Optimus’ face with his own. “I can taste the candies on your glossa. Did you enjoy them?”

Optimus cycled a ventilation. “Yes, sir.”

Ultra Magnus’ lips curved, almost indulgent. “You may call me ‘Ultra,’” he reminded Optimus as though he’d forgotten. His thumb swept over Optimus’ bottom lip, over the wetness his glossa left behind. “You have a beautiful mouth. I should like to see it wrapped around my spike.”

The shudder worked its way from Optimus’ pedes up to the crown of his helm. He couldn’t bring himself to speak so he simply nodded and started to lower himself and his gaze. He focused on Ultra Magnus’ frame, his optics skirting over the prominent Autobot symbol on his leader’s chesplate.

It felt like the badge were mocking him.

Optimus lowered himself to his knees, Ultra Magnus’ hand slipping to rest on the top of his helm instead of cupping his face. He lifted shaking fingers, resting them on Ultra Magnus’ hips, and braced himself.

“Only a taste,” Ultra Magnus murmured as he urged Optimus toward his panel, which was slowly spiraling open. “I am so pleased with your performance so far. I truly believe that my faith in you is not being misplaced.”

The reminder, Optimus knew, was not accidental. Ultra Magnus wanted him to remember exactly what his frame was paying for. How cruel of him.

Optimus’ face burned with humiliation. He wanted to duck his helm, hide from Ultra Magnus’ approving gaze, but he couldn’t. Not with Ultra Magnus’ spike emerging, pressurizing quickly, pre-fluid already beading at the tip. He was massive, proportioned to his size, his spike a bright blue unit ribbed with bands of white. Optimus’ jaw ached just looking at it.

Ultra Magnus’ hand on his helm was a steady, forward pressure. It pushed him closer and closer to the Magnus’ spike, until the tip of it bobbed millimeters from his lips. Optimus’ tank churned, but he obediently parted his lips and allowed Ultra Magnus to slip into his mouth. He tasted pre-fluid immediately, and Ultra Magnus throbbed on his glossa, so hot and firm already. How long had he been aroused? Had he been fantasizing from the moment he sent the summons for Optimus? Had this been his plan all along?

Probably so, given the way Ultra Magnus’ fans whirred and his vents thrummed and his frame radiated heat like a furnace. Every inch of him was control, though the pressure of his fingers grew firmer.

“Ah, but you are beautiful,” Ultra Magnus praised from above as he urged Optimus deeper onto his spike, the thick length rubbing firmly against Optimus’ glossa. “This is a talent I did not know you had, Optimus. You should include it on your resume.” He chuckled as though it were a joke.

Optimus tried not to purge. His fingers shook where they gripped Ultra Magnus’ hips. He just wanted this to be over.

He forced himself into action. He shifted his weight on his knees and swallowed as much of Ultra Magnus as he felt he could fit. He lashed his glossa around it, oral lubricant welling up in his mouth and dribbling out the corners. He had to divert his oral ventilations. His jaw did indeed ache.

Ultra Magnus gave a soft sigh of satisfaction. His hips rolled forward, ever gently, pushing himself deeper into Optimus’ mouth. His field buzzed against Optimus’, plucking at the edges and demanding more. The tip of his spike bumped against the back of Optimus’ intake and lingered there, grinding against the soft protomesh.

His fingers shook around Optimus’ helm before he abruptly drew back, the tip of his spike painting over Optimus’ lips.

“Ah, forgive me,” he said, his voice regretful. “Any more and this would have ended too soon for us. You are quite skilled, Optimus. You should be proud of yourself.”

Hot and cold warred for control within him. “Thank you, sir,” he rasped.

Ultra Magnus smiled at him and cupped his jaw. He urged Optimus to stand with a bit of pressure on the bottom of his jaw. “I seem to recall giving you permission to call me by name,” he said. “But now there is something in the way you say ‘sir’ that I’m growing fond of. Continue, if you like.”

Optimus blanched. Now this, too, would be tainted.

He swallowed, still tasting Ultra Magnus on his lips and glossa. “Yes, sir,” he said, going cold all over, like ice dripping into his lines. His knees wobbled again as he remembered the size of Ultra Magnus’ spike.

Ultra Magnus hummed an approving noise and leaned down to kiss Optimus once more. It was less claim this time as it was a brush of their lips together, Ultra Magnus nuzzling against him.

“There is a part of me that wishes to keep you,” he said, before he rested a hand on Optimus’ hip and gave it a squeeze. “Now, it is unfair of me to demand all the pleasure for myself.” The hand shifted, moving inward, fingers dipping between Optimus’ legs to play with his valve again. “I should like to taste this again. Would you like that, Optimus?”

Oh, Primus.

Optimus’ vents stuttered. Heat built at the back of his optics, the shame making his intake close tightly. If he spoke the truth, would Ultra Magnus throw him out? Would it be a rejection of this, his final chance?

Did he even deserve to reject Ultra Magnus’ generous offer? This was what he deserved, wasn’t it? For failing to save Elita. For failing to protect Sentinel. For failing.

Optimus bowed his helm, and felt a shudder race through his frame. “I am a loyal Autobot,” he said instead.

“That is all I wanted to hear.” Ultra Magnus’ finger rubbed firm circles on his anterior node, making his hips jerk and his array pulse with heat.

Ultra Magnus pulled away and placed his hands on Optimus’ shoulders. They slid down to cup Optimus’ aft and lifted him with ease, placing him on the desk.

“This, I think, will be easier,” he said as he urged Optimus to lie back, even as he nudged himself between Optimus’ knees, his spike rubbing over Optimus’ inner thighs. “That and you look enticing on my desk.”

Optimus’ hands bunched at his sides. “Thank you,” he said, unsure of what else he could say honestly. All of the tension returned, his armor clamped so tight he wasn’t ex-venting heat properly, and the tremble came back, making him ache from clenched cables.

Ultra Magnus’ hands swept from his hips to his knees, urging them to press in around his hips. He pulled Optimus’ aft to the very edge of the desk and rolled forward, the head of his spike nudging over Optimus’ rim. It painted itself in Optimus’ lubricant, and rubbed teasingly against his anterior node cluster.

Optimus’ face filled with heat. He shuddered, a mix of shame and arousal. He wanted to cover his face, but he suspected that seeing his expression was part of what Ultra Magnus wanted. Because Ultra Magnus was staring at him, optics devouring Optimus’ face.

“Do you ever self-service, Optimus?” Ultra Magnus asked. One of his hands palmed Optimus’ array, the heel of it scrubbing over his spike sheath, where only the head of his recessed spike dared poke into view.

“I-I do,” Optimus admitted even as his antennae spit sparks out of sheer embarrassment. He had a feeling he knew where this was going.

Ultra Magnus hummed thoughtfully. He kept rolling his hips forward, spike rubbing over Optimus’ thighs, his rim, his node, everywhere but actually sliding inside of him. “And do you prefer your spike or your valve?”

“N-no preference,” he admitted. Because after this, he wasn’t sure he’d ever want his valve again.

“Hmm.” Ultra Magnus rubbed over the head of his spike and little by little, Optimus’ array responded, until his spike reluctantly pressurized into Ultra Magnus’ warm grip.

He gave it a squeezing stroke as his free hand held Optimus’ hip, keeping him in place for a shallow grind of his spike against the rim of Optimus’ valve. “Would you show me? I want to make sure I learn how best to touch you.”

Oh, Primus. Oh, no.

He’d been right.

“Y-yes, sir.” Static crackled in his vocals. Heat gathered behind his optics, but he rallied enough to swallow it down.

He forced his right hand to unclench. He forced himself to reach down the length of his frame, to wrap his own fingers around his spike the moment Ultra Magnus released him. He forced himself to remember nights spent hunched over, stroking himself as he tried to keep his cries quiet, while thinking of Sentinel and Elita and whoever else decided to haunt his fantasies.

“Beautiful,” Ultra Magnus murmured as he held Optimus’ hips and ground against his valve, the head of his spike catching on Optimus’ rim and rubbing over it repeatedly. “I want to see your pleasure, Optimus. I want to see you overload. Will you do that for me?”

He gnawed on his bottom lip. “Yes, sir,” Optimus forced out as he squeezed his spike and started to stroke, his hands shaking where he held himself.

Nausea and shame coiled and twisted together in his tanks, but it wasn’t enough to stop his frame from responding. From pleasure throbbing into his array, blooming through his groin in a slow spread of warmth. His valve cycled hungrily, lubricant soaking his aft and dripping onto the desk. His spike pulsed, the smallest drip of pre-fluid squeezing from the tip.

“Excellent,” Ultra Magnus purred before he tilted Optimus’ hips and finally sank into Optimus’ valve in one slow, steady push. His spike parted the squeeze of Optimus’ calipers with ease, grinding against Optimus’ valve walls and exciting every node along the way.

Optimus whimpered, his backstrut arching, thighs trembling where they pressed against Ultra Magnus’ hips. It felt good, despite it all. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been filled so deeply, or the last time someone had nudged his ceiling node with such ease.

His optics flickered. He panted several droughts of desperate air through his vents. He squeezed his spike as it throbbed, his free hand clawing at the desk. He knocked over something in his blind pawing – the datapad he thought – and ended up gripping Ultra Magnus’ hand by the wrist. He held tight, squeezing, though it did little to affect Ultra Magnus’ reinforced battle armor.

“Ahh.” Ultra Magnus sighed a moan, his energy field rippling with bliss and satisfaction. His spike throbbed a happy beat. “I knew you would feel good.”

Ugh.

Optimus gritted his denta. He expected Ultra Magnus to frag him roughly to pound him into the desk. Instead, the Magnus pulled back and started thrusting into him slow and deep, each drag of his spike in and out of Optimus’ valve only serving to stir the pleasure higher and higher within him. His hands cradled Optimus’ hips, pulling him into each thrust, his thumbs stroking over Optimus’ armor as if in comfort.

Ultra Magnus’ face was one of delight and concentration. His field rippled and flexed against Optimus’, hot and hungry, sucking him into the maw of it. His engine rumbled, the pitch of a mech surrendering to arousal.

And then he leaned forward, over Optimus, nuzzling against his face as though they were lovers and this was just a naughty little tryst for fun’s sake. His lips traveled over the curve of Optimus’ jaw before they found Optimus’ mouth. He kissed Optimus, as slow and deep as every thrust into Optimus’ valve, until his spike worked deep and ground hard against Optimus’ ceiling node.

He gasped, twitching beneath Ultra Magnus, unconsciously stroking himself faster. Shivers and charge both danced up his backstrut. He squeezed his spike, jerking himself with every trick he knew, anything to make himself overload faster and get this over with. His valve clenched around Ultra Magnus’ spike, cinching tight, greedily slurping up the charge Ultra Magnus’ spike fed him.

Optimus’ squeezed his optical shutters closed and tightened his grip on Ultra Magnus’ wrist. He bucked up against Ultra Magnus, driving his spike deeper, and pushed into his own hand. He squeezed his spike, stroking himself faster and faster, as the arousal in his array coiled tighter and tighter.

He hated it. He hated it so fragging much, but his frame didn’t seem to care. Instead, his engine revved loud enough to be audible, his field flared, and lubricant seeped out from around Ultra Magnus’ spike. He squeezed down as though trying to keep Ultra Magnus within him, and fingered his spike head, and whined into the kiss Ultra Magnus insisted upon, glossa plunging over and over into Optimus’ mouth, to the same tune as his spike in Optimus’ valve.

Overload, when it finally took him, was a relief. Optimus whimpered as a weak stream of transfluid spurted from his spike, and his valve fluttered madly around Ultra Magnus’ spike, charge leaping from his nodes to latch. He writhed beneath Ultra Magnus, gasping for cold air, tearing his lips away from Ultra Magnus’ mouth to pant into his own shoulder.

This left his intake and neck ripe for the taking, and Ultra Magnus took advantage of it. He purred hungrily, denta and glossa licking and sucking at Optimus’ cables as he pushed harder and faster into Optimus’ valve, taking him with more vigor than Optimus would have expected of the old mech.

He grabbed onto Ultra Magnus to keep from getting squished beneath the older mech’s bulk and tried to swallow down the cries as Ultra Magnus fragged him deep every time. As he pressed harder, forcing Optimus’ thighs to the limit of their flexibility, and ground against his sore ceiling node fiercely. The desk rattled and squealed beneath them.

Optimus hoped no one could hear them. He hoped the sound didn’t carry. He prayed there wasn’t a camera here to witness his shame.

And he prayed that Ultra Magnus would be finished soon.

It was the only prayer Primus granted.

Ultra Magnus ex-vented into his intake, his grip on Optimus’ tightening. His rhythm stuttered as he thrust fiercely into Optimus, bottomed out, and finally, Optimus felt the hot splash of transfluid deep within him. Ultra Magnus moaned into his audial, murmuring something nonsense that Optimus couldn’t hear through the static.

Ultra Magnus’ hips made little jerks as his spike spurted, the rest of his frame absolutely still. His field swallowed Optimus whole and spat him back out, back into his frame, as the last of overload retreated from Ultra Magnus. His vents whirred noisily, his cooling fans even more so, as Ultra Magnus braced his arms on the desk and pushed himself upright.

His hips were still pressed to Optimus’, his spike buried deep. Optimus dared unshutter his optics. Ultra Magnus was looking at their frames, where they were still joined, and Optimus didn’t know what to call the expression on his face. Hunger. Possession. Lust. A mix of all three.

“That was wonderful,” Ultra Magnus said as he stroked his hands down Optimus’ sides. “You did so well, Optimus. I am proud of you.”

Optimus peeled his fingers away from his spike, which was rapidly depressurizing back into the safety of its sheath. “T-thank you, sir.”

“Mm. I do love it when you call me ‘sir’,” Ultra Magnus murmured, and his glossa swept over his lips. He leaned back, his spike easing from Optimus’ valve, achingly slow. “If I did not have another meeting this afternoon, you are enough of a temptation that I would enjoy you again.”

His hands stroked over Optimus’ sides again, his field pulsing warmly against Optimus’. “I knew my trust in you would not be displaced,” he added as his spike finally slipped free.

Optimus cringed as his valve contracted. He could feel the fluids dribbling downward, seeping out of him. As much as he wanted to snap his thighs back shut, he couldn’t. Not with Ultra Magnus still firmly emplaced between his knees, and especially not with Ultra Magnus now reaching for his valve, his fingers stroking around Optimus’ swollen, soaked rim.

“Beautiful,” he murmured, before he tapped Optimus’ array with one finger. “Close your panel, Optimus. You wouldn’t want to make a mess.” He chuckled softly. “That would be interesting to explain to the cleaning staff.”

A protest rose and died on Optimus’ glossa. He shuddered as he obeyed, trapping Ultra Magnus’ release within him. He wondered, when he stood, if it would slosh against his valve panel. If it would seep past and stain his thighs.

He wondered if that was Ultra Magnus’ intent all along.

“I did not hurt you, did I?” Ultra Magnus helped Optimus off the desk. His stabilizers wobbled beneath him, but his knees held, for all that his joints felt like jelly.

He shook his helm. “No, sir.”

“Good.” Ultra Magnus dug around in subspace and offered Optimus a mesh cloth. “Here. You seem to have made a bit of a mess.” He gestured to the few spatters of transfluid on Optimus’ abdomen and hips.

His face burned with humiliation. Optimus ducked his helm. “Thank you, sir.”

He wiped at himself in vain, even as Ultra Magnus reached around him, scooping the datapad off the table. He tapped his fingers over the screen, and the datapad chirped cheerfully back at him.

Optimus did not know what he was doing. He couldn’t see either, so he focused instead of making himself presentable. Or as presentable as he could given the paint scrapes on his thighs and on the transsteel of his chestplate.

“I have added my designation glyph to your file, Optimus,” Ultra Magnus said as Optimus tucked the dirtied mesh cloth into his subspace. He assumed Ultra Magnus would not want it returned. “All it needs now is your signature.” He offered the datapad over.

Optimus took it once again, alarmed to find his fingers were trembling. “Thank you, sir.” Static etched his words, and his thoughts felt stretched and distorted. All he could manage was obedience.

“This is yours to keep, Optimus. Feel free to read it in depth,” Ultra Magnus said as he gestured for Optimus to move back around to the front of the desk. “Once you have signed your agreement, you will be contacted for your new assignment. Your new title is already yours.”

Optimus’ hands tightened on the datapad. “I understand, sir.” He looked down at the screen, at the glyph denoting Ultra Magnus stamped in the upper right hand corner of the terms and conditions now. It hadn’t been there before.

He dreaded to see what the terms were. He doubted the words ‘frag toy’ had been used, but there were ways around that, weren’t there? After all, Ultra Magnus had never once said to him, ‘you must frag me to get this opportunity’. It was all implicit. Manipulation.

Deceptive.

“I knew you would. You have always been a very good student.” Ultra Magnus offered Optimus his hand. “Congratulations, Optimus Prime. I know that you will do myself and the Autobots proud.”

Optimus startled at hearing the title attached to his own name. It suddenly felt a lot less like the honor he thought it would. It was tainted now, stained with the same transfluid that spattered his hips and thighs, despite his attempts to wipe it away.

He offered his hand and shook Ultra Magnus’, his field crackling against his leader’s. A mech he had once admired, possibly to a fault.

No. Not possibly. Definitely.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, and was grateful his voice didn’t crackle, despite the tautness in his frame, the heat in his optics, and the urge to hide in a dark corner.

“You are most welcome.” Ultra Magnus squeezed his hand before releasing him. He sat in his chair behind his desk as though it were business as usual. “Memorize my comm, Optimus Prime. I’m certain I will call you back to Cybertron from time to time, for private missions, you see.”

Private missions.

Was that code for more fragging sessions?

Optimus could barely contain his shudders. He felt like he’d made a deal with Unicron. He felt like he was being used and discarded, and he longer had anyone to pull him out of the dark. He’d left Elita to die, and Sentinel would hate him forever for it.

He didn’t deserve to be pulled from the mire.

He dipped his helm in a bow. “Yes, sir. I will stand at the ready.”

“Good.” Ultra Magnus smiled, bright and approving. “You are dismissed, Optimus Prime. Perform well. I know you will be a testament to my name.”

Optimus snapped off a salute, if only to hide the nausea crawling up his intake. “Thank you, sir. I will.”

He spun on a heelstrut, hoping Ultra Magnus missed the disgust in his face. He honestly wasn’t even sure if it was directed at Ultra Magnus or himself anymore. He’d bought and paid for his position with his frame. He didn’t know what to think of himself now.

All he knew was that he needed a shower. A scalding one.

And soon.

[IDW] A Sticky Wicket

High school is supposed to be the best years of your life.

Clearly, the people who say this only remember their high-school years through rose-colored glasses. Because Josie can’t think of a single moment of high school she actually enjoyed. Except, perhaps, Chemistry.

For Josie, high school is more like the worst days of her life, and with final testing around the corner and college looming on the horizon, and her stupid car breaking down, well, this is officially the worst day ever.

An opinion she solidifies when a storm washes in out of nowhere, full of wind and lightning and odd-colored clouds, and some kind of swirling vortex appears in the air above her.

‘Why me,’ she wonders mere seconds before it vacuums her up and swallows her whole, sending her tumbling into an endless, starry abyss.

Just great.

She lands hard enough to rattle her senses, but not knock her out. She hits a chilly metal surface feeling like a ragdoll, her limbs flopping in all directions, and cries out when her ankle twists beneath her, shooting pain up her left leg.

Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Dizzy, Josie forces her hands beneath her and manages to get to her feet, albeit resting most of her weight on her right leg. She dusts off her knees as her spinning head finally stops.

God, what hit her? Or more like, what did she hit?

She rubs at her eyes as the noise of something humming, whirring, clicking and whooshing fills the air around her. Odd sounds. She drops her hands and looks up.

Josie shrieks.

There are five towering metallic things – robots, she tells herself – standing over her, looking down at her like she’s some new thing they should squish. Well, okay, one of the really big ones is kind of cowering behind the tiniest one.

They are an eye-hurting clash of bright colors and bright eyes – blue, she dimly notes.

One of them, the one who doesn’t have any eyes by the way, opens his mouth and makes this weird whirring-click noise. Another one, who has a bright red symbol attached to his face, reaches for Josie.

Fuck that.

There’s a gap. A small one, but so is she.

Twisted ankle or not, she’s out of here.

She lurches forward, hissing as putting weight on her ankle sends jagged bursts of pain up her leg. It won’t kill her though, and these things possibly will so she pushes through the pain and hobble-runs toward the really big ones. There’s a space between their legs and massive feet, and freedom just beyond it.

She’s small and hopefully quick and maybe they’ll get too tangled up in each other to even see her.

Maybe.

The hand misses her. She feels the whoosh of air against her back, but she knows it’s going to come back around again. She dives between the two feet, wriggles forward, and squeezes out from between the two huge robots. There’s some kind of huge computer console in front of her, and there’s all kinds of dark space beneath and around it.

Hiding isn’t better than running, but it’s better than nothing.

Josie limp-runs toward it as the ground starts rumbling, and the robots start making those weird chitter-click noises again. She finds the safety of the desk just as one of their shadows fall over her.

She scrambles and slides her body under one of the console legs. There’s a narrow space here, the kind a mouse would fit in were it human-sized, but Josie laughs a little wildly to herself. She’s the mouse now.

She drags her twisted ankle behind her and keeps moving forward, until she’s tucked against the wall and beneath the console. It looks like it’s bolted to the floor, thank god. They can’t just lift it away from her.

Panting, Josie crouches in the darkness. Her body is covered in sweat. Her heart’s pounding a mile a minute. The floor is rumbling now as they move around. She can see their feet and hear each loud thud.

How did she get here? How can she get home? Why is she unlucky? And ow, her ankle hurts.

One of them kneels down. It’s the smallest one, she thinks, because then a head presses to the ground and she can see one blue optic peering under into her hiding space. It speaks a buzz of static and sound at her, despite not having a visible mouth, before a slim hand tries to wriggle beneath the console.

“Leave me alone!” Josie shouts and squeezes herself as far back as she possibly can. Her back presses to cold, humming metal.

The hand doesn’t come anywhere close, but it’s still enough to make her heart thump harder.

