[G1] Amorous Affeciton

For once, it wasn’t Wheeljack’s fault.

Ratchet should have taken a decom shower like everyone told him to. But since when had Ratchet listened to anyone honestly? Darn medic was the stubbornest person in the universe, even more than Ironhide and Optimus, both of which he’d ignored as well.

And now here Wheeljack was, with a very amorous mate trying to crawl under his plating, with the kind of grabby hands that would make an octopus jealous.

Pity it took an alien aphrodisiac to make Ratchet this darn affectionate.

“Come on, Jackie, frag me,” Ratchet whined, pawing at his interface array, his expression so open and hungry that it made him look centuries younger and ten times adorable and Wheeljack felt all of his resolve crumble.

“Dunno if that’s such a good idea, Ratch,” Wheeljack replied, and yet his fingers found their way to his mate’s seams and sensitive spots, making Ratchet shiver and tremble as he kept climbing right into Wheeljack’s lap.

Oof.

“I say it is,” Ratchet huffed and slung his arms over Wheeljack’s shoulders, pressing their foreheads together. His ample windshield was not nearly enough for an appropriate distance. “What? I’m not attractive to you anymore? Am I too old and cranky?” He accompanied the demand with a roll of his hips that should have been illegal, his wet valve leaving a sticky streak over Wheeljack’s abdomen and pelvis.

Wheeljack gripped his hips. “Aw, Ratch. That’s not fair.” His engine revved, interface array pinging him for release. He had a willing mate in his arms, what more did he want?

Quiet you, Wheeljack thought at his array. He didn’t have to act like a ‘face starved idiot.

Ratchet’s knees dug into Wheeljack’s hips as he rocked against Wheeljack more urgently. “Then frag me already. Primus!” He ex-vented a burst of scorching heat, his frame trembling, his spike poking at Wheeljack’s belly. “My lines are itching and my circuits are burning and I’m so fragging empty that it hurts.”

Wheeljack’s spark throbbed. His hands smoothed up Ratchet’s sides, down his back, cupping his hips and aft again. His processor hesitated, but his spike had no such compunction, punching through his blocks to free itself, the wet head of it brushing over Ratchet’s inner thigh. Drips of hot lubricant landed on his unit, and Wheeljack groaned, tripping in his battle against Ratchet’s inelegant seduction.

“Fine,” Wheeljack bit out as he shifted just enough that he could rock his spikehead against Ratchet’s rim. “But for the record, it wasn’t my fault this time.”

“Noted,” Ratchet gasped and dropped down, swallowing Wheeljack’s spike in one smooth motion, his valve hot and gripping and hungry as he took Wheeljack to the hilt.

Wheeljack’s engine screeched, his backstrut arching as Ratchet proceeded to ride his spike like there was no tomorrow, like salvation could only be found in a thick, throbbing spike piercing his valve.

Primus.

There was no ifs, ands, or buts about it. No one was in control here. Not Wheeljack. Not Ratchet. Nothing but whatever alien compound had slithered into Ratchet’s coding.

All Wheeljack could do was hold on for the ride, and enjoy the sight of his mate blissed out on pleasure for once, making all of these yummy, sexy noises and bearing the energy of a mech who hadn’t worked three shifts back to back after pulling more sparks from Unicron’s hold.

Damn it. After this, they were going on vacation whether Ratchet liked it or not.

Just as soon as Wheeljack survived this.

But oh, what a way to go.

Advertisements

[IDW] Awake and Ready

Even here, on the tiny shuttle, with no one else around for lightyears, Drift recharged tensely, as though he feared something would attack at any moment. They’d fall asleep in each other’s arms, Drift sprawled on top of Ratchet as if trying to keep him from leaving, their fields entangled. And Ratchet would online – first, always first, there were some things you couldn’t beat in a medic’s coding – and he’d find Drift’s armor clamped, his field withdrawn, and his position shifted so that he faced the door, prepared for threats.

It broke Ratchet’s spark every time.

But he supposed only a few months worth of co-recharging, field-mingling, and snuggling wasn’t enough to overcome a lifetime’s worth of self-preservation.

He knew better than to startle. To speak. To touch. He always reached for Drift with his field first, energies lightly caressing the furthest edge of Drift’s own, announcing himself with a soft sweep above Drift’s shoulder.

It’s me. You’re safe. We’re safe. He repeated it, over and over, until Drift started to stir. Until his engine kicked on with a quiet purr. Until he turned, ever so slowly, in the softest grip of recharge, into Ratchet’s embrace. He nuzzled Ratchet’s chestplate – unfairly adorable, if Ratchet might add – and his hand slid around Ratchet’s waist, fingers sliding and tucking into a seam.

Drift’s field responded, sliding into the nooks and crannies of Ratchet’s own, pulsing back recognition and affection and the tiniest kernels of trust. All very good signs.

Ratchet rested his hand on Drift’s shoulder, and when he didn’t acquire an armful of snarling, armed, fanged, angry little speedster, he knew he’d done his job right. He slid his hand down, ever so gently, until his palm pressed against Drift’s back, stroking a sensitive armor plate.

Drift shivered in his arms. He hummed a happy little noise and burrowed harder against Ratchet’s chestplate, ex-vents fogging the clear transsteel. He threw a thigh over Ratchet’s and ground his pelvic array against Ratchet, heat already stirring behind his panel.

Ratchet chuckled softly. “I know you’re awake,” he murmured as he dipped his helm, nipping at a finial.

There was a click before Ratchet felt the hot damp against his thigh. More than awake then. Awake and ready.

Must have been a night of good dreams for once then.

“That the game we’re playing now?” Ratchet murmured, his denta nipping again at the finial as Drift undulated against him.

“Every morning,” Drift murmured even as his fingers curled into Ratchet’s seams and tugged on his armor plates. “Til we get back.”

“And even after,” Ratchet replied and nudged his thigh against Drift’s closed, yet blazing hot array. “I said it and I meant it, Drift.”

“I know.” Drift tipped his head up and buried his mouth in Ratchet’s intake, lips and denta alike scraping a path of liquid pleasure, followed by soft and soothing kisses. “I know.”

[IDW] Vocal Commands

He’d kept Ratchet like this for hours: bound, trembling, overheated, charge boiling out from under his armor.

Each in-vent was a staticky gasp. His optics were bright and sparking. The dark, glossy bindings stood out in stark relief against white armor, which was becoming streaked with condensation.

He was beautiful like this.

“You’re close,” Perceptor said, more observation than question. “I can taste it.”

He was near enough to touch, if he so desired. But he didn’t allow himself to do so. That wasn’t the name of the game this time. A challenge had been laid.

“You deserve it, Ratchet. You’ve been such a good pet,” Perceptor praised as he let his gaze rove over Ratchet with appreciation. “You’ve behaved for once. And now you’re going to obey. You’re going to overload because I said so.”

Ratchet’s engine whined. His thighs trembled. His field crackled, much in the way his vocalizer did when he tried to speak.

“C—c—c—” The word caught, the syllable repeating itself, a sure sign of a scorched fuse.

Beautiful.

“Yes, you can,” Perceptor said. He leaned close, enough to feel Ratchet’s ex-vents but not touch. “Because when you do, I will claim you. Again and again. Until the only name you remember is mine.”

Ratchet moaned. His armor juttered. Lightning crawled out from beneath armor plates to decorate his paint.

“Now,” Perceptor murmured and let his field unfurl enough to taste Ratchet’s. “Give me what I want, pet. Surrender to the pleasure. Let it seethe in your lines and make your spark dance for me.”

He paused, enraptured by the sight of Ratchet writhing, of him dangling on the precipice. Perceptor licked his lips.

“Do it,” he growled. “Overload.”

And Ratchet obeyed, loosing his grip and thrashing as pleasure stripped him raw and sent arcs of charge spilling into the air. Peerceptor could taste the discharge, the ozone, and Primus, was it heady. His own frame thrummed with anticipation. He grinned as Ratchet made inarticulate noises and writhed.

Good medic.

[TF] Lost and Lonely Space 01/12

‘Take a vacation,’ Optimus orders, concern thick in his vocals, his optics dim and reflecting his fatigue. ‘You need to get away from the war, Ratchet. It’s consuming you.’

‘It’s consuming all of us!’ Ratchet snarls in return. He picks up a scanner, ready to throw it, but Optimus is braced and ready, and in the end, he’s only proving Optimus’ point. ‘I’m scavenging mechs for parts. I’m burying more soldiers than I’m saving. A vacation’s not going to fix that.’

‘Ratchet. Old friend.’ Optimus rests a hand on his shoulders, looking into his optics with the firmness only a former police officer can bear. Prowl has the same stare, though Optimus’ is more effective. ‘I need you. But not in pieces. Walk away.’

Ratchet swallows over a jagged lump in his intake. ‘I don’t know if I can.’

‘It’s not a suggestion,’ Optimus says.

And that, as they say, is that.

Ratchet leaves the battlefield in a ragged shuttle scavenged from other equally ravaged shuttles. It is large enough to uncomfortably seat one. He doesn’t ask for company. No one volunteers. He doesn’t chart a course because he doesn’t have a plan. He only knows he’s supposed to get away.

Wheeljack shoves a holomap into his hands. He’s marked planets friendly or at least neutral to Cybertronians on it. He clasps his hands over Ratchet’s and he says, ‘No one will blame you if you don’t come back.’ And his indicators light up with flashes of bright purple and pink. ‘But if you do, I want a souvenir. Something shiny.’

