[Bay] Indomitable 03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is so much energon on his hands.

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

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

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

The silence wraps around him.

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

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

It hurts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He must take his punishment as is due.

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

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

Who else would be here on a night of celebration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You knew him well?”

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

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

“No. Sideswipe wouldn’t tell me.”

“Neither would Sunstreaker.”

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

“Mm.” Megatron agrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hm?”

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

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

Megatron snorts. “Few are.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are dozens of reasons he should decline.

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

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

Instead, he accepts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wonders if he can convince Ratchet into a repaint.

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

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

Two friends.

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

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

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

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[Bay] Indomitable 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ratchet can’t blame him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How very true.

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

“Megatron, why did you invite me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe Megatron is a drifting ship, too.

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You look surprised,” Ratchet observes.

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

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

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

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

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

Now, Ratchet flounders.

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

So yes.

Ratchet can sympathize.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As friends?” Megatron asks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ratchet cycles a ventilation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ratchet sighs a ventilation.

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

“Megatron–”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

[Bay] Indomitable 01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunstreaker would have understood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

Vengeance, however, is Ratchet’s to dispense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well played, medic. Well played.

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

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

~

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

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

It should be annoying, but it becomes amusing.

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

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

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

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

“Ambulon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not certain you do.”

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

He has a point.

“Granted.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Unless you’d be more comfortable elsewhere?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friendship, Megatron decides, is worth everything.

***

[FoF] Topsy-Turvy 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perceptor’s logic proved to be the winner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, my liege.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to go.

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

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

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

~

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

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

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

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

“Anything happen I should know about?”

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

“Breakfast?”

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

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

“Promised visit to Cradle.”

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

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

“Anything else?”

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

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

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

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

He should have mated years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do not envy you that task.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, but–”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m aware.”

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

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

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

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

But his casual disrespect was aggravating on occasion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until he visited the Cradle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So Perceptor was right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He would notice.”

“Mm.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The smol’s jaw set. His eyes narrowed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

[G1] Feels Like Tonight

Peace and quiet are forever in short supply around the Ark. There’s always something going on, and there’s barely any space as it is, so trying to find an opportunity to be alone is as difficult as keeping his paint immaculate.

Luck, however, is on Sunstreaker’s side. Because Sideswipe is off doing something he’s being particularly secretive about, and Sunstreaker has their shared quarters all to himself. There’s no one in the rooms to either side of theirs, and most of the other Autobots are out doing chores or performing their duties or indulging in their hobbies.

It’s nice and quiet and perfect, and Sunstreaker vents a little sigh as he sinks into the plush couch he and Sideswipe built out of scrap. He mindlessly doodles on one of his sketch pads, nothing in particular, just vague lines and colors to keep his fingers occupied while his processor wanders. He’s got the stereo crooning a soft, wordless tune, and the day honestly couldn’t get any more perfect.

Which is why, of course, the door slides open with a rickety creak, and Sideswipe comes strolling inside, having the audacity to whistle. He’s grinning, a bounce in his step, and while a happy Sideswipe is a handsome Sideswipe, Sunstreaker is disappointed his solitude has come to an end.

There’s something in Sideswipe’s field, in his side of the bond carefully shielded from Sunstreaker, that speaks of mischief. Well, Sunstreaker wants no part of mischief today, thank you very much. He prepares a refusal and has it ready on the tip of his glossa.

Sideswipe hums a happy trio of notes when he spots Sunstreaker and grabs one of the chairs they usually have in front of the game station. He drags it closer, two of the legs scraping over the floor, and plants it in front of Sunstreaker. Backward, of course, because this is Sideswipe.

Sunstreaker’s hackles raise.

“Hey, Sunny?” Sideswipe prompts as he drops down into the chair and rests his arms across the back of it, plopping his chin down on his wrists.

Sunstreaker’s in enough of a good mood that he allows the nickname. Just this once. Though the mischief in Sideswipe’s actions threatens to sour his happiness and curdle it into irritation.

“Hm?”

“You know I love you, right?” Sideswipe says conversationally, and there’s just enough of something in his tone to disprove his innocence.

Sunstreaker scowls. Sometimes, Sideswipe says those kinds of things because he thinks Sunstreaker needs to hear it, and sometimes, Sunstreaker does. It warms his spark and makes him tingly, and then all he wants to do is snuggle Sideswipe for a few hours.

But also, sometimes Sideswipe says it because he’s Up To Something ™ and he’s trying to connive Sunstreaker into playing along. Sunstreaker usually ends up agreeing because he can never resist Sideswipe when he’s being cute and charming and lovable.

“I don’t have time for a prank, Sideswipe,” Sunstreaker says.

“I’m being serious here,” Sideswipe insists, attempting to sound earnest.

It still sounds fake.

Sunstreaker snorts. “Right.” He turns his attention back to his random doodles. You know, there might be something to the geometric lines and empty space. Perhaps if he filled it in with color, it might be worthwhile.

Fingers close around the top of his sketchpad, tilting it down and forcing Sunstreaker’s gaze away from it. “Hey,” he repeats. “I love you.” This time, he manages to sound serious.

Sunstreaker looks at his twin, and Sideswipe looks serious, too. The smile on his lips is soft and genuine. The mischief in his field is gone. So this isn’t about a prank.

“And there’s nothing you could want from me that’ll change that,” Sideswipe adds, so earnest it bleeds from his seams.

Sunstreaker’s optics narrow even as his spark starts a weird off-beat rhythm in his chassis. There’s something going on here, and he’s not sure what it is. He’s also not sure he wants to know.

“Where are you going with this?”

Sideswipe’s fingers slide free of the datapad. He grips the back of the chair and starts to rock back and forth in it. “Me and Ratchet both,” he says cryptically. Sometimes he can take forever to get to a point. Especially if he thinks Sunstreaker is going to react poorly to it. “You can ask us anything.”

“Okay…” Sunstreaker peers at his twin, but can’t figure out what he’s trying to say. Still, he supposes it’s nice to know. Maybe Sideswipe is just in one of those moods where he thinks Sunstreaker needs a reminder about how he feels. Sides just knows these things sometimes. Even before Sunstreaker does.

“Right.” Sideswipe nods like he’s solved some kind of puzzle before one hand scrubs the back of his head. “So, uh, is there anything you want to ask? Me? Us? Together?”

Sunstreaker vents a sigh. Whatever this is, Sideswipe isn’t going to let this go anytime soon, which means the quicker Sunstreaker makes him talk, the quicker he can get back to sketching.

He taps the end of his stylus against the datapad. “Stop fishing and say what you mean, Sideswipe,” he says. “Because I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He’d been enjoying his rare peace and quiet.

Sideswipe drags in a big vent and then blurts out, “Kink!” before he rocks on his chair and his little smile turns into a broader grin. “Specifically a messy one you’re interested in. Not that I peeked or anything, but the last couple of times we merged, I got a whiff, and it keeps getting stronger.”

Heat floods Sunstreaker’s face. If Sideswipe caught on through one of their merges, it must have been one of Sunstreaker’s stronger and more frequent fantasies. The ones he buries deep specifically so his brother and their lover don’t find out. Sunstreaker doesn’t even know if he’s ready to admit them to himself, much less his partners.

He’s afraid of what they’ll say when they find out. He fears what it means about him to admit these… these odd kinks. Oh sure, Ratchet and Sideswipe claim he can ask for anything, but they can’t mean it. Once they find out all the dirty, twisted things occupying Sunstreaker’s fantasies, they’ll change their minds fast. They’ll change how they feel about him, too. They’ll see him for the depraved creature he is.

Sunstreaker frantically searches for a way out of this. He tries to think of a denial – which never works when one of your lovers is the other half of your spark. He tries to think of a misdirection, but he’s spent too much time thinking to brush it off. He’s caught, he knows he is, and the energon in his tank starts to curdle.

Sideswipe rubs the back of his head again. “I told Ratch, by the way, and we’ve been waiting for you to bring it up yourself but…” Sideswipe shrugs, his grin sheepish. “You haven’t.”

“Your point?” Sunstreaker asks, his mouth dry and his intake overtaken by a huge lump.

“We’re willing.” The chair rocks closer, and the touch of Sideswipe’s field to his is both cautious and gentle. “If it’s something you actually want, I mean.”

Which fantasy, Sunstreaker wonders. Which illicit desire had Sideswipe seen? Surely, not the darkest of them, the dirtiest. No way would Sideswipe be that eager.

Sideswipe’s voice drops into a lower register then, one that always makes something tighten inside Sunstreaker and bloom with heat. “We thought, you know, we’d tie you down, maybe get out that vibe you like.” He pauses, glossa sweeping over his lips. “Then we’d go until you were so wet, so covered in us, that you can’t even remember your name.”