The face doesn’t have any expression to it, but the eye flickers. The face vanishes until all Josie can see are feet. She hears them talking again, or at least that’s what she assumes all the chitter-clicking is.

“We apologize.”

Her eyes round. That’s English.

One of them kneels down again. A hand comes into view, knuckles against the floor and palm upward.

“We assumed you would speak Galactic Standard,” says the voice. A really pleasant voice actually. Kind of soothing. The fingers wriggle gently. “You must be frightened. Please. Come out. We will not hurt you.”

Josie sucks in a breath. Does she dare believe them? “How do I know I can trust you?” she yells, her voice sounding tinny in the small space.

The fingers go still.

“Oh, well, you don’t,” the voice says diplomatically. Each word has a little humming noise that comes with it. “But I promise we mean you no harm. It appears you may be injured. We only wish to help.”

Josie chews on her bottom lip.

She can’t hide under the console forever. They speak English, so that has to be some kind of good sign, right? And they hadn’t immediately stepped on her. They were probably just as surprised by her arrival as she was.

“Where am I?” she demands.

“You are in our clinic,” another voices answers, this one softer and sweeter. “We are the Decepticon Justice Division, and it is our creed to care for any who need our help, especially the Decepticons on our List.”

Clinics are good. Right?

Josie twists her fingers together.

“Okay, I’ll come out,” she says. “But don’t try to grab me.”

The hand vanishes immediately. The floor rumbles, and she can tell they are taking several steps back.

“As you wish,” the first voice says.

Josie hopes she isn’t making a terrible mistake. She inches back out from the console, dragging her throbbing ankle behind her. She pulls herself to her feet once she’s out, but keeps her back pressed to the console. Maybe she can duck back under it faster than they can grab her, if she needs to.

She squints in the bright light. There are only four of them now. The biggest one, with the cross-mark on his face, is gone.

“Who are you?” Josie asks. “And where is this clinic? How did I get here? What are you?”

The smallest one chuckles. “Many questions, it has.”

“Wouldn’t you, Vos?” The big one with the bright-red face says as he rests a hand on Vos’ shoulder. “I am Tarn, the leader of the group you see here.” He squeezes Vos’ shoulder. “This is Vos, and to my left is Helex.” His free hand gestures to Vos’ right. “This is Kaon.”

Kaon nods and straightens his shoulders. “We are currently in the Oberon sector, orbiting the planet Raetaen,” he says, identifying himself as the soft and sweet voice. He had been been the one offering her his hand, too. “As for how you arrived here… that is a question we were hoping you could answer.”

“D-does the honored g-guest need a b-blanket?”

The meek, almost hesitant voice burbles up from out of nowhere. Josie blinks and peers to her left, down a long and brightly lit hallway. The biggest one from earlier is peeking out from around the corner. All she can see is his head and massive shoulders.

“Good question, Tesarus!” Tarn says with a broad gesture before he looks down at Josie. “Might we offer you a blanket?”

“Or perhaps a bath?” the other, very large one asks. Helex, if Josie remembers correctly. He’s very eager as he leans forward, a pair of small hands clasped together as his large ones rest on his hips.

His torso sloshes. Sloshes. Does he have a washing machine for a stomach?

“Hungry, it must be.”

“I’m not an ‘it’,” Josie says, her thoughts spinning so quickly. “I’m Josie. A ‘she’. I’m a human from the planet Earth.”

Aliens, her mind shrieks at her. Somehow, she’s on a spaceship with aliens. Robot aliens. Either she’s dreaming or something really, really weird is going on.

“I have heard of this planet,” Kaon says as he folds his arms over his chest. He nods solemnly. “It is far, but not unreachable.”

“The b-blanket?” Tesarus asks again.

Josie sways on her feet. “I could use a blanket,” she says. If only because Tesarus sounds so pitiful. He’s kind of cute, the way he hides all the way down there, as if she, a little human, can hurt him.

“Yes, Tesarus. Bring our guest, Josie, a blanket,” Tarn says. His hand slips from Vos’ shoulder, and he performs a fancy bow toward her. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Josie. We are currently attending to a fatigued member of the Decepticons right now, but as soon as we have finished our duty to him, we would be happy to escort you home.”

“Injured, she is,” Vos points out. One long, spindly fingers gestures to her feet. How he knows that, she has no idea.

“Needs a bath,” Helex says and wriggles around, making his stomach visibly slosh. And maybe he does have a washing machine in there, but it doesn’t look like it’s filled with water.

Kaon raises a hand. “Tarn, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but my databanks inform me that humans are a delicate species. You mustn’t use your voice to calm her.” He points a finger toward Helex. “They cannot have oil baths.” The finger then moves toward Vos. “Do not offer her your face. It would likely kill her. As would the goodies you are thinking of offering her.”

The floor rumbles. Josie grasps the edge of the desk to keep from toppling over. Tesarus has returned, with what has to be the biggest stack of cloth Josie has ever seen.

“I b-brought the b-blankets,” he says quietly, and then inches to stand behind Vos, offering them to Josie from over Vos’ head.

“Poison, goodies are,” Vos says. “Disappointing, that is. Feed her, how do we?”

“This is most troublesome,” Kaon says and folds his arms again. “We are within shuttle range of Space Station 5701, however. Perhaps there are supplies that will allow us to better care for an organic guest.”

Tarn nods. “Yes. Very good.” He claps his hands together. “Kaon, you and Tesarus will take the shuttle and see if we can find our guest something to make her stay more comfortable until we can get her home.”

“A sssspace ssstation?” Tesarus says, and the metal of his body starts clattering. His eyes get really bright. The blankets tremble in his hands.

Kaon half-turns and rests a hand on Tesarus’ arm. “You’ll be fine, Tes. You’ll be with me.”

“No bath?” Helex says and his shoulders sink. His little hands droop to his sides.

“Not yet, at any rate,” Kaon says.

“See her, Nickel needs to,” Vos says with a little huff. He’s still pointing to Josie’s foot. “Injury, she has.”

“Yes, yes, indeed.” Tarn folds himself down to one knee, not that it makes him much smaller in Josie’s opinion. “Is this satisfactory, Josie? Will you allow us to care for you until such time as we can see you safely home?”

He offers a hand to her, knuckles against the floor, palm open. He doesn’t have a face, but his eyes are very big and blue behind his weird mask. His voice seems earnest. And they do seem like they are actually interested in taking care of her.

Josie takes a deep breath before she nods. “Yes, please,” she says and takes a wobbly step forward, hissing as pain lances through her ankle. “And yes, I’m hurt. Though it’s only a twisted ankle, I think.” One class in CPR training does not make her a nurse.

“Excellent!” Tarn’s eyes got brighter, and his voice more excited. “Would you allow us to carry you to our doctor?”

As he asks, Vos kneels down close to her and offers his cupped hands to her. His thumb is within arm’s reach, and when she grabs it for stability, she’s surprised by how warm he feels. There’s a low buzz on her hand as well. He feels, well, he feels alive. And she supposes they are.

“Gentle, I will be,” Vos says as Josie limps into his hands and carefully seats herself into his palm. “Promise, I do.”

“I believe you,” she says and manages to smile. “And yes, thank you. A doctor would be nice. And thank you for wanting to take me home and for being nice and not squishing me.” That last one is really important to her.

Tarn stands up and gestures to his chest. “We are caretakers, not villains,” he says. “And you are most welcome. Now Vos will take you to see Nickel, Kaon and Tesarus will find supplies to better care for you, and Helex will help me try and figure out how you got here. Please, rest and relax. We will see you home.”

“Thank you,” Josie says.

Helex jitters as if excited. “And then you can have a bath later!” he says, in a not-quiet-at-all whisper.

Despite herself, Josie laughs. She clings to Vos’ thumb for balance as he stands as well, and it’s a bit disorienting to be this high up. But it feels better, too, cause she’s less staring up at them, and feeling so small.

“Like Nickel, you will,” Vos says to her. “She is a she, too.”

“I look forward to meeting her,” Josie replies. Which is very true.

What a weird, scary, and interesting day. Part of her almost doesn’t want to go home. She’s curious about her strange rescuers. And honestly, it’s not everyday someone gets a ride on a spaceship with real-life aliens!

At least, she’s safe. That’s the best part.

“Thank you,” Josie says, again. Because politeness is important.

“You, our honored guest, are most welcome,” Tarn says.

[IDW] The Frame That Feeds

Somehow, and Ratchet still isn’t sure why, it’s never just one.

Vampiric mechs – and thank you Swerve for that term – apparently enjoy feeding in groups. Luckily, Ratchet doesn’t mind. His frame can support the increased drain, the quote-unquote vampires are more at ease and satisfied, and Ratchet…

Well.

Triple the vampires; triple the pleasure. If more mechs knew about the good side effects, they’d be opening up their lines in eager offering. But maybe Ratchet will keep this little secret to himself. There’s plenty of him to go around.

And plenty of pleasure for them to offer in return.

In the beginning, Ratchet had volunteered out of necessity. When it was discovered that the three mechs had been infected by an unknown pathogen, one picked up on their exploration of a supposedly uninhabited planet, plans had been discussed. This pathogen, somehow metallic in nature, had infected their personal coding and altered it in subtle ways.

Outward appearance remained the same, for the most part, with the rest of the physical changes minor. Primary denta were replaced by fangs. When startled, angry, or hungry, sharp talons emerged from their fingertips. They experienced upgrades in their capabilities, including the capacity to move quicker and enhanced sensory reception. But they also ran colder and quieter.

All of that was manageable.

The new inability to consume energon, however, was not. Their frames became incapable of processing energon, engex, or high grade. Only if it was pre-digested, so to speak, could they process it. If it was warm and fresh from a mech’s lines, their systems could function properly. And yes, it had to be from a mech’s lines.

Attempts to donate energon and serve it in a cube were disastrous.

The sound of Drift purging had been horrific.

Ratchet, as chief medic and built to donate anything from energon to coolant to spare parts to his patients, had volunteered himself. He trusted Perceptor and Brainstorm to come up with a solution to the problem, but in the meantime, he would allow himself to become a source of sustenance for the three newly-turned.

It is the least he can do. He can’t contribute to repairing them, wouldn’t even know where to begin as it is science beyond his education. But he can, at least, be a willing participant, someone to ease their worries and reassure them that he would never let them go hungry.

Duties are rearranged. New schedules are drawn. Now, Ratchet takes half-shifts during the day, and then retires to his hab-suite. He putters around, makes sure his fuel is topped off, and he waits.

Perceptor always shows up first, with Drift not far behind. Ratchet suspects it is a seniority thing. Perceptor is the eldest of them, and also the first-turned, and the rest of the vampires look to him for guidance. Sunstreaker always arrives last, and he’s the hungriest, the first to bare his now pointed denta.

Ratchet’s internals quiver with excitement. His frame heats up. After a week of this, he already knows what to expect, and he’s so ready for it. Anticipation makes his spark shiver, and he hopes his eagerness doesn’t show in his field. He’s not some new-adult with an untouched interface array for Primus’ sake!

“You lock the door behind you?” Ratchet asks, careful to keep his tone gruff.

Sunstreaker nods. “Of course, Ratchet.” There’s a deference in his tone now. It’s in the way he looks to Perceptor first, and the way he lets himself be guided.

Only later will that aggression emerge.

Ratchet’s valve clenches weakly. He can’t wait.

“Good. Then let’s get started.” Ratchet pulls out his chair, what’s become known as the feeding chair, and lowers himself into it. Joints creaking, armor rattling, the weight of centuries resting on his shoulders. “I’m sure you are all hungry.”

“Not as much as you might think.” Drift chuckles. His optics are bright, focused on Ratchet, much like his fellow vampires. They all stare at him as though he’s something delicious, an energon buffet, a tray of assorted goodies.

It’s almost enough to make Ratchet preen, save that they aren’t admiring his frame, but remembering how good his fresh energon tastes.

They look at him as though trying to decide the juiciest place to bite. They all have their favorites, but sometimes, they do switch things up for a change of pace. The bites tend to heal over a period of recharge due to something in their saliva. Perceptor’s fascinated by it. Says that he hopes to replicate whatever it is afterward.

Imagine the advancements! The applications for medcenters across the universe!

Pah. Silly scientists.

“Speak for yourself,” Sunstreaker growls, attracting Ratchet’s attention. His armor jitters. His optics are paler than the others. For some reason, he’s struggling the most with the changes. Because he’s a twin perhaps.

“Hush,” Perceptor murmurs, barely loud enough to qualify as a command, but it works as one. Both Sunstreaker and Drift snap their mouths shut, though Sunstreaker licks his lips again, allowing Ratchet a glimpse of pointed denta.

A tremble dances up his spinal strut.

Perceptor’s gaze focuses on Ratchet, his optics glowing brighter, even behind the targeting reticule. “Ratchet, if you don’t mind, I will begin here,” he says as he drags his fingers from Ratchet’s right hip to his right knee.

Ratchet gestures toward himself. “I’m at your service, Perceptor.”

He watches, avid, as Perceptor lowers himself to his knees on Ratchet’s right side. He strokes another hand down Ratchet’s thigh and leans in close. Ratchet hears his fans spin to life, his vents sucking in a burst of air as though tasting Ratchet with his chemoreceptors alone.

Perceptor’s field shivers with desire and hunger both. His engine rumbles as he leans close, scrubbing his cheek along Ratchet’s thigh armor. He’s cold to the touch, as though the virus leeches heat from his systems. His lips follow the path of his cheek, and then his glossa as well, leaving a streak of oral lubricant behind.

Ratchet shivers. He works his intake. He rests his right hand against Perceptor’s back, behind his scope. The other forms a fist and rests on his left thigh.

Perceptor is a tease. A master of anticipation. His engine hums, glossa laving a wet path before he circles back to mid-thigh. He licks a long, narrow transformation seam and it takes all Ratchet has not to groan aloud.

Primus, just get on with it!

Perceptor’s hands curl against Ratchet’s thighs. He ex-vents a burst of heat, and his lips part, pointed denta glinting in the overhead light. He looks up then, asking permission without words.

Ratchet jerks his head into a nod.

The corner of Perceptor’s lips curve into a smirk. His attention returns to Ratchet’s thigh, denta rasping against his plating, before Perceptor bites. His denta sink past armor, down to the protoform.

Ratchet jerks with a little grunt. There’s pain, a quick flash of it, like a pinch to his cables. But then heat comes in the wake, a flush of fiery pleasure that makes him tremble. His valve cycles faster, lubricant pushing at his panels. His spike gives a twitch of interest, surging to thickness.

He swallows again, intake bobbing. Perceptor’s glossa flicks over the bite marks before he clenches his jaw harder and pierces an energon line. Ratchet’s energon begins to trickle free. Perceptor hums, his field rippling with pleasure and satisfaction.

One down, two to go.

Ratchet looks up, but Drift is already approaching him. His optics are so very bright and focused. He circles around Ratchet’s back and presses against him from behind, engine revving hard enough to vibrate their frames. He presses a kiss to the back of Ratchet’s head.

“You okay?” he whispers into Ratchet’s audial.

“You know I am,” Ratchet mutters and reaches up with his free hand, petting Drift’s head. “Get to drinking, kid.”

“Not a kid.” Drift nuzzles into his intake, lips teasing along cables and sensitive dermal metal. He licks at Ratchet’s neck, each tiny lap of his glossa sending jolts through Ratchet’s frame.

Drift is nowhere near as much of a tease as Perceptor, but he still kisses and licks all over Ratchet’s intake before he settles on the juncture of neck and shoulder. His denta graze over the heated cables and then they sink in, easily piercing Ratchet’s secondary energon line.

Ratchet groans, aloud this time, as pleasure and heat float in the wake of the initial sting. He sucks in a vent, leaning back into the embrace of Drift’s arms, the flick of his glossa, the firm grip of his denta. Perceptor suckles from him slowly, and Drift even more so, Ratchet’s systems registering the trickling drain, but no alerts on his HUD yet.

One more remains.

“Finally,” Sunstreaker mutters. Has no patience at all, that one. Then again, given that he always has to wait, it’s not unexpecteed.

Sunstreaker drops to his knees and makes a beeline for Ratchet, pushing between Ratchet’s legs, his palms skimming a path along Ratchet’s inner thighs. Sunstreaker’s engine revs, his field prickly with hunger and need, and he nuzzles Ratchet’s interfacing array with his cheek.

“I’m going to have this later,” he murmurs as he licks a wet path up Ratchet’s panel.

Ratchet groans.

He drops his hand from petting Drift and strokes the crown of Sunstreaker’s head. “First things first,” he says. “Feed.”

Sunstreaker smirks at him, echoes of his twin in the look, and burrows lips and denta into Ratchet’s hip joint. Ratchet braces himself. Not one for subtlety, Sunstreaker isn’t, and he barely searches before his denta sink into Ratchet’s hip joint. He purrs a hungry sound as he starts to suck, long and deep pulls of Ratchet’s energon.

Ratchet moans and slumps into the chair, letting Drift’s embrace take the weight of his upper half. He rests his hands on Perceptor and Sunstreaker respectively. He finally frees his field, projecting comfort and pleasure both into it. He’s found that if he doesn’t, the three vampires fret about his safety. They won’t take what they need either, and Ratchet much rather they drink to their tank’s satisfaction. Ratchet, after all, can replenish himself with anything.

Ratchet’s engine purrs. He licks his lips, optics shuttering, as he sinks into the sensation. Three different glossas flicking over his armor. Three different pinpricks through his plating, his lines. The steady decrease in his energon levels – though never so low as to be worrisome.

More than all of that is the pleasure. The heavy, syrupy waves of it which radiate outward from each bite. There’s something in the oral lubricant of the vampires. Some kind of aphrodisiac that makes Ratchet tremble, makes his cooling fans click on and audibly whirr. His frame hums and his spark whirls excitedly.

His valve clenches hungrily. More lubricant pushes at his panel, trying to nudge around the seams. His spike is no better, thickening in the sheath, the head rubbing against his closed panel. Ratchet trembles, vents coming faster, his fingers kneading at Perceptor and Sunstreaker.

He could overload just like this, with their denta in his lines. Had, in fact, done so before. The first time they bit him, and he hadn’t known what to expect. He’d anticipated pain, grinding his denta to endure it, willing to make the sacrifice to assist his friends and fellow Autobots.

He had not been prepared for the pleasure. For the thick waves of it. For the way his array sprang to life, and the quickening of his spark, and a hunger of his own. Not for energon, but for pleasure, for overloads, for ecstasy.

The first feeding had been a frenzy. A mess of fluids, energon and transfluid and lubricant alike. It had been unorganized and frantic, a twisting of four different frames on the floor as they never made it to the berth, and Ratchet doesn’t remember much of it, save that he’d been overwhelmed by the overloads.

They’d learned since then. How to organize, how to work together, how to indulge without hurting one another.

How to–

Ratchet’s thoughts dissolve. He moans aloud as Drift cups his jaw, turns his head, makes it easier for him to access Ratchet’s neck. He bites a little harder, more energon flowing into his mouth, his glossa palpating the line caught between his denta.

Sunstreaker’s fingers scrape patterns into his armor. Kneading his thighs like a turbofox. He’s purring like one, too. Engine soft and rumbling, his expression one of bliss as he sucks and sucks and sucks. He looks so content and peaceful, lines of war-stress easing from his face.

Perceptor, the first to feed and always the first to stop, eases himself away from Ratchet’s thigh. His lips and denta are stained with energon, but his optics are bright. Energon trickles from his bite marks, and Perceptor is quick to lean down and lap it up. Each flick of his glossa makes Ratchet twitch, another low moan rising in his intake.

Perceptor straightens and licks his lips clean. He grins, slow and sultry, his free hand cupping Ratchet’s face, opposite of Drift’s grin. He rises up and leans in, and Ratchet will never admit how he trembles, how anticipation curls hotly throughout his internals.

Ratchet sighs when Perceptor’s mouth slants over his, and Perceptor’s glossa pushes inside. He tastes of energon, stripped of all flavor, hot and bitter. It’s the taste of Ratchet’s own energon, and something about that realization never fails to make him purr with need.

Perceptor’s field pushes and pulls against Ratchet’s, sizzling with need. His free hand drifts over Ratchet’s abdomen, teasing into transformation seams. His pointed denta nip Ratchet’s lips, scraping the delicate dermal metal.

Ratchet moans. His interface array springs open, panels spiraling aside to free his array to the warm air. It wisps over his exposed equipment, taunting him with sensation.

Energon levels at forty percent and holding steady. Ratchet’s in no danger of shutting down or offlining. Instead, his engine growls and charge dances out from beneath his armor. He presses against the back of Perceptor’s head, encouraging the scientist to deepen the kiss.

It is, after all, time for his reward.

Drift’s fangs retract next. He laps over the bitemarks and leaves soothing kisses in their wake. Drift’s fingers shift to pat over Ratchet’s windshield, and his other hand slides down to stroke Ratchet’s neck, opposite of where Drift had bit. Drift presses against him, hot and needy, his field screaming less of hunger and more of arousal, his ex-vents teasing Ratchet from behind.

Ratchet shivers. He shifts restlessly on the chair, hips rolling forward, his spike bobbing free and his valve seeping lubricant. It pools beneath his aft, his rim twitching. He squirms, desperate for someone to touch him.

Sunstreaker is the one to oblige. His fangs retract, he gives a cursory swipe of his glossa to the bite marks, and then he tackles Ratchet’s array. He makes a hungry, pleased noise before he swallows Ratchet’s spike to the base, the head of it bumping the back of Sunstreaker’s intake in one smooth motion.

Ratchet moans into Perceptor’s kiss. His hips buck toward the warmth of Sunstreaker’s mouth, but firm frontliner hands keep him in place. Sunstreaker’s mouth and lips are hungry, eager, as they work Ratchet’s spike, intake flexing around the head and glossa stroking along the length. He sucks Ratchet like transfluid is just as sustaining to him as Ratchet’s energon. Which maybe it is. Sunstreaker swallows him down more often than not, and drinks Ratchet’s load everytime, and he never purges it.