‘Or explosive,’ Ratchet promises.

The holomap sits on his dash. It has more than a dozen prospective coordinates in it. After enough time passes, Ratchet will pick one at random.

Optimus hasn’t given him a timetable for his return. Ratchet suspects Optimus believes he won’t come back. Maybe he’s right. Ratchet doesn’t know anymore, what he believes in, what he’s accomplishing, what he’s doing. He doesn’t know if a solo trip out into the universe will answer those questions.

He’s not sure of anything anymore.

He smells like death because he’s soaked in it. He’s brought the stench with him from the battlefield. There’s still gummed up fluids in his finger joints. If he’d taken the time to shower and wash, he’d never have left.

He has to fight the urge to turn back, to defy Optimus’ orders. He squirms in his seat, guilt laying over him like a heavy, suffocating blanket. He thinks of all the sparks he could be saving right now. And then he berates himself for his arrogance in thinking he’s the only one who can do it.

The war has reached a crescendo from which there is no escape. He saves sparks to watch them burn out all over again. He’s fighting a losing battle against Mortilus, and the god laughs at him from afar. Primus sets him challenge after challenge, and he fails every time.

His hands still reek of energon.

He recharges, and he dreams of death. Ghosts haunt him, accuse him, there’s no escape. He starts to think maybe Optimus has sent him away because he doesn’t want or need Ratchet anymore. He’d let Clarion’s spark slip through his fingers after all. They can’t win the war with a useless medic.

He starts to think all sorts of things he desperately hopes aren’t true, but there’s a tiny corner of his spark which doubts.

Ratchet drifts. He ignores the holomap. Choosing a direction feels like another failure, as though he’s choosing to walk away from the war and abandon everyone.

For several cycles of the ship’s onboard chronometer, keyed to track Cybertronian standard like all the rest of the Autobots’ computers, he wanders. He has no real course. He recharges. He washes up. He picks at the grit and grime in his articulators. He starts and stops datapads he’s been meaning to read for decades. He recharges some more.

He hopes someone remembers to drag Wheeljack out of his lab, by his indicators if necessary, otherwise he’ll forget to recharge, forget to refuel, forget everything. They’ll find him facedown on the floor, surrounded by bubbling fluids of unknown origin, if no one checks on him. In his fatigue, he’ll make a mistake, and who will put him back together? Who knows his modded frame as well as Ratchet does?

Ratchet lurches online in the middle of a recharge cycle, remembering that he left Bluestreak in a CR chamber, and if he onlines without someone around, he’ll panic. Someone has to be there for him, keep an optic on him, talk him down from the inevitable nightmares. Will anyone remember?

Ratchet rolls over, reaching for his comm, before he remembers he’s not on the space station anymore. He’s not within communication range of anyone, not with the pitiful equipment he has on board. He’s not out here to help anyone, to save anyone. He’s out here because he’s selfish, and he needs to save himself.

Ratchet buries his face behind his hands, and static claws out of his vocalizer, and he murmurs apologies to mechs who can’t hear him.

~

He drifts for several more cycles until the navigation software pings to let him know one of the uploaded coordinates are within reach, if he should feel so inclined.

Thank you, Wheeljack.

There’s a waystation nearby. It’s not much, mostly for information trade and refueling, if your ship runs on one of the twelve standard fuels in the universe, or just needs to plug in and recharge, provided your plug is one of the twenty galactic standards.

It’s a complicated system.

But it’s flagged friendly to all, even Cybertronians, and there’s a strict no-weapons, no-fighting policy. So it’s safe, for whatever definitions of safe there are, so Ratchet docks in hope to find a more specific course, rather than this aimless drift. Maybe there’s something in the information boards that’ll point him a direction he should go.

He disembarks and wanders through a waystation surprisingly sparsely populated, given that it’s out in the middle of nowhere and sits on a common interstellar highway. He passes a few fellow travelers, but no one pays him any special attention. The information board is as sparse as the amount of visitors, and Ratchet twists his jaw out of annoyance. It would have been nice to find something.

He pokes around at a few of the shops, but none of them sell energon or coolant or anything that would be of use to him. Their technology is lightyears out of date. The atmosphere has the reek of recycled air and too much organic exhalation. The pipes rattle and hiss and clunk alarmingly, like the waystation is in its death throes and the galactic police haven’t been out this way in a long, long time.

The whole stop is a complete waste of time.

Annoyed, Ratchet drags his feet back through the waystation to the dock. The halls are even emptier than they were before, and Ratchet’s spinal strut tingles with warning. He’s survived this long, through a planet-wide civil war, partially by listening to his instincts. But it’s not like there’s anywhere to run. His shuttle is all he has.

There’s an ambush waiting for him in the docking bay. Of course, there’s an ambush. Why wouldn’t there be an ambush?

Contrary to popular belief and elitism, Cybertronians are not the largest species in the universe. They don’t even crack the top ten. Oh, they throw their weight around like they are all planet-sized, but the truth is, Cybertronians are somewhere in the middle. There are bigger, badder, and angrier species out there. Most of them are largely peaceful. There’s something to the idiom about being bigger and gentler.

Not true for the Pentaflexiamoriantrichoglycerites. And well, Ratchet supposes if that mouthful were his species name, he’d be an angry alien, too.

Pentas, as they’ve become colloquially known, have little to no moral compass. The smallest of them is the size of Fortress Maximus. They like credits and don’t care what they have to do to earn them. It’s not surprising many of them have become piratical. So many of them, that pretty much everyone in the universe assumes all Pentas are pirates. They are, perhaps, the only species more universally loathed than Cybertronians, so that’s saying something.

The moment the Pentas step into view, Ratchet knows his chances of escaping are slim to none. His only consolation is that he’s reasonably certain they don’t want him dead. They’d have killed him already if that were true.

He’s surrounded, one in front, two to the left, three on the right, undoubtedly more behind him, not that he turns to look. The smallest of them could have benchpressed Optimus without breaking a sweat. If Pentas even sweat. They’re armed to the teeth, of which there are many, many rows of serrated edges, and it’s hard not to look at the row of eyes in their sunken faces without getting a little queasy.

So he fights. If he’s going down, he’s going to take as many as he can with him, or at least, not make it easy.

He never saw the Penta behind him. Only felt the sharp crack against the back of his head, right over a sensor cluster nexus for reset, and then he’s out like a light, clattering to the floor like so much spare parts.

~

He onlines sometime later feeling as though he’s been bowled over by a shuttle. He’s lying on a cold floor, one that thrums beneath his plating, with the distinct sensation he’s onboard a spaceship of some flavor. His chronometer informs him he’s been unconscious for the better part of half a Cybertronian day.

Lovely.

Ratchet groans and leverages himself upright, running a quick systems check to ensure he’s not been compromised in any way. Which he hasn’t, as far as he can tell. He peels his optics open, and grimaces as the bright orange lights sear into his visual feed. His head pounds, like a night of binging on cheap engex, and his mouth is dry.

He’s in a cell. Dimly glowing bars indicate it’s a cell more than capable of keeping a Cybertronian imprisoned. The cell is small. He has enough room to fully recline if he so wishes, but that’s the extent of it. There’s no bed, no sink, no furniture, no window. Just him, the floor, the cell bars, with so little space between them, he couldn’t slide a stylus through.

There’s a collar around his neck. Ratchet runs his fingers across the seamless metal. It’s free of any catches, ridges, or otherwise. It’s not bolted into him, it doesn’t penetrate his frame or system at all. It’s just there. He has no idea what it does and no way to remove it. He can’t tell what it’s made of.

He doesn’t think this is what Optimus meant by taking a vacation.

Ratchet drags himself to a semblance of upright, puts his back against the wall where he can see the bars, and draws up his knees, bracing his arms across them. He could get up and examine the structures of his cell, but the Pentas have a reputation. He doubts there’s a means to escape. He doesn’t know what they want from him, but he imagines he’ll find out soon enough.

Damn.

Couldn’t they have taken him with a few datapads in his subspace?

~

Ratchet dozes.

There’s not much else he can do. He has his sensors trained on the bars, in case someone stops by to visit or peer in at their captive. He sends out a few questing pings to examine his environment, but everything bounces back. Shielded.

Sometimes, he catches sounds, noises, like there are others captive down here. He doesn’t recognize the languages. He wonders if they have any more Cybertronians. A bright yellow light in the corner stares at him without blinking. He suspects it’s a camera.

He gets no visitors. He’s not organic, so it’s like he needs to be fed or offered amenities. If there’s a patrolling guard outside his cell, Ratchet never sees the Penta or its ally, if it has any. There’s just darkness and dim lights and silence. If he wasn’t so anxious about the situation, it might even be peaceful.

A week after his capture, by Cybertronian count, the steady hum of a ship in flight changes to the rumbling clunk of a spaceship docking somewhere. The entire ship shudders as it thuds into place, connecting by soft dock rather than landing within a docking bay.

Ratchet stands and stretches, preparing for anything. They hadn’t been able to empty his subspace, and they hadn’t searched his storage compartments, so he’s technically armed. Whether or not he’ll have chance to use his weapons, he doesn’t know.

Voices float down the hall, the Pentas talking to each other in that mellifluous language of theirs. Ratchet’s interpreter system is either buggy or jammed, because it doesn’t translate their conversation. Other cells are opened and closed, more voices raised in anger and fright.