Sunstreaker’s ventilations turn shallow. His optics spiral wider as the heat in his face turns into an inferno. He thinks he knows which fantasy Sideswipe saw, and it’s definitely one of the tamer ones, which is a relief. He licks his lips with a dry glossa, however, because now the possibilities are spinning inside of him.

“Does that sound like something you want?” Sideswipe asks, so close now Sunstreaker can feel the wisp of his ex-vents, like hot puffs against his armor.

“Yes,” Sunstreaker manages, through static and a tight intake, fantasies spiraling free inside of him, the idea of so much pleasure racing through his system.

“Awesome!” Sideswipe bounces up from the chair, as full of energy as ever, and brushes his lips over Sunstreaker’s forehead. “Then don’t worry about a thing, bro. Me and Ratch’ll take care of everything.”

Sideswipe’s field is a tickling caress pouring over Sunstreaker’s sensitive derma. “Ratchet and I,” he corrects, but it sounds distant to him, compared to the pounding in his audials.

Ratchet and Sideswipe both. Taking him. Filling him with transfluid. Using him. Over and over and over…

Sideswipe snorts and taps Sunstreaker’s nasal ridge. “You’re adorable,” he says, and with a wiggle of his fingers, strides toward the door. “See you tonight!”

With that, Sideswipe flounces out of the room, leaving Sunstreaker to stew in his arousal and anticipation. No doubt he’s gone to inform Ratchet of their plans for the evening, and all Sunstreaker can do is stare blankly at his doodles. His engine purrs at the mere thought of what his twin has in store for him.

He’s beyond thrilled that they are willing to indulge in one of his fantasies. And it’s a relief Sideswipe hadn’t stumbled into one of the weirder ones. Clearly, he needs to batten the hatches and firm up his firewalls if he’s going to keep those fantasies from his brother. At least until Sunstreaker is willing to admit them anyway.

Tonight is going to be great, Sunstraeker tells himself, and puts down the datapad. He has to be presentable. Which means it’s time for a deep wash, repaint, and wax. His lovers deserve the best from him.

~

In between wax layer three and the final layer, Sunstreaker’s comm pings him with an incoming message. He accepts the mail as he works on his right shinguard, smoothing the wax over and over into his armor until it is a lustrous, touchable gold.

There’s not much to it. The message is from Sideswipe and all it gives it a place – Ratchet’s quarters – and a time. Sunstreaker has an hour to finish his waxing and grab a cube to refuel before he’s supposed to show up.

He’s simultaneously giddy and nervous when the time arrives, and he stands outside the door, shifting from foot to foot. He doesn’t even have to knock because Sideswipe opens the door before he can lift his hand. Spark bonds are a convenient thing.

Sideswipe grins and snatches Sunstreaker, yanking him into the room and into a fierce kiss that tastes of solar-grade and sweet jellies. Sunstreaker stumbles against his twin, hands flailing at nothing, even as he relents, mouth opening to the hungry press of Sideswipe’s glossa. Sunstreaker moans, melting against his twin, optics half-shuttering, only barely registering the noise of the door sliding shut behind him.

Sideswipe’s hands caress his sides before he pulls out of the kiss with a light nip. “Hey, bro,” he says, brushing the tip of his nasal ridge against Sunstreaker’s. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Sunstreaker barks a laugh. Primus, his brother is an idiot. He loves the goof so much.

Movement in his periphery makes Sunstreaker tense, until his threat protocols recognize the blur of white and red paint.

“Welcome to the party,” Ratchet says.

Sunstreaker has a moment before he’s spun out of Sideswipe’s embrace and into Ratchet’s, the medic sealing his lips over Sunstreaker’s in a scorching kiss, taking and claiming all at once.

Sunstreaker outright whimpers, clutching at Ratchet’s shoulders, arousal pooling into a hot throb in his belly. Ratchet’s field is like a dozen tiny fingers stroking over his armor, and Sunstreaker’s spike throbs.

Glossa and denta taste him all at once before Ratchet sets him free. Sunstreaker staggers, like he can’t get his tires beneath him, and then Sideswipe is there, hands on Sunstreaker’s cheeks, tugging him into another delicious kiss. His lips are warm and tender, and more heat seeps into Sunstreaker’s frame.

He sags, knees wobbling, until Ratchet is there behind him, nuzzling the back of his head, hands stroking over his armor. His fingers are light on Sunstreaker’s seams, his palms a soft sweep against gold plating.

Sunstreaker moans, dizzy. He hadn’t expected this. He thought they’d get right to the kink and the fragging. But this feels like they’ve been waiting for him all day and are happy to see him. Like their day isn’t complete until he’s been in their arms.

It’s wonderful.

“You look gorgeous, Sunstreaker,” Ratchet murmurs against the back of his audial, his rough voice resonating through Sunstreaker’s processor.

Sunstreaker hums into the kiss. Sideswipe draws back, leaving little parting licks over Sunstreaker’s lips, grinning with pride at himself.

“You definitely do,” he says, and brushes the tips of their noses together. “Love it when you pretty yourself up for us.”

“I always look good,” Sunstreaker retorts, but it’s hard to hold on to his indignant tone when Sideswipe is looking at him like that. His face heats, and he looks away. “So, uh, now what?”

Ratchet draws away from behind him, leaving Sunstreaker’s back chilly, but only so he can step into view. He twirls something around his fingers, which Sunstreaker can’t identify until they settle with a clank of metal on metal.

“Now we use these, if you want,” he says with a smile wicked enough to rival Sideswipe’s.

His twin can get quite creative, but Ratchet is downright sneaky, and damn good at turning Sideswipe’s little prompts into something debauched and delicious.

Sunstreaker eyes the cuffs with nothing short of lust. If anyone else had suggested it, he’d be out the door in a flash. But he trusts Ratchet, and he definitely trusts Sideswipe, and the idea of putting his trust in their hands, letting them have their wicked way with him, it makes his engine rev.

He manages a nod, his optics glazing over as he imagines what all they’re going to do to him. He has so many fantasies, so many things he wants to experience. He feels like someone’s laid out a buffet of sweets in front of him and told him to have as much as he wants.

“I thought you might,” Ratchet murmurs and takes Sunstreaker’s hand, giving him a light pull toward the berth. “Want to be on your back or your front?”

Ratchet always asks. Every time. Like he knows he needs to. Sideswipe knows, of course, because he can sense the anxiety in Sunstreaker’s spark. But Ratchet has figured it out, and that he’s paid that much attention makes something inside Sunstreaker go warm and liquid.

“Back,” Sunstreaker answers. He wants to be able to see them, to watch their faces.

“Great choice, bro.” Sideswipe appears with another set of cuffs and a few loops of chain. “Now we can see everything, too.”

Heat makes Sunstreaker feel like his face is glowing, but he lets them arrange him on the berth, arousal growing heavier and heavier inside of him. His spike demands to be freed, even as his valve lubricates, fluid pooling against his panel. He waits for the plan and denies both requests.

They guide him onto his back and cuff his wrists, pinning his arms above his head. He’s got enough slack that he could get some inertia and break free if he wants, not that he does. The consideration, however, is welcome.

Sideswipe climbs on the berth, kisses him long and deep, making little noises of delight in his intake. He strokes over Sunstreaker’s belly, teasing into ticklish seams, and Sunstreaker squirms. Idiot. Sideswipe’s always like this.

Ratchet tugs Sunstreaker’s aft to the edge of the berth, his knees dangling freely, until cuffs clamp about his ankles. Sideswipe takes the chance to nuzzle into Sunstreaker’s intake, lips and denta leaving sharp nips that make Sunstreaker squirm. He hears a noise, a low and quiet drone, and realize that it’s him, moaning.

He feels dizzy, their fields pressing against his, filling in the nooks and crannies. It’s more than he could have hoped for.

Chains rattle as they are drawn taut. His legs are pulled open, thighs parted to leave ample room for Sideswipe or Ratchet to fit between them, but there’s enough slack he’s not immobile. He’s spread open for their enjoyment, and his valve throbs at the thought.

Sunstreaker works his intake, his vents spinning faster. Especially as Sideswipe sits him up and wedges a pillow behind his upper back, tilting him so that he can see everything they’re going to do to him.

Ratchet presses a kiss to the inside of his thigh, and Sunstreaker moans. His legs tremble as the hot wash of Ratchet’s ex-vent teases his cables. Fingers flirt over his valve panel, and it takes all Sunstreaker has not to pop open then and there. Anticipation coils inside of him like a blaster prepped to fire.