Ratchet shudders at the thought, sustaining the vampires with transfluid as well as his own energon. His internal temperature skyrockets, pleasure spooling tighter and tighter within him. Perceptor’s kiss is relentless, a steady press of his mouth and glossa, sometimes deep and exploratory. Other times light and brushing.

Ratchet quivers in the middle of them. Drift’s fingers stroke his seams. His mouth laves a hot, electric pleasure on Ratchet’s intake. Perceptor’s field hooks into his, spiraling the need higher and higher. Sunstreaker’s mouth abandons his spike, and Ratchet doesn’t even have a moment to mourn that because Perceptor’s hand curls around it. And then there’s a warm, wet mouth on Ratchet’s valve, licking him long and deep.

He whimpers. He writhes among them. His hips make little aborted rolls forward, against Sunstreaker’s eager mouth. Into the suckling motion on his anterior node cluster. And the long, wet strokes of Sunstreaker’s glossa against his swollen rim. And the careful scrape of denta against his node.

Perceptor squeezes his spike. Strokes him base to tip and back again. He fingers the head, teases around the transfluid slit, and squeezes him back down to the base.

Ecstasy roars inside of Ratchet.

His thighs tremble. Charge dances out from his substructure. He squeezes his optics shut as he focuses on the pleasure. His spark spins faster and faster, his frame blasting heat, though it is all too quickly leached by the chilly frames surrounding him.

Ratchet trembles, cables going taut.

Sunstreaker nips his anterior node, and Ratchet jerks. Need sparks through him like a flashfire. It tightens faster and faster in his tanks. He pants against Perceptor’s lips, fingers shaking where they grip Sunstreaker’s head and Perceptor’s shoulder.

He’s close, so close.

And then Sunstreaker growls against his array. He abandons Ratchet’s valve as Perceptor’s hand abandons his spike, only for Sunstreaker’s mouth to replace it all over again. He swallows Ratchet down to the base, and sucks hard.

Ratchet jerks and overloads hard, backstrut curving as his spike pumps down Sunstreaker’s intake, transfluid spilling into the frontliner’s mouth. His vents dump heat into the room, his entire frame rattling with ecstasy. Sunstreaker swallows every drop, mouth working Ratchet gently. He makes little happy noises in his intake, the vibrations caressing Ratchet’s spike.

Ratchet slowly descends from his pleasure high, not that he falls very far. He’s still firm in Sunstreaker’s mouth, still hard and aching, his valve cycling hungrily, and his entire frame taut with tension.

Three bites. Three feedings. He’ll need at least three overloads to clear the need from his system.

Oh, what a trial that will be.

Panting, Ratchet sags back into Drift’s embrace. Perceptor nuzzles his cheek, lips leaving little kisses over his nasal ridge.

Sunstreaker lets Ratchet slip free of his mouth. His cheek scrubs over the length with a happy purr. He gives it a parting kiss and pushes Ratchet’s thighs further open, burying his face against Ratchet’s valve again, giving it long and savoring licks. Ratchet quivers, lubricant seeping freely only to be caught by Sunstreaker’s glossa. He’s making hungry, desperate noises as he licks into Ratchet, teasing at the nodes just inside his rim.

“One,” Perceptor counts aloud, and his hand drifts down again. Down to Ratchet’s spike, bobbing free in the chilled air.

“Time for number two,” Drift adds on a murmur, his lips caressing the sensitive metal surrounding Ratchet’s audial.

Ratchet shivers. “Well get to it then,” he grunts, leaning back against Drift.

Perceptor chuckles. “Your clear interest makes this all easier to bear, Ratchet,” he murmurs and kisses Ratchet again, though it’s short and sweet. He squeezes Ratchet’s spike. “Mind if I borrow this?”

“I insist,” Ratchet replies. He licks his lips, still tasting Perceptor on them. “I don’t have all night.”

Sunstreaker chuckles against his valve. “Same old Ratchet,” he murmurs, and nips at Ratchet’s anterior node cluster. The tiny sting makes his hips jerk and his valve contract hungrily.

“Don’t you start,” Ratchet growls.

Sunstreaker laughs again. He gives a parting kiss to Ratchet’s node before he backs away, his face liberally streaked with lubricant. He licks his lips, cleaning them, and Ratchet’s mouth waters. He’s so pretty dressed in interfacing fluid.

How did he get so lucky, he wonders, as Perceptor takes advantage of Sunstreaker moving aside. He swings a leg over Ratchet’s hips and straddles his lap, his groin hovering over Ratchet’s spike. Lubricant drips from an already open panel, sizzling hot where it paints the head of Ratchet’s spike.

“Shall I?” Perceptor asks as he rolls his hips, teasing the head of Ratchet’s spike with the plump heat of his valve. It’s the only part of them that remains naturally warm.

“I won’t beg,” Ratchet growls as his hands find Perceptor’s hips, trying to urge the scientist downward. He bucks upward, the tip of his spike teasing along the wet fold of Perceptor’s valve.

Perceptor chuckles. His smirk does sinful things to Ratchet’s spark. “You will not have to,” he says before he cants his hips, catches Ratchet’s spike and sinks down onto it.

Ratchet groans, his spike throbbing as Perceptor’s calipers grip onto it and start flexing mercilessly. Charge leaps from his sensor nodes, making contact with Perceptor’s receptors.

Perceptor shivers. His fingers curl, slipping into seams, stroking the cables beneath. Behind Ratchet, Drift moans, ex-venting hotly against Ratchet’s audial. He hears a panel open seconds before something rigid and wet slides against his back. Drift rolls his hips, his spikehead leaving streaks of lubricant over Ratchet’s dorsal armor.

Drift grabs Ratchet’s jaw. He turns Ratchet’s head, and Ratchet goes with it willingly, eager for his lips to meet Drift’s. He groans into the kiss, Drift’s kisses a taste and a tease all at once.

Perceptor lingers in his lap, taking him deep, still for several vents. He quivers around Ratchet’s spike as though savoring before he starts to move, thighs working as he lifts and drops himself.

Ratchet moans, his hands tightening on Perceptor’s hips, less to guide as to ground himself from the pleasure wreaking havoc on his frame. His lines spark with fire. Even more so when there’s a careful touch on his valve, that of curious fingers. He doesn’t have to look to know that they belong to Sunstreaker.

He can’t thrust up into Perceptor, or down against those fingers. He can only sit on the chair, pinned between two frames, as those skilled fingers curl and rub, teasing the first and second ring of nodes within his valve. As Perceptor rides his spike, faster and faster, his valve clutching and squeezing it hungrily. And Drift ruts against his back, making urgent noises in his intake, while he covers Ratchet’s face and mouth in kisses.

The pleasure comes faster, hotter, searing.

Ratchet once again finds himself twitching and writhing between them. His cooling fans spin faster. His engine roars and rattles the frames around him. His spark dances and twirls as charge races through his lines. His spike throbs faster, soaking in the charge Perceptor’s valve offers. His own squeezes down on Sunstreaker’s fingers, and he whimpers as a thumb rubs over his anterior node in small, tight circles.

They are so careful with him. Grateful and appreciative. From the moment they realized their bites caused him pleasure, and how startling it was. Then and there, they’d almost quit. Forced themselves into stasis until a cure could be found.

Ratchet had to convince them, one by one, that the pleasure was hardly a trial. That he was willing to continue, so long as they were. And if one thing led to another, well, Ratchet was hardly opposed.

The second feeding went better. Less a frenzy, and more a controlled shift from hunger to desire, one Ratchet actually remembered come the morning, his frame sore and sated and curled up in Perceptor’s arms.

Hardly a trial at all.

Now Perceptor is riding his spike with increasingly urgent motions, and Sunstreaker is fingering him perfectly, his fingers having memorized all of the best ways to make Ratchet squirm, and Drift’s mouth is hot and teasing on his neck.

Ratchet can’t stop trembling, making aborted motions in the middle of them, and there’s no stopping the overload that crashes over him. He moans as he spills deep inside Perceptor and his valve clasps down on Sunstreaker’s fingers. Drift swallows his moan with another one of those deep kisses.

There’s a wet splatter against his backstrut as Drift overloads with a deeply satisfied sound. He nuzzles Ratchet’s face as Perceptor grinds down over his spike, his valve spiraling deliciously tight as he overloads as well. Their fields spike with pleasure, swallowing up Ratchet’s, and burying him in waves of ecstasy.

Drift nips his lips and draws back, enough that Perceptor can turn Ratchet’s head back toward him for a kiss. One soft and sweet and appreciative. Ratchet hums into the kiss, even as Perceptor’s weight shifts, and he draws back, Ratchet slipping free of his valve. Fluids trickle free in his wake.

“That’s two,” Drift says against his audial as he helps Perceptor tug Ratchet off the chair, though he finds it hard to stand given the rattle in his knees. “More?”

“More,” Ratchet agrees, his vocals striped with static.

Perceptor chuckles. Over his shoulder, Ratchet sees Sunstreaker lick his fingers clean, his optics bright and burning. Ratchet shivers.

His legs wobble as they tug him toward the berth. Ratchet stumbles, lubricant slicking his thighs, dripping to the floor. His spike remains pressurized, throbbing in denied hunger. Need claws through his lines, and his ventilations stutter.

He clambers onto the berth, Sunstreaker wriggling beneath him as Drift plasters himself against Ratchet’s back. He doesn’t have to do anything as Sunstreaker makes urgent noises, his thighs goading Ratchet toward his valve in open invitation. Sunstreaker smells of heat and arousal, and he tugs at Ratchet, something desperate in the motion.

His optics are bright. He’s dragging in air through his mouth. His lips are swollen as though he’s been gnawing on them.

Ratchet hasn’t had the chance to kiss him yet.

He topples forward, braces his weight on his elbows to either side of Sunstreaker’s shoulders, and he slants his mouth over the frontliner’s. He moans as their glossa tangle, and Ratchet thrusts blindly. Sunstreaker’s thighs cradle him, the wet of his valve teasing along Ratchet’s spike, until someone’s hand is there, guiding Ratchet home.

He shivers as he slips into Sunstreaker’s valve, into the gripping, squeezing heat. Sunstreaker whines beneath him, bucking up urgently, but there’s no room for him to move. Not with Drift draped over Ratchet, his spike nudging at Ratchet’s valve, the head rubbing a delicate pressure against Ratchet’s rim.

He doesn’t thrust. Ratchet doesn’t quite have the energy or the leverage for it. He doesn’t need to. Drift’s grip on his hips is firm, and he takes Ratchet in quick, deep plunges that rock Ratchet forward. Drift sets the pace, driving into Ratchet who in turn, rocks into Sunstreaker. He grinds their arrays together as Sunstreaker whines beneath him, his kisses hungry and sharp.

Sunstreaker doesn’t mind his denta. He always leaves bites, even when not feeding, unlike the others. He sucks on Ratchet’s glossa as though it were a spike, and Ratchet swears he can feel the frenetic whirl of Sunstreaker’s spark where their chestplates are pressed together.

Sunstreaker’s need is vibrant and clear. He’s the only one who hasn’t overloaded so far, and it shows in the way he writhes, the way his armor flexes, revealing prettily polished cables beneath. In the frantic clasp of his valve and the rub of his spike against Ratchet’s abdomen.

He’s making all of these needy noises, desperate things that he’d never allow otherwise. It’s both adorable and arousing. Ratchet has to kiss him, has to keep deepening the kiss as his hips sink forward, his spike plunges into Sunstreaker, and Drift drives into him from behind.

Sunstreaker whimpers as he overloads, backstrut arching, his frame pressing against Ratchet’s. He trembles, helm tossing back, hands tight where they grip Ratchet. His valve spirals tight, spike spurting against Ratchet’s belly. His calipers ripple, milking Ratchet’s spike of charge, and it’s enough to tug Ratchet over the edge.

He buries his face against Sunstreaker’s shoulder as the ecstasy crashes over him, his spike spurting over Sunstreaker’s quivering sensors. Sunstreaker groans as a second, smaller overload ripples through his array. He pants, the heated ex-vents caressing Ratchet’s audials.

Behind him, Drift mutters a curse. His fingers dig into Ratchet’s hips as he slams deep, circling his hips and skirting deliciously close to Ratchet’s ceiling node. Not close enough, however, and it’s little more than a tease.

Drift makes little aborted thrusts into him, his pelvis impacting Ratchet’s aft, before his field swells and bursts. Pleasure lights it up.

Ratchet moans as Drift’s overload washes over his sparking sensors. His legs tremble and it’s all he can do to keep from collapsing his full weight on top of Sunstreaker. He presses his forehead to Sunstreaker’s shoulder, panting for cooler air, his limbs feeling as unstable as gelatin.

Drift strokes over his aft, grinds another moment more, and then slowly withdraws from Ratchet’s valve. His calipers twitch in Drift’s wake, and once his spike is free, fluids trickle out, teasing over Ratchet’s valve.

His entire frame hums with pleasure. His processor spins as fast as his cooling fans.

Sunstreaker starts pawing at him. “Come on. Come up here.” His thighs squeeze in on Ratchet’s hips as he squirms.

“Wha…?” Ratchet knows he’s not coherent, but he’s quite sure he’s fried a circuit or two, and his entire frame is floating on a pleasure high.

A finger strokes along his valve rim. “He wants to clean you,” Perceptor says, his tone both amused and aroused. “Would you oblige him?”

Ratchet groans. “I can barely move.”

“Then allow me to help.”

Sunstreaker squirms beneath him. He scoots down the berth, Ratchet’s spike slipping free of his valve, twitching in the cool air. Hands on Ratchet’s frame shift him around, guide him where Sunstreaker wants him, which is apparently perched upon the frontliner’s face. Sunstreaker moans, thick and hungry, his arms encircling Ratchet’s waist as he tugs Ratchet down on top of him.

He buries his face against Ratchet’s valve, lips and glossa diving into the mess of fluids soaking Ratchet’s rim. He groans, almost toppling forward if Perceptor were not there to catch him. Ratchet clings to Perceptor, his hips rocking down toward Sunstreaker’s mouth as Sunstreaker licks and sucks and nibbles him. He laps up every dribble of fluid from Ratchet’s valve, making all of these delicious noises as he does so.

Ratchet, who’d been trying to cycle down from overload, never makes it. The pleasure returns, simmering in his lines, in his array. He circles his hips, anterior node throbbing against Sunstreaker’s nasal ridge, as the frontliner slurps up every dribble soaking Ratchet’s thighs and array.

Perceptor nuzzles Ratchet’s face. “Are you well?” he asks.

“I can’t believe you’re asking me that,” Ratchet groans, his fingers hooked into Perceptor’s seams. His vents are fully open, dumping heat into the room at a rapid pace.

Perceptor chuckles. “I ask because Drift and I have a request if you are willing.”

Ratchet twitches as Sunstreaker licks into him, building the heat around his array into an inferno. “You mean drinking my energon isn’t enough?”

A shadow passes over Perceptor’s face. His field fritzes around the edges, guilt peeking around the corner, and Ratchet instantly feels like an aft. It had been meant as a joke, but he is also more than aware that all of them – even Sunstreaker – hate what they’ve become.

“I’m teasing, Perceptor,” Ratchet says as a shiver races down his spinal strut. Sunstreaker is suckling on his node now, his glossa flicking over it, making concentration difficult. “What do you – ahhhh – what’s the request?”

Perceptor strokes around the curve of Ratchet’s head. He seems almost hesitant, as though now he fears asking more of Ratchet than he should.

Drift, however, seems to have no such qualms.

“Can you take us both?” he blurts out from where he’s kneeling on the berth at Ratchet’s side. “In your valve, I mean. Both of us at once?”

Sunstreaker nips Ratchet’s anterior node in that moment and he gasps, sucking in a sharp vent. His limbs wobble. He sinks down on Sunstreaker’s face, array clenching and squeezing out more lubricant. His rim twitches weakly.

“Ratchet?” Drift prompts, and his own field echoes of the hesitation in Perceptor’s, as if he fears he’s crossed a line, too.

“I can,” Ratchet answers, barely more audible than a moan, his valve cycling harder and faster. Release peeks at him from around the corner, coy and tempting.

But he’s open and relaxed and ready.

Ratchet forces himself back to his knees, lifting himself off Sunstreaker’s face. The frontliner whimpers and makes a grab for him, but Ratchet leans forward against Perceptor.

“Sorry, Sunny,” he says. “I need to borrow all that good work you’ve done down there.”

“Thank you,” Perceptor says and pulls him into a kiss, one Ratchet is all too willing to embrace.

His processor spins dizzily. He’s surrounded by heat and pleasure. Perceptor is kissing him, so soft and sweet, but something urgent in it regardless.

The berth thumps, rustles, and wobbles. Ratchet leans harder on Perceptor and feels hands on his frame. He’s urged forward, into straddling Perceptor’s lap, his spike poking Perceptor’s belly as Perceptor’s spike teases over his valve. The head of it bumps against his throbbing anterior node, and Ratchet shivers. Anticipation curls inside of him, stoking the flames of his arousal.

Then there are hands on his hips and warmth pressing against him from behind. A second spike nudges at his valve, so that both bob against his rim, teasing the delicate metals and exciting his exterior nodes.

Ratchet’s forehead rests against Perceptor’s shoulder. He clings to Perceptor’s waist as he rolls his hips down, trying to encourage at least one of those spikes to slip inside of him. There’s a need yawing deep within him. His ceiling node begs for attention.

Someone, Perceptor he suspects, finally obliges. Ratchet groans as the spike rubs past his swollen rim and fills him in one long, slow push. His spinal strut tingles. His engine roars.

The spike pushes deep and then stills. Ratchet pauses, drawing in shuddery ventilation after shuddering ventilation.

A second spike nudges at his rim, pressure at the caudal lip of his valve. Ratchet trembles, a low moan escaping him as the nudging increases until the second spike slides into him with a slick pop.

His rim quivers, calipers spreading wide to accommodate the second spike. Ratchet’s cooling fans spin so fast that they whine as inch by glorious inch, the second spike pushes into him, clicking past each caliper and leaving raised charge in its wake.

Arms encircle his waist, hands pressing against his belly. Drift’s chin hooks over his shoulder and he ex-vents into the sensitive cables of Ratchet’s neck. Ratchet twitches when Drift laps wetly over the bitemarks he’d left behind. It’s a jolt to the system, a reminder of the ecstasy each feeding session brings him, until finally, Drift is buried within him, his spike throbbing in counterpoint to Perceptor’s.

“You okay?” Drift murmurs against Ratchet’s audial, the whisper of it making Ratchet shiver.

Okay? He’s more than okay. He’s teetering on the edge of overload, stretched to his limits, every node pulsing, his lining molten with heat, his array poised on the precipice. He fears if they move, he’ll overload. But he craves that ecstasy.

“Fine,” Ratchet moans. “Just move already!”

Perceptor chuckles. “So stubborn,” he says as he strokes along Ratchet’s sides, teasing into his seams and fingering the charged cables beneath. “As you wish.”

They move, and Ratchet’s grip tightens to the point his hands creak and warnings crop up in his HUD. He’s putting too much stress on his fingers, his tools, but he desperately needs those pinpricks of pain to ground him.

Perceptor retreats as Drift plunges forward. Perceptor advances as Drift reverses course. Their spikes grind together, perfect counterpoint, so that Ratchet never once feels empty. It’s a dizzying sensation, a push and pull, a tug on his calipers, and a grind against his nodes.

Ratchet rocks forward and back, rubbing his spike against Perceptor’s abdomen, and sinking further onto Drift’s spike. His thighs ache from the strain, but it is secondary if not tertiary to the unfurling ecstasy building within him.

Ratchet’s thoughts splinter in a thousand directions, leaving only the focus on pleasure behind. He rocks between them, his valve spitting charge, his frame desperate, their spikes gliding in and out of him so effortlessly.

The overload peers at him, beckons with sly optics, and Ratchet gives chase, his engine whining into red-line and his fans spinning so fast they vibrate his frame. He pants, finding nothing cool to calm his overheated frame, as he pounces and grabs hold of overload.

It snatches him and tears him asunder. His valve clamps down, spiraling around the spikes dueling for space within him. They push deep, sinking in all at once, throbbing in a perfect counter-rhythm that drives the pleasure higher.

Ratchet gasps, fans whining as he trembles, his frame twitching between them. Pleasure strips him raw, so bright that his limbs tingle and lights dance behind his optics. The wash of their overloads, nearly in tandem, is lost to his own pleasure, despite the charged fluid sending another jolt through his sensor nodes.

Ratchet tilts forward, sagging against Perceptor, his valve clutching weakly at their spikes. His entire frame thrums, his field a purr as it fills the room and flirts with the three vampires. He feels sated, his valve swollen and throbbing, but at least there’s no pain. None at all. Only a lingering bliss that makes him feel like he’s floating.

He barely feels them slip free, only registering his world tilting beneath him as they work together to stretch him across the berth. Ratchet doesn’t even have the wherewithal to draw his knees together. His valve is swollen, hot, begging for relief. The good kind of sore that will linger in the morning in wonderful reminder.

The gentle touch on his valve rim makes Ratchet stir. He can barely move, exhausted and sated. But his rim twitches weakly, calipers flexing enough to push free a trickle of mingled fluids.

“Can I?” Sunstreaker murmurs as he cups Ratchet’s face and strokes around his swollen folds.

Ratchet makes a blind grab, hooks his hands around Sunstreaker’s chassis and tugs. “Do it,” he says.

What’s one more overload in a sea of them? Especially when Sunstreaker’s field blooms with affection and gratitude, and yet despite his haste, he’s ever so gentle as he guides himself to Ratchet’s valve. As his spike sinks into the mess Drift and Perceptor left behind, and all Ratchet’s valve can do is quiver weakly around it.

But it’s good, it’s so good, the way Sunstreaker pumps into him, slow and deep, so deep he finally stirs that ceiling node, sorely neglected all night. Ratchet’s engine purrs. He nuzzles into Sunstreaker’s hand, his thighs pressing in on Sunstreaker’s hips. He can barely move, but he manages to roll up into Sunstreaker’s thrusts, the pleasure unspooling within him like a slow and steady wave of warmth.

The last overload creeps over Ratchet before he knows it. He breathes a moan, one lost to Sunstreaker’s kiss, as Sunstreaker pushes deep, circles his hips, and finally overloads. The wash of transfluid over Ratchet’s deepest node extends the ecstasy, leaving him floating.