Ratchet approaches the bars and tries to peer through them, but he can’t see anything beyond dark shapes and more bars, some of them electric and glowing like his, others mere thick metal. Pirates and slavers, he thinks. Because of course. Why wouldn’t they be? It’s a profitable business for spacefaring adventurers, haunting waystations and picking up shuttles, capturing their owners to resale to other species. Some are more useful than others.

There’s a pretty brisk trade in Kremzeek, Ratchet knows. The Spackians use them as energy batteries.

A dark mass moves in front of Ratchet’s cell, the glow of the bars reflecting off the metal of some kind of armor. The bars fizzle out, and if there was ever a chance to make a break for it, now’s the time. Ratchet’s sensors go haywire as whatever had been blocking them before drops, and Ratchet reels from the sudden influx of information.

He staggers and three long, sticky fingers wrap around his upper arm, jerking him out of the cell.

“Don’t struggle,” a voice recites to him, lacking all semblance of emotion, like it’s been spat out of a universal translator. It comes from the Penta beside him, almost twice Ratchet’s height, and having to stoop to fit within the low ceilings of the prison.

Ratchet says nothing, and stumbles forward as he’s tugged along behind a row of other Pentas gripping other prisoners, none of which are Cybertronian. One is an Exelon, but he doesn’t recognize the species of the other two. The noises of metal clanking and energy bars fizzling out echo from behind him, and he can only assume other captives are being retrieved as well.

There’s a lot of white noise in his sensors. It makes static screech and roil across them. He picks up the evidence of radio transmissions before they dissolve into white noise.

They pass a porthole, and all Ratchet can see are stars with a few distant specks that are planetary bodies of indeterminate size. There’s another ship pulled up beside the one he’s on, but he can only make out the tail end of it. GPS spins and spins, until it narrows him down on the far edge of Penta space, probably one of their many unnamed and rarely charted trading posts.

They arrive at a split in the hallway. Ratchet and his captor go one way, the other organic captives go another. He’s bracketed on both sides by massive Pentas, both taller and broader than him.

Stretching out before him is another long corridor, but they pass wide doorways that open into docking spaces, with no ships currently moored, the shimmer of an atmospheric shield keeping everything contained. Some are actual loading bays, others are mere openings for soft docks. As near as he can guess, this is a trading station. There doesn’t appear to be any guards or places for storage.

Good to know.

They hang an abrupt right into the next doorway, where a ship is docked, the cargo bay open and ramp extended. There’s something in the lean lines, spiky protrusions, and sleek shape that’s vaguely familiar, but it isn’t until Ratchet spies the Decepticon brand etched in the under carriage that his spark sinks into his tank.

Well, this is unfortunate. Not surprising, but unfortunate.

A cluster of Decepticons lounge at the base of the ramp, perched on crates of various sizes. A single mech stands further ahead of them, arms folded, legs braced apart, lips curled with derision. Ratchet looks him over, head to foot, as recognition dawns. His spark reverses course, claws out of his tanks, and takes up residence in his throat, forming a lump he can’t speak over.

Prowl has made it a point to ensure all relatively high-ranking Autobots know the identities and positions of all known high-ranking Decepticons. From Megatron to Soundwave to Starscream to Shockwave, to their lieutenants and commanders and captains. Their largest threats, their greatest minds, their most ruthless killers…

Knowing the enemy is the key to winning the war. Prowl reminds them this over and over and over again. He tumbles research into their hands: backgrounds and skill sets, everything their intelligence has gathered on these key players.

The war has done a fantastic job of creating divisions. Sibling against sibling. Batchmate against batchmate. Friends against friends, and lovers fighting lovers. It’s impossible not to look across the battlefield without seeing the faces of mechs you once knew.

It’s another thing entirely to look across the open space of a trading dock and see the face of a mech you once saved, who could have been capable of great things if Cybertron hadn’t failed him, so instead he ends up as the postermech to summon the masses to Megatron’s army. He ends up a killer. A good one.

There aren’t words to describe the rock lodging in Ratchet’s throat when he recognizes the Decepticon captain waiting for them.

Deadlock.

*

[IDW] Clear the Decks

The sound of the door chiming stirred Rodimus from his nap. Though if anyone asked, it wasn’t a nap so much as he was watching a documentary with his optics shuttered. He’d promised, after all, that he would watch this. And he would. Just, you know, after a nap.

Drift wouldn’t have chimed the door. He’d have let himself in given that he had the codes. Ultra Magnus would have pinged Rodimus ahead of time. No one in the crew had ever visited, as far as Rodimus remembered.

It was odd.

Rodimus swung his legs over the side of the berth and rose, stretching his arms over his head. He glanced guiltily at the vidscreen – the credits were rolling, he’d missed the entire documentary. He’d have to start over.

The door chimed again.

“Coming!” Rodimus called out, unnecessary but if it stopped the noise, all the better.

He rubbed the back of his head as he keyed the door open, fighting back a yawn. He blinked in surprise.

“Ratchet?” Rodimus peered up at the medic, wondering if he was dreaming. He leaned out the door, looking up and down the hallway, but Ratchet was alone. “Where’s Drift? He’s not hurt, is he? Is that why you’re here?” Panic strobed through his spark. What happened?”

Ratchet held up a hand, forestalling his anxiety. “Calm down, Rodimus. Drift’s fine.” He lowered his hand. “He’s with Perceptor.”

Relief flooded Rodimus’ spark, though his defensive protocols were slower to dial down. “Oh. Geez. Don’t scare me like that.”

The answer didn’t offer an explanation for why Ratchet was here though. The visit, in itself, was weird. Ratchet had the codes. Why didn’t he let himself in? Why did he ping the door instead?

Ratchet didn’t apologize. He stared at Rodimus, his expression unreadable, before he asked, “Can I come in?”

Rodimus startled. “Oh, right. Yeah. Sorry.” He stepped back and waved Ratchet inside. “You know you don’t have to ask, right? Or I mean, you shouldn’t have to. Um.” His glossa tangled inside his mouth. He felt like an idiot.

“I know. That’s part of the problem,” Ratchet sighed, but he entered. His armor was clamped tight to his frame, and what wisps of his field Rodimus could sense rippled with a general unease.

It occurred to Rodimus, just then, that he didn’t spend much time with Ratchet without Drift around. In fact, he couldn’t recall a single instance he had been with Ratchet alone. They always had their Drift-shaped neutral zone between them.

“There’s a problem?” Rodimus asked. Unease filtered into his spark as well.

The door closed, and Rodimus lingered near it. Ratchet didn’t go very far either. If tension had a tangible presence, Rodimus figured it was here now, pulling between them like sticky webbing.

“I should feel like I can just come inside.” Ratchet paused by Rodimus’ personal console and chair, fingers knocking along the back of the latter. He stared at the rolling credits as if trying to figure out what Rodimus had been watching. “I shouldn’t feel like a visitor. But I do.”

Rodimus worked his intake. He wished Drift were here. Drift would know what to say. “Well, this is new to all of us.” He scuffed a foot against the floor. “And weird.”

“I know.” Ratchet swept a hand over his head, armor shuffling around his frame before settling back tight against his protoform. “So that’s why I’m here. We should fix it.”

“Okay.” Fixing anything was generally a good idea. Rodimus pointedly looked around the room as though the answer would leap up and present itself to him. “So… how?”

Ratchet knocked his knuckles on the back of the chair again and then seemed to gather his courage, locking his shoulders as he looked directly at Rodimus. “You and me. Let’s do something. Together.”

Rodimus blinked. “…What?”

“Or a drink. You seem to like that well enough,” Ratchet continued, and he sounded, of all things, flustered. He’d never heard Ratchet babble a day in his life, but it felt like he was on the verge of doing so.

Rodimus honestly wasn’t sure what was weirder. That Ratchet was asking him out, or that Ratchet sounded flustered. He didn’t know Ratchet was capable of being flustered. The medic seemed like he was perpetually cranky and in control.

It bothered him that Ratchet was flustered. Like a reminder he wasn’t this immortal image of Autobot leadership and poise, but a mech. Just a regular mech.

No. Maybe that didn’t bother Rodimus after all. Maybe it was a relief.

Rodimus nibbled on his bottom lip and looked around the room, hoping to find the appropriate answer that wouldn’t anger Ratchet. “I do,” he said slowly, carefully. “But I don’t understand why that’s relevant.”

“Because we’re in a relationship,” Ratchet said, and his vents gusted sharply from exasperation. “And that’s the kind of thing people in relationships do.”

Relationship?

Rodimus gave Ratchet a blank look. Okay, yes. They were both kind of dating Drift. They had this strange configuration with Drift in the middle. But relationship? Rodimus thought that was being generous.

Ratchet looked pained, like someone had fed him a bad batch of energon, or that dredge Swerve called his daily special. “We’re not sharing Drift,” he continued, each word bitten out like it hurt him to admit. “That’s not the point of this.”

Rodimus’ optical ridges drew down. “… Isn’t it?” Now he was really confused. This whole conversation didn’t make sense.

Ratchet’s frustration made Rodimus frustrated because it felt like they spoke two different languages and needed someone to serve as translator. Ratchet said one thing but meant another, and Rodimus never knew how to handle Ratchet. That was more Drift’s area of expertise.

Why couldn’t Drift be here?

Ratchet scrubbed his face. “All right. We need to talk.”

Rodimus cringed. “Do we have to?” Talking wasn’t exactly his forte. He was better at action. Drift usually did the talking.

“Yes.” Ratchet looked around the room a bit helplessly before he pulled out the chair at Rodimus’ console and plopped down. “Sit.”

“It’s my room,” Rodimus pointed out.