“There’s one more accessory.” Ratchet straightens, one hand stroking Sunstreaker’s thigh as the other digs around in his subspace. He pulls out a small, circular object and taps Sunstreaker’s spike panel. “This is to make sure that the only way you can overload is through your valve. That okay?”

Sunstreaker’s moan is outright guttural. His hips jutter upward as best they can, though he can’t get any leverage. Oh, yes, please.

“Words, Sunny,” Ratchet reminds him.

Sunstreaker sucks in a heavy vent, tries to focus through the need sluicing charge in his lines. “Yes,” he grinds out and turns his head toward Sideswipe, seeking out a kiss. “Please.”

“Then open up.” Ratchet’s fingers slide over his panel, and Sunstreaker quickly obeys, his spike surging free with embarrassing eagerness.

Or at least he would’ve been embarrassed, if Ratchet hadn’t made an approving noise before fondling Sunstreaker’s spike with obvious appreciation. He rubs a finger over the sensitive crown, teasing the transfluid slit, and Sunstreaker makes a noise in his intake, hips rocking upward.

“You’re so sexy,” Sideswipe murmurs as he nuzzles into Sunstreaker’s intake, breathing hot and humid over his cables. “Love how you just surrender for us.”

Sunstreaker licks his lips. He opens his mouth but all that emerges is a crackle of static as Ratchet carefully and gently eases the cap over Sunstreaker’s spike. A dab of medical glue holds it in place. There must be some kind of circuitry in the cap because Sunstreaker’s spike starts to depressurize, and Ratchet guides it back into his sheath.

“Close up,” Ratchet says.

Sunstreaker obeys with a moan. His spike feels full and heavy behind his panel. Like it’s pressurized to fill every available inch within him, and nothing more. There’s a quiet click as the cap magnetizes to his panel. It won’t be opening anytime soon, not without Ratchet’s help.

Something closer to a whine spills out of Sunstreaker’s intake. His valve throbs harder, panel snapping aside, suddenly desperate for contact. He wants Ratchet inside of him. Or Sideswipe. Or both. He wants something touching his eager nodes, feeding the need gnawing at his spark.

“This isn’t a scene.” Ratchet’s voice tugs Sunstreaker’s awareness back outward, even as his fingers gently stroke around Sunstreaker’s valve rim, teasing the outer sensory clusters. “But if you need us to stop or it gets to be too much, just say so.”

“Like a safeword?” Sunstreaker asks. It’s getting hard to focus with the need pulsing through his synapses.

Ratchet’s fingers keep stroking around his valve, teasing the flexible rim, dancing over his cluster of sensory nodes, making Sunstreaker tingle. “Stop should be enough, but if it makes you feel better to have a safe word, how about daffodil?”

“Because you’re a pretty flower,” Sideswipe purrs with a laugh. His hand smooths over Sunstreaker’s belly, and the stroke of it sends tingles up Sunstreaker’s backstrut. “I like it.”

“Daffodil,” Sunstreaker echoes. His glossa sweeps over his lips as he takes in the sheer want on Ratchet’s face. “If I want you to stop.”

“Yes.” Ratchet’s thumb circles his anterior node slowly, and Sunstreaker’s hips rock into the touch, his entire array throbbing as charge crackles through his lines. “We’re going to frag you, Sunstreaker. Over and over again. We’re going to fill you with our transfluid while you overload so many times, you don’t know where one ends and the other begins. Is that alright?”

Sunstreaker’s head tips back, his mouth open on a gasp. All he can focus on is that steady circling and the pressure building behind it. The sharp bursts of pleasure volleying in his node, and the building need to overload. Sideswipe’s mouth is like fire on his intake, and their fields are a double-embrace he doesn’t want to escape.

“Sunny,” Sideswipe murmurs as he strokes over Sunstreaker’s closed spike panel. “You have to use your words.”

Sunstreaker whines, his hips rocking up into his partner’s touch. “Y-yes,” he gasps out, processor spinning, lubricant steadily seeping from his valve.

“Good,” Ratchet purrs. His hand vanishes from Sunstreaker’s valve, and Sunstreaker whimpers in protest, until he feels the pressure of a spike against his rim.

He gasps an encouragement, hands curling into fists, frame straining toward the grip on his hips, one damp and one not. His thoughts are spinning, spinning, his valve rippling frantically. Ratchet slides into him, hot and firm, so slow, and Sunstreaker keens, backstrut arching, as overload spills over him in a hot, crackling fire.

His noises are swallowed by Sideswipe’s mouth, his brother rubbing against his side, hands everywhere. His valve clutches at Ratchet’s spike, charge rushing out, and he distantly hears Ratchet suck in a vent of delight. The hands on his hips tighten, and Sunstreaker’s spark flares, pleasure making sparks dance in his vision.

Ratchet bottoms out and grinds, the pressure of his array against Sunstreaker’s rim forcing out a moan. Sunstreaker bucks up against Ratchet, and the chains rattle, pleasure simmering inside of him, with no chance to cool from the overload.

“Primus, you’re gorgeous,” Sideswipe murmurs as he rains kisses all over Sunstreaker, his hands stroking and touching, caressing every inch within reach. “Look at you, overloading for us, making all these yummy noises.”

Sunstreaker moans and turns his head, trying to capture Sideswipe’s lip, and Sideswipe obliges, kissing him soft and deep. Ratchet starts to move, his spike gliding in and out of Sunstreaker’s valve, reigniting nodes now sensitive from the first overload. His hands tighten around Sunstreaker’s hips, pushing and pulling him onto Ratchet’s spike, each grind so deep against his ceiling node.

Ratchet’s already thick and hot. Charge crackles around his spike, nipping at Sunstreaker’s internal nodes. He can feel the burning wash of Ratchet’s ex-vents, and the need yawing in Ratchet’s field.

Sunstreaker tries to pull his legs in closer, clamp them around Ratchet’s waist, but the chains bring him up short. He groans at the slight resistance of the chains. He’s not helpless, but he is trapped, and at the mercy of his lovers. The idea is intoxicating because they’re safe.

The crackling wash of Ratchet’s overload is almost a surprise, given Ratchet’s usual stamina. Or maybe it is intentional because of their plans for the evening. Sunstreaker shivers as Ratchet’s transfluid paints his valve, and Sideswipe nips his lips.

“Oh, Ratchet’s done,” he says against Sunstreaker’s lips. “My turn now.”

“Until it’s mine again,” Ratchet says with a little laugh. He withdraws slowly, still firm, his spike dragging long and slow over Sunstreaker’s nodes. “There’s one more accessory we need, too.”

“Yeah, I know.” Sideswipe squirms away from Sunstreaker, leaving him feeling a bit cold and abandoned on the berth, at least until Sideswipe notches between his thighs and moves into Sunstreaker with no fanfare.

“Gonna make you overload quick for me.” Sideswipe leans forward, hands braced to either side of Sunstreaker, hips thrusting in the pace he knows Sunstreaker likes best. His optics are bright and hungry, his glossa sweeping over and over his lips. “Wanna watch you whimper and writhe for me.”

Primus.

Sunstreaker sucks in a heavy vent, his valve quivering. Sideswipe sinks into him fast and deep, with little circular grinds that put a delicious pressure on his outer node. More intoxicating is the wrap of his field, pulsing in tune to his thrusts.

Sunstreaker tries to rise up to meet him, but the cuffs limit his movement. All he can do is squirm, fluids making obscene noises between them, lubricant and transfluid both. Molten heat gathers in his valve, pushing him toward another overload, and a keen rises out of Sunstreaker’s intake.

He pants for ventilation, processor spinning. Sideswipe pushes into him, harder and faster, and then there’s a finger on Sunstreaker’s anterior node. It circles with a firm pressure, dragging all the fire straight to that sensitive sensor cluster. Sunstreaker’s weak to stimulation right there. Always has been.

He tosses his head back, grits his denta. Tries to hold on to his reserve, tries not to overload like some eager youngling recently discovering his array, but it’s impossible. Sideswipe’s field is like fire against his, and Sideswipe’s spike keeps jabbing all those nodes perfectly, and those circles are getting smaller and smaller around his node, until it’s just a hot-white flash of pleasure. A burst of it.

Sunstreaker drowns in his overload, making a noise that can only be described as binary as he shudders through a second overload, his valve spiraling down tight and milking Sideswipe’s spike for all it can give him. His thoughts drift in a haze of ecstasy, and it takes longer to find his frame again, as he sinks back into it, and the sensation of Sideswipe pushing into him faster and faster.

That droning noise is Sideswipe’s voice. His face is creased with delight, his optics hot and bright, lips moving.