Exhaustion seeps in at all directions. Ratchet purrs into Sunstreaker’s kiss before the frontliner withdraws, though not without several parting strokes to Ratchet’s frame. They are gratitude and affection both.

Sunstreaker pulls back, and Ratchet lets him go. Next comes his second favorite part.

They all three converge on him, pulsing gratitude in their fields. Three sets of hands are grateful and respectful and gentle as they wipe down his frame and feed him sips of coolant and energon.

Ratchet hums deep in his chassis, bracing against Perceptor as Drift and Sunstreaker quickly strip the berth and replace the cover. Perceptor nuzzles his head as he strokes fingers down Ratchet’s backstrut as though counting each and every bolt.

Once they are done, Ratchet is eased back onto the berth, and he sighs as he sinks into the plush surface, his entire frame humming with satisfaction. Drift feeds him more sips of coolant and energon, and Sunstreaker attends to him with a polishing cloth, and promises to fix all of his scrapes and scratches and give him a repaint when this is all over.

Ratchet can’t remember a time he’s felt so good, so cared for, so rested. It’s something he could easily get used to, and a part of him almost wishes they aren’t going to get cured, just so he can indulge in this a while longer.

Perceptor kisses him on the chevron and murmurs a ‘thank you’. The back of his fingers stroke around the curve of Ratchet’s cheek.

“Same time tomorrow?” Ratchet replies, though his words are striped in static. Recharge tugs at him. His energon levels are a sultry fifty percent after the energon sips, though they’ll be back to normal in enough time for his vampires to feed tomorrow.

“So long as First Aid clears you,” Perceptor says.

It had been one of the caveats established from the day Ratchet volunteered. He is allowed to continue being their support, but only if he is cleared daily by First Aid or Ambulon.

“Bad enough that we are monsters,” Perceptor had said. “We will not cause undue harm if it can at all be prevented.”

Ratchet had agreed, if only to avoid the sickly, clinging guilt in all three of their fields.

“He will,” Ratchet grunts, and nestles deeper into the berth.

Perceptor smiles, and with one last caress of his fingers, departs. Drift is next to say goodbye, pressing a kiss over Ratchet’s chevron.

“Thank you,” he says. “For letting us indulge ourselves in more ways than one.”

“Stop bein’ sappy,” Ratchet grumbles as his chevron tingles. “And thank me by bringing me some of those energon goodies you make tomorrow. You know the ones I like.”

“I do.” Drift chuckles and brushes their nasal ridges together. “Sleep well, Ratchet.”

Drift takes Ratchet’s nearest hand in his, laying a kiss over Ratchet’s fingertips, before he, too, is gone.

“Your turn to cuddle the old grump, huh?” Ratchet says as he’s left with Sunstreaker, who’s puttering around his habsuite, tidying up the mess.

Sunstreaker jerks his head into a nod. Always surly in the aftermath, that one, as though the guilt’s eating him alive, no matter how often Ratchet reassures him that it’s okay. That Ratchet agreed to this for a reason.

Kid still doesn’t think he deserves it, mercy or kindness. Still thinks he needs to punish himself a thousand times over for a single, desperate mistake.

“Hey, come here,” Ratchet says, twitching his wrist and his fingers. He honestly doesn’t have the energy for anything else. “I’m still owed a little something.”

As in a berthmate. That’s how it’s been. They rotate out depending on who’s on what shift and who can be spared. But they never leave him alone in the aftermath. Someone always sticks around to monitor his vitals, share his berth, and yes, cuddle. It is Sunstreaker more often than not, given that he has the least of duties, other than looking after his pet.

Speaking of…

“Who has Bob?” Ratchet asks.

“Tailgate,” Sunstreaker replies, his backplate visibly shuffling. “Daffy bug’s fond of the little weirdo. Slag if I know why. Listens to him even.”

How interesting. “Cyclonus doesn’t mind?”

“Don’t see where it’s his problem.” Sunstreaker shrugs and putters around for a few seconds more before he drags himself to the berth. He’s careful, more careful than people give him credit, as he eases in beside Ratchet.

He’s the only one who never says thank you. At least, not aloud. Ratchet knows he’s grateful. Can read it in Sunstreaker’s field as easily as he reads the guilt and the self-castigation. There’s gratitude in the way Sunstreaker carefully polishes him.

“That’s better,” Ratchet murmurs and forcibly rolls himself into Sunstreaker’s embrace. He’s still hot, a little achy from the exertion, and the chill of Sunstreaker’s frame is satisfaction. “You all right?”

“Should be asking you,” Sunstreaker grumbles. But he tucks himself into Ratchet’s intake, while one of his hands gently strokes into Ratchet’s hip, caressing the marks his fangs left behind.

“I’m perfectly fine.” Ratchet sends the command for his lights to dim and shutters his optics, focusing on counting the hums and clicks of Sunstreaker’s systems. “As I always am.”

“Good.” Sunstreaker’s fingers stroke his hip, again and again, a motion so delicate as to be soothing. His field wraps around Ratchet in a secondary embrace, pulsing gratitude.

Ratchet sinks toward recharge, satisfied and relaxed and sated and comfortable.

It’s for this, too, he thinks. Not only for the pleasure their feeding brings him, but for the care and the company afterward. For feeling useful and adored, for offering Sunstreaker solace and Drift acceptance and Perceptor a chance to be himself.

Maybe he’s selfish in not wanting to share this experience, in wanting to keep it to himself. Maybe he ought to ask for other volunteers.

Or maybe they are all four satisfied with the status quo and see no need to change it.

Either way, Ratchet’s going to keep his mouth shut. This ecstasy is his to keep for now. Or at least until a cure is found.

[Crown the Empire] Reign 16

Starscream hovered between elation and despair, and frankly, couldn’t decide which of the two he preferred.

Knock Out had finally agreed that Starscream could be released from the medbay, albeit with a terrifying list of restrictions. Starscream hadn’t cared that he was only allowed to lay in his berth or sit on his couch and he couldn’t even do paperwork. He was too pleased to no longer be caged in the medbay.

The downside was when it came time for his release. Grimlock could not be present, as his frequent absences prior to the DJD’s arrival meant he had many, many shifts to cover and would for quite some time. Thundercracker was still in a medberth of his own, with Skywarp all but waiting on him hand and pede.

This left the Dinobots.

The Dinobots and Ratchet and Wheeljack.

Starscream was surrounded by Autobots, and he didn’t like it one bit. Not even if Ratchet had been the one to finally convince Knock Out to release Starscream.

It was tempting to turn down the release and stay in his medberth. So very tempting. If he went back to his apartment, he would technically be transferred to Ratchet’s supervision. He would have to obey, for lack of a better word, Ratchet’s advice regarding his health.

Decisions, decisions.

In the end, some freedom was better than none at all.

“Be careful,” Starscream huffed as Ratchet nearly dropped him. “I don’t want to end up back in the medbay.”

“Yes, your majesty,” Ratchet retorted with a roll of his optics. He adjusted his grip on Starscream, carrying him with an arm braced under Starscream’s knees and upper back. “However might I plant thine royal aft?”

Starscream gestured to the main room. “On the futon is fine. I don’t want to be trapped in a berth with so many Autobots in my suite.”

“You know, you’re practically dating an Autobot,” Wheeljack pointed out ever so helpfully. One would think he’d be better at crisis intervention, given his mate, but no. He was as much instigator as he was peace-maker.

“Grimlock is a Decepticon,” Starscream informed him in a tone that was slightly less than scathing.

“Whatever helps you recharge at night, kid,” Ratchet said and promptly dumped him on the couch.

‘Dump’ was perhaps a strong word, but it felt appropriate given the way Starscream’s aft bounced on the cushions. It hadn’t jarred any of his repairs, but it did leave his processor spinning.

“You have a terrible berthside manner, doctor,” Starscream muttered.

“That’s because you are a terrible patient,” Ratchet retorted.

Swoop bounced into view, carefully carrying a cube of flyer-grade energon spiced with Starscream’s favorite additive.

That was why Swoop was Starscream’s favorite.

“Ignore him Starscream,” Snarl insisted as he snagged Wheeljack’s arm, attempting to tug him toward the doorway and into the refueling room. “Me Snarl want tell you Wheejack about things me Snarl fixed.”

Wheeljack chuckled and let himself be dragged. “Is that so? Then I want to hear all about it. I knew one of you had to get my tinkering.”

Snarl’s faceplate all but glowed. “Me Snarl work in medbay with him Knock Out,” he said as Wheeljack went along with him gamely.

“Knock Out, hm?” Wheeljack repeated and paused in the doorway, tossing a look over his shoulder at Ratchet. “That wouldn’t happen to be the very shiny, very pretty, and very bright red medic, would it?”

“You forgot arrogant and irritating,” Ratchet muttered as a scan washed over Starscream, prickling his exterior sensors with the force of it.

Slag stomped after the exiting engineer and his brother. “You no hog him Wheeljack! Me Slag want turn, too!”

There was a rather large yelp, followed by a laugh, which Starscream could only assume meant Wheeljack had been treated to an obscenely strong hug. Sometimes, the Dinobots forgot their own strength. Grimlock was exceedingly careful of his, often to the point of irritating Starscream. Though he appreciated it as well.

There was something incredibly charming in the care Grimlock extended toward him. It never failed to warm Starscream’s spark and make him feel genuinely cherished. Though he would never admit that aloud.

“You’re healing nicely, Starscream. Another few days or so and you should be able to return to light duty, at least,” Ratchet said as his internal scanners beeped aloud and the ticklish sensation of his scans vanished.

Starscream ex-vented lightly. “That’s a relief. All of this inaction is worse than the injury itself.”

“Grimlock might argue otherwise,” Ratchet said, his lips curved. “He was very worried about you.”

Starscream squirmed on the futon and focused on consuming the energon Swoop had brought for him. “Metalhawk is to blame for that. Or so I hear.”

“That and many other things. Fortunately, I am told that Optimus and Ultra Magnus have been devising a plan.” Ratchet’s joints audibly creaked as he lowered himself to the opposite end of the futon from Starscream.

In the other room, Snarl and Slag chattered at Wheeljack, though it was too much babble for Starscream to make out the words. He picked out a few names – Brawl, Breakdown, and Knock Out. The Dinobots were quickly making themselves at home and friends in New Iacon.

“Optimus is still too soft,” Starscream commented as he leaned back into the soft embrace of the futon. “Nothing will cure Metalhawk’s mindset save a blaster shot to the spark.”

Ratchet made a non-committal noise. “Surely you understand the political ramifications.”

“Spare me.” Starscream dragged a hand across his forehelm. “I know them. That doesn’t mean I like them.”

“Then it’s a good thing you are not the only one making the decision for the Decepticons, else you’d have us back at war.” Ratchet huffed at him, only to cycle a ventilation and lean back. “Speaking of, how is it going with you and Grimlock?”

Starscream side-opticked him. “I am not discussing my romantic life with you, especially since you consider yourself his creator.” It came out more snappy than he intended, but damn it, was a little peace and quiet too much to ask for?

“Fair enough,” Ratchet said, and shifted gears. “What about you, Swoop? How have you been? Any luck with that mech you had your optic on?”

Swoop grinned, his field peppering the room with bright bursts of delight. “Me Swoop very lucky. Caught two mechs.”

“Oh? Is that so?” Ratchet’s grin was soft and affectionate and to Starscream, eerie for its gentleness. “Are you still playing mysterious with their identity?”

Swoop chortled, his wing plates shuffling. “Him Skywarp and him Thundercracker shy,” he said. “Especially him Thundercracker.”

“Wait.” Starscream jerked upright so fast that his back cables screeched in protest. “Did you say my trinemates?” He’d thought that was a fling. A flirtation Thundercracker and Skywarp were both meant to ignore. He’d thought they’d taken care of it.

Ratchet outright laughed.

Swoop had the audacity to look smug. “Me Swoop close with him Sky and him Thunder.” His optics darkened as his armor ruffled again. “Very close.”

Close. Very close. Starscream wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that at all.

Starscream’s optics rounded, his engine revving, his vocals approaching the near-shriek that had earned him far too many unflattering nicknames. “What?”

~

Boredom set in far too quickly.

Grimlock started to pace, long loops around the command center, a slow and steady gait that may have unnerved his subordinates as they kept giving him offhand looks. After so many weeks of tension and high alert, stillness was more off-putting than stress.

More than that, however, was that he didn’t want to be here at the moment. He wanted to be with Starscream. His Intended was getting released from the medbay today, and Grimlock knew he would need assistance. Yes, his creators would be there, and his brothers, too. But it wasn’t the same.

Plus, he had to admit, he honestly didn’t know which was going to murder the other first: Ratchet or Starscream. They butted helms and spat fire at each other on an hourly basis. Poor Wheeljack had given up trying to be the peacemaker and just left them to it. Swoop found it hilarious.

Privately, Grimlock did as well. He tried not to take sides. How could he? Ratchet was his creator, and Starscream was his Intended. It wasn’t as though they argued over something serious. It was mostly snark-filled banter. He half-expected Starscream was even having fun.

Which meant all of the entertainment was currently in Starscream’s quarters, and none of it was here in the command center.

All was quiet in New Iacon. Not even the prisoners caused a racket, which surprised Grimlock.

He would have expected the surviving members of the Decepticon Justice Division to make more of a fuss, especially the mouthy minibot. Nickel, however, had gone silent the moment she was placed in her cell. She drank the energon she was offered, but she hadn’t spoken since being put behind bars. Not even when Glit had informed them all, with genuine regret, that despite their best efforts, Vos had not survived.

Kaon had been the only one to speak, sitting ramrod straight on his bunk, his hands on his knees. His empty optical sockets had unerringly focused on the bars, strangely, and at Glit himself.

“No ceremony,” he answered when Glit asked if they had anything specific in mind for both Vos and Tarn.

“Are you certain?”

“No ceremony,” Kaon repeated, quieter this time.

It had given Glit the chills, enough so he’d come straight to Grimlock afterward. There wasn’t much that ruffled the feline medic. He’d had to put up with a lot of slag over the millennia for his size, his frame, his choice of occupations. There was very little that ruffled him.

And yet, he’d requested that Knock Out tend to the wishes of the DJD from henceforth.

For now, Grimlock had both Tarn’s and Vos’ frames set aside, access restricted only to the medical team and members of high command. If Kaon and the others ever changed their mind, the option would be there. Grimlock might have had no love for the DJD, but he would respect their dead.

It was one of many things that separated him from Megatron.

The surviving members had made no demands. Helex and Tesaurus often talked to each other, usually about nonsensical things. Cyclonus had idly hypothesized that perhaps it was a code of some sort, but he didn’t know how to begin deciphering it. So they let the two large mechs be.

Kaon seemed to be the voice for the DJD in Tarn’s absence. He made a request to speak with Grimlock regarding the future. The datapad currently sat on Grimlock’s desk, waiting his attention. He had yet to decide how he wished to handle them, and wanted a clearer idea before he presented it to his command team.

They weren’t being harmed in the brig, and were treated fairly. They could wait a while yet. Just like all the other mechs Grimlock had in his brig.

The Peaceful Tyranny had been confiscated, and Cyclonus assigned a team to scour the ship for useful supplies. They’d sent the closest thing they had to Spec Ops along with the team, something that proved to be wise as there had been more than a few security measures to override.

Said team had also discovered what amounted to a trophy room. Bits and pieces of every mech the DJD had ever disciplined, all partnered with a plaque that boldly stated their “offense”. It was disturbing and chilling and made Grimlock even less inclined to free the DJD members still living.

Like maker, like pet, Grimlock supposed. Megatron had kept his own trophies as well. He must have taught Tarn to do the same.

Grimlock ordered the “trophies” be collected and given a proper burial. The names were recorded and added to an ever-growing census of those lost to the war. It was something he hoped to eventually do in conjunction with the Autobots and the Neutrals. They might not remember every mech who was killed, but they could try.

It was important. To recover. To learn from their mistakes. To make Cybertron better than it ever was. They couldn’t linger in the past, but neither could they forget it either.

That was something Grimlock had actually learned from watching the humans.

His comm beeped, a private line, but also a business line. Only a few mechs had this frequency.

“What can I do for you, Optimus?” Grimlock answered as he ceased his unending circuit around the command center on the deck.

“First of all, let me congratulate you on your swift victory over the Decepticon Justice Division,” his old commander stated, and for once, he sounded much less worn down and beaten. Apparently, Soundwave was giving him very good care.

Grimlock scoffed across the line. “You don’t have to bother with pleasantries, Optimus. I know where we both stand. What do you need?” He slipped into a ready stance, his hands clasped behind his back.

To any onlooker, he was deep in thought, and not deep in a private conversation with the leader of the Autobots. His Decepticons could not know how friendly he was with Optimus. Otherwise they might think him too soft, or he faced manipulation from his former leader.

Optimus loosed a slow, rolling chuckle across the comm. “Very well. I wish to make a move on Metalhawk very soon. Ultra Magnus has discovered a way for us to go after him legally. In order to give it full weight, however, I need your signature of approval.”

“Mmm.” Grimlock really did not have to think about it. He’d been saving the issue of Metalhawk until after the DJD were dealt with. All the better to leave it in Optimus’ hands.

He liked political sparring far more than Grimlock did.

“You have it,” Grimlock said, shifting to cross his arms over his chestplate. “Transmit the files my way, and I’ll stamp them with my glyph. Will you need Starscream’s as well?”

“No. Yours is enough. Thank you, Grimlock.”

Had he a mouth, he would have grinned. “Let Metalhawk know I owe him one, only not in so many words. I know he’s responsible for what Acid Storm did to Starscream.”

Optimus transmitted a non-committal noise. “Unfortunately, the political balances are too unstable right now for that particular brand of justice. We must abide by the law of the treaty.”

Except that the law of the treaty did give room for a demand of personal redress in the case of a personal attack. Grimlock, however, would wait until later to remind Optimus of it. He didn’t want the Prime having second thoughts about going after Methalhawk now.

“So you say,” Grimlock demurred. “By the way, Ratchet and Wheeljack are here.”

Optimus’ tone turned amused. “Yes, I am aware. Should anyone ask, they are on personal leave and are therefore free to wander wherever they please. Though I doubt one will find them in Nova Cronum.”

“Starscream may send you a scathing message later,” Grimlock said, resisting the urge to chuckle aloud, and carefully reining in his energy field. “He and Ratchet are having something of a battle.”

This time, Optimus barked a laugh, sounding genuinely amused. “I am sorry that I am missing it.” He paused, the line going silent, until he continued with, “But I’ll not keep you. I wish you and yours a speedy recovery, and if there is anything you need of us, do not hesitate to drop me a line.”

“I will keep that in mind.”

The line clicked off, leaving Grimlock to his thoughts. He gave a pointed look around, but none of his subordinates paid him any attention. Nor was there any threat to be found on any of the monitors.

He eyed his chronometer. Only half a double-shift left to go before he could return to Starscream’s apartment and check on his Intended and hope that neither Starscream nor Ratchet had killed one another.

It couldn’t come fast enough.

~

Cyclonus had one last meeting before he could call it a day and return to his habsuite. He wasn’t exhausted, not as much as he had been during the days spent covering for Lord Grimlock, but he had gotten used to rest and recovery. It was all too easy to fall into the lull of pseudo-peace, and now he craved that quiet.

“Sir!” Scourge’s salute was a lot less rigid than it used to be. There was a time Cyclonus would have given him a mild rebuke for that.

Now, he barely noticed it. He considered it a sign, proof that his second was not only learning to enjoy this new peace, but fully indulge in it. Cyclonus dared dream that at some point in the future, he may not even have to be a soldier. He didn’t know what else he could be, because war was all he knew even before there was a war.

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t explore his options and try.

“Let’s make this brief, shall we? I’m sure you are as eager to be off-shift as I am,” Cyclonus said as they stepped into Cyclonus’ office.

“Though I suspect it is for different reasons, sir,” Scourge said with a sidelong look Cyclonus’ direction.

He ignored the implication, and sat behind his desk, purposefully ignoring the small stack of datapads on the corner. They were not so urgent they could not wait until the next shift.

“Before we get started, I want to thank you for your level-headedness during the most recent threat,” Cyclonus said, his tone far serious than he meant it to be given the levity they had just shared. “Your patience and trust ensured we did not needlessly release a power we may not be able to fully control.”

Scourge shifted in his chair, and by all accounts, looked both pleased and flattered. “Thank you, sir. I had a good teacher.”

Cyclonus chuckled, despite himself. “Yes, I’m sure you did,” he said, amused. “Do you have some reports for me then?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Scourge’s disposition soured as he set a datapad on the desk and pushed it toward Cyclonus. “It is ironic that those who wail the loudest about their rights and how much they deserve freedom, were those all too willing to take them from others.”

Cyclonus made a noncommittal sound of agreement and thumbed the datapad on. It contained a list of every current prisoner who had officially requested an examination of their incarceration and petitioned for parole or release. For most of them, it would be a long time before they saw anything like freedom.

Cyclonus did not trust Barricade any further than he could throw the mech. Barricade was smart, manipulative, and charming. More than that, he’d been in Spec Ops throughout the entirety of the war and could act like the best of them. He claimed he was willing to support Grimlock’s leadership, but Cyclonus did not believe him.

No one currently in Decepticon Command was foolish enough to do so.

Cyclonus only regretted that they currently had no one capable of seeing through Barricade’s deceptions. Unless, of course, they borrowed Soundwave and requested he take a peek at Barricade’s true intentions. That, however, was a last resort and would only be requested if necessary.

Prisoner Barricade might be, one who had done heinous things without a smidgen of regret even, but yes. He did have some rights. Just not as many as he thought he did.

Yet, he never stopped ranting about how his rights were being ‘trampled.’

Scourge had scribbled a comment in his observation notes. “Who does he think we are, Autobots?”

Cyclonus snickered quietly to himself. Scourge had a point. Under Megatron’s leadership, Barricade would have never seen a cell. Imprisoning those who insulted him wasn’t Megatron’s style. He preferred to dole out punishment with his fists. Grimlock, however, had seemed to mix and match his own rules.