“You want to hike back to my habsuite so I can make you sit down there?” Ratchet asked.

Rodimus flushed.

He perched on the edge of the berth, since Ratchet had taken the only chair. If they’d been in Ratchet and Drift’s quarters, they could have shared a couch. Rodimus didn’t have such a luxury. He didn’t need one. There was only him here.

“Look.” Ratchet leaned forward, elbows on his knees, lacing his fingers together. “I know the one making this hard is me. And I know you’re playing it safe because you don’t want to slag me off. But you’re a part of this now. You can be a little selfish, too.”

Rodimus gnawed on his bottom lip. Heat slipped into his face, and he looked away. “I think I’ve been selfish enough for one lifetime,” he murmured. If he started naming all the reasons why, he’d never stop.

“Not when it comes to this,” Ratchet insisted. “There are three of us in this relationship now. Not a pairing plus one. Not me and Drift plus you. We’re all together.”

Rodimus shook his head, something squeezing tight around his spark. “Look, I appreciate you trying to make me feel better, but we all know what’s really going on.” He spread his hands, his shoulders sinking. “I’m the late addition. The third wheel.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Come on!” Rodimus blurted out and rocketed to his feet, filled with a restless energy. “We both know you only put up with me for Drift’s sake.” It hurt, his spark ached to admit it, but he knew it was true.

He and Ratchet had rarely, if ever, seen optic to optic on anything. He was honestly surprised Ratchet didn’t loathe him, not that disappointment was any better. Ratchet had a much better Prime in Optimus. They were friends. Of course he’d see Rodimus as nothing but a pale imitation.

And now, Rodimus was an annoyance to suffer through in order to keep his beloved happy. Rodimus knew where he belonged in their coupling, and he put up with it because he loved Drift, and this was better than being without.

Ratchet looked at him then, and he looked… well, Rodimus couldn’t really describe it. “Well, it may have started out that way.” He coughed a vent, gaze slanting away. “But it can’t continue.”

Rodimus spark stuttered. “Wh– what do you mean?” Was Ratchet ending things? Was that why he’d come here? Because Drift hadn’t wanted to say it to Rodimus’ face?

“That I want you to start taking this – us – seriously,” Ratchet said.

Relief flooded Rodimus’ field in a tidal wave. Thank Primus. It wasn’t over. It had barely begun, and it wasn’t over, and Rodimus hadn’t already screwed things up after all.

Thank Primus.

Rodimus vented out. “Oh.” He worked his intake, trying to find confidence and drape it back over his shoulders. “I’m serious, Ratchet. I don’t know why you think I’m not.”

“You are?” Ratchet arched an orbital ridge and pointed at the floor in front of him. “Then go on a frigging date with me and stop acting like you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Rodimus blinked. He paused mid-pace. “What?” One didn’t connect to the other. Ratchet wasn’t making sense.

“This is only going to work if both of us make an effort,” Ratchet shifted in the chair, which creaked beneath him. “So I’m reaching out to you. I want to try.”

Rodimus stared at him. “But you hate me,” he said, and despised how small his voice came out, how much truth there was in it. He immediately wished he hadn’t said it, and wished he could take it back, offer something far more flippant.

Instead, he flushed and looked away. He folded his arms, wishing he had a window to look through instead. Maybe Cyclonus had it right. The stars were a safer image. People were far too difficult.

“I hate this conversation,” Ratchet muttered. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look, Rodimus. You’re not without charm, and clearly, I don’t mind you in my berth. But we won’t get any further than that unless we spend time together.”

Wow.

Rodimus wouldn’t exactly call that a stirring endorsement.

He squinted at the medic. “Wouldn’t that count as one of your worst nightmares?” he asked, aiming for flippant, but failure struck all over again. Instead, he sounded self-flagellating.

Zero for two today Rodimus. Good job there.

Ratchet’s lips pressed in a thin line. His engine revved, as though he was biting several sarcastic remarks, and Rodimus supposed he could cooperate a bit more.

“Sorry,” he said, and let his shoulders sink down. Submissive. Ratchet preferred that, yes? “All right. I’ll do it.”

Ratchet blinked, rearing back as though he expected acquiescence was the last thing he’d get from Rodims. “Come again?”

Rodimus spread his hands, though he couldn’t work up any enthusiasm. This sounded like one of the worst ideas in the history of ever, but hey, at least it wasn’t his idea.

“Let’s try.” He managed a thin smile. “Let’s go on a date.” And hopefully, it wouldn’t be the most terrible time for both of them. Hopefully, he wouldn’t ruin it all.

Ratchet nodded slowly, carefully. “All right. Good. Then meet me at the docking bay after your shift this evening.” He stood from the chair, hands smoothing down the fluffed armor on his thighs.

“The docking bay?” Rodimus’ forehead crinkled. “Why?”

“Because we’re going on a date. Off-ship.”

Confusion seemed to be the emotion of the day. “I don’t remember us scheduling a stop.”

Ratchet grinned, and in it were the echoes of the mech he used to be. “I arranged for one. We’re stopping at a galactic trading outpost called Quartex. Welcoming to Cybertronians, don’t worry I checked, and they accept galactic creds.”

Rodimus cast about for sanity, but it kept slipping through his fingers. “What… how did you…?” He couldn’t find words either, apparently.

This conversation was going in no direction Rodimus could have anticipated.

“Ultra Magnus likes me.” Ratchet had the audacity to chuckle, his optics sparkling with humor. He smiled, and it took centuries off his face, out of his field. Rodimus’ spark throbbed. “It was easy enough to convince Megatron.”

“Who are you and what did you do with Ratchet?” Rodimus asked, bewildered. He didn’t recognize the grinning medic in front of him. Where were the dour lines? The constant waft of disappointment in his field?

Ratchet slipped closer, into Rodimus’ personal space and the outermost range of his field. “I’m who I’ve always been, Roddy,” he murmured, voice low and… sultry? Enticingly so. A shiver danced through Rodimus’ lines. “Now’s my chance to show you. And you better show me who you are, too. Because that’s who I want to see.”

“Uh. Okay,” Rodimus said, because he was too flustered to come up with anything clever. Now here he was, the one flustered and left on unsteady ground.

Especially when Ratchet reached for him, and Rodimus offered his hand without thinking twice about it. Static crackled between them when they touched, and Ratchet smirked. Said smirk did things to Rodimus, things that coiled hot and heavy in his grin.

Ratchet pulled him into a kiss, mostly chaste for all that it was a brush of their mouths. But it left electric fire dancing in Rodimus’ lines, and he chased after Ratchet’s departing lips with his own.

“I’ll see you later,” Ratchet murmured against his mouth.

“Uh huh,” Rodimus replied, dazed.

Ratchet chuckled, the sound of it rolling down Rodimus’ spinal strut, and then he was gone, leaving Rodimus standing in his quarters feeling like he’d been bowled over by a Decepticon.

~

Rodimus arrived in the docking bay ten minutes before he was supposed to because anxiety had him pacing back and forth on the bridge. Ultra Magnus had arrived to take over for him early because apparently, his agitation was infecting everyone else on the bridge, and Mainframe had commed Ultra Magnus out of sheer self-preservation.

Any other time, Rodimus would’ve been offended.

Gratitude swept him back to his quarters where he washed and made an effort to polish – part of him wishing Sunstreaker were still around so Rodimus could do more than a half-decent job. He’d stared at his scuffed appearance in the mirror for longer than was practical until he realized he couldn’t make himself any more appealing.

Ratchet wasn’t there.

Rodimus tried to find a place to wait. He lounged against a crate of supplies, attempting to be casual while he pretended to read a datapad. It was one of the ones Magnus had been harping on him to sign off on for ages.

He didn’t absorb a single word.

“And here I was thinking you weren’t going to show.”

Rodimus abandoned the datapad he wasn’t reading, tucking it into his subspace. “Why wouldn’t I?” he asked as Ratchet approached him, still missing that casual arrogance Rodimus was so used to seeing wrapped around him. It kept throwing Rodimus for a loop that it wasn’t there.

Ratchet lifted his shoulders. “Because it’s pretty obvious that you’re less than enthused by this whole idea.”

“Hey, I didn’t say that,” Rodimus countered, his giddiness evaporating. “I was surprised, but if I wasn’t interested I would’ve said no.” He frowned, optics narrowing. “If there’s anyone who doesn’t want to be here, it’s got to be you.”

“I’m the one who had the idea!” Ratchet spluttered, hands raised, his armor puffing like he was about to head into battle.

The ease from the end of their earlier conversation was painful for its absence. What happened between now and then? Had Ratchet realized how much he didn’t want to do this? Because that’s what it felt like.

Rodimus ground his denta. He’d promised Drift he’d make this work. Drift had been so excited when Rodimus had commed him earlier to make sure it was alright he went out with Ratchet without Drift with them. Drift had been ecstatic. He’d only wanted them to have a good time. He promised Ratchet would be on his best behavior, and extracted a promise from Rodimus to try his best not to be antagonizing.

Drift wanted this to work. Honestly, Rodimus did, too. Not just because he’d get Drift out of the deal. But frag it. Was it hard to believe he liked Ratchet, too? Okay so maybe he hadn’t really considered a relationship with Ratchet before, but that was only because he was certain it would never happen. Since Ratchet hated him and all.

Now here they were and it had been less than five minutes and Rodimus already wanted to stomp away in a huff, and Ratchet looked a vent away from shouting.