“Fuck, you’re too sexy like this,” he’s blabbering, Sideswipe starts resorting to human swears when he gets too aroused. “So gorgeous and sweet. Love the way you feel around me. Love it when you overload like that. Love all of it. Love you.” He groans, thrusting faster and deeper, fingers tangling in the berth covers for leverage.

Sunstreaker’s head spins. All the compliments strike along his processor like little flicks to his anterior node. He clenches, engine revving, valve pulsing with renewed vigor. He’s not even the least bit exhausted, and the feeling of Sideswipe overloading, filling him with more transfluid is intoxicating. The sound Sideswipe makes is guttural and hungry, and he suddenly pulls out, a couple spurts of transfluid striping Sunstreaker’s array and landing hot-wet on his node.

Sunstreaker moans, his thighs trembling. “More,” he pleads, his vision hazy, processor spinning in the best kinds of ways.

“More’s coming,” Ratchet says, appearing between Sunstreaker’s thighs as Sideswipe shuffles away, his spike bobbing pressurized between his thighs, wet with transfluid and lubricant.

Sunstreaker wants to lick him so much right now. His mouth lubricates with the thought of it, Sideswipe sliding into him, so hot and thick, panting heavily, careful as he takes Sunstreaker’s mouth. The taste of his brother on his glossa, the sound of Sideswipe’s pleasure…

Sunstreaker moans, one that changes pitch into a whine as he feels the wet swipe of a glossa over his valve, and the careful touch of fingers on his rim, stroking the sensitive plating around it. He cycles his optics, tries to focus, sees Ratchet’s head between his thighs, and feels the gentle kiss against his anterior node.

Oh, Primus.

Sunstreaker’s head drops back. His spinal strut arches, hips squirming where Ratchet cradles them, as his mouth drops a dozen little kisses over Sunstreaker’s swollen valve. His rim ripples, his interior calipers clutching on nothing, squeezing out trickles of mixed fluids.

The berth dips as Sideswipe hops up onto it, snuggling against Sunstreaker’s side, peppering his intake with kisses.

“You have some of the best ideas, bro,” he says, ex-venting hot and wet, his field eager and charged against Sunstreaker’s. “We’re gonna fill you up so much, you’ll be cleaning us out for weeks.”

Sunstreaker groans.

Sideswipe’s hand slides down his frame, over his chassis and belly, across his groin, and then his fingers are on Sunstreaker’s sensor cluster, giving it a pinch. Sunstreaker growls and arches his hips, a spike sliding into him not soon after, Ratchet’s spike at that, bigger than Sideswipe’s, thicker.

Sunstreaker keens as the spike touches his nodes. Ratchet grabs his hips, tilts them a little, so the ridged crown of his spike can taste those nodes only grazed earlier. It sends a shock of fire through Sunstreaker’s valve.

“I brought you a gift, Sunstreaker,” Ratchet says, his voice and field like little drops of ecstasy to Sunstreaker’s processor. “Your brother’s got it now.”

“Gift?” Sunstreaker repeats, processor spinning too much to make sense of it.

Sideswipe’s hand vanishes from his node, and before Sunstreaker can protest, it returns. And it’s not alone. He’s got something attached to his finger, something that starts buzzing and vibrating on the sensitive plating surrounding Sunstreaker’s anterior cluster.

Oh. Oh, Primus.

Sunstreaker tilts his head back, optics squeezing shut, hips bucking, as overload tackles him like a Combaticon on the battlefield, a full frontal assault that leaves him dazed and shaking on the ground. His entire frame arches, charge lighting up his armor, dancing out from his protoform.

Sideswipe eases off with the vibrator, enough for Sunstreaker to catch a vent. He goes limp on the berth, completely surrendering to their touch, to Sideswipe kissing him – wet and hot and openmouthed – and Ratchet thrusting into him, steadier and faster and deeper, his hands smoothing up and over and around Sunstreaker’s legs.

“You love this, don’t you?” Sideswipe asks, his voice dark and sultry, like secret fantasies and the caverns under Cybertron and the taste of the finest high grade.

“He’s suited for it,” Ratchet says with lust in his tone, like a powerful engine turning over, a blaster rising to full charge. “Pleasure looks good on him.”

“It does. Almost wish everyone could see it, see how beautiful you are,” Sideswipe says against Sunstreaker’s audial. “We’d string you up in the common room, black ropes all around your frame, tied so you can’t move.”

“At our mercy is a good plan,” Ratchet agrees with a grunt. His thrusts deepen, ping something deep inside Sunstreaker that makes him whimper with pleasure.

His thoughts spin, caught up with their voices, the pleasure promised in their words.

“Everybody can watch as we make you overload again and again,” Sideswipe murmurs, his glossa tracing circles over Sunstreaker’s seams. “They’ll want to touch, but we won’t let them. They’ll beg us, and we’ll say no.”

“Because you’re ours,” Ratchet pants, grinding so deep, his spike throbbing, the thick head tapping over Sunstreaker’s ceiling node again and again. “And no one else can have you.”

Sunstreaker moans. The claim sounds fierce, genuine, and it rattles around inside his spark. Sideswipe loves him; Sideswipe is his twin. He doesn’t have a choice. But to want to keep him? To claim him? That’s something entirely free.

“Yes,” Sideswipe hisses, hips rolling, his spike rutting against Sunstreaker’s side. And then the vibrator is back, buzzing happily over Sunstreaker’s anterior node, and he arches again, frame caught by pleasure. “All ours.”

Sunstreaker jolts, overload pouring through him like an electric attack, setting his sensor net ablaze. He chokes out a sound as his fans roar, his valve spiraling down tight around Ratchet’s spike, his hands forming fists. The chains rattle as he thrashes, caught up in the ecstasy, with Sideswipe and Ratchet’s hands to guide him back down.

He’s panting as he collapses onto the berth, condensation slicking his frame. He barely notices that Ratchet has overloaded again, and now the fluids are trickling from his valve, soaking his aft. The room smells of interfacing and lubricant and transfluid. His valve aches for more, rim twitching as Ratchet withdraws, and Sideswipe replaces him.

Sunstreaker moans, head swinging toward Ratchet, the medic against his side now, his lips gentle as they catch Sunstreaker’s for a kiss. He tastes like something sweet and wonderful, and his hands are as clever as Sideswipe’s, gentle as he runs the vibrator over Sunstreaker’s most sensitive places, but on the lowest setting.

“We’re going to keep going,” Ratchet murmurs, a steamy promise against Sunstreaker’s audials. “Until our tanks run dry, and we’re spilling out of you.”

Sunstreaker whimpers, processor going bright with need, his worldview narrowing to this and only this.

It starts to blur together. Overload after overload, Ratchet and Sideswipe alternating, taking turns caressing him and spiking him, until Sunstreaker’s entire frame feels as though it’s one big, sensitive node. Until even the touch of their fingers on his knee or his belly makes him wail with need.

He’s never empty, he’s always full. He’s surrounded by them, claimed by them, taken again and again. The berth is soaked beneath his aft. His frame is on fire, blue charge licking out of his seams to light up the room. He tastes them both on his glossa and in the air, and he wishes he could vocalize how much he wants to lick them, suck them, swallow them.

The words ‘stop’ and ‘daffodil’ never cross his mind. Higher processing goes away, turned to mush. His thighs tremble, and his shoulders ache, and he’s floating on air. He’s loose and sloppy and taken so thoroughly, there’s no question who he belongs to.

Sideswipe. Ratchet. Both. Together.

Together, the key word, because somehow in the haze, they’ve unbound his legs. Someone’s crawled beneath him, behind him, cradling his frame. Sideswipe, he thinks, his arms around Sunstreaker’s chassis, his head tilted against Sunstreaker’s, his words a hot puff of compliments against Sunstreaker’s audial.

He slides up into Sunstreaker, path eased by the copious fluids, and Sunstreaker’s so open, he can only manage a light clench. But it’s okay, because Ratchet’s here, too, between Sunstreaker’s thighs, his hands gentle on Sunstreaker’s knees. Pushing them up and back, opening him up, making room for Ratchet to ease into his valve as well, a tight fit but a good one.

Sunstreaker moans, his head lolling back against Sideswipe’s shoulder, his spark heavy and swollen with affection. They move together, a stretch just shy of pain, but it’s better like this. Better to feel them both at once, Sideswipe behind and Ratchet in front, closing around him, holding him close.

He starts to shake, and it has nothing to do with fear, but everything to do with a rising tide of pleasure. It starts in his feet and works up his frame, rattling through his armor. It starts at his head and flows down, over his intake and shoulders and chassis and belly. It meets in his groin, collides, and tangles into a tighter and tighter knot.