He had carried some of his Autobot ways with him, but mingled them well with Decepticon matters as well. Freedom was a right, yes, he agreed. But not if he couldn’t guarantee that Barricade wouldn’t harm others. So in prison Barricade would stay. For now.

There were others. The two remaining Stunticons, for example.

Dragstrip’s behavior had been on the lower end of ‘good’ ever since Breakdown was released. Less than good was startlingly decent considering the behavior of his other brother. Cyclonus suspected that he’d been closest to Breakdown of all of his siblings and perhaps attempted to behave in order to facilitate his release for that purpose.

Motormaster, however, seemed to have grown only more belligerent. Perhaps more time would calm him. Though Cyclonus suspected, given what he’d learned of their origins, he might need medical attention as well. They were so very young. Was it any surprise Megatron had wooed them and bent them to his will so easily?

Cyclonus had high hopes that someday, Scourge would be in charge of an empty brig. Or perhaps that was too optimistic. After all, the DJD were here.

So was Shockwave.

He was the only one, of all the current inmates, who submitted a petition every day. It was unfailingly polite and reasoned, but that didn’t make it any less aggravating. Shockwave continued to believe he had done nothing wrong; he did not understand the reasoning behind his incarceration. He had no problems serving under Lord Grimlock’s command. All he wished to do was continue his research.

Intelligence didn’t necessarily make someone smart, Cyclonus thought with a sigh. For it was, in part, Shockwave’s research that Grimlock found abhorrent. Or at least the methods by which Shockwave chose to enact his research. Given what Shockwave had done to Grimlock’s brother, the scientist should consider himself lucky he hadn’t been executed.

However, a promise had been made. To save Starscream’s spark, Shockwave was owed leniency. His latest petition had been a demand for a private meeting with Lord Grimlock to discuss the terms of their agreement.

As much as Cyclonus did not like Shockwave, the deal had been struck. He would pass this request onto Lord Grimlock.

“So nothing new then,” Cyclonus observed as he made a few notes himself, composed a quick report to Lord Grimlock, and then powered down the datapad.

Scourge shook his helm. “Not yet. I’m half-surprised that we haven’t had an attempted break yet.”

“Mmm. You may have a point. Do you think there is a need for increased guard?” There were a few mechs Cyclonus could reassign, especially since they were now imprisoning three-fifths of the DJD.

Scourge tapped his chin. “Another guard couldn’t hurt. A show of force, perhaps, to convince them they are better off not trying.”

“Done.” Cyclonus made a note to himself. It would be the first thing he arranged when he came back on-shift. “Anything else?”

“No. You’re free to go.” Scourge’s lips curved with amusement. “As I’m sure you’ve been eager to do for the past ten minutes.”

Cyclonus cycled his vocalizer. “I don’t know what you mean.” He pushed to his pedes and pretended he did not feel the glimmer of excitement in his spark.

“Of course you don’t. I’m sure it has nothing to do with your cute minibot friend,” Scourge said, ever professional, ever stoic.

Cyclonus gave him a long look before he let a small smile tug at his lips. “It has everything to do with him,” he said as he gestured Scourge ahead of him, indicating his second could step out of the office.

Scourge cycled his optics and stared at Cyclonus as though he had never seen him before. “Well,” he said after a long moment. “I’m happy to hear it, sir.”

Cyclonus pulled the door shut behind him, the lock engaging with a quick click. “It is unexpected,” he said. “But very welcome.”

“You deserve it.”

Warmth flooded Cyclonus’ spark. “I thank you for saying so.” He dipped his helm in a nod. “Good shift, Scourge. Comm me if you need me.”

“And interrupt? No, thank you.”

Cyclonus chuckled. “If you insist.”

He left his second behind, Scourge staring thoughtfully after him. Cyclonus was well-aware of how odd his friendship with Tailgate appeared, and no one had been more surprised than himself when it blossomed beyond casual acquaintances. He was grateful for it, however, and would continue to be so.

It finally felt like moving on, learning to embrace peace, and while Cyclonus had been a soldier all his life, he was beginning to think that civilian life was not so bad after all.

~

The relentless ping stirred Skywarp from his doze, forcing him to sit up and rub at his optics. It was annoying, and Skywarp was half-attempted to ignore the ping, save that it was coming from Starscream.

It was never wise to ignore Starscream.

“What is it?” Thundercracker asked, lowering his datapad and peering at Skywarp.

He sat up and leaned back, stretching his arms over his helm. His lower back cables were in knots. He should have recharged in a berth, but he’d thought a little nap here in the medbay wouldn’t hurt.

He’d been wrong. Ow.

“It’s Star.” Skywarp tapped his comm pointedly. “He’s not pinging you?”

Thundercracker tilted his helm and then shook it. “No. Perhaps he thinks I am in recharge.”

Skywarp laughed. “Because you should be.” He poked Thundercracker in the knee to prove his point. “We need you back on your pedes sooner rather than later.”

“There’s no rush,” Thundercracker said with a shrug before turning his attention back to his datapad and the collection of ancient theatrical plays he’d found fascinating as of late. “What does Star want?”

Oh, right. The persistent pinging/nagging at his comms. He’d almost gotten used to it, to the point of ignoring it.

Skywarp tapped his comm, activating it. “Hey, Star. What do you–”

“I need to speak with you and Thundercracker,” his trine leader and Air Commander said in an imperious tone, without giving Skywarp the chance to finish greeting him. “Immediately.”

Skywarp blinked his optical shutters. “Thundercracker is still confined to the berth. Damaged thrusters, remember?”

“He is mobile. I asked,” Starscream retorted crisply. “This can’t wait, and I refuse to have this discussion with you two over a comm line.”

Discussion.

Skywarp glanced at Thundercracker, but his partner wasn’t paying him a bit of attention. “What’s this about?” Skywarp asked.

“You’ll find out when you get here.” With an imperious click, the line went silent.

Hmmm. Skywarp dropped his hand from his comm and ex-vented noisily. “Well, that happened,” he said.

Thundercracker lowered his datapad again. “What did Starscream want?”

“To talk to us. Now. It can’t wait.” Skywarp rose to his pedes, rolling his helm to ease the crick in his neck cables. “He sounded serious.”

“Starscream is always serious,” Thundercracker replied. He powered down his datapad, and it vanished into his subspace pocket. “Let’s go then.”

“Are you sure?” Skywarp looked pointedly at Thundercracker’s thrusters, which were disengaged as they continued to heal.

“I can walk,” Thundercracker said wryly. “I just can’t fly or transform.”

“Walking sucks.” Skywarp grinned and offered his wingmate a hand. “Wanna bet that he’s just having a conniption being surrounded by so many Autobots?”

Thundercracker snickered and eased off the berth. “I don’t think the Dinobots count as Autobots anymore.”

“I suppose that depends on your point of view.” Skywarp laughed.

He tried not to worry. Starscream hadn’t used that tone on them in quite a while. Not since they’d stopped pseudo-hating each other, and actually learned what it meant to be trinemates again. Starscream hadn’t sounded worried, but he’d definitely been upset about something.

“He didn’t give you any clue what the problem was?” Thundercracker asked as they left the medroom and snuck out the back, before Breakdown could see them.

They’d be back soon enough. Or maybe they wouldn’t. If Thundercracker could walk around, then he could recover well enough in their own quarters. Preferably with Swoop snuggled around them.

Yes, that sounded perfect to Skywarp. His two favorite mechs in the same berth with him, all warm and cuddly. Swoop put off a lot of heat, and his energy field was so soothing. Then it would be ten times better with Thundercracker willing to snuggle, too.

“Warp?”

He blinked out of his thoughts and peered at Thundercracker, whose lips were curled with amusement. “Hmm?”

“I asked you a question.” Thundercracker bumped their shoulders. “You were off in a daydream though.”

“Oh.” Skywarp scratched his nasal ridge. “It, uh, wasn’t important.” His cheeks heated, and his gaze slid away. “What did you ask?”

Thundercracker shook his helm. “Did Starscream give any clue what the big emergency was?”

“No. You know how he is.” Skywarp shrugged. “You doing okay?”

Thundercracker’s field was calm, as it usually was, but there was an edge of discomfort surrounded it. “I’ll survive. I’ve dealt with worse.”

“Yeah, but we’re not in war anymore. You shouldn’t have to.” Skywarp huffed, his wings twitching. “This better be important.”

Thundercracker bumped shoulders with him again, something like indulgence in his expression. “I’m sure it is.”

And well, as it turned out, Thundercracker was only half-right. When they arrived at Starscream’s habsuite, Wheeljack opened the door for them and let them inside. There was little space to be had, what with four Dinobots, two Autobots, and Starscream sitting upon the main futon like a lounging king upon a throne – all crowded into the main receiving room.

Starscream had his arms folded over his cockpit, his narrowed optics focused on the doorway so they found Skywarp and Thundercracker the minute they appeared. But even more unsettling was that Ratchet sat next to him, his face a perfect mask, and somehow, that was more worrisome.

“I didn’t do it,” Skywarp said, immediately hanging behind Thundercracker’s right shoulder. They wouldn’t hurt an invalid, right? “Whatever it was.”

Ratchet snorted.

Starscream’s stare intensified. “Oh, yes you most certainly did,” he said, and his gaze slid ever so slowly to the right, where Swoop was perched on a stool, a wide grin on his face.

Oh.

Oh.

Thundercracker folded his arms and cocked a hip as Wheeljack blocked the door behind them. Or well, tried to at any rate. He was currently the smallest person in the room, but if it bothered him, it didn’t show.

Skywarp decided the safest place was still behind Thundercracker. “To be fair,” he said. “Swoop started it.”

Swoop squawked a laugh. “Is true. Me Swoop did start it.”

“I don’t care who is to blame,” Ratchet said, he and Starscream presenting an oddly united front. “I just want to know that it’s not a game and what your intentions are.”

Especially,” Starscream added in that haughty tone which always made Skywarp cringe, “Since I seem to recall telling you not to pursue him as a romantic partner.”

“Yeah,” Slag said, and Snarl echoed him.

“You treat him Swoop good!” Slag said with a shake of his fist, ex-venting smoky air from his nasal ridge.

“Him Swoop the best,” Snarl added, nodding his helm. He gave the winged Dinobot a big smile. “You no hurt him Swoop.”

“He is not a sparkling,” Thundercracker said, his wings giving a nearly aggressive flick. “He should be able to decide for himself who he does and does not want to see.”

Skywarp peered around Thundercracker’s wing. “I like him,” he said, his face heating at the frank admission. “I’m sure TC does, too.” He squared his shoulders, wings echoing Thudnercracker. “Besides, Star. You’re our Air Commander, but you can’t tell us who we can be with.”

“Me Swoop like him Skywarp,” Swoop said with a little wiggle on top of his stool. It looked like he had to invoke every ounce of self-control to keep from leaping off it. “Even him Thundercracker.”

“Their affection for me is overwhelming,” Thundercracker said dryly.

Starscream snorted. “Why am I not surprised?” he said and arched an orbital ridge. “I look away for two seconds, and you two decide you need a Dinobot of your own, heedless of what I think.”

“Actually, me Swoop wanted Seeker of my own,” Swoop corrected cheerfully, finger scratching at the side of his nasal ridge.

Laughter bubbled up behind Skywarp, and it was genuine enough to make him feel less threatened. “I blame that on you, Ratch.”

“You be quiet,” the Autobot medic snapped, though there didn’t seem to be any heat behind it.

In fact, the whole stare down seemed to feel a lot less accusatory, with humor lurking behind everyone’s expression and vocal tone. Swoop didn’t seem concerned, and while Slag and Snarl loomed like two very angry Dinobots to the side, there was a distinct lack of aggressive energy.

Skywarp dared ease out behind Thundercracker, choosing instead to sling an arm around his trinemate’s waist. “So are you guys here to disapprove and tell us to stay away? Cause unless it’s coming from Swoop, I’m not gonna do that.”

“Then you’re serious about him?” Starscream asked, his tone mild rather than accusatory or dismissive.

Skywarp cycled a ventilation and looked at the winged Dinobot. “I’m as serious as I can be,” he admitted truthfully. It was weird though because the minute he said it, all of his embarrassment vanished. “I like you, Swoop. A lot. I don’t know what that means for the future except that I’m willing to find out.”

He couldn’t promise anything. Right now, he couldn’t even say he wanted to officially court Swoop. They weren’t at that point, and Skywarp was not Grimlock, who apparently had been lusting after Starscream for quite some time. Aside of that, Starscream needed that official kind of statement. He needed those rules because he needed to know he was valued.

Skywarp didn’t, and he suspected Swoop didn’t either. Swoop, for all that he had been through, knew exactly what he wanted, and never held himself back.

Plus, Skywarp’s relationship with Thundercracker was complicated. It always had been. Whatever the three of them decided would take time and multiple conversations.

Preferably without nosy creators, trinemates, and Dino brothers peering at them as though they were all three a new species of predacon.

Swoop grinned and this time, he did leap off the stool, sweeping Skywarp up in an embrace and lifting him off the ground as a result. Skywarp all but squawked. Sometimes, he forgot how very big Swoop was.

“Me Swoop like you Skywarp, too,” Swoop murmured, his vocals buzzing against Skywarp’s audial.

“That’s so adorable,” someone said behind them, though Skywarp could scarcely make out who given that he was surrounded by all that was Swoop.

Which wasn’t, in retrospect, a bad place to be. Swoop’s field was as warm and inviting as his frame, and his energy field stroked over Skywarp’s affectionately.

“Well, I guess that’s settled,” a cranky voice added, and Skywarp didn’t have to look to know it was Ratchet. “Thundercracker, you’re supposed to be in a berth. Come over here and let me look you over.”

Skywarp chuckled and pressed his forehelm to Swoop’s. “We can work on Thundercracker together. He needs a lot more cuddling then he’ll admit to.”

“I do not,” Thundercracker retorted, having caught the murmured aside. He had no problems reporting to Ratchet for an examination though.

Swoop laughed and squeezed Skywarp tighter.

“Fine,” Starscream said with a huff. “But you three still need to tell Grimlock.”

“Oh, Primus,” Skywarp moaned, burying his face in Swoop’s intake.

Swoop pressed a kiss to the crown of his helm. “It be fine. Him Grimlock nice.”

Starscream laughed so hard Ratchet had to give him a quick systems scan, too.

~

Despite the terrifying battle against the Decepticon Justice Division, Knock Out currently had no patients. To be fair, he should have had at least one, but when he looked in on the Seekers, both Thundercracker and Skywarp were gone. Knock Out didn’t have the energy to go shouting after them, so he let them be. If Thundercracker collapsed, it would be his own fault.

Starscream had been released. Cyclonus’ repairs had been minor especially given that he hadn’t wanted to seal the scars on his face. Grimlock had gone to his creator for repairs, and all the other cuts, scrapes, and dents had been fixed.

Even Snarl had gone, off to Commander Starscream’s suite with the rest of his brothers. He’d all but jittered with excitement when Ratchet and Wheeljack had appeared, his optics lighting up especially at the sight of the engineer.

He technically didn’t have an official shift in the medbay. Nonetheless, he’d politely, as much as he could manage, asked to be dismissed.

Knock Out didn’t see any reason not to let him go. So with him gone, and Breakdown also dismissed, Knock Out was left alone.

The silence was not as appealing as he thought it would be. He hadn’t realized how much he’d grown used to the company of others. Especially since he had always preferred solitude before.

He started to roam. Might as well check the medbay, make sure all the rooms were clean and well-stocked, perhaps get something like an inventory ready for Lord Grimlock. They would need to purchase new materials eventually.

Knock Out rubbed at his forehelm, fighting back a yawn. Only a few more hours and he could leave the medbay in Glit’s hands. Errr, paws. He briefly wondered if there was any chance of the DJD medic being released. They could always use more help.

He paused mid-step as he passed by a room, glancing in as he always did. Processor belatedly registering the image, Knock Out backed up a few paces and peered inside.

Sure enough, there was Breakdown, his back to the door, his frame hunched over a desk. The overhead light was off, though the desk lamp had been activated. The glow of a datapad reflected on his faceplate.

“What are you doing?”

Breakdown startled, one hand smacking the lamp, and the chair squeaking as he whirled around. His optics were wide, bright.

Knock Out folded his arms and leaned against the door jamb. “You’re off-shift. Why aren’t you resting or out doing something fun?” He made a vague gesture to New Iacon at large.

Granted the terms of Breakdown’s parole meant there were few places he was allowed to be, but still. He could have visited the local refueling station, or taken a stroll around the construction, or even returned to his quarters and played games on his private console.

“I’m, um, I’m studying.” Breakdown held his datapad in front of him as though it were a shield.

Knock Out lowered his orbital ridge. “Wouldn’t you rather be doing something fun?”

Breakdown shrugged, his tires bouncing when he did so. “Right now, this is all I can do.” He paused, his optics dimming. “I’m not a medic. It’s hard to learn this stuff.”

Oh, but that was familiar. Knock Out’s spark twanged at the look on Breakdown’s face. Painfully familiar.

And he didn’t have any patients.

“Do you want some help?” he offered. He would hear it if the main doors beeped. He could be available if someone needed him.

This, however, was far better than roaming the halls and counting down the minutes.

Breakdown’s face flared with heat. “If you have the time,” he said, and ducked his helm, half-spinning back toward his desk.

“As it just so happens, I do.” Knock Out pushed off the jamb and strode into the room. “Those things were written by gatekeeping mechs who thought if you didn’t immediately understand it, you didn’t deserve to know it. How about we prove them wrong?”

He slid in at Breakdown’s left hand side, bracing his elbows on the desk top as Breakdown swiveled back to face it again. “You really want to be a medic, huh?”

Breakdown stared hard at his datapad. “I want to be something,” he said, his fingers tightening around the device. His field shivered where it pressed against Knock Out’s own, for once not immediately shying away.

“Then I’ll help you,” Knock Out said and peered at the datapad. “What are you having the most trouble with?”

Breakdown’s field softened around the edges, tension bleeding from his frame. “Right now, this section here,” he said, and pointed to a particularly dense passage.

“Luckily, this is one of my specialties.” Knock Out smiled.

It was nice, for once, to be teaching instead of being taught. And he had to agree with Breakdown.

Sometimes, you just wanted to be something.

[Crown the Empire] Reign 13

“It it just me, or is everyone tense?” Tailgate asked. He leaned closer to Cyclonus, his vocals barely above a whisper.

“You are not mistaken.” Cyclonus leaned down to rest a gentle hand on the minibot’s shoulder. “Our second-in-command, Starscream, has been injured and is in critical condition. It has left many of us on edge.”

“What happened to him?”

Cyclonus drew to a halt and lowered himself to a nearby bench, relieved when Tailgate joined him with a little hop. The minibot’s legs swung with an almost innocent air.

“One of our own infected him with a virus,” Cyclonus said. He wasn’t sure how much of it was classified, however, so he tried to keep to the basics. “I feel there are deeper issues regarding the matter, however. In any case, it has concerned many of our residents.”

Tailgate leaned closer, his field pressing comfortingly against Cyclonus’. “Did you catch whoever did it?”

“We did not. He sought refuge in Nova Cronum.”

Tailgate’s visor flashed. One hand reached for Cyclonus’, his fingers tangling with Cyclonus’ own. “And Metalhawk refuses to send him back, I guess.”

Somewhat naive Tailgate might be, but he was not stupid. There was a reason he left the Neutrals, and Cyclonus was not so vain to think it was only for himself.

“We have not asked for his return,” Cyclonus corrected. “Though I suspect if we did, it would matter little.”

Tailgate made a noncommittal noise. He leaned against Cyclonus’ side, his gaze focused in the direction of the rebuilding across the street from them.

They were just south of the command center, across from a building that would soon become a storage depot. It was intended to distribute supplies and facilitate trade with whatever nearby planets and species were willing to do business with Cybertronians. It was the first step toward building a stable economy, and would help manage their internal resources as well.

Swindle had volunteered his advice, Cyclonus knew. There was still some debate as to whether they should accept his aid. Swindle tended to only serve his own interests, though if there were credits involved, he became remarkably more open.

“Metalhawk is not interested in peace,” Tailgate said after a moment, his voice soft and sad. “And by that I mean, he’s not interested in a peace that he’s not in charge of. He’s pretty convinced he’s the only one who knows what’s best for Cybertron.”

“And what do you think?”

Tailgate squeezed Cyclonus’ hand. “I think that to have one person, no matter who they are, in charge of everyone is a bad idea. And I think Metalhawk trying to bring back all the old things that led to the war is a worse idea.”

“Well, you are not wrong,” Cyclonus agreed.

It was kind of nice, he reflected, to do nothing but sit here in relative quiet. It was noisy across from them, with the probationed Constructicons shouting to each other, the sound of welding and metal bars clanking, and drilling. But here, between he and Tailgate, it was a comfortable quiet.

“I’m still glad I came here,” Tailgate said after a long moment. He leaned in against Cyclonus’ side, the warmth of his plating and his field a welcome thing. “The Decepticons are not as terrible as Metalhawk claims.”

Cyclonus hesitated for all of a second before he lay an arm around and behind Tailgate, allowing the closeness. “There was a time when Metalhawk was not entirely wrong,” he admitted. “We were misled, as a whole, by Megatron’s intentions. That which originally drove us was lost to his thirst for power. What we are now is wholly different.”

A rattling clatter of some dropped equipment punctuated his words. That it was immediately followed by loud cursing and the beginnings of an argument was not surprising. Across from them, two of the Constructicons – Long Haul and Bonecrusher – were snarling at each other, but a sharp word from Scrapper had them huffing and getting back to work. There was one other who was on work release – Scavenger, whom Cyclonus privately thought was most likely to earn his freedom before the others. The rest, however, remained in the brig.

It was part of their parole. All six Constructions could not be permitted their freedom at once. Even with inhibitor claws – which Hook was trained enough to remove – the risk of them transforming and combining was too great. Today, it was Hook and Mixmaster who were stuck in their cells.

“Maybe that’s true, but he’s definitely wrong now,” Tailgate said with a shrug. “And I hate that he’s trying to ruin what we’re all working hard to fix.”