Rodimus offlined his optics and rubbed his forehead. He took a steadying ventilation. He could do this. He could be mature and non-antagonizing. He could try. He just really needed Ratchet to put in a little effort, too.

“Yes, it was,” Rodimus replied in the steadiest voice he could manage. He lowered his hand. “What did you have in mind?”

Ratchet stared at him as if he’d sprouted a second pair of arms, a set of wings, and declared himself the new Winglord of Vos.

Rodimus squirmed under the look. He folded his arms and held his ground. He hoped he didn’t have to comm Drift for back up. Drift was counting on them to try. It was a pointless endeavor if they had to involve Drift.

“There’s a festival,” Ratchet finally said, his armor relaxing in increments. “It’s sort of like a muted version of Six Lasers over Cybertron. If you want to go.”

Rodimus’ optics widened. “Wait, you mean like with rides and unhealthy treats and stupid games you’re not supposed to win but cost a fortune?” His spoiler twitched before he could rein himself in.

Ratchet’s lips quirked in a soft smile. “Yes, exactly that. And our rich boyfriend gave me a nicely sized datachip.” He produced said datachip and gave it a wiggle.

Rodimus couldn’t decide which made him happier first. The amount of creds Drift no doubt had given them to spend, or the fact Ratchet had used the word ‘our’.

“Why didn’t you say so?” Rodimus asked. He snatched Ratchet’s free hand and started towing him toward the ramp, the sound of tinny music reaching his audials as he got closer to the opening.

Ratchet chuckled. “I’m thinking I should have.” He squeezed Rodimus’ hand. “Slow down, kid. The carnival’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Rodimus’ face flushed with heat. “Yeah, but…” He decelerated once they hit the steel walkway. “I’ve never been, you know, to Six Lasers. Always wanted to but I couldn’t. Out of my price range.” He shrugged, and disentangled his hand from Ratchet’s, raking it over his head. Ratchet probably didn’t want to hold his hand. “Was saving up and then, well, war.” He tucked his hands behind his back and tried to be dismissive. “It happens.”

“Yeah. War. Happens all the time,” Ratchet replied, his tone dry. “Well, this is no Six Lasers, but it should be entertaining.”

As it turned out, Ratchet wasn’t wrong.

Noise attacked them the closer they got to the carnival. Sight and sound flooded Rodimus’ sensors as Ratchet paid for them to enter and for an all-access bracelet, entirely sponsored by Drift’s datacard. Endless rides, free samples of every treat, and two free tries at every game of chance.

Drift was going to get such a reward later.

Rodimus expected Ratchet to be both grudging and grumpy, that he wouldn’t enjoy anything. That expectation was quickly dispelled by their very first stop: an arcade. Not the standalone games of chance, but a collection of games requiring tokens and varying degrees of skill. Ratchet parked himself in front of one and fed it a banker’s bag of tokens, as focused on the little coin spinning through the air, as he would be if he were trying to avoid bombarding artillery. He racked up quite the impressive score, and the game spat out a motherlode of tickets for him to collect.

Rodimus picked a game called ‘whack-a-mook’ and while he didn’t know what a mook was, it was damn cathartic to pour credits into the machine so he could keep banging their little green, spongy heads over and over, as they popped up from random holes. His ticket earnings weren’t quite as impressive as Ratchet’s, but he added them to their pile. Besides, he proved his mettle when they crammed themselves into the racing game, and Rodimus’ little mini-me sped across the finish line well ahead of Ratchet’s ambulance.

“I’m quicker where it counts,” Ratchet grumbled, but there was no actual anger in his voice, just good-natured grump.

Rodimus kind of liked Ratchet’s good-natured grump.

Three out of three wins had Rodimus pumping his fists into the air and doing a little dance, there in the middle of the arcade. A few of the other patrons clapped their appreciation for the show, and Rodimus waited for Ratchet to complain about him making a spectacle of himself. It never came. Instead, he stood there with an armful of colorful, paper tickets and cocked an orbital ridge.

“Can we move on now, or do you want to shake that aft some more?”

Rodimus laughed. “Like you weren’t watching?”

“Never said I wasn’t,” Ratchet replied and turned toward the counter, a flutter of tickets ripping free of his arms, prompting Rodimus to rescue them.

Rodimus scooped the tickets up off the ground and joined Ratchet at the counter, where he dumped his armload. The bored alien – organic not metallic – fed the tickets into an automatic counter and as the number called, Rodimus peered at the available prizes behind the counter.

“You pick,” Ratchet said.

“You earned most of them,” Rodimus said, but his optics lingered on one item in particular.

Ratchet must have noticed. Because he looked at it and looked at Rodimus and said, “Really? We spent more earning them than that thing is worth.”

“Yeah but…” Rodimus scratched at his chin and flicked his spoiler upward. “I thought Drift would like it.”

Like a magic word, Ratchet’s expression softened. Rodimus caught a glimpse of the way they felt about each other, and he tried not to be jealous.

“You’re right,” Ratchet said, grudgingly. “The idiot would.” He sighed and made a gesture. “We’ll take the sword.”

It was pure novelty. A stuffed replica of a weapon that was as long as Rodimus was tall, and covered in sequins and glitter. The jewels were sewn in buttons, and the hilt felt like plastic wrapped in foam. It was absolutely hideous, and Drift was going to love it.

The triple-eyed alien blinked all three in succession, grabbed the sword with an abnormally long hand and offered it without meeting their optics once. “You got some points left over. Want anything else?” they asked as a shorter, secondary arm casually flipped the page in a magazine in front of them.

Rodimus eyed the case beneath the alien. The cheap candies and even cheaper toys weren’t at all appealing. He had the best thing in his arms as it was.

“No. Give it to some kid who’s short or something,” Ratchet said, making the decision for them.

“Suit yourself.” Boneless shoulders rippled in what Rodimus guessed was a shrug.

Rodimus hauled the stuffed sword out of the arcade. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Drift’s face.

“You hungry?” Ratchet asked, and there was a calm in his voice now, an ease in the way he held himself, like he’d spent all his agitation there in the arcade and could now fully enjoy himself.

Rodimus vented and found the last of his tension draining away, too. “I don’t think there’s a time that I’m not,” he joked.

Ratchet snorted a laugh.

They found the vendors next, a cluster of small tracks providing an array of different kinds of treats, some of which they were wise to avoid. Organic foods would do nothing but gum up their systems. There were a few metallic vendors, however, and oil-drenched cakes were on the menu.

Rodimus ate two, the oil smearing over his lips and the corner of his mouth, until Ratchet rolled his eyes and wiped the oil away with his thumb. He popped it into his mouth, licking it clean, and Rodimus pretended the sight didn’t make his insides twist with want. Even though it most certainly did.

Ratchet devoured a handful of rust sticks, the flaky rust clinging to his fingertips, and even though he grumbled, he ate every last one of them. But then he had to be mean and lick his fingers clean before Rodimus could do it for him.

He may or may not have dripped some of the sweet oil on Drift’s sword.

They washed it all down with a midgrade so delicious, Rodimus was surprised it wasn’t manufactured on Cybertron. How aliens could find the proper ratios for a species no one liked was kind of fascinating.

Before they moved on to the next stop on Ratchet’s tour of amusement, which was what Rodimus had secretly dubbed their little excursion, Ratchet paused at one more vendor. He picked out a box of gummies with assorted fillings and when Rodimus looked at him with raised optical ridges, he said,

“They’re Drift’s favorite.”

He tucked them into his subspace between one vent and the next, and coughed like it embarrassed him to be caught spoiling his lover. It was, in a singular word, adorable. And if it hadn’t been so cute, Rodimus would have teased him mercilessly about it. As it was, he considered it a rare treat to see Ratchet being so sweet.

Ratchet and Fun were two words Rodimus never thought he could put in the same sentence. But once again, his expectations were blown out of the water when Ratchet dragged him toward their next experience – a haunted spaceship ride. Though calling it a ride was generous since they had to move through it on their own two feet.

It wasn’t at all terrifying.

But Rodimus still requested three copies of the picture that spat out at them by the end. Him, brandishing the stuffed sword at the gaping maw of some kind of toothy, tentacled creature while Ratchet attempted to glare it to death.

Drift would love this pic, too.

A throb of longing pinged through Rodimus’ spark just then. “Next time, we gotta bring Drift,” he said, mostly without thinking about it, because the thought crossed his mind and then he couldn’t not say it.

“We will,” Ratchet said. He lifted a hand, frowning like he didn’t know where to put it, before he dropped it to Rodimus’ shoulder. “But right now, it’s you and me.”

“Trying to figure out if we can do this,” Rodimus said.

Ratchet nodded, decisively.

Rodimus managed a smile, and hoped it was full of more bravado than timid hope. “Seems to be going okay so far.”

“Yes, it is.” Ratchet squeezed Rodimus’ shoulder before he took his hand back. Warmth tingled in its absence.

Rodimus squeezed the stuffed sword against his chest.

They hit the game row next, striding through rows of games of chance and skill, most of them rigged. There, Rodimus learned Ratchet was a painfully good shot. It made his spark squeeze a little because they were both aware why Ratchet was good with a gun.

Rodimus bit his bottom lip as he watched Ratchet line up each shot, adjusting for the sway and bob of the cheap gun. Ratchet’s hands were important. His hands had saved lives. They weren’t meant for taking sparks.

They weren’t Ratchet’s hands at all. If one wanted to be technical about it.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

Three targets in sharp succession.

A bonus target popped up with a terrifying giggle that was probably meant to be charming, but reminded Rodimus far too much of nightmares he kept burying deeper in his subconscious.