“That’s it,” Sideswipe urges, his hand sliding down, over Sunstreaker’s belly, back to his node, all slippery and swollen, twice the size it should be. “Come on, Sunny. Overload for us, baby. Give us one more. I know you have it in you.”

Sunstreaker whimpers, exhausted and limp, barely able to roll onto their combined spikes, drowning in the ecstasy they offer. Ratchet’s lips press against the curve of his jaw, and Sunstreaker’s mouth opens, inviting him inside, the taste of his glossa so hot and wet and fleeting.

Ratchet nuzzles him, so sweet and encouraging. “You’re so beautiful, Sunstreaker,” he murmurs, and Sunstreaker’s spark flutters.

Sideswipe says it all the time, but he has to, because he’s Sunstreaker’s twin, and his brother, and he loves Sunstreaker. Oh, he believes it, too and Sunstreaker believes him when he says it, but coming from Ratchet, it’s something else entirely. It’s someone saying, I don’t already love you, but I find you beautiful anyway, and it makes Sunstreaker’s spark clench with exhilaration and fear.

“One more overload, Sunny,” Ratchet purrs, and Sunstreaker can’t even be angry for the loathed nickname, not with Ratchet pleading with him. Not with Ratchet’s mouth so hot against his jaw. “One more.”

“One more,” Sideswipe echoes, and they both shove deep, push into him at the same time, filling him to the brim and almost to capacity.

Sunstreaker’s valve convulses. It spirals tight before spilling charge in wave after wave, lighting up his internal nodes and licking over his lover’s spikes. Sunstreaker’s breath catches in his intake as he overloads. It strips away everything, his frame arrested by ecstasy and casting him adrift in a sea of it.

Sunstreaker whites out, his spark dancing. He floats outside his frame, every sensor lit with lightning, every line, every inch of his dermal net until he can’t feel anything but pleasure.

Everything goes wonderfully, deliciously blank, and he forgets there is ever a time he feels worthless, undesired, and unloved. Not when it’s here, so obvious, so very present around him.

By the time he sinks back into his frame and stops floating, the world around him is a different place. Figuratively speaking anyway. Unshuttering his optics takes monumental effort, and his visual feed is filled with gray static at first, until he reboots both it and his auditory feed.

He senses Ratchet and Sideswipe around him immediately. Their hands and lips on his frame, peppering him in gentle kisses and careful swipes of a damp meshcloth. The cuffs and chains are gone, leaving him free to move, not that he thinks he can. Every limb is languid, exhausted, and all he wants to do is lie here and soak it in.

His engine purrs, perfectly content, a sensation he hasn’t felt in a long while. Sunstreaker makes a happy noise and tries to snuggle into the frame nearest to him – a heck of a lot of red, Sideswipe he thinks.

“There you are,” Sideswipe murmurs affectionately, and scrubs his cheek over Sunstreaker’s. “We wondered when you’d come back to us.” There’s a hint of worry in his voice.

“Sorry,” Sunstreaker mumbles through static.

“I told him you were fine,” Ratchet says, exasperated. But his touch is gentle as he wipes down Sunstreaker’s inner thighs in short, efficient strokes. And he sounds relieved, too.

“Felt good,” Sunstreaker manages. He sighs with satisfaction. Ratchet’s so good at this, and the strokes of the cloth are soothing. He could easily fall back into recharge like this.

Until he feels the cloth slide further up, toward his very sticky array, lubricant and transfluid both seeping out of him. Sunstreaker tries to twist his hips away, the motion aborted because of his fatigue, and makes a protesting noise. His face heats with embarrassment.

Ratchet pauses and arches an orbital ridge at him. “You don’t want to be clean?”

“No… not yet,” Sunstreaker admits as he commands his panel to close, trapping their combined spill and his own lubricant inside him. It’ll be a mess to clean later but right now, it’s a reminder.

He curls half onto his side, trying to tuck his face against Sideswipe’s intake so neither of them can see his expression. He doesn’t want to be that clean. He wants… He wants them to be close to him, around him as much as they are inside him.

“Just…” Sunstreaker trails off, unsure how to express himself, and tries to curl into Sideswipe again, weak fingers making an aborted paw at Sideswipe’s armor.

“Hold you?” Sideswipe finishes for him. He curls an arm over Sunstreaker and tugs him closer, half on top of Sideswipe. “I can totally do that. I love when you’re all snuggly.”

“Feels good,” Sunstreaker murmurs and lets himself go limp, completely notched against his twin, close enough that he can feel and sense the beat of his twin’s spark. But his back is cold, and he knows he’s missing something. “Wait. Where’s–”

“Right here.” The berth dips behind Sunstreaker as Ratchet appears from wherever he’d gone – probably disposing of the mesh cloth for now. He slides up behind Sunstreaker, curling against Sunstreaker’s back, draping an arm over his midsection.

He’s squeezed between them, the heat of their frames buzzing against his, their fields embracing him entirely. His processor still floats in that wonderful haze of pleasure, and his spark is a content twirl inside his chassis. His array is deliciously sated, and when he twitches, he can still feel the spike cap.

Eh. They can get it in the morning. Sunstreaker doesn’t want to move. He likes this just the way it is. His twin and their lover petting him, two pairs of hands stroking over his frame soothing and adoring.

He never knew there could be this much bliss in a single moment.

“Told you we’d do it,” Sideswipe murmurs into the peaceful quiet, because he can never abide by silence for long, the brat.

“Shut up,” Sunstreaker grumbles. Always has to throw in an ‘I told you so’.

Ratchet laughs, the sound of it vibrating between Sunstreaker’s shoulders. “Anything for you, Sunny,” he says as he strokes his palm down Sunstreaker’s side, his field adding warm and comfortable pulses.

For once, Sunstreaker actually believes they mean it. Maybe he’s not ready to divulge all the other secret desires just yet, but he thinks he might in the future. Someday.

He’s getting closer to it any rate.

Because they love him. He’s sure of it. All that’s left is to trust it.

***

[CtE] Undaunted 04

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

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

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

“Sorry.”

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

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

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

It was intoxicating.

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

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

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

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

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

He was wrong. Delightfully so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a thrill.

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

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

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

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

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

All in due time.

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

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ratchet?”

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

“Yes, Flare? What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flare was still learning. He still needed help.

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you sure?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not tonight, however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was an hour ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlighter-bright, as the humans might call it.

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

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

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

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

Mechs like Thundercracker.

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

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

Sunstorm snickered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idiot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-war New Cybertron was a strange place indeed.

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be mine forever?” Chromedome murmured.

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

“Sounds perfect.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chromedome wouldn’t have it any other way.

~

It was a universal constant.

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

But universal constancy.

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

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

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

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

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

Brawl snorted. “Yahtzee?”

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

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

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

“It not my fault,” Slag growled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slag smirked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can live with that,” Bulkhead said.

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

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

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

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

Thank Primus the war was over.

[G1] Lust and Loathing

Medics are easily the most stressed students in any university on the face of Cybertron, second only to engineers. It should come as no surprise, then, that they indulge themselves in all manner of stress relief. The word debauchery comes to mind, if you ask Hook.

Medics have no standards. They’ll berth anyone with a decent paintjob who promises a night of multiple overloads and ecstasy the likes of which one only reads about in lurid romance datanovels.

And some medics and medics-in-training are the absolute worst. Just barely a few notches above shareware, in Hook’s opinion.

Mechs like Ratchet. The Party Ambulance, which has become his rather distasteful moniker, proving the breadth of his reputation.

A growl builds in Hook’s engine. He sneers as he brings up the public gradeboard and glares at the names listed on it. Once again, Ratchet’s marks outstrip Hook’s own. Always number one, Ratchet is. Which is a fragging travesty. It’s an insult.

Ratchet parties every chance he gets. Sometimes, he staggers to class still half-overcharged from the night before. He frags around to any berth that’ll take him. He’s never found in the library studying for practicals. Worse, he’s somehow the professors’ favorite and friend to everyone.

Everyone except Hook that is.

Here Hook is, working hard, studying diligently, taking care of himself, attending every class punctually, the first to ask questions and write down answers. Yet, he’s always one step behind Ratchet in scores and proficiencies. Somehow, he has no friends.

Well, save the one.

Recurve, Hook suspects, has only befriended Hook out of a sense of pity. He’s the golden spark who can’t stand to see an Empty in the alley or a beggar on the streets. He’s poor half the time because he’s always giving his allotment away to the needy. He doesn’t think to conserve and save like Hook does.

Act of pity Recurve’s friendship might be, but he puts as much effort into it as he would a genuine friendship. He’s the only one to notice Hook staring at Ratchet across the room, dancing in the thick of yet another loud and raucous party, so many hands on Ratchet’s frame that there’s no way to identify to whom they belong.