“As do I.” Cyclonus brushed his fingers over Tailgate’s shoulder, the tips of them bouncing against the minibot’s tires.

A minibot grounder and a warrior flyer. They were an unlikely combination that would have never been approved on Cybertron of old, not even for something as chaste as friendship.

Given that they could sit together now without anyone arresting them for doing so, Cyclonus was grateful for what it had taken to get here. He did not agree with Megatron’s more recent methods, but he couldn’t argue with this result.

Cybertron’s destruction, yes.

This moment with Tailgate? He was glad he could have it.

Tailgate slid out from Cyclonus’ arm and bounced to his pedes, his optical band alight with mischief. “Enough resting. I believe you still owe me a tour.” He held out his hands, offering them to Cyclonus without fear or hesitation.

Cyclonus felt a smile tug at his lips. He accepted Tailgate’s hands but instead of standing, he drew them forward, tugging Tailgate closer by the length of a step.

“That I do,” he murmured, and bent his helm, pressing a chaste kiss to the knuckles of each hand. “Thank you, Tailgate.”

The minibot’s field flushed with warm delight. His fingers curled against Cyclonus’ as he shifted his weight.

“Um, okay,” he said with a little laugh. “I’m not sure what for, but I’ll be happy to do it again if that’s what it earns me.”

“Simply continue being you, and that will suffice,” Cyclonus said, and finally stood, though he transferred his hand to Tailgate’s shoulder. “Shall we proceed?”

Tailgate reached up and lay his hands over Cyclonus’. “Yes! Wherever you want to go, I don’t mind.” He beamed, visor bright and delighted.

The sight of it warmed the very core of Cyclonus’ spark. He couldn’t help but smile down at the minibot, before he gestured Tailgate back onto the main road. There were plenty more reconstructive efforts to see, perhaps even a visit to the local energon bar that an enterprising Decepticon had devised.

Wherever, he supposed, it did not matter. He was content to spend time with Tailgate whatever they did.

And that, right there, was the greatest surprise of all.

~

Grimlock surfaced from recharge slowly, feeling as though he’d been buried deep underground, lost beneath swaths of fabric, and the dark press of soil above him. It was not as unsettling a feeling as some might think, but it did make finding consciousness that much more difficult.

There was a relentless pinging at the back of his processor. It nagged for his attention, demanding it before he could so much as online his visual or audio center. So Grimlock floated in the dark and answered the ping.

“Yes?”

“Grimlock, it’s Ratchet.” His creator sounded impatient, but also cautious. There was something in his tone, some edge, that pushed Grimlock further toward wakefulness. “I hate to make you online, kid, but I need you to come to the medbay.”

Grimlock’s visor snapped online as his spark ran cold. “Is Starscream…?”

“He’s fine. What kind of crock of a medic do you think I am?” Ratchet huffed, but it was half-sparked. “We have news, and I’d rather tell you in person.”

The rest of Grimlock’s sensory suites onlined. He counted two other sets of ventilations – and the room was dim, save for the illumination provided by biolights.

“I’ll be there shortly.”

Grimlock ended the comm before he could let himself read too deeply into Ratchet’s vocal tones. He tried to sit up, but there was a heavy weight on one arm, and a heavier weight sprawled across his lower limbs.

He’d crawled into berth with Swoop, who’d all but insisted on it. Claiming that Grimlock would not recharge properly if he was alone, and Swoop had to look after him because no one else could right now.

Grimlock had been too tired to argue. He’d let Swoop shove energon into him, tug him through the washracks for a quick rinse, and then push him into a berth. He hadn’t even complained when Swoop crawled in beside him, the comforting sweep of his sibling’s energy field enough to soothe the tension from his lines long enough for him to fall into recharge.

He only remembered Swoop. Whoever was on his legs was a mystery.

Grimlock propped himself up with his elbow and looked down, bright yellow and red biolights along with a familiar field helping identify a Dinobot. It wasn’t until he saw the long horn projections that he realized it was Slag. Not usually a cuddler, that one. He must have showed up in the middle of the night and decided it was time for a Dino-pile.

He’d only said it half in jest when he mentioned such a thing to Starscream. They didn’t always recharge in a pile, but sometimes, it was the only way they felt safe back in the Ark.

As nice as it was, Grimlock did have somewhere to be. He twitched his legs to wake up Slag, and tapped Swoop on the shoulder.

“Oy! Me Grimlock need go to medbay!” he growled, hoping there was just enough command in his tone that both of them would online.

Swoop was the first to stir, rolling over and stretching out with a satisfied noise. “You Grimlock recharge better?” he asked.

“Yes. Thank you.” He poked Swoop in the shoulder. “You Swoop move. Me Grimlock need get up.”

Swoop’s lips curved in a grin. “Tell him Slag that. He’s heavier than me Swoop.” He chortled as he looked down at the Triceratops laying across both of their legs.

Slag had come in and plopped down on both of them without so much as a question. Which begged the question as to how deeply Grimlock had been recharging to not notice the weight of his sibling.

Grimlock jostled him again, a bit harder this time. But all Slag did was snore louder – because yes, he did snore – and wriggle harder against Grimlock’s legs. Which made him think that Slag wasn’t really in recharge.

“You Slag wake up!” Swoop said, though he was giggling too hard to be taken seriously.

“You Swoop and you Grimlock be quiet. Me Slag recharging,” came the grumbling reply as one optic lit, glaring at them both.

Grimlock growled down at him. “You Slag get up! Me Grimlock need check on him Starscream!” His field flared, rasping against Slag’s.

Never had he seen a Dinobot move so slowly as when Slag laboriously pushed himself up and shifted off of their legs. He slumped to the floor and stretched, tail flicking about.

“You two are no fun,” Slag grumbled.

Grimlock ignored him and slid off the berth, surprised that he did actually feel well rested. The ache at the back of his processor was gone, and while the fog of recharge lingered, it was no longer the fog of fatigue.

“You Grimlock want company?” Swoop asked as he slid off the berth as well, wings flicking in a motion he had to have learned from the Seekers.

Grimlock shook his helm. “No. Me Grimlock be fine. You Swoop worry about lazy aft.” He jerked a thumb toward Slag who yawned at him.

Swoop laughed. “Yes, sir.” He snapped off a salute.

It was so very good to see him like this, smiling and happy, rather than the mess Shockwave had made him. Grimlock’s visor brightened as he pulled Swoop into a quick hug that made the flyer squawk. Swoop patted him on the back, giving in to the embrace.

“It okay,” he said. “It okay.”

Grimlock wanted to believe him.

He left a few minutes later after one more quick rinse and a gulped down cube. It was early morning yet, so early that the daylights had not yet come on. A quick check of the schedule informed him he was supposed to be in the command center in a few hours to relieve Scourge. He couldn’t believe how long he’d recharged.

He would have to make this quick.

Grimlock made a beeline for the medical center, passing few Decepticons. They kept to an almost Earth-like schedule for sake of simplicity, and even Cyclonus’ mechs had adapted to it fairly quickly. Earth-like days meant more frequent rest periods, and there were few mechs who wanted to argue with that.

No one waited for Grimlock in the reception area. He hurried through it and into the medbay proper. The nurse’s desk – Breakdown’s position as of late – was empty, as was Snarl’s newly claimed workstation. But Ratchet stepped out of the main hallway and gestured to him.

“Good. You’re here,” he said. “Follow me. We have what I’d like to think is good news.”

“You found a way to repair Starscream?” Grimlock asked as he fell into step behind his creator.

“Yes and no.” Ratchet rubbed at his chevron with one hand while the other wriggled a datapad in plain view. “Shockwave wrote an anti-virus. It has a ninety-nine percent success rate of every single drone we’ve tested it on.”

Grimlock inclined his helm. “Then what’s the problem?”

Ratchet glanced over his shoulder. “We haven’t tested it on a sentient mech. We don’t know what it’ll do to a mech in Starscream’s advanced state. Risk algorithms indicate the possibility of failure is low but…” Here he trailed off and cycled a ventilation. “It is not our call to make.”

“Then who’s is it?”

Ratchet drew to a halt in front of Starscream’s room. The guard was no longer present, given that the perpetrator had been identified, but peering in through the viewing window, Grimlock saw a lot of equipment had been moved aside. Knock Out and Glit fiddled with those that remained.

“Thundercracker and Skywarp are technically his next-of-kin,” Ratchet said as Grimlock’s attention shifted back toward him. “Starscream updated his file recently, however.” He stepped closer, resting his hand on Grimlock’s arm. “As his Intended, you have the right to speak on his behalf as well.”

Grimlock stared at his creator, unable to hide the surprise in his field. “I…” he trailed off, attention whipping back toward Starscream.

He couldn’t imagine Starscream ever entrusting such a decision to Megatron. To anyone, truth be told. But he’d handed that over to Grimlock, he believed Grimlock would do what was best…

His spark constricted, affection threatening to swallow him whole. He’d been worried, all along, he was pushing Starscream too far. That he’d invested more in this than Starscream, and perhaps the Air Commander only tolerated him out of a lack of other options. He’d wanted to believe otherwise, of course, who wouldn’t.

There was yet a nagging concern that if anyone was going to walk away from this relationship, it would be Starscream. Grimlock knew what he wanted, but he also knew Starscream was both unfamiliar and uncertain about the level of commitment Grimlock desired. He constantly feared scaring Starscream away.

But this…?

He worked his intake, free hand gripping the ledge of the viewing window. “What have Thundercracker and Skywarp said?”

“They defer to you,” Ratchet answered quietly, squeezing Grimlock’s arm in support. “Skywarp insists Starscream would rather take a chance than remain in stasis forever. Thundercracker believes that while Starscream loathed Shockwave, he did admit that Shockwave is brilliant. He trusted Shockwave’s loyalty to science, more than he did Shockwave’s loyalty to the Decepticons.”

Grimlock cycled a ventilation. “It works?”

“As far as I can tell.”

“What would you recommend?” He trusted his creator’s judgment in all things. Because all Grimlock could think of right now was how much he wanted Starscream aware and online. But more than that, he didn’t want to lose Starscream.

Ratchet squeezed his arm again. “I agree with Starscream. Shockwave is a fragger and a half, but his loyalty is to science first. I trust that Perceptor has sent his approval of the code, and Wheeljack has given it one as well. I trust that we have tested it as much as possible to ensure that it is successful. All we have left is hope.”

“Hope.” Grimlock’s helm dipped. He offlined his visor, thoughts drawing inward.

Hope, and perhaps a touch of faith as well.

Like it or not, Starscream would not survive forever. Did they have enough time to continue testing this anti-virus? Did they have any other options? Starscream was running out of time. If he waited, if he hesitated, perhaps it would be too late. Maybe it was too late now.

Grimlock didn’t know. He only knew he couldn’t miss this chance.

He lifted his helm and onlined his visor again. “Do it,” he said, and prayed to Primus, that he listen for once, that it worked. “Bring him back to me, Ratchet.”

“Of course I will.” Ratchet leaned in close, arm briefly encircling Grimlock in an embrace. “I’ll do the best I can, kid. Promise.”

And then he was gone, taking the warmth of his embrace with him. Grimlock could only watch as Ratchet vanished into Starscream’s private room. He couldn’t hear what his creator said, but Knock Out and Glit snapped to attention.

~

There wasn’t anything he could do for Grimlock, Swoop realized. The eldest Dinobot was a firestorm of worry that wouldn’t be calmed until Starscream was repaired and awake. Grimlock had fallen hard for the querulous Seeker, and there was no comforting him, not while Starscream’s future was up in the air.

But Swoop wasn’t entirely useless. He couldn’t do anything for Grimlock right now, but there were two others who could use a warm frame and a gentle embrace. So that was where he found himself, buried beneath the weight of two Seekers in an over-large berth.

To be fair, he was mostly buried under Skywarp, who stretched out on top of him as though he thought Swoop was going to skitter away and go pelting off the balcony. Thundercracker lay next to them, his optics quietly assessing.

Skywarp had been the one to make all the first moves, the tentative steps. He’d been the one to flirt and yes, Swoop knew he sometimes looked and acted stupid. He couldn’t help it. His processor was wired wrong – not Wheeljack’s fault, he only had substandard parts to work with.

But Swoop was neither stupid nor blind. He knew flirting when he saw it. At first, he’d been charmed and flattered. Then he’d been worried. He thought Skywarp and Thundercracker were a couple, a mated pair, like Mama Ratchet and Papa Wheeljack. He feared something had happened between them, and Skywarp was being an aft to put Swoop in the middle.

Thundercracker was the one who cleared the air.

“You can tell him to stop, you know,” he said one day when it was just the two of them flying because Skywarp was off in the energon manufactory. “Flirting, I mean. You don’t have to put up with it because we’re Starscream’s trinemates.”

Swoop had been so startled he’d missed a curve and lost concentration. He’d had to scramble to regain his balance before he plummeted from the sky.

Again.

It was embarrassing enough the first six times Thundercracker caught him.

“You Thundercracker okay with it?” he asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Thundercracker’s wingflaps twitched. He sounded honestly surprised, as though it hadn’t occurred to him to be jealous.

“You him Skywarp’s mate,” Swoop said, letting his own confusion bleed through into his field. He hoped the Seeker could read it. Sometimes, Swoop had trouble deciphering Thundercracker and Skywarp’s field, and he knew it wasn’t because of Shockwave.

The Dinobots were just different. Always had been. Their sparks spun to a different rhythm, and their fields vibrated at a different frequency.

Thundercracker barked a laugh. “Mate? Oh, Primus, no. We’re friends. Lovers occasionally, yes. I do love him, but not the way you think.”

Swoop pointed his nose toward the horizon and regained his balance. “Me Swoop not understand.”

“It’s complicated.” Thundercracker pushed himself through a few lazy loops before returning to Swoop’s side. “Seekers are compelled to be near each other. In groups of three, at the very least. For balance. A trine, you know?”

“Me Swoop know about trines.” Swoop loosed a small chuckle. “Him Grimlock read about trines a lot back in Ark.”

“I’ll bet he did.” Thundercracker’s field hummed with amusement. He dipped, spun underneath Swoop, and came up on his other side. “Skywarp and I get along. We adore each other. And we’ll always be together. It’s just–”

“Complicated,” Swoop repeated, rolling the word around his glossa, pleased that he’d been able to speak it without stuttering. Yet another tick on the road to improvement.

“Yes.” Thundercracker’s wingflap twitched. “So in answer to your question, no it does not bother me. He can flirt as much as he likes, and you can answer that flirting if you wish.”

“That good to know.” Swoop tilted a little, brushing his wing-hand against the distant edge of Thundercracker’s wing. “Me Swoop like you Thundercracker.”

“Mmm. I like you, too.”

Swoop laughed. “You Thundercracker not get my meaning,” he teased.

“I understand you just fine, Swoop.”

“Me no think you do.” Swoop laughed again and put on a burst of speed. He would never outfly Thundercracker, and didn’t even think to try.

But that didn’t mean they couldn’t play a little game of chase.

Now here they were. Thundercracker was still more reserved than Skywarp. Less outwardly affectionate, in comparison to Skywarp’s enthusiastic glomping. Swoop never believed that he didn’t care, however. He simply had other ways of showing it.

“Mmm.” Skywarp burrowed harder against Swoop’s chest, one wing lazily flicking behind his right shoulder. “Don’t ya wish we could just stay like this for hours? It’s perfect.”

Thundercracker snorted a ventilation. “You would, lazy aft that you are.”

“I just like to be comfortable.” Skywarp curled his hands under Swoop’s shoulders and held on tight. “Dinobot’s make good pillows. No wonder Star’s smitten.”

“Smitten?” Thundercracker chuckled. “You better hope he never hears that you accused him of being smitten.”

“Is true,” Swoop had to agree with a little laugh. “But him Grimlock smitten, too.”

Skywarp’s wings flicked, betraying his delight. “They’re so cute.”

“That’s one word you could use,” Thundercracker drawled and drew himself upright, easing his frame from their entwined tangle. “But as much fun as this is, I have to go.”

“Where?” Swoop asked.

Thundercracker tapped his comm as he eased off the berth. “Cyclonus just pinged. Lord Grimlock is remaining in the medbay with Starscream, and Scourge doesn’t want to work a triple-shift.”

“I don’t blame him,” Skywarp said and snuggled harder against Swoop’s front, as though he feared Thundercracker was going to drag him away, too. “I can’t wait until Star’s fixed so we can all get back to normal.”

“Whatever that even means anymore,” Thundercracker said. He stretched, lengthening the gaps in his armor and offering tantalizing peeks at the cabling beneath. “I’m taking a double so I won’t be back until the morning.”

Skywarp huffed a ventilation. “Well, at least I won’t be lonely without you then.”

Thundercracker rolled his optics. “You know I’m immune to your guilt trips by now, Warp. Besides, I’m leaving you in good hands.”

Swoop barked a laugh. “Me Swoop got best hands.”

“That, too.” Thundercracker twitched his wings, stretching first one joint and then the other. “I’m going now. I’ll see you two later.”

He left, the door to the berthroom sliding back shut behind him.

“Is it just me or is he always leavin’ us?” Skywarp asked with a little laugh. He wriggled atop Swoop as though he couldn’t get comfortable.

Swoop patted the nearest wing, finger dragging along the edge of it. “Him Thundercracker have responsibilities. What you Skywarp have?”

Skywarp lifted his helm and gave a cheesy grin. “All the alone time with you.”

Swoop chuckled and slid his arms around Skywarp, his hands resting on the Seeker’s back below his wing hinges. “That not too bad then.”

“It’s really not.” Skywarp straightened, and his optics suddenly brightened. His glossa flicked over his lips before he started to wriggle, scooting down Swoop’s frame.

Amused, Swoop watched him. He had no idea of Skywarp’s intentions until the Seeker planted his aft on Swoop’s hips and gave his own a little roll.

“So,” Skywarp purred as his hands planted on Swoop’s ventral armor. “We could recharge or…” He trailed off, letting the silence speak for itself.

Swoop’s hands drifted to Skywarp’s hips, his thumbs sweeping inward, to the join of hip and thigh where a hint of cabling peeked between Skywarp’s armor plates. “What about him Thundercracker?”

Skywarp’s wings flicked. “Hey, I don’t need him to interface with someone,” he retorted with a roll of his optics.

“Not that.” Swoop’s hands slid up Skywarp’s sides and down again, intending to be soothing, but eliciting something else when Skywarp shivered and kneaded at his belly. “Only meant – is him Thundercracker okay with it?”

“Oh. Yeah, sure.” Skywarp rolled his shoulders dismissively. “I mean, ya can ask him if you want. He’ll be sorry he missed out, but he won’t be jealous or anything.”

Jealous?

Swoop’s lips curved.

“What him Thundercracker going to miss?” he asked with a soft purr as he let his thumbs sweep inward, the tips of them brushing the edges of Skywarp’s spike panel.

Another shiver wracked the Seeker’s frame. His hips did a dance atop Swoop’s groin. “I don’t know,” Skywarp said playfully, his hands smoothing up Swoop’s belly, sliding over his chestplate, and then hitting the berth to either side of Swoop’s helm. He ground down. “Why don’t you open up and show me?”

Swoop laughed. “You Skywarp silly.”

“I know.” Skywarp leaned down, his lips brushing over Swoop’s. “Indulge me?”

Swoop closed the last inch between them and captured Skywarp’s lips, the kiss turning urgent rather quickly. The Seeker made a low noise of need in his intake, his hips dancing atop Swoop’s. Heat wound slowly through Swoop’s frame, always easy to incite when it came to his Seeker lovers.

It helped that Skywarp was so eager, that he’d abandoned his hesitation after the first time they’d kissed. His interest and attraction was genuine. It may have confused him, but it was still real.

He wanted Swoop, and he made no attempts to hide it.

His hips ground down again. “Come on, Swoop,” Skywarp said against his mouth, panting a warm ventilation over him. “You gonna tease me or do something about this, huh?”

‘This’ being the wet streak he was now leaving on Swoop’s panel, his valve dripping as it rubbed over Swoop’s armor. Each forward roll of his hips offered Swoop a tantalizing pink of the bright glow of Skywarp’s anterior node.

Call him a tease, would he?

Swoop’s engine rumbled. He tightened his grip on Skywarp’s hip, braced himself, and then surged upward. There was a moment where Skywarp flailed, loosing a startled yelp, before his wings flattened against the berth, and Swoop perched over him. He was larger than Skywarp, easily casting a shadow down on the Seeker.

Skywarp’s legs closed around his waist, tugging him closer. “Yeah, that’s better,” he said, hands clutching at Swoop, trying to drag him down, drag him closer. “Knew you couldn’t resist.”

Swoop rocked against Skywarp’s open panel, teasing himself by refusing to free his spike just yet. “You Skywarp funny.” One hand kept a grip on the Seeker’s hips while the other braced against the berth.

“Mmm. I know I am.” Skywarp wriggled and arched up against him, his lips drawing into an adorably enticing pout. “Guess you better find a way to shut me up.”

Silly and predictable both.

Swoop grinned and leaned down, capturing Skywarp’s lips again. Skywarp made a happy noise in his intake, his field rising warmly against Swoop’s.

Distraction or not. Casual or not.

Swoop was happy to have this, Skywarp in his arms now, and Thundercracker later. He didn’t know what the future would bring, but this here and now, was good enough for him.

~

Grimlock paced for several hours. He’d called Cyclonus and requested the third-in-command to take his shift in the command center. He promised that once he knew of Starscream’s fate, he would relieve Cyclonus.

Surprisingly, Cyclonus neither sounded angry, nor irritated. Only saying that there was more at stake in Starscream’s recovery than Grimlock’s relationship with him. For the time being, he would be willing to assist in whatever way possible.

Perhaps his little minibot friend had been helping him.

Though now, without the distraction, all Grimlock could do was pace. He’d had visitors, those who came by to check on Starscream’s progress, but no one lingered. Perhaps his erratic energy field had driven them away.

Swoop. Thundercracker. Skywarp. Sunstorm. Even some of Cyclonus’ soldiers had wandered in to check on Starscream. Their concern was touching. Grimlock made a mental note of it. Starscream would want to know who had cared.

Sometimes, he still labored under the misconception no one did.