Ratchet sighted down the toy gun and pop, the bonus target spun on its axis and toppled over. Lights and sirens sounded, celebrating his victory. Ratchet couldn’t look less impressed if he tried.

Neither could the sales attendant.

“Pick a prize,” she drawled with painted chitinous fingers pointing upward to the toys dangling from a corrugated roof, swaying lightly on their plastic hooks.

“And not for Drift this time,” Ratchet said with a pointed look.

“You won it,” Rodimus said.

He hugged the stuffed sword against his chestplate, dragging in the cheap scent of it. The blunted tip kept dragging on the ground because it was just a shade too long. Pale cream fabric was turning a gray shade.

Ratchet twisted his jaw and surveyed the toys. The sales attendant’s filamentous wings flittered on her back. They were actually kind of pretty, even if they did remind Rodimus too much of Insecticons. Still, he bet they were functional. He’d often wondered what it would be like to fly, and not in a space ship or with a jet pack, but with one’s own frame and power.

“You sure?” the sales attendant asked, dragging Rodimus’ attention back to the very important matter of Ratchet choosing which cheap toy to take home with them.

“Do I look like I’m not?” Ratchet asked, gruff, maybe a touch embarrassed given the flush in his energy field.

The insectoid female fluttered her weird eyes and reached up with a spindly arm to unhook a giant pillow. It looked like a cartoonish version of a shooting star, bright whites and golds spilling from the tail in a streak, while the five pointed yellow star pushed forward, glittering in the dim light. She handed it over to Ratchet, who tucked it under his arm with a grunted ‘thanks’.

“Interesting choice,” Rodimus said as they turned away from the shooting game and ambled out, heading toward the massive Ferris wheel. It lit up the atmosphere and was the only thing Rodimus had been able to see from the loading dock.

It was big enough even Cybertronians could ride it.

Ratchet slowed and Rodimus caught up to him, so they walked side by side. Ratchet didn’t say anything, but he worked his jaw, frame tense, as if he were about to plunge into battle.

Rodimus nibbled on his bottom lip. This was one of those moments where he usually sort of threw Drift at Ratchet and took a step back, because he had no idea what he was doing, and he really didn’t want to frag things up. You know, like he always did.

They ended up at the back of the fairly impressive line for the Ferris wheel. Luckily, it was large enough they’d probably board on the next go-round, but that still meant waiting. Rodimus shifted from foot to foot, trying to pretend he wasn’t uneasy with the flustered medic beside him.

“It’s not for me,” Ratchet said as the wheel started turning.

Rodimus blinked and looked at him. “What?”

Ratchet sighed, long and aggrieved, and turned toward Rodimus, untucking the stuffed star from under his arm. “This one’s yours,” he said and unceremoniously shoved the toy toward Rodimus.

The stuffed star tumbled into his arms, and Rodimus had to juggle a little to keep a grip on the sword as well, so both wouldn’t land on the dirty ground. His face heated as he looked into the grinning face of the stuffed star. It was, in a way, kind of like being given a Rodimus Star.

“You picked it for me?” It came out as a question, though he’d meant it as a statement.

Ratchet grunted and folded his arms, staring hard at the Ferris wheel, willing it with ocular fire to turn faster. “It’s not a space ship or anything, but yeah, it’s for you.”

Spaceship…?

Oh. The Lost Light.

That so didn’t count in the grand scheme of things. It was important, and Rodimus would forever be grateful. Words really couldn’t express what Drift had done for him there.

But the toy? It was different. It was special. Rodimus couldn’t explain how or why, specifically, just that holding it made his spark dance and his internals warm. His fingers sank into the cheap plush. The stitched on smile was absurdly cartoonish.

It was the sweetest thing anyone had ever given him.

“Thanks,” Rodimus murmured. Heat gathered in his optics, and he blinked rapidly to chase it away. “I mean that, Ratch.” He tapped Ratchet’s side with the hilt of the pillow-sword. “I really like it.”

“It’s just a cheap toy,” Ratchet grumbled, but his face shaded pink, and his field rippled with embarrassment where it touched Rodimus’.

Rodimus moved closer, until he could feel the heat of Ratchet’s frame against his own. “It’s more than that.”

The jiggle of happiness in his spark turned into a full blown dance when Ratchet tentatively lifted his arm and curled it around Rodimus’ lower back, tucking him against Ratchet’s side.

“You’re welcome,” Ratchet said, gruff.

Rodimus’ spoiler danced before he could rein it in.

And then the damn line started to move forward because it was time to load up the next batch. The moment shattered. Ratchet moved away so they could shuffle forward like everyone else, and Rodimus struggled not to pout.

It seemed to take forever, the wheel spinning one by one to offload old passengers and load new ones. He and Ratchet were one of the last to board, and all it took was one look from Ratchet for the attendant to give up on demanding Rodimus hand over the plushes while they took their turn.

In the small gondola, their knees knocked, and their legs tangled, and their feet brushed. Rodimus had a stuffed toy to either side of him, and he fiddled with the trailing fire of the shooting star, his gaze out the open window.

The wheel lurched to a start, and it was a bit disorientating. Tinny music started to play, cheerful and upbeat, and lights flashed to match the rhythm. The wheel circled slowly, circling them higher and higher into the air, until the whole carnival was spread out beneath them, and the space station, too. Until Rodimus could squint and see the Lost Light docked in the distance.

“Drift would have loved this,” Rodimus said before he thought twice about it. But then, it wasn’t like he could forget the ghost of the mech they both loved, drifting between them, binding them together.

“He’d have said something about the energetic aura of the whole carnival being good or whatever,” Rodimus added with a little laugh. It was pitslag, and he knew it. Frag, even Drift knew it.

Sometimes, though. Sometimes you needed that pitslag for something to hold onto. Rodimus understood that a little too well.

Ratchet snorted a sound that could have been an agreeing laugh.

Rodimus slanted him a look. “Is Drift even okay with us, you know, doing this without him?” he asked.

He realized he hadn’t asked, had just assumed. Which was wrong because Ratchet’d been harping about how it wasn’t two plus one, but three altogether, so wouldn’t it be wrong for two to go off on their own? Rodimus had told Drift about this little venture, and Drift had wished them luck, but was he secretly upset about it?

He should have asked.

“It was his idea,” Ratchet said with a scowl. He looked offended at the mere thought he’d be rude enough not to ask.

Rodimus’ optics widened. “Seriously?”

Ratchet leaned forward in the gondola, his face contorting into a weird expression. “Me and you and me and Roddy got it easy, you know. But you and Roddy got a lot of work to do,” he said, obviously attempting to imitate Drift.

Badly.

Rodimus laughed. “The words sound like him, but that’s a terrible impersonation.”

“Everyone’s a critic,” Ratchet grumped, but there was a curl to his lip that suggested he wasn’t offended.

“It’s cute though,” Rodimus pointed out as he dragged his attention away from the view and back to Ratchet. They were circling back down toward the ground anyway.

“I’m old, not cute,” Ratchet said in a flat tone.

“There are different kinds of cute,” Rodimus corrected. He nudged Ratchet with the tip of his foot, their knees knocking together. “But this is okay? I mean, I know it was Drift’s idea, so…”

Ratchet waved a hand, cutting him off. “So nothing,” he said. “Drift put the idea in my head, yes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it.” He leaned close enough to rest a hand on Rodimus’ knee. “I meant it when I said we’d try and make this work.” He paused and a crooked grin emerged. “Spending time with you isn’t the worst thing.”

Rodimus hugged the shooting star against his chest. “But not the best thing either.”

“That’s not what I said.” Ratchet’s grip on his knee tightened, as if in warning.

Rodimus cocked an orbital ridge, daring Ratchet to lie and tell him otherwise. Ratchet was trying, but that didn’t mean he was ready to dive in headfirst. Those were two different things.

Ratchet sighed and scrubbed a hand down his face. “Look, Rodimus, if you want romance and sweet nothings, that’s Drift’s area of expertise, not mine. I can’t promise that so if it’s what you want, I’m going to fail.”

“No, I don’t want you to be anything but what you are,” Rodimus said, and cycled a ventilation, daring to rest his free hand over Ratchet’s. “I just want to make sure you’re here because you want to be and not because you have to be.” He squinted. “I’m not even sure that makes sense.”

“It does.” Ratchet snorted a laugh. “I’m starting to learn your language.”

“It’s the same language!” Rodimus protested, his spoiler jerking upright.

Ratchet shook his head. “Yeah, not even close.” He smiled and shifted so he could look out the window as they rose back into the night. He turned his hand over so their fingers touched. “I’m having fun. And I mean that.”

Rodimus squinted at him again. He sensed no dishonesty in Ratchet’s field though. Besides, Ratchet wasn’t the sort to lie to spare Rodimus’ feelings.

Drift would though. And that was another problem entirely.

“Okay, good,” Rodimus said. He turned his head to watch the scenery, too. “What’s next?”

Ratchet’s index finger traced odd symbols on his palm. “That’s up to you. I think it’s your turn to pick now.”

His turn? What else was there to do? They’d played games and walked around and enjoyed the rides and won prizes and right now, were in the top of the pick, the Ferris wheel. It was one of the best dates Rodimus ever had.

But being together platonically wasn’t the only wrinkle they had to iron out.

Rodimus squirmed as the Ferris wheel hit the apex and creakingly slow, started to descend once more. “Can we leave?”

“You’re not having fun?”