Hook had sworn he’d never attend one of these degenerate affairs. He had much more important ways to spend his time, and this kind of flippant disregard for propriety is positively obscene.

But Ratchet is here, and curiosity had finally taken Hook by the crane and tugged him into the nearest mass of noise.

He’d found Ratchet immediately. He’d only need look to the biggest clump of lewd behavior in the room.

“Just ask him to berth you,” Recurve says with a loud laugh and a knock of his shoulder against Hook’s. Large enough to nearly bowl Hook over, Recurve is an engineer built to withstand many an invention’s malfunction. “He’ll say yes.”

Hook growls and his visor flashes a glare. “It’s not about berthing him,” he retorts as his gaze finds Ratchet again, finds the tantalizing peeks of scuffed red and white plating vanishing behind groping hands.

Recurve snickers and leans hard against Hook’s side, already two sheets to the wind, like everyone else at this pitiful excuse for a celebration. “Yeah, well, that’s not gonna put you on top either, you crankshaft.”

Recurve has yet to learn that insulting someone you consider a friend is not how friendships are supposed to work. Though Hook assumes he is meant to take such a thing in jest.

He’s not overcharged enough for this.

Hook glares. That kind of comment isn’t even dignified a response.

Recurve sighs and shifts his weight away from Hook. “Fine. You sit here and glower.” He rises to his full height and surveys the crowd. “I’m going to get several drinks and see if I can’t convince that cute tow truck in the corner to take me home. Good luck.”

Hook’s so-called friend doesn’t wait for a reply or a dismissal. He melts into the crowd, snags the first drink someone offers him, and chugs it down. He disappears rather quickly, despite being a head taller than most of the medics around. There are many engineers here as well.

Medics and engineers. Same stock honestly.

Hook sniffs.

He leans harder against the wall and takes a long drink of his high grade. He drains the cube, the burn of the potent and inexpensive blend sitting heavy in his tanks. Primus, it’s foul. But students are poor and cheap besides. They would never spring for the good stuff.

The only good thing is that it’s potent enough to get him overcharged quickly. Overcharged and, he hopes, brave enough to do something stupid.

Hook grabs another mug and downs it so quickly he doesn’t taste the terrible swill. It burns in his intake and heats his tanks. He wobbles a little as he licks a few stray drops from his lips.

There. Just tipsy enough to gather his courage and make a pass at Ratchet, proving that there’s at least one arena in which Hook is superior to him.

Hook pushes himself off the wall and plunges into the crowd, weaving through the thick morass of dancing frames. He stumbles, bouncing from one gyrating pair to another, finding Ratchet again and again through the twisting frames.

Then suddenly, the sea of mechs abruptly parts, giving him a direct path to Ratchet and the mech he’s grinding against. Some white mech with blast stains marring his white and gray paint, obnoxious orange and green stripes making for a horrendous paintjob. He is vaguely familiar to Hook, in that he’s from the engineering department and notorious for being brilliant.

Sloppy and unconventional, mind, but brilliant.

Hook gets within two paces of the mechs dancing with moves just shy of public interfacing, and suddenly, his feet stop working. He hovers and he stares, unsure how to approach the situation now that he’s here. This is the first party he’s ever deigned to attend. What are the social protocols?

Is he supposed to cut in between them, grab Ratchet’s interface panel, and suggest they go somewhere private? (Or public, actually, because a good quarter of these partygoers haven’t bothered with anything like privacy or public decency.) Because that seems like what everyone else relies upon.

Timidity will get him nowhere. Hook is not a shy mech. He boldly goes after what he wants. So he squares his shoulders and prepares to insert himself between the two gyrating mechs.

But then the music stops, highlighting the riotous background noise of laughter and conversation. Ratchet and his dance partner share a lewd kiss, complete with visible glossae, before the engineer untangles himself from Ratchet and toddles away, but not after Ratchet smacks him on the aft. The clang isn’t even audible over the racket of the party.

Ratchet’s gaze falls on Hook next, almost as if he knows Hook’s been staring, and his slag-eating grin widens even further. His lips are already moist from his liplock with the engineer, but Ratchet licks them again.

“Well, if it isn’t number two,” he nearly shouts as he swaggers forward, his windshield marred by paint smears and what looks like sticky energon. He swipes someone’s high grade, and they don’t even protest when he downs half of it all at once. “Didn’t think I’d be seeing someone like you here. Didn’t even know you left your den, come to think of it.”

Anger burbles up in his tanks. Hook forces himself to swallow it down, lest he ruin this night in a sniping match. “It’s open invitation, is it not?”

Ratchet laughs. “Calm your treads, Hook. I’m not trying to throw you out.” He holds the high grade out to Hook, or what’s left of it, and gives the cube a wiggle. “Here. Drink this. You need to unknot your cable.”

Hook grimaces. Who knows who many mouths have been on that cube? “I’ve had two. That’s more than enough.”

“Not for this party.” Ratchet wriggles the cube again and sidles closer, until the first slither of his field is tangible. “Come on. Relax. Practicals are done for the decaorn. It’s time to kick back and celebrate our survival.”

Hook lifts his chin in challenge. “And what of the next practicals?”

“Those are a decaorn away. Plenty of time to study for those. Don’t be in such a rush to boredom.” Ratchet rolls his optics and leans in close, enough that Hook can smell the overcharge stink of him. “Wanna dance?”

Hook doesn’t recoil, but it’s a near thing. “I don’t dance.”

“Then why bother coming to a party? You’re such a dead battery.” Ratchet slides away with a disappointed frown. “I’m going to go find someone who’s actually interested in having a good time.”

Damn it. This isn’t going to plan.

Hook lunges forward, his fingers wrapping around a backswept wrist, stalling Ratchet’s escape. “I didn’t say I wasn’t here to have fun,” he says and lets his field lick out, hot and full of promise. “I’d just rather do it somewhere… private.”

“Is that right?” Ratchet turns back toward him with a leer, and his gaze flicks up and down Hook’s frame like he’s assessing Hook’s abilities. “I have to say, I didn’t take you for the type interested in a friendly ride.”

Hook gives a faint squeeze to Ratchet’s wrist – a warning. “You don’t know enough about me to decide that.”

“Mm. True.” Ratchet twists his wrist in Hook’s grip and leans in closer, sloppy and warm and smelling sweet like high grade and goodies, his field syrupy where it drapes over Hook’s. “You really wanna go somewhere else with me, number two?” His ex-vents tickle into the crook of Hook’s neck and shoulder.

Hook takes a chance and slides his hand up Ratchet’s arm, dragging his field along with it, cutting like a knife through Ratchet’s lust with a thirst of his own. “I intend to ruin you for anyone else,” he purrs.

Ratchet barks a laugh. “Oh, a challenge?” He leans in close, glossa flicking over Hook’s audial in a wet swipe. “Come on then. Let’s go.”

Ratchet dances back, grabs Hook’s hand, and abruptly tugs Hook after him. He stumbles as he struggles to keep up with Ratchet, who is not the least bit clumsy despite the copious amounts of high grade he’s consumed. He tows Hook out of the crowd with single-minded determination, a high-flying grin on his lips.

“Get him, Ratchet!”

“Attaboy Hook!”

“Make that second feel like he’s number one!”

Hook’s face burns with humiliation. He feels like they are walking through some gauntlet of debauchery as the congratulations keep coming, and Ratchet is treated like some kind of celebrity, with the cheering and the backpatting and the shoulder-smacking. Someone even has the audacity to whistle and wink at Hook.

He glares at the idiot, makes a point of memorizing their face – lurid orange and purple paint, blue optics, sensory horns – for later purposes. If he ever sees that mech again, well, they will learn the true meaning of humiliation.

Finally, he and Ratchet squirt free of the crowd, squeezing through a narrow doorway into an equally narrow hallway. Dimly lit, not enough room for two mechs to walk abreast, brightly adorned doors identify dormrooms. Ratchet pulls him to the nearest one, the door sliding open without so much as a code, and they stumble inside.

“Whose room is this?” Hook asks as he gapes at the mess, piles of belongings on the floor and in corners, haphazard stacks of datapads, burnt out emergency bulbs even.

Ratchet whirls him around and backs him toward the berth. “I have no idea,” he says with a laugh, and his hands find Hook’s hips, his field hot and hungry where it roils over Hook’s own. “I’m sure they don’t mind. Maybe they’ll even join us.”

“I hope not,” Hook grumbles as he peers around the room, trying to identify whom it might belong to. At least two medical residents, judging by the number of berths, but there are no designations in plain sight.