Grimlock spun on a heelstrut. He’d stopped peering in through the window an hour ago. Watching without understanding only made him more anxious. Glit popped out earlier to give him an update before the feline medic made himself scarce again.

The anti-virus had been transmitted. The rest was a waiting game. Results on the drones tended to be immediate as they hadn’t been infected as long. Results on a living mech who had been under the virus’ thumb for nearly two weeks? It was too soon to tell.

That was two hours ago.

Grimlock’s early morning arrival had now stretched through the afternoon and into evening. His missed shift came and went. Grimlock would owe Cyclonus whatever gift of appreciation his third-in-command preferred.

The only one to enter and exit the little room frequently was Breakdown, who brought energon to the medics swarming Starscream, and carried out dirtied equipment. He kept tossing Grimlock sympathetic looks, but didn’t linger, which was a relief. He fidgeted and Grimlock was having enough trouble keeping under control without getting aggravated by someone who couldn’t be still.

Evening crawled toward night. Grimlock drank the energon Snarl brought him, and remotely did some of his paperwork so he could at least say he’d accomplished something. That, and it kept him from storming into the room.

He spun on another heel-strut. He folded his arms behind his back, clasping his hands. His thoughts spun in a thousand directions. Not one to doubt himself, he still worried he’d made the right choice. What if he was wrong? What if he caused Starscream’s death?

What if…?

The anxiety gnawed at him. A part of Grimlock was furious. When had he allowed himself this weakness, this distraction? Yet, he couldn’t imagine turning away from Starscream either.

Was it love? He wasn’t sure he could say that either. He wasn’t sure he knew what it was enough to identify it. He knew he held a deep affection for Starscream. He knew Starscream’s absence left him feeling lost.

But was it love?

The door opened. Grimlock spun toward it, spark surging toward his intake when he realized it wasn’t Glit or Breakdown this time, but his creator.

“Ratchet…?”

“He’s fine,” Ratchet said with a small smile. “It worked. The virus has been eradicated from his system.”

Tension left Grimlock in a whoosh, so fast dizziness rose in its wake. He stumbled, and Ratchet was quickly there, grabbing his elbow and steadying him.

“Easy,” he said gruffly, urging Grimlock toward the windowed wall where he could brace himself against the ledge. “You stood out here the whole time, didn’t you?”

He nodded. “If anything happened, I didn’t want to be far.”

“Primus save me from partners,” Ratchet sighed and patted his other arm. “Well, you can be reassured he’s going to recover now. It’s going to take some time for his self-repair to reactivate and for us to undo all the damage the virus caused, but he’ll live.”

Grimlock hooked an arm around his creator and crushed Ratchet against him, leaning his helm against the medic’s. Ratchet made a sound not unlike a squawk, but returned the embrace, patting him gently on the back.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Sadly, you owe some of that thanks to Shockwave, too. But don’t tell him I said that,” Ratchet replied, his vocals muffled.

He twitched, and Grimlock released him, letting Ratchet step out of his embrace. He made a show of brushing at his armor, but his field echoed nothing but amused affection.

“But yes, you are welcome.” Ratchet’s lips curved toward a smile. “It’s my duty, but more than that, I couldn’t let my kid’s Intended die. What kind of slag-poor parent would that make me?”

Intended. A part of Grimlock squirmed with delight every time he heard someone else acknowledge the path Starscream allowed them to venture.

He turned toward the window, looking in on Knock Out and Glit, who were disconnecting Starscream from most of the machines. A few remained, such as those offering him much needed fluids. But the main ones – those Grimlock recognized as urgent life support – were being removed.

“Can I see him?”

“As soon as they are done, yes. There should be more room now,” Ratchet replied with a small, self-deprecating chuckle. “If all goes well, he should be awake in a day or two, and able to leave the berth in a little under a week.”

Grimlock cycled a ventilation. “You know the moment he’s conscious, he won’t stay in that berth.”

“Then I guess you’re going to have to find a way to keep him there, aren’t you?” Ratchet retorted with a smirk he had to have borrowed from Wheeljack.

Grimlock’s engine rumbled with amusement, and he admitted, relief. His creator had come so far from the flinching, agitated way he’d been when first rescued from Constructicon custody. He’d remembered how to smile again.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Grimlock said with a small laugh. “In the meantime, what do you need?”

“Me? I’m fine. I’ve certainly worked longer hours than this. I–” Ratchet paused, drawing up short. He lifted a hand to his comm. “Ratchet here.”

Grimlock waited with him, and nearly recoiled at the sudden blast of outrage and worry in Ratchet’s field. Ratchet startled and then started moving before he finished his conversation, his field a broil of emotion.

Girmlock followed.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can, Aid. Just keep him alive until I can get there.” Ratchet paused, and his free hand formed a fist. “I know you can do it. My comms open. Just shout if you have a question.”

He dropped his hand and whirled, almost surprised to see Grimlock right behind him. “I have to go,” he said in a rush. “There’s an emergency in Iacon. Jazz has been shot.”

“Shot?” Grimlock’s engine growled. “On purpose?”

“That would be my guess.” Ratchet scraped a hand down his face, his armor clamped tight to his frame. “This is all we need, so soon after Starscream. Metalhawk’s trying his damndest to thrust us back toward war, isn’t he?”

Grimlock rested his hands on his creator’s shoulders. “He may try, but rest assured, he will fail.” He squeezed briefly before stepping back. “Go, Ratchet. There’s nothing more you need do here. I’m sure Knock Out is adequate at this stage.”

“That he is. I’ll be back if you need me.”

“I know. You always do.”

Ratchet’s lips twitched toward a fond smile, and then he was gone, twisting into alt-mode and careening down the halls with a screech of his tires. He would probably cause a ruckus ahead of him, so Grimlock sent a quick warning to the gate guards and Cyclonus both, though it was Thundercracker who answered him.

Jazz had been attacked. It smacked of Metalhawk’s meddling, Grimlock was certain. But outwardly, he knew how it appeared. For the most part, Jazz was responsible for ensuring Megatron’s defeat and that of many Decepticons. Every Megatron-loyal Decepticon in Grimlock’s brig certainly blamed him. There was much loathing present.

It wasn’t a stretch for many to jump to the conclusion that Jazz’s condition was retaliation. Not just for Megatron’s death, but also for the attack on Starscream. If Grimlock hadn’t known Optimus – and Jazz better – that would have been his assumption as well.

Grimlock gave Metalhawk only the dimmest credit. He knew enough of how both Autobots and Decepticons functioned to plot something like this, but missed the mark in understanding Grimlock.

This plot would have worked were Megatron still in charge. Fortunately for everyone but Metalhawk, Megatron was dead, and Grimlock was too smart to fall for it.

He made a mental note to contact Optimus once the initial chaos had passed. He doubted Optimus would blame the Decepticons for a single second, but it never hurt to be cautious. Beside that, Grimlock hoped Jazz would recover.

Then again, Grimlock had yet to meet anything that could put Jazz down.

Grimlock turned back toward Starscream’s private room. The door opened as he approached, Glit appearing first.

“Good eve, my lord,” the feline medic greeted with a dip of his head. “Ratchet shared the good news?”

“He did,” Grimlock replied. “I trust all is well?”

“As much as it can be.” Glit’s small talons clicked on the floor. “It is my professional opinion that Commander Starscream will make a full recovery. I am on duty for the remainder of the evening if you have any questions.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.”

Glit dipped his head again and dismissed himself, just as Knock Out emerged behind him, grumbling something subvocally. Where Glit had been almost scarily polite, the fatigue in Knock Out’s field gave excuse to his foul mood.

“Lord Grimlock,” he greeted, a touch tersely. “You’ll be happy to know that Commander Starscream is on the mend. Right now, we’ve given him several batches of neutral nanites to speed the repair progress, and he’s resting comfortably.”

“Thank you, Knock Out. I am sure he’s in capable hands,” Grimlock replied.

Knock Out paused and cycled his optics. His field spiked before he reined it in. “I… of course, my lord. Whatever my failings, I am a medic.” His face heated, and he took a sudden step backward. “I mean, forgive me, I’ve been working non-stop on Commander Starscream, and I think it’s time that I get some recharge so if you’ll excuse me…?”

The look in Knock Out’s optics all but begged for dismissal.

Grimlock waved him off. “Go. Rest. I’ll ask Glit if I need something.”

Honest gratitude glimmered briefly in Knock Out’s field before he was gone, barely an echo of his presence left in the medbay. That was… unusual. Perhaps something to attend at a later date. Or maybe he’d ask Snarl.

Grimlock cycled a ventilation and turned back to Starscream’s private room. He stepped inside without fanfare, his gaze falling on the berth and its sole occupant. Much of the equipment had been moved aside, with less cabling to coil around Starscream like a hungry serpent.

It was easier to move, to make his way to Starscream’s berthside, where one of the medics had been thoughtful enough to return Grimlock’s stool to its rightful position. He lowered himself down into it, taking Starscream’s nearest hand with his own.

Warm. Starscream’s hand was warm.

The last time he’d sat here, Starscream had felt uncomfortably cool, as though the heat of his spark could go no further than the protection of its casing. He was ventilating on his own as well, and he now had a tangible field, muted though it was.

He would be all right.

Grimlock braced his elbows on the edge of the berth, Starscream’s hand clasped between his own. Relief shuddered through him, his vents pitching a whine in complaint. And yet, he couldn’t be happier.

Starscream would live.

[Crown the Empire] Reign 11

Grimlock never thought he’d find himself visiting Shockwave in the brig while intending to ask the immoral scientist for assistance. Every fibre of his being loathed Shockwave, not the least of which for what he’d done to Swoop. There was no one in either faction who wanted Shockwave to be released.

Not even the Autobots were feeling particularly merciful.

But Starscream had been practical, and Grimlock had echoed him. Shockwave was abhorrent, but he was useful. He was brilliant. He had a mind they couldn’t afford to lose. So Grimlock had let him rot in the brig as a temporary measure until they could figure out how to preserve his mind, but keep him from harming any others.

Punishment, after all, was worthless. Ineffective. Shockwave felt no remorse and not even imprisonment could convince him to change his ways. He remained certain that he would eventually be released.

Grimlock loathed that Shockwave had turned out to be right.

Scourge, the brig warden appointed by Cyclonus as he was also Cyclonus’ second in command, waited for Grimlock in the receiving area. There were fewer permanent residents of the brig than there used to be, but enough that there was a steady rotation of personnel to serve as guards. Like Shockwave, these prisoners waited for Grimlock to take the time to do something about them.

They were very low on his priority list.

“For a mech no one likes, Shockwave gets the most visitors,” Scourge commented in a dour tone. The odd decoration on his upper lip bounced as he spoke.

“He’s the only useful one of the lot,” Grimlock grunted. “Did he offer any resistance?”

“No, my lord.” Scourge gestured toward the interrogation hall, where they had three rooms for such purposes. “If it weren’t for the fact he didn’t have a face, I’d swear the fragger was smirking at me. Like he knows why I pulled him out.”

Grimlock’s engine growled. No doubt Shockwave did. He knew they’d need him eventually. All he had to do was wait.

“I’m sure he does,” Grimlock muttered.

Scourge paused in front of the first door. “He’s in here. Want me to stay outside?”

“No. I’ll be fine. Depending on how this goes, I may take custody of him,” Grimlock said. He pulled a datapad out of subspace and handed it to the warden. “Details are on here.”

“Yes, sir. Good luck.”

He was probably going to need it.

Cycling a ventilation, Grimlock keyed the door to the interrogation room open and stepped inside. It slid and locked behind him. It wasn’t that he thought Shockwave would try to escape. He would have done so already.

The scientist sat on the other side of a narrow table. Knock Out had divested him of his blaster arm long ago, and the stump of it rested innocuously on the table. Shockwave wasn’t cuffed, but he did wear an inhibitor claw, like the rest of the long-term residents of the brig. He held a datapad in his other hand, one of the few the prisoners had been allowed, though they were stripped of all data and were self-contained, incapable of accessing the larger datanet.

“After months of dealing with Cyclonus, I am pleased to see that I have finally gained the attention of my new lord,” Shockwave said as he set down the datapad, helm lifting so that his single optic could focus on Grimlock. “Congratulations.”

Grimlock performed a systems check and pulled out the only chair remaining. He lowered himself down to it, never taking his gaze off of Shockwave. “You aren’t upset?”

“Megatron was a means to an end,” Shockwave replied in a tone devoid of emotion. And everyone thought Soundwave was the drone. “He gave me freedom that the Autobots would not, and he had resources I could not gain among the Neutrals. I also thought he was my best option for surviving the war and continuing my research unimpeded. But was I attached to him? Only distantly.”

Disgust welled up within him, and Grimlock had to swallow it back down. There were many things he loathed about both sides of the war, but at least they all had the decency to support something. “You’re not loyal to anyone, are you?”

Shockwave lifted his helm, his yellow optic boring through Grimlock’s visor. “To myself and to science, the only things I measure of worth.” His single hand made a vague gesture toward Grimlock. “But you’re not here to ask me about my loyalties, are you? You are here because you want something from me.”

Grimlock narrowed the light of his visor. He did not know he could loathe Shockwave anymore than he already did. “I have been informed that you are something of a skilled scientist, that you have talents in… coding.”

“I would ask who told you, but I can guess.” Shockwave shifted his weight, leaning forward to brace himself against the edge of the table. “You have seen my work. I suppose that should speak for itself. Your companion, Swoop, was it? He’s higher functioning now, isn’t he?”

“That’s not the point!” Grimlock snapped. His hand curled into a fist he narrowly stopped himself from slamming into the table top. “He didn’t need to be fixed. He was fine the way he was.”

Shockwave tilted his helm, his tone so carefully mild Grimlock’s tank clenched with disgust again. “No one is happy the way they are, Grimlock. Surely you of all mechs would know that. Everyone wants to change. To be different. Better.”

Grimlock’s engine growled. “That may be true. But it is not up to you to decide that. No one asked for your help.”

“Ah.” Shockwave’s optic brightened. “But that is where you are wrong. Because that is why you are here now, isn’t it? To ask for my help.”

It was for Starscream. Grimlock had to remind himself of this several times. If the circumstances weren’t dire, he absolutely would slap Shockwave back into his cell and leave him to rust.

Grimlock leaned forward, resting his hands on the table. “We are in need of an anti-virus. As you are the one on this planet with the most experience in coding, it is on you to make it.”

“That is assuming I wish to do so.”

Anger ticked through Grimlock’s engine. “What do you want?” It was as he assumed. Shockwave would only cooperate if given proper incentive.

Shockwave’s optic brightened again. “Full access to my laboratory. Full privileges to the local and galactic datanet. And the freedom to continue my experiments unimpeded.”

“Absolutely not.” Grimlock rose to his pedes slowly, using his greater height and mass to loom over Shockwave.

He didn’t even need to think about this. He wanted to save Starscream, he honestly did. There were many sacrifices he was willing to make to do so. But to essentially release Shockwave, return everything to him, and let him continue his research without oversight? The implication being that Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, Swoop, and Mirage would also be returned to him.

Absolutely not. Grimlock would go to Metalhawk and start tearing down walls before he conceded any of those terms to Shockwave.

“Then we are at an impasse.”

Grimlock leaned forward, glaring at the scientist. “We are not. Because I have options that maybe aren’t politically sound but will get me answers. Whereas if you don’t cooperate at all, there are deeper prison cells where you will never see the light of the stars again,” he stated, each word precisely placed. “So try it again. What do you want?”

Shockwave’s stub shifted. “Perhaps, Lord Grimlock, you would be better off stating what I am allowed.”

Grimlock braced his weight on the table. “I will allow you a limited parole,” he said, though it was with much reluctance. “It will be supervised by a mech that I deem acceptable. You will allow yourself to be tagged and surveilled. And if you show you are willing to cooperate, and I can find a purpose for you once this task is complete, I may be willing to consider extending you more freedom.”

It wasn’t much, he knew. But it was also better than remaining locked in a cell for the rest of his functioning. They were both at an impasse. Grimlock wanted Shockwave’s help, and Shockwave wanted to be free. They would have to compromise.

“Define limited,” Shockwave said after a long moment.

“No shackles, but you’re keeping the inhibitor.”

“And my weapon?”

Grimlock lowered his helm and met Shockwave’s gaze. “Non-negotiable. Though if you’re that desperate, I’m sure Knock Out can whip you up another hand.”

He doubted Shockwave intended to go on a shooting rampage, but fighting his way free, stealing their only functional non-sentient transport and vanishing into the galaxy? That was a real possibility.

“I will not be able to defend myself without a weapon.”

“You won’t need to. Your parole officer will provide defense.”

“Who will this officer be?”

“I haven’t decided.”

Shockwave cycled a ventilation and shifted back in his chair, lengthening the distance between them. “I insist upon another scientist or someone of passable intelligence.”

Grimlock barely kept from laughing. “It depends on who can be spared. They’re not there to join you in your research, but to keep tabs on you.”

“Pity. I could have used an assistant.” Shockwave rapped his fingers on the table. “Who’s the victim?”

“Who said there was one?”

“You did. When you came to me with this desperate request.” The scientist tilted his helm, and his optic dimmed. “My guess is that it is Starscream. He certainly worked his claws under your plating fast, didn’t he, my lord?”

Grimlock growled before he could stop himself. “The victim in question is not what is important here. Are you going to provide assistance or not?” It took everything he had not to reach across the table and throttle Shockwave.

Shockwave leaned as far as the chair would allow. “In exchange for limited parole, where I will be watched like a sparkling no doubt, and given limited access to my lab.”

“To a lab, not necessarily your own,” Grimlock clarified.

“Hm.” Shockwave pondered for a moment before rising to his pedes with a creak of gears in need of maintenance. “Very well. I will render assistance under the parameters you’ve outlined.”

Grimlock stared at him. “Without further negotiation.”

“None will be necessary. Once you’ve seen that I am more useful within my laboratory than outside it, I am quite certain you will adjust the terms of my release.” Shockwave held out his full hand to seal the agreement.

Grimlock did not trust him at all. He would have to ensure whoever he assigned to watch over Shockwave was a mech who could be trusted. Not to mention one who was not easily manipulated.

Well. Slag had been saying he wanted something more to do than guard duty. All Grimlock had to do was pair him up with someone more used to manipulation and there, problem solved.

“That remains to be seen.” Grimlock tilted his helm in acceptance of the deal. A handshake would not be necessary. “Come with me to the medbay. You can begin there.”

Shockwave moved around the table, his field unfurling from a tight clench. It tapped against Grimlock’s own as if they had become friends. “You will see, Lord Grimlock. I can be just as useful to you as I was to Lord Megatron. He offered me free rein and so shall you eventually.”

Grimlock locked his tone. “We will see.” Not only did he find it highly unlikely, but he would actively seek to make certain that Shockwave’s freedom be kept as limited as possible.

He had enough loose cannons running around Iacon as it was. He didn’t want another. It was going to be difficult enough explaining this to the Autobots without the added insult of having Shockwave wander around without restriction.

No, no, and no.

Grimlock keyed open the door and gestured for Shockwave to follow him into the hall, where Scourge waited patiently.

“Have someone escort Shockwave to the medical bay and hand him over to Knock Out’s custody,” Grimlock said as the scientist emerged from the interrogation room, his field reeking of victory. “The inhibitor must remain. Assign a guard to stay with him as well. He has work to do.”

Scourge’s optics narrowed, but he tilted his helm in a bow. “Yes, Lord Grimlock. I will see to it at once.”

“Thank you, Scourge.”

He left Shockwave in Scourge’s custody. He had an immediate urge to visit the washracks, to cleanse himself of being in Shockwave’s presence. The scientist was vile in ways that Megatron could never match. Grimlock loathed that he’d had to resort to Shockwave’s assistance.

For Starscream’s sake, he would swallow his pride.

~

Swoop was the smallest of the Dinobots. That still left him larger than Skywarp and Thundercracker independently of each other. It usually left him on the bottom of the pile in the berth, because not only was he larger, he was heavier, with thicker armor. His sleek design belied the mass beneath his plating.

Skywarp tended to tease him about it, but usually in a manner that suggested he found it adorable.

They were worried, understandably so, which was probably why Swoop found himself with a lapful of Seekers. He’d come to offer his support, and they’d taken it gladly. Even though, up until this moment, Swoop hadn’t realized the Command Trine was so close.

“We didn’t use to be,” Thundercracker explained as he rested his helm on Swoop’s chestplate, his wings draped against his back. Skywarp, by contrast, had his helm on Swoop’s abdomen.

“Because of collateral damage,” Skywarp murmured. His arms wound around Swoop’s waist as their legs tangled together. Swoop could feel the pulse of his spark vibrating against Swoop’s hip. “It was dangerous, you know, to be close to Starscream, especially whenever Megatron was nearby.”

“We were a weakness, one Megatron could exploit,” Thundercracker murmured, his optics drifting closed, especially when Swoop took to stroking the back of his wings. Not with the intent to arouse, but merely to soothe. “So he pushed us away. Made us hate him. And it worked.”

“Him Starscream protect you,” Swoop said, though it was more of an observation than a discussion.

Skywarp and Thundercracker rarely talked about their relationship with Starscream. Even rarer, they talked about Starscream and Megatron. It was one of those hulking ghosts in the corner, a rusty mechanism everyone preferred to pretend did not exist.

“I guess.” Skywarp shrugged and rubbed his cheek against Swoop’s abdominal armor. “Not that he’d ever admit it. Starscream doesn’t like weaknesses.”

“More like, him Megatron would hurt him Starscream for it,” Swoop said, his thumb stroking Thundercracker’s wing hinges. His other hand rested on Skywarp’s helm. “Him Starscream complicated mech.”

Thundercracker snorted. “Tell me something I don’t know.” He shifted, burrowing closer to Swoop’s plating.

It was kind of nice, Swoop reflected, to be the one they leaned on rather than the other way around. How their friendship had come about seemed unlikely. The next step toward romantic entanglement even more so. He wasn’t even sure when it happened, when he went from feeling grateful they granted him a few moments of their time, to the two of them inviting him without any prompting on Starscream’s part.

He supposed there was just something about Dinobots that Seekers liked. The thought made him chuckle.

“What?” Skywarp asked, tilting his helm to look up at Swoop.