Sparks danced off Rodimus’ audials. “I am, it’s just…” He coughed a vent, trying to pull off nonchalant and failing. “We could have fun elsewhere. In private. With a berth.” He gave Ratchet a sidelong look.

There was a moment of stunned silence before Ratchet chuckled, and his field swept over Rodimus’, thick with heat. “You want to frag me, Rodimus?” he asked, his vocals abruptly dark and gritty, like a rumbling engine.

“Or you know, whatever.” Rodimus shrugged and stared out the window as the view rapidly scrolled away from a beautiful vista, to the cluttered and bright stalls of the carnival.

Ratchet leaned back and his foot nudged Rodimus’. “Sounds good to me.”

The Ferris wheel came to a stop, and it swapped out old passengers for new. It was a process which took several minutes, and Rodimus couldn’t keep still. He kept sneaking glances at Ratchet, but the medic looked unbothered, staring out the opposite window as their gondola creaked slowly toward the exit ramp.

By the time they disembarked, Rodimus was ready to leap out of his armor from anticipation. He tucked Drift’s sword under his arm, and the shooting star against his chest, and then startled when Ratchet’s hand claimed his free one. His optics widened as their fingers tangled, and their joined hands set into a soft swing.

“What are you…” Rodimus trailed off, not sure what to say, but pretty sure calling attention to the action would only make Ratchet stop. And the last thing he wanted was for Ratchet to stop.

“You want romance, don’t you?” Ratchet asked.

Rodimus swept his glossa over his lips. “Yeah. But you said–”

“Never mind what I said,” Ratchet huffed, and tightened his hold on Rodimus’ fingers, reeling him closer so their strides matched, like they were here together and not coincidentally next to each other.

Ratchet was a bundle of contradictions.

“Whatever you say,” Rodimus said, because he didn’t want to push.

This was nice. It felt genuine, like they were here not because of Drift, but because they liked one another for no secondary reason. Like a courtship or the first flush of attraction.

For the first time since this whole mess began, Rodimus started to think this might actually work out.

~

Drift and Ratchet’s shared habsuite was empty when they arrived, a bit cold as though no one had been around all day. The lights brightened once their presence was recognized.

Rodimus clutched the shooting star and the sword a bit tighter, his head on a swivel as he peered around the room. “Where’s Drift?”

“Still with Perceptor, I’d wager,” Ratchet said with a dismissive, unconcerned tone. The door slid shut behind him. “He’ll sneak into the berth sometime tonight. We’ll probably wake up with him on top of us.”

Rodimus squeezed the toys until he heard the stuffing squeak. “We?”

Ratchet arched an orbital ridge. “Were you planning on leaving?”

“No.” Rodimus let a smile curve his lips, while warmth bubbled in his abdomen like the first time someone told him he was pretty. “I just like to hear you say ‘we’.”

Ratchet gave him a long look before he suddenly approached Rodimus and lifted the stuffed toys out of his hand. Rodimus blinked as Ratchet tossed them aside, kind of unceremoniously, and then he turned back toward Rodimus. His expression was intent, but soft around the edges, which was pretty weird.

Weirder still was the way Ratchet cupped his face, thumbs sweeping over his cheeks, before he leaned in and pressed his lips to Rodimus’. Heat rattled and clunked through Rodimus’ lines, stilted at first due to shock, but gaining in strength as Ratchet’s glossa touched the seam of his lips, tasting him.

A shiver crept up Rodimus’ spinal strut. He grabbed Ratchet’s arms, gripped around his elbows, and opened his mouth to the press of Ratchet’s glossa. It swept inside, traced the edges of his denta, slow and deliberate and savoring.

Rodimus’ knees shook.

Ratchet pulled back, his thumbs curving soft against Rodimus’ cheeks again. “Is that what you had in mind?” he asked.

“It’s a start,” Rodimus said, and surprised himself with how staticky his voice was. He felt, well, he wasn’t sure what to call what he felt, save that he never thought he would feel it for Ratchet.

Ratchet who had slid his hands free of Rodimus’ face, only to grab the nearest of Rodimus’ hands and start towing him to the berth. The very large berth easily fit Ratchet and Drift, and could now accommodate Rodimus on the nights he stayed with them. More often than not, probably less than Drift wanted but more than Ratchet could tolerate.

Rodimus hadn’t figured out the right balance. He didn’t want to push his limits. Small steps, he knew. Triads weren’t built in a day.

Ratchet squeezed his hand, and Rodimus’ spark took up a faster, deeper rhythm. Unexpected enthusiasm sent heat pulsing through his lines, and the wobbling in his knees was probably embarrassingly audible.

Ratchet dropped down onto the edge of the berth, and didn’t give Rodimus time to hesitate or debate or loiter. He tugged Rodimus into his lap, Rodimus’ knees pressed into the berth to either side of Ratchet’s hips. Hands found Rodimus’ waist, pulling him closer, and it was an easy thing to slot his mouth to Ratchet’s again.

He draped his arms over Ratchet’s shoulders, their chestplates colliding, the kiss deepening. It was slow, languid, like trying to taste and memorize the shape of each other’s mouths. Rodimus couldn’t remember the last time someone kissed him like this. It was too far in the past, if it had ever happened at all.

Ratchet’s hands swept up and down his sides. “This okay?” he asked against Rodimus’ mouth. His voice was low, intimate, soft like Rodimus didn’t know it could be.

Rodimus laughed quietly. He honestly didn’t know what else to do with the nervous energy bubbling up in his belly. “Yeah. I just didn’t expect it, you know.”

“I don’t always throw mechs down and frag them silly,” Ratchet said with a quirk to his lips that made him seem a thousand years younger and completely kissable.

Though the mental image now planted in Rodimus’ processor made his engine rev. The idea of Ratchet throwing him down and having his wicked away with Rodimus? Yeah, that’ll be one for private time in the washrack later.

“Unless it’s what they want, of course,” Ratchet added and his hands slid up Rodimus’ back, finely jointed fingers finding Rodimus’ spoiler hinges and giving them a pinch.

Rodimus’ backstrut arched. He shivered and tilted forward with a groan, his forehead finding Ratchet’s shoulder. He went strutless, a limp pile of flame-colored armor in Ratchet’s lap as Ratchet fondled his spoiler over and over again. He stirred up jagged streaks of heat through Rodimus’ lines, until it pooled in his groin, an ache impossible to ignore.

“Is that what you want?” Ratchet asked, his voice like a fine-tuned engine as it rumbled against Rodimus’ audial.

Rodimus rocked in Ratchet’s lap. “This is good, too,” he said, and abandoned all semblance of self-control.

He let his panels open, spike pressurizing, the wet tip of it grinding slow and insistent over Ratchet’s abdomen. Pleasure wound and twisted in his belly, forming knots of need, while his valve throbbed.

Ratchet hummed an approving noise. He pinched Rodimus’ spoiler hinge again, and sharp pain-pleasure-good marched up Rodimus’ backstrut and pinged his cortex. He shivered, rocking harder against Ratchet, wanting more.

“You can spike me,” Rodimus panted as his fingers curled into Ratchet’s back, hooking on an overhanging armor plate, some kind of transformation seam.

Ratchet vented against the side of his intake, his glossa tracing a wet path over Rodimus’ cables. “Like this?” Something hot nudged at Rodimus’ rim, coating itself in his slick and prodding at his anterior node with little skating brushes.

Rodimus’ cables tensed. He rocked down, trying to catch the spikehead with the rim of his valve, but failing to match the angle. He growled in frustration, hands forming fists against Ratchet’s back.

“Not fair,” he whined.

Ratchet chuckled and his hands dropped to Rodimus’ aft. He gripped tight and abruptly stood up.

Rodimus’ head spun. He scrambled for a hold, legs tightening around Ratchet’s waist, the hot length of Ratchet’s spike nestling against his valve. Each movement made it rub enticingly, sending jolts of pleasure through Rodimus’ array.

Ratchet spun and flattened Rodimus on the berth, on his back. He knelt between Rodimus’ thighs and threaded their fingers together. He hovered over Rodimus, and there was absolutely no threat in it, not even when he pinned Rodimus’ hands over his head. Ratchet’s mouth fell over his in a sweet kiss, his hips rocking against Rodimus’, grinding spike over valve in a slow stir of molten heat.

Rodimus shivered. It was romantic, not the rough and tumble he’d expected. It felt like Ratchet actually wanted him, and the thought made his spark tremble.

He crossed his legs behind Ratchet’s back and tried to urge him closer with his heels. Ratchet was not to be convinced, however. He nipped at Rodimus’ lips, licked at his mouth, kissed him slowly and carefully, without urgency. It was sweet and intimate and everything Rodimus didn’t expect.

Rodimus squirmed, loosing a pathetic noise, because he wanted, and Ratchet was taking too long. It felt as though his spark would throb right out of its casing.

“Come on,” Rodimus said against Ratchet’s mouth, somewhat muffled and most definitely not a whine. He rocked his hips upward, shuddering as Ratchet’s spike glanced over his anterior node again. “Frag me, damn it.”

Ratchet chuckled and nosed into Rodimus’ throat, denta grazing over his cables. “You’re so impatient.” He rippled his fingers around Rodimus’, like he was trying to speak Hand but Rodimus hadn’t learned how to read it yet.

“That’s because you’ve been revving me up all night,” Rodimus retorted and tightened his thighs against Ratchet’s hips. “Come on, Ratch. Please.”

Ratchet’s field pushed against his, wrapping him up in a heavy blanket of approval and lust. “I’m going to savor that sound forever,” he murmured and then he shifted his weight, adjusted his angle, and Rodimus moaned as Ratchet finally sank home, thick and throbbing over every one of Rodimus’ internal nodes.

His backstrut arched, head tipping back, throat bared to the onslaught of Ratchet’s denta and lips. Ratchet didn’t linger, setting up a steady pace that had him thrusting long and deep, grinding against Rodimus’ exterior sensors, building his pleasure to a crescendo that was almost embarrassing for it’s quickness.

“Primus,” Rodimus gasped, squeezing Ratchet’s hands, his frame rising up to meet Ratchet’s as their fields synced, pulsing heat and desire in tandem.

Genuine desire. Need Ratchet couldn’t fake or pretend. He actually wanted this, wanted Rodimus. For himself, not for Drift’s sake.

“You can let go,” Ratchet murmured, and Rodimus could never explain why that one statement seemed to shoot straight to his spark and send out a bloom of warmth that coursed through his entire frame.

Not in a thousand years would he understand why it melted him to his core, and why he shattered into overload on the next sparkbeat, his moan swallowed by Ratchet’s lips. He shook and shivered beneath Ratchet, thighs clamped tight, valve rippling, and Ratchet eased his thrusts to extend Rodimus’ pleasure. As if his enjoyment was all that mattered in that moment.

The strongest of tremors eased, and Ratchet made as if to pull back, until Rodimus tightened his thighs and tore his lips away.

“Nope,” he said, popping the syllable, squeezing Ratchet’s hands in his. “Keep going.”

Ratchet’s expression flickered with disgruntlement, but the need in his field was raw and trembling. His hips rocked forward as if unconsciously, his spike grazing over sensitized nodes and making Rodimus shiver.

“You–”

“–Can overload again if you’re good enough,” Rodimus said with a smug wink and a hint of a challenge.

Ratchet thrust into him again, a little harsher, a little faster. Rodimus shivered, his valve spiraling tight, the echoes of overload whipping around and surging back toward build-up. Mmm. His vents roared, and Rodimus sucked his bottom lip into his mouth, gnawing on it.

“You think I can’t tell you’re goading me?” Ratchet asked as he unthreaded their fingers, and Rodimus tried not to mourn their loss.

It was easier, since one of Ratchet’s hands gripped his hip, pulling him into each thrust. The other curled around his spike, thumb sweeping the tip and swirling around the copious pre-fluid.

Rodimus hissed a vent and fisted the covers, his spike throbbing in Ratchet’s grip. “I don’t care if you can or not, so long as you keep doing that,” he groaned.

Ratchet chuckled, and it actually sounded fond. His lips tasted the curve of Rodimus’ jaw as he pushed in faster, and harder, jolting Rodimus’ frame with each thrust, the head of his spike crashing against Rodimus’ ceiling node.

He shuddered, pleasure pinging up his spinal strut in hot waves, his thighs aching where they clamped around Ratchet’s hip. The hand on his aft squeezed rhythmically, to the same beat as Ratchet’s thrusts.

The berth creaked. Rodimus grabbed Ratchet’s head, dragging his mouth close enough for a sloppy kiss, an exchange of puffed ex-vents that hinted of the sweets they’d consumed earlier. His spoiler pushed into the cushion, and Ratchet loomed over him, a large weight that comforted rather than alarmed him.

They moved together in a discordant rhythm, only because Rodimus hadn’t been with Ratchet long enough to know the dance. Then again, he’d never been with anyone long enough to learn the music.

It’s a terrifying thought, the idea that this tentative thing among he and Ratchet and Drift, might actually be a thing of permanence. It’s a terrifying, exhilarating thought, and the realization must have crashed into his field because Ratchet’s pulsed back, full of warmth and desire and not love, of course not. They were still tolerating each other. But the affection? Oh, that was so sweet and obvious and cozy, and Rodimus soaked in it like an oil bath.

He tipped his head back and moaned, rising up to meet Ratchet’s deep thrusts, release coiling and tightening in his belly and his lines. Ratchet’s mouth was warm and wet on his intake, tasting his cables, nibbling at them.

“G-guess you’re good enough,” Rodimus managed to gasp out as his valve tightened and he struggled to focus on holding back, rather than stealing pleasure again while Ratchet still sought out his first.

Ratchet chuckled against his intake. “Kid, you have no idea,” he growled, the vibrations fast and furious over Rodimus’ cables.

He shuddered. He lost focus and his backstrut bowed as he overloaded again, sharper and heavier this time. The heat poured through his limbs, rattled through his spark, sent his vision into dizzying stripes of static. His spike throbbed, spurting a wet mess against Ratchet’s belly and spattering down over Rodimus’ own.

Somewhere, in the sensitive ripples of his valve, he felt the bloom of heat that was Ratchet’s overload. Ratchet’s grip on him tightened, and he held Rodimus on his spike, hips working in small circles. Ratchet moaned, low and deep, and the sound of it sizzled through Rodimus’ sensory suite. He could have sworn he heard his designation somewhere in the sound.

And then Ratchet kissed him again, mouth sloppy and wet, and Rodimus didn’t think about much else but the taste of Ratchet on his glossa, and the hot throb of fading ecstasy. His hands dropped to cupping the back of Ratchet’s neck, keeping him close, and Ratchet’s hands moved to smooth Rodimus’ hips to his thighs and back again.

It was… a lot gentler than Rodimus could have ever expected.

Ratchet pressed his forehead to Rodimus’, and his voice spilled out in a soft chuckle. “I didn’t break you, did I?”

Rodimus chuffed a vent. “I should be asking you that.”

“I’m not–” Ratchet cut off with an aggrieved grunt and pulled back, easing free of Rodimus with overly careful movements. “I’m going to let that one slide.”

Rodimus grinned. “Because you know it’s true.”

“Because I’m too tired to argue.” Ratchet sat back on his heels, while Rodimus’ legs rose on either side of him, and he rested his hands on Rodimus’ knees. He tilted his head and gave Rodimus a strange look. “Huh.”

Rodimus pushed up on his elbows. “What?” He was painfully aware of the transfluid splattered on his abdomen and groin and the mess no doubt seeping from his valve. He looked wrecked and debauched, and usually, this was the point past conquests leered and tried turning him over for round two.

He wouldn’t describe the look on Ratchet’s face as a leer. In fact, he wasn’t sure how to describe it at all.

Ratchet squeezed his knees. “Why isn’t this weird?”

Rodimus blinked. “Is it supposed to be?” Though come to think of it, Ratchet had a point. Rodimus couldn’t put into words why, but yeah, why wasn’t this awkward?

“Yes,” Ratchet said, but then he sighed and patted Rodimus’ knees, scooting off the berth. “Never mind. I’m glad it isn’t. Don’t move.” He pointed at Rodimus firmly, like someone used to giving commands and having them obeyed.

Yeah, Ratchet had always been way better at that than Rodimus. He snapped his fingers and people obeyed without a second thought. Rodimus usually had to cajole or threaten or wheedle.

Rodimus didn’t get up, but he did wriggle around to get more comfortable, tracking Ratchet as he stepped into the washrack. Solvent spattered, something clattered across the floor, and Ratchet muttered a curse. A moment later, he emerged with a damp metalmesh and his own frame hastily wiped clean.

Rodimus made himself available as the berth dipped, and Ratchet sat beside him, sweetly careful as he wiped at Rodimus’ belly and inner thighs. He had a look of intense focus on his face, like he did something much more complicated than giving Rodimus a post-interface wipedown.

He was trying, too. He was putting as much effort into this as Rodimus was.

Rodimus chewed on his bottom lip as a swell of affection burst in his spark. He put his hand on Ratchet’s wrist before the medic could pull away, and blue optics shifted to him, ridges raised in question.

“Thanks,” Rodimus said.

“I seriously question your previous partners if no one’s bothered to wipe you down before,” Ratchet said with a grunt, a touch of color in his face. His gaze slid away, and he tried to pull free.

Rodimus didn’t let him go. “That’s not what I meant.” He cycled a ventilation, steadying himself. “Thanks for tonight. For trying, and you know, giving me a chance. Primus knows I’ve not made any kind of a good impression on you.”

Ratchet’s shoulders drifted down. His expression softened. “That’s not something you need to thank me for, kid.” He sat back down and loosened Rodimus’ fingers from his wrist, but only so he could tangle their hands together. “Yeah, I started out doing this because of Drift, and yeah, tonight was his idea. But he’s not the reason I had fun. And he’s not the one in this berth right now.”

Heat flooded Rodimus’ face before he could stop it. His spark throbbed too many fast beats, and he wanted to squirm away from Ratchet, turn on his side so Ratchet couldn’t see his face. But their hands were linked together, and there was nowhere to hide.

“That’s…” Rodimus’ vocalizer crackled, and he rebooted it. “That’s good to know.”

Ratchet snorted and leaned forward, tugging Rodimus’ hand upward at the same time. He brushed his lips over Rodimus’ knuckles before he untangled their fingers and rose from the berth. He threw the dirtied mesh cloth in the laundry bin, flicked all of the lights off save for a small lamp near the door, then returned to the bedside.

He stared at the berth like it was a puzzle.

It took Rodimus a minute to realize what the problem was, and then he scooted over a foot or two and pointedly patted the empty space beside him.

“Plenty of room,” he pointed out and hoped he didn’t sound like a hopeless romantic.

“I know there is. It’s my berth.” Ratchet joined Rodimus on it like he hadn’t stood there for a solid minute, hesitating.