“Not interested in multiples?” Ratchet asks with a raised orbital ridge and a squeeze of his hands. “What a shame.”

Hook nearly trips on a discarded mesh cloth, but Ratchet’s grip keeps him on his feet. “Not everyone is as depraved as you,” he snaps, his face heating in the wake of his clumsiness.

Ratchet chuckles and gives him a push. Hook yelps as he stumbles backward, only for the back of his knees to hit the edge of a low berth and his aft to tumble down onto it. Off-balance, he tips back, head landing on a pillow that smells of cheap polish.

Ratchet climbs on top of him without any fanfare, straddling Hook’s mid-section, his aft planted on Hook’s pelvic array. The heat of Ratchet’s arousal wafts down from his panels, tempting Hook’s own array into stirring. They’ve not even started, and Ratchet’s aroused. Easy doesn’t even begin to describe him.

“What you call depraved, I call enlightened,” Ratchet purrs and leans forward, bracing his hands to either side of Hook’s head. His knees dig into the berth, pinning Hook’s hips between them. “Got any preferences for how we play?”

Ratchet’s smirk is positively lewd. And somehow Hook’s hands find Ratchet’s thighs, feels the heat of them beneath his fingertips.

“You say that as though you are not up for anything,” Hook replies, and though it’s meant to be a cutting remark, somehow it comes out flirtatious.

“Well, I have some limits,” Ratchet drawls and rocks his hips, grinding down on Hook’s panel, lubricant leaking and dripping onto Hook. “Why? What kind of screwy slag are you into, Hook? Hmm?” He leans down, ex-vents hot and wet over Hook’s lips, the tip of his glossa touching the corner of Hook’s mouth. “I think we’re a little too unfriendly for bondage at this stage.”

Bondage.

Ratchet wrapped in beautiful cables, black and gray perhaps, twisting and twining around his frame, displaying him to perfection. Immobile and poised, lewd and defiant, at Hook’s mercy, panting for pleasure, his biolights pulsing to the tune of his desperate vents, array dripping fluids to the ground as he begs for Hook to touch him, touch him please

Hook’s engine purrs, and he covers it up with a groan. “You’re ridiculous,” he says, but the images are there and they won’t leave now.

Wind Ratchet up with Hook’s own cable even, feel the medic bound to him, towed to him, forever wrapped around him.

Not an entirely unwelcome notion. It would certainly put Ratchet in his proper place. The over-faced aft would probably enjoy it, too.

Ratchet grins, and his glossa flicks over his lips. “Yeah, but you want to frag me anyway,” he replies with the sort of confident edge that makes Hook want to grind his denta. He rocks his hips harder, and a quiet click of panels opening is the prelude to hot lubricant seeping onto Hook’s groin, painting his panels with slick. “Gonna open for me? Or do I have to coax your spike out? Kinda curious to see what you’ve got packing down there, second.”

“You are a brat.” Hook seethes, but his hands slide up and down Ratchet’s thighs, enjoying the sleekness of his paint. His panels spiral open, his spike eagerly extending, the head of it brushing over Ratchet’s valve, tasting the wet heat gathered there.

“Well, I’m depraved. Ridiculous. Bratty. Any other pet names you got for me?” Ratchet grinds down, the mesh folds of his valve caressing Hook’s spike, painting it in lubricant, little nips of charge darting between them. “Kind of makes me special, doesn’t it?”

Irritation flashes through Hook. He growls, “You’re not special,” and grabs Ratchet by the hips, tightening his grip as strong as any medic worth his specialized hands.

He braces his feet on the floor – thank you cheap and low berth – and rolls, dragging his knees up onto the berth as Ratchet sprawls beneath him, knees obscenely parted. Hook notches himself between them, to the inviting damp at the apex of Ratchet’s thighs. He’s heavier than Ratchet. Stronger, too.

It takes little effort to pin Ratchet beneath him, his spike grinding in the slippery heat of Ratchet’s valve, the head of it rubbing over Ratchet’s swollen anterior node.

“And I’m going to be on top,” Hook pants, need coiling inside of him, engine rising and rolling, lust like a hot clench in his spark. Lust or loathing. He’s not even sure anymore.

Ratchet grins and stretches his arms over his head, totally relaxed, like the depraved mech he is. “Suit yourself,” he says, and shifts, crossing his ankles behind Hook’s thighs, dragging him closer. “I’m not complaining.”

Aft.

He always has to turn everything around, doesn’t he?

Hook growls and grinds against him, his spike slipping and sliding over Ratchet’s valve, teasing his exterior nodes, upper and lower. There’s so much lubricant between them he can hear it squelching. It feels ridiculously good, and Hook’s spike throbs with anticipation, arousal coiling in his lines.

“Need helping finding my valve, second place?” Ratchet asks with a little shimmy of his frame that widens the gaps in his armor, allowing Hook peeks at the delicate cables beneath.

Hook snarls and shifts his weight, hands sliding down to grab Ratchet’s hips. No, he doesn’t need help.

“Shut up,” he grits out, even as he jerks Ratchet’s hips down to meet his, and his spike sinks into Ratchet’s valve in one sharp thrust, all the way to the hilt, valve calipers fluttering madly around his spike and charge assaulting his sensor nodes.

Ratchet moans like the rough treatment is what he’s been dying for, and arches into the touch, his heels digging into Hook’s back. “Nnn. That’s better.” His hips rise, rocking into Hook’s thrusts, demanding more without words. “Want to plug in?”

Hook’s rhythm stutters. “What?”

“You know, hook up?” Ratchet smirks and wriggles his fingers and his hips. “Or have you not gotten the Interfacing Education course yet?”

“I know what cabling means!” Hook hisses as he thrusts deep and grinds against Ratchet’s ceiling node, hoping the jabs of pleasure would shut his rival up.

No such luck.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes!” Hook snarls and shivers as a particularly deep thrust causes Ratchet’s valve to tighten and clench around him, caressing his spike. “I was surprised is all.”

Ratchet arches an orbital ridge. “Because?” It almost sounds like honest curiosity, if it isn’t for the edge of mischief in his tone.

“It’s personal.” Hook’s rhythm stutters again, his concentration stolen by the embarrassment in his admission. “And it’s…” He searches for a word that won’t make him any more humiliated than he already feels.

How can Ratchet always do this to him? It doesn’t take much. A few choice phrases, cutting words, and Hook is stewing in his own special blend of envy, fury, and embarrassment.

“Depraved to ask for?” Ratchet snickers and his hands slide up Hook’s arms, finding his tires and dipping his fingers into the rim gaps. “If you say so. I’m not about pushing mechs into things they don’t like.”

Somehow, Ratchet’s consideration feels condescending.

“Give me your cable.” Hook shifts his weight back to his knees, dropping his hold on Ratchet’s hips. He gropes at his port array, flicking open the panel to withdraw his cable, with perhaps a tad too much force than is necessary.

“Change your mind that quick, did you?” Ratchet chuckles, but his optics are focused on Hook’s dangling cable plug with evident interest. “I’m not sure you can handle my charge, number two.”

Hook slides his free hand over Ratchet’s bobbing spike, giving it a tight squeeze that makes Ratchet arch his back and shiver. “Why don’t you try me and find out?”

Ratchet’s glossa flicks over his lips. He tugs out his own cable, wiggling it in Hook’s direction. “I’ll take that challenge.”

Hook snorts, but doesn’t comment. Their exchange of cables is almost perfunctory, as is the way Hook doesn’t bother to tease as he slides his plug home in Ratchet’s port, sending a surge of charge immediately through. Pride swells in his spark as Ratchet visibly shivers, a warm sigh spilling from his lips.

Hook bombards with Ratchet with several more pulses of need and lust before he deigns to slip Ratchet’s cable into his port with decidedly more care. The little click of connectors coming into contact is unexpectedly arousing, and Hook bites back a groan.

“My turn,” Ratchet says with a smirk, and then a tidal wave of static charge comes surging over their connection, bombarding Hook’s lines with ecstasy.

His knees wobble. He pants for vents as he tilts forward, hands braced to either side of Ratchet’s shoulders, optics flickering. Primus, he’s never felt such raw charge, like lightning caressing his nodes, and going straight to his array. His valve clenches, suddenly desperate to be filled, as his spike plunges deep into Ratchet, throbbing insistently.

No. He’ll not be defeated. Not in this.

Hook gathers every ounce of control and focus. He gathers up the charge Ratchet is sending him and cycles it back, adding his own to the fray. His throbbing spike demands attention, so Hook starts to thrust again, fragging Ratchet with quick, deep stabs of his spike, raking over sensor nodes in a desperate bid to prove, once and for all, who is truly the best.

He claims Ratchet’s mouth to wipe away the smirk, the taunting remarks. He plunges his glossa inside, tasting sweet and tart high grade, and moans as their denta clack together. Ratchet gropes at him, hands gripping Hook’s side, curled on plating protrusions from his alt-mode.

Silence is golden, they say, and in this case, they are right. Ratchet is so much more likable when he’s reduced to moans and gasps and noises muffled against Hook’s lips. He’s ten times more appealing like this, squirming and writhing on Hook’s spike, his charge relenting in the wake of Hook’s unforgiving tide of electric ecstasy.

Ratchet grapples with him, refusing to go down without a fight. They roll across the berth, limbs tangling, frames clanging and colliding, leaving marks of paint behind. Hook is smug, it feels like staking a claim, until he realizes that Ratchet is marking him as well.

He growls and bites at Ratchet’s lips, his jaw, his intake, pulling more gasps and moans out of Ratchet’s mouth. No more words emerge from Ratchet. No more taunts or goads or challenges. Just raw pleasure, the occasional demand for more, harder, faster, and Hook is all too eager to oblige. His fans roar as he plunges into Ratchet again, matching the pulse of his charge across their cables to the beat of his spike.

Static crawls over their frames in bright bursts, lighting up the dim of the messy dorm. Ratchet’s making these noises, little whimpers and sighs, and his field is a hot lick against Hook’s own, trickling into all the nooks and crannies, winding him up.

They roll again, and Hook’s back on top, his hands seizing Ratchet’s hips, his spike grinding hard and deep, assaulting Ratchet’s ceiling node. He feels savage, lips pulled back over his denta, leaving nips and claims on Ratchet’s intake before he seizes Ratchet’s mouth again.

Victory soars into his spark as Ratchet overloads first, his valve spasming around Hook’s spike, his spike spurting against Hook’s belly, his lines surging with charge. Ratchet is gorgeous in pleasure, head tossed back, frame offered in complete surrender to what Hook is offering him.

It’s intoxicating. He clings to it, that sense of triumph, before the taste of Ratchet’s overload along their connection pulls Hook into the ecstasy as well. He buries his face into the crook of Ratchet’s shoulder, takes the spicy heat of him, and spills deep into Ratchet’s valve.

The release triggers a cascade across their cabled connection, sending Ratchet into another overload and pulling Hook along for the ride. The pleasure surges between them, one overload feeding into the other, until Hook feels eclipsed by it. His senses drown in ecstasy, and all sensation dims to the overwhelming electricity of it.

Safety protocols kick in around the fifth-sixth-he can’t count anymore. Hook gasps out a staticky sound even he can’t identify and collapses on top of Ratchet, vents desperately pulling in air, his lower half trembling and weak. There’s not a drop of transfluid in his tanks, and lubricant slicks his thighs. He’d overloaded with his valve, too, without so much as a brush of stimulation.

Primus.

Ratchet squirms and Hook manages one last surge of effort. He pulls his rapidly depressurizing spike free and tilts to the side, landing on his belly on the berth. His spark races, and Hook realizes he should probably get in a comfortable position, but he’s trying to remember if he has feet or not.

Primus, that’s the best he’s ever had. He’d forgotten that being with medics is one hundred times different. He doesn’t know what kind of mods Ratchet has in his valve, but they have to be illegal. Plus, whatever he was doing with his cable array.

And if it had been incredible for Hook, it had to have been even more so for Ratchet, who’d had just as many overloads if not more. Everyone knows the valve mech gets twice as much pleasure. No way would he ever forget this.

Hook drags up energy and turns his head to look at Ratchet next to him. He plants a smug grin on his face, ready to dredge up a taunt or two.

Ratchet groans, his field fluttery with happiness and satisfaction. He stretches his arms over his head and then reaches for their cables, disconnecting them with efficient twists of his wrists. Hook’s own spools back into his array, the panel closing behind it.

Ratchet sits up, one hand diving between his legs to brush over his spike and valve array briefly. They come up damp with a mixture of fluids, evidence of their debauchery. Ratchet snorts as though amused and then Hook hears a click as his panels close.

“Thanks for the ride, second,” Ratchet says, and then of all things, pats Hook on the hip before he scoots off the berth, standing up as though his legs aren’t made of gelatin, like Hook’s.

How can he move after that? How can he stand? Where is he getting the energy from? Hook feels like he could recharge for the rest of the night!

“Stop calling me that,” Hook croaks.

“Why? It’s what you are?” Ratchet’s smirk is condescending. As is the way he looks down at Hook as he redolently stretches.

“Not for long.” Hook glares and manages to leverage himself upright, though his arms wobble. “I’ll surpass you by the time we graduate. I swear it.”

“If you think you can.” Ratchet leans in close, smelling of interfacing and high grade, of challenges and the bitter tang of loathing. His lips are far too tantalizingly close. “I welcome the challenge, second.”

Hook squares his shoulders. “I just showed you, didn’t I?” he demands, sharp and hot.

Ratchet nips at his jaw before he leans back, making a show of deep thought as he taps at his chin. “Eh, I’ve had better. But it was definitely a solid effort on your part. Worthy of a repeat. Four stars easy.” He shrugs. “Just means there’s room for improvement. I volunteer to be your practice dummy.” He winks.

Hook stares at him. The words echo in his audials and in his head, they surge through his frame, melt out through his feet, puddle beneath him.

I’ve had better.

I’ve had better?!

“Anyway…” Ratchet stretches again, groaning long and low, before he spins toward the door, waving a hand over his shoulder. “Thanks for the ride and all, but there’s a party still in full swing, and I don’t want to miss a moment more of it. See you in class tomorrow.”

And then Ratchet swaggers out like he hadn’t just insulted Hook’s interfacing prowess, implied he needed to practice, and then dismissed him in the space of a single conversation.

Hook gapes at the empty space on the floor where Ratchet had been standing. Barely a minute had passed since he’d overloaded and Ratchet’s already gone, meanwhile Hook can barely move, save for the shaking. He’s sticky, exhausted, he reeks of interfacing and overloads and beneath it all, a curdle of shame.

What the frag? He’s had better? How!?

The door opens again.

Hook leaps to his feet, even if it does make him sway, ready to give Ratchet a piece of his processor and then some. But it’s not the top-rated student returning, but a pair of drunken mechs who stumble inside, lips locked and hands indiscriminately roaming.

They collide against a desk, giggling, oblivious to Hook’s presence. He recognizes Recurve immediately, but not the smaller mech plastered to Recurve’s front – a medic, by the brands on him. Newly graduated even.

Some people have all the luck.

“Excuse me,” Hook snaps as he storms forward, eying the narrow space between their flailing limbs and his path to freedom. “Let me get out of the way before you start fragging on top of me.”

They still.

Recurve’s head swivels toward Hook and he blinks in confusion. “Oh, hey, Hook. Wait. Didn’t you leave with Ratchet?”

Hook’s optical band narrows. His engine growls.

“Went that well, huh?” Recurve guesses.

His interface partner giggles. “Must not have, if he’s done already,” they say, singsong. “Guess your buddy here doesn’t have the stamina to keep up with the party ambulance.”

Heat floods Hook’s cheeks. Anger bubbles up inside of him, and all manner of waspish retorts dance on the tip of his glossa, but none of them emerge. What’s the point?

“I’m going home,” Hook declares as he stomps to the door.

Recurve is wise enough to spin his dance partner out of the way, his expression inscrutable. “See you later!” he says, not quite cheerful, but condescending all the same.

Hook ignores him, the door closing behind him and cutting off the sounds of giggling and sloppy kisses, barely a step missing in their lewd dance of courtship. Hook snarls under his vents and storms away from the room and noise and laughter and fun of the party. There’s a reason he doesn’t go to these things.

Never again.

I’ve had better.

The statement lingers in his processor like a bad rust infection, like a flick to the nasal ridge, like his position, ever below Ratchet’s in the rankings, ever in the shadow of something he can’t grasp. So easily dismissed, it builds a fury inside of Hook, one no smelter’s pit can match.

He’ll show them. He’ll show them all, and Ratchet especially.

He will find a method to surpass Ratchet in every way, to leave him soundly behind in the rankings, in the proficiencies. He’ll create methods that’ll make other medics boil with envy. He’ll become a name so remembered, everyone will forget Ratchet ever existed. He’ll be obsolete.

Hook intends to make Ratchet so jealous, so pathetic, that he’ll come begging for an invitation to Hook’s berth, just for a touch of the glory. So he can know what it feels like to be small in the face of greatness.

Yes.

It will happen. It’s going to happen. No matter what Hook has to do. He’ll find a way.

And he’ll crush that overconfident slagger beneath his foot.