“Nothing,” Swoop replied. “Inside joke. You Skywarp recharge now.”

“Pfft. It’s the middle of the day. Why would I do that?” Skywarp retorted, but his helm tilted back against Swoop’s hip. His energy field remained that distressing, tangled mess.

Both he and Thundercracker were very worried about Starscream, only they didn’t want to admit it. Megatron had done as much damage to their trine as he had to Starscream alone.

“Because you Skywarp didn’t recharge last night,” Swoop said. “You Thundercracker didn’t either.”

“Lord Grimlock had us chasing ghosts. Trying to figure out who infected Starscream,” Thundercracker muttered. “I guess he figured if he wasn’t getting any sleep, none of us needed to either.”

“Him Grimlock worried, too,” Swoop said.

His spark ached for his eldest brother, but no matter how much he tried to coax Grimlock into a little recharge, he’d been ignored. So he’d opted to tend to someone who would at least let him help.

They made a noncommittal noise, each opting for comfort and silence instead. That was, until Thundercracker stirred, cursing subvocally.

“What is it?” Skywarp asked as Thundercracker started to extricate himself from the tangle of three different sets of limbs.

“I have that meeting. With Lord Grimlock. Filling in for Starscream, remember?” Thundercracker said, his dissatisfaction clear in his field as he slid off the berth.

“I remember. Better you than me,” Skywarp said as he wriggled, all but climbing up Swoop’s frame to usurp Thundercracker’s position and cover more of Swoop’s armor with his own. “We’ll be here. Waiting for you then.”

Thundercracker gave them both a long look. “I should make you come instead of Sunstorm. Then we can both suffer.”

“Him Starscream trust you,” Swoop said as he caught and held Thundercracker’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “It temporary job.”

“I know.” Thundercracker’s lips twitched toward a smile. He squeezed Swoop’s hand back and then gently worked his way free. “So the two of you better behave until I get back. I’m looking at you Skywarp.”

Skywarp nuzzled into Swoop’s intake. “I’m not the one with wandering hands,” he retorted, at the same time Swoop’s hand found its way to the base of his spinal strut, resting there.

Swoop laughed and patted Skywarp on the bum. “Him Skywarp not wrong.”

“Well, the both of you better behave then,” Thundercracker retorted as he gave his frame a brief once-over, half-sparkedly wiping at a scrape on his upper thigh. Fortunately, it could easily be passed off as belonging to Skywarp. “Just remember who his eldest brother is, Warp.”

Skywarp huffed.

Swoop chuckled and leaned his helm against Skywarp’s. “Me Swoop watch him. You go. Him Grimlock don’t like tardiness.”

“Yeah. I know.” Thundercracker sighed and scraped a hand over his helm. “I’ll be back. You two have fun without me.”

He left, and in his absence, Skywarp squirmed all the closer. “I’ll just stay here,” he murmured.

Swoop pretended not to notice that Skywarp clutched at him a bit stronger. He didn’t mind being the shoulder they leaned on. He was glad to return the favor.

~

The snatches of recharge he’d caught on a spare berth in the medbay were not enough. He felt the lack as it pulled his shoulders toward the ground, sitting heavy in his frame. He consumed medical energon to stay focused, but knew eventually, he would have to recharge in full.

For now, however, there was the command staff meeting. He could put it off no longer and indeed, Grimlock did not want to. He needed to find answers. He needed to explain why there was a shift in the command structure. He needed to remain the Decepticon leader that they expected of him, without allowing his personal feelings to interfere.

Grimlock arrived in the conference room first, but Cyclonus was not far behind him. Grimlock had kept his third apprised of the basics of the situation, but not the specifics.

“How is Starscream?” Cyclonus asked as he took a seat.

Grimlock selected his own chair and carefully lowered himself into it. “Alive,” he answered and cycled a ventilation. “For now.”

“I am relieved to hear it.” Cyclonus set two datapads on the table, his gaze focused on Grimlock. “I am also relieved that the Autobot medic was willing to render aid, but I am concerned that it may reflect badly in a more political venue.”

“Let Metalhawk whine his complaints. This is not an official favor from the Autobots. Ratchet is here as a favor to me, personally, and he will swear that under oath.” Grimlock rapped his fingers on the table. “As far as Optimus and the Autobots are concerned, Ratchet has taken a temporary leave of absence. Right now, he’s not an Autobot. He’s a medic.”

“That explanation will suffice.” Cyclonus pulled a datapad back into reach and powered it on, clawed fingertips tapping across the screen. “I’ll go ahead and draft an official statement. We will likely also have to address Shockwave’s release.”

Grimlock shook his helm. “He is neither released nor on probation. He is allowed to offer his assistance in hopes to earn himself a probation.”

Cyclonus’ lips quirked. “I’m not sure that’s the deal how he heard it.”

“Oh?” Grimlock tilted his helm. “Perhaps he heard wrong.”

The door opened again, admitting Thundercracker and Sunstorm, the latter whom Grimlock included as assistant to Thundercracker so that he wasn’t taking on both of the titles Starscream held. Though it was a curious thing that Thundercracker had asked for Sunstorm to inherit the title of Interim Air Commander and not Acid Storm, who was the prior Air Commander of Cybertron.

“We’re not late, are we?” Sunstorm asked with something of a lopsided smile. His wings twitched behind, the lights reflecting off his yellow paint so that it made the room brighter.

“No. You’re right on time. Pick a seat,” Grimlock answered, ignoring the look Cyclonus directed his way. Yes, he was playing word games with Shockwave. No, he did not feel guilty about it.

He was a Decepticon, wasn’t he? It was in the name.

Thundercracker and Sunstorm chose a stool each, and Grimlock became the focus of their undivided attention. That the seat to Grimlock’s right was empty was all too noticeable for its silence. He tended to let Starscream lead the command meetings as Megatron had set the precedent for preferring Starscream not speak at all.

Now, he was on his own.

“I know you are all aware of the basics,” Grimlock began after a cycled ventilation. “Yes, Starscream was attacked. No, we don’t know who or how, though I can guess why.”

“You have already ruled out Decepticon perpetrators?” Sunstorm asked, his lips pulling into a slight frown.

Grimlock inclined his helm. “Not entirely. I am aware Starscream has few friends and allies among the Decepticons, but I would hope that not a single one of them were foolish enough to make this sort of mistake. Unless you know of anyone in particular with a grudge?”

“The only one who ever had a finger on the spark-pulse of every Decepticon was Soundwave,” Thundercracker answered as he rubbed a palm down his faceplate. “He knew every grudge, every alliance, every owed bet…”

“Our Special Operations Division is in shambles,” Cyclonus said. “Every previous member has either defected, received discharge, or has been locked up in the brig. We have no Intelligence division, no Intelligence operatives, and no one to train those who might volunteer.”

Grimlock rubbed his palm over his helm. “None of your crew are suitable?”

Cyclonus laced his fingers together on top of his datapad. “There are a few with the requisite aptitude, but none have the training. My contingent is formed of warriors, not spies. Megatron tended to keep his intelligent officers close.”

“Shockwave preferred his drones when it came to operatives,” Sunstorm offered, though it wasn’t much assistance. “As it stands, the Autobots outnumber us when it comes to spies and saboteurs.”

“It wasn’t the Autobots,” Grimlock said.

Cyclonus tilted his helm. “You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do.” Grimlock leaned forward and braced his weight on the edge of the table. “I know Optimus Prime. I know Jazz. I know that Optimus would never condone assassination and even if he did, Jazz would not be this sloppy. Besides, as it stands, their Spec Ops division may have more members as a whole, but they only have one who is active. Ergo, it was not the Autobots.”

“Which leaves us with one truly potential perpetrator,” Sunstorm said with a flick of his wings. “Which I am quite sure we all intend to blame anyway. We only need to prove it.”

Grimlock lowered his helm. “Yes. Metalhawk has made it clear he wants to take Cybertron for himself and the Neutrals. He’ll tolerate the Autobots if he must, but he wants us gone.”

“The Autobots will be next regardless. You can rest assured he has a plan in place for them as well,” Cyclonus commented. Clawed fingers rapped a nonsense rhythm on the table. “What I am most interested in discovering is how this deed was accomplished, whether or not he intends to strike again, and why Starscream.”

“Because Star is the processor of the Decepticons,” Thundercracker said with a deep frown. “No offense, my lord, but you have made it a point to convince others to underestimate you. They believe you the brawn and Starscream the brains, so to speak.”

Grimlock waved a dismissive hand. “No offense taken for that was my intent. So. They thought to cripple the Decepticons then.”

“Not just that,” Sunstorm said with a thoughtful tilt of his helm. “Metalhawk knows he can’t take us on directly. But he also knows we are two factions formerly at war, sharing resources in what he considers an uneasy alliance.”

“Uneasy,” Grimlock echoed and snorted a ventilation. “He doesn’t know us very well, does he?”

“No. He does not.” Cyclonus sounded dour, but then, didn’t he always? “We do need proof, however. We need to discover the ‘how’.”

Grimlock folded his arms on the table. “I have an idea. I’ve been informed that the Combaticons are becoming friendly with Metalhawk’s Neutrals, perhaps upon the Prime’s command. But they are a Neutral party unto their own. If I offer something of equal value, they can seek information for us as well.”

“It will not be a conflict of interest?” Thundercracker asked. He was one of many who questioned the Combaticons’ loyalty.

Grimlock shook his helm. “Their interest is solely to themselves, and whoever pays them more, though I believe Autobots and Decepticons get first choice over the Neutrals.”

“Then we will see what information they can offer,” Cyclonus said, making a note on his datapad. “When the time comes.”

“That being said, I want to know how Starscream was affected,” Grimlock continued, his gaze moving from one member of his command staff to the other. “He doesn’t trust anyone and he’s paranoid with good reason. Therefore, it had to be a Decepticon who passed the virus to him, either knowingly or unknowingly. Retrace his steps. Figure out who he had contact with.” He leaned forward, the light in his visor narrowing. “Give me a name.”

Sunstorm’s wings twitched. “And after?” His helm tilted, his expression neutral. “When you find the perpetrator, what then?”

“They will face justice for their crimes,” Grimlock said.

And depending on Starscream’s fate and how angry he was at the time, said perpetrator might actually live to do just that.

Sunstorm’s lips curved ever so slightly downward. “So long as we are clear.”

“The Decepticons are no longer a lawless society.” Cyclonus shuffled his datapads with the sort of focus usually reserved for sharp-shooting or making involved calculations. “We do need to keep a civil approach.”

“Of course.” Grimlock waved a hand. “Dismissed.”

No one argued, but neither did they linger. They left him alone rather quickly, without so much as a backward glance.

Maybe the frenetic rasp of his energy field had something to do with it. He doubted it was the urgency of the situation.

Grimlock sighed and leaned against the table, bracing his upper body on the surface. He wanted to bury himself in the scuffed metal. He cycled several ventilations.

The silence of the conference room wrapped around him, ice cold. The empty chairs stared back. The place Starscream should have sat was noticeably empty. Post-meeting was usually the Seeker’s favorite time to flirt, though Grimlock never examined the meaning why. The former relationship between Starscream and Megatron was not something he wished to examine closely.

He ought to be recharging. He ought to walk out of this conference room, return to his quarters, and recharge in his berth.

He wouldn’t have to do so alone. He could, as he’d once teased Starscream, crawl into the berths of one of his Dinobot brothers. Swoop would welcome him without question. Slag would grump but make room. Snarl wouldn’t even wake up, but his field would offer solace. Sludge would have pulled him into an embrace whether Grimlock liked it or not.

Grimlock shook off the melancholy of the last. He would not lose Starscream as he had Sludge. He refused.

He was also not going to recharge.

Instead, he turned around and went the opposite direction, back toward the medical bay. There wasn’t anything urgent he needed to attend; the others had it well in hand. He could take a moment for himself, to stop and ventilate, to perhaps look at Starscream without his spark squeezing into a tiny knot.

He doubted he’d be capable of the last.

Just after third shift, the halls were empty. No one bothered Grimlock, and he found the medical bay in peace. No one waited in reception, which meant Knock Out had either finished all of his maintenance appointments, or had opted to reschedule them.

Grimlock stepped into the main bay and halted in surprise. He cycled his visor twice to ensure he wasn’t hallucinating as a result of recharge deprivation.

“What you Snarl doing here?” he asked, flabbergasted.

Sure enough, the other Dinobot was perched at one of the desks shoved against the wall. He hunched over the top of it, several lamps directed toward the surface of the desk.

“Me Snarl working,” his brother answered without turning to acknowledge Grimlock. “Me Snarl helping him Knock Out.”

“….What?” He didn’t know if he couldn’t fathom that because he was so exhausted, or if it genuinely didn’t make a credit of sense.

Snarl’s spines twitched. “Me Snarl fix broken thing.” One hand gestured, holding a sodering iron between two fingers, before he focused his attention back on whatever he was repairing.

The door to the private medical rooms opened, revealing Knock Out, who blinked at Grimlock, but didn’t stop moving.

“Snarl is a great help, my lord,” the medic said as he carried in something broken and dumped it on the desk in front of Snarl. He rested a hand on the Dinobot’s shoulders. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take him on as a full member of the medical division.”

If Grimlock had a jaw, it would have dropped. “So long as that’s what he wants, I see no problem with it. I’ll have Cyclonus make the changes in his file.”

“Me Snarl do good job,” Snarl said with a harrumph. “Me Snarl want stay here.”

Grimlock cycled his audials. “Very well.” When he’d told Snarl to go make friends, this was not what he had expected at all. He would have never guessed it, especially considering that it was with Knock Out of all mechs.

He turned his attention to Knock Out. He’d worry about sitting down with Snarl and having a conversation later. There were larger issues now. “How is Starscream?”

“No change.” Knock Out folded his arms over his chestplate. “With some help, I managed some rearranging. You can go in to see him, if you like.”

“Any progress on a cure?”

Knock Out’s expression softened, almost to the point Grimlock felt he was genuinely concerned. “No, my lord. But we are all optimistic.”

Grimlock cycled a ventilation. “Carry on then. I’ll see myself to his room.”

He left Knock Out and Snarl behind, and sought out Starscream’s room. Sure enough, the machinery had been rearranged to make it easier for the medics to reach Starscream through the cables. Medics and visitors, Grimlock assumed, considering that a narrow chair had been arranged at Starscream’s berthside.

He was still careful as he eased into the room and lowered himself down into the tiny, uncomfortable chair. It creaked alarmingly, and something cracked, but it held his weight. It would have to do.

He looked at Starscream, more clearly this time, and his spark squeezed into a tiny ball. He seemed delicate right now, and Grimlock was not accustomed to this. Even when turned into a beaten, bleeding mess because of Megatron’s assaults, Starscream had looked defiant and strong. No matter how many times he’d been thrown to the ground.

Now… now he looked small. Fragile. Grimlock feared touching him, but couldn’t bring himself not to. One of Starscream’s hands was free of wires and cables, save for a single shunt in his wrist. Grimlock carefully took it, wincing at the slight chill. Starscream always was colder than Grimlock.

He used it as an excuse whenever Grimlock teased him about enjoying their cuddles.

Grimlock cycled a ventilation and held Starscream’s hand between his own. It was all he dared touch. He bowed his helm, and listened, counting the steady whumps of the machine that managed Starscream’s ventilations. He counted the constant beeping of the other machines, those that regulated his coolant, his energon, his spark pulse.

He was still angry. But he didn’t spare the energy for that. Instead, he prayed. To whoever he felt would listen.

Wasn’t it time? Weren’t they owed a chance? Hadn’t he worked hard to take this planet back? To set it on the right course? Didn’t he deserve a break?

So many questions. Too many questions.

Grimlock offlined his optics and focused on the sound of Starscream’s ventilations. If he listened hard enough, he could hear the quiet beat of Starscream’s spark. He focused on that as well. It reminded him Starscream was alive, and as long as he was alive, there was hope.

He didn’t much believe in prayer, but right now, he’d offer up a few lines if it meant earning a spot of good fortune.

The ping disturbed his half-twilight state. Grimlock roused himself from a doze, sitting up slowly. His systems were slow to stir, proving he needed recharge, and this brief nap had not been satisfactory.

He hadn’t been out for long and ow, there was a pinched line in his neck now. Grimlock straightened, his hands still wrapped around one of Starscream’s. His Intended hadn’t moved, hadn’t stirred, but the steady beeps of the machines were comforting. He wasn’t better, but he wasn’t worse either.

Grimlock’s comm pinged again.

He cycled a ventilation and worked one hand free, activating his comm. “Grimlock here. What is it?”

The voice that came through was unfamiliar. “I am sorry to disturb you, sir. But we have picked up something on our long-range monitors that I think you need to see.”

He checked the ident code and realized it belonged to Krok, the commander from the Weak Anthropic Principle. His crew had called themselves the Scavengers. They’d all eventually assimilated into the Decepticons. Cyclonus must have been satisfied for him to approve Krok working the command center.

“I’ll be there shortly,” Grimlock replied as a bolt of alarm rippled through his frame. He ended the comm and took a moment to ventilate.

What now? Did he not have enough troubles without some extraterrestrial threat?

Grimlock grudgingly worked his other hand free of Starscream’s and shoved himself to his pedes. He bent down – carefully around the network of wires and lines – and pressed his forehelm to Starscream’s.

He would return, and hopefully, it would be to good news from Ratchet and the other medics and scientists working on the anti-virus.

Grimlock eased himself out of the private room, though he did so reluctantly, and made sure the door locked behind him. The number of people with access to Starscream’s room could be counted on his hand, and none of them were Shockwave. They still didn’t know when, how, or who had infected Starscream with the virus. The perpetrator could be lingering somewhere, anxious to finish the job he’d bungled.

Grimlock was not taking any chances.

He sent a quick message to Ratchet, letting his creator know that he was stepping out and to keep an optic on Starscream, and then headed for the command center.

It was mid-afternoon. All of New Iacon was bustling. There were few who knew of Starscream’s current condition. Most of the Decepticons were continuing on with their new daily lives, focused on rebuilding, constructing, forming ties, running drills, et cetera. It was peaceful. Busy, but peaceful.

Grimlock almost envied them that peace. Though it was better the infantry believe nothing was wrong than labor under the same anxiety that currently gripped Grimlock’s command staff.

He arrived at the command center expecting to find a flurry of panicked activity, but the situation appeared normal. Mechs were seated at their stations, monitoring their various tasks without a hint of concern. Krok – currently in command – noticed Grimlock immediately and tilted his upper half in a brief bow before he wordlessly gestured for Grimlock to follow him. He passed command briefly to his own second, a mech named Crankcase.

“Crankcase was the first to pick up the message. I had him copy it to an external drive and delete it from the database before anyone else could access it,” Krok explained as they moved to a distant corner of the command center, out of direct audial range of the nearest soldier.

Grimlock rebooted his visor, tilting his helm. “To what end?”

“Because I didn’t want to start a panic.” Krok approached the nearest console, one that was currently unstaffed and used as a backup in case one of their systems short-circuited – an often frequent occurrence. He pulled out a datachip, plugged it in, and brought up the data.

“Every mech in the Decepticon army knows the threat of the DJD,” he continued as he activated several firewalls, isolating the data. “I so much as mention them and you’ll see a mass exodus from all who can manage it.”

Grimlock shifted his weight as he waited for the program to load. “I thought they were loyal to the vision of the Decepticons?”

“The vision as led by Megatron. Without him, there aren’t any Decepticons,” Krok stated as the message queued up. He delayed playing it to add, “At least, in the optics of Tarn. He’s a loyalist through and through. I’m transmitting on Sigma. Let me know when you’re ready.”

Grimlock tapped into the comm line Krok indicated and nodded. He waited for the transmission to start, his visor dimming as deep, dulcet tones spilled from the recording, occasionally laced with static.

This message is for the mech I assume thinks he is the rightful lord of the Decepticons. As the leader of the Decepticon Justice Division, I do believe it is my right to test and see whether you are worthy. As of this broadcast, I am three cycles out from Cybertron and will arrive at my leisure. My team is looking forward to meeting you, former Autobot. I will call you ‘Lord’ when and only when I deem you worth that title. Tarn, out.

The message fizzled into static before there was a click, and it repeated again. Grimlock dialed out of the comm lines, signaling for Krok to go ahead and shut it off. He had heard all he needed to hear. He wondered if he was supposed to be shaking in his pedes right now, if the mere idea of the DJD should send him running for the hills.

“So you see why I called you.” Krok disengaged the datachip and handed it to Grimlock, no doubt for safekeeping.

“I understand the need to prevent a panic,” Grimlock said as he peered at the tiny datachip, the short message on it meant to be intimidating. “I suppose Tarn expects that he’s set the fear of Unicron inside me.”

Krok stared up at him. “You’re not the least bit worried.” It wasn’t a question.

“Should I be?”

Krok shifted his weight. “Permission to speak freely?”

Grimlock tilted his gaze toward the captain. “Granted, and in that regard, I’m not Megatron. I value the input of my command team. Their honest input.”

“Then yes, my lord, you should be concerned. The DJD may not be Phase Sixers, but they are the closest thing to it.” Krok cycled a ventilation, his field leaking free with something that smacked of personal fear. “Their threat should not be taken lightly.”

Considering that Krok feared a mass exodus as a result of the Decepticons in general learning of the DJD’s arrival, perhaps Grimlock should take his advice. He refused to be afraid, but exercising a little caution was prudent.

“I understand. Thank you, Krok, for the warning. And thank you for looking out for the well-being of the Decepticons,” Grimlock said. He closed his fingers around the datachip before tucking it into an arm panel. “I will discuss the threat shortly. For now, we will continue to keep it classified.”

“Yes, sir.” Krok nodded and then shifted his weight. “For what it’s worth, sir, I also hope Starscream’s recovery is quick and sure.”

“Thank you. I appreciate the well wishes.”

Grimlock excused himself and left the command center, though he didn’t know where to go. Back to his office? Back to his shared quarters with the Dinobots? Back to Starscream?

His spark tugged him in far too many directions.

But still, he knew there was only one place he wanted to be. He would chew on the matter of the DJD while he waited for news about Starscream.

Back to the medbay he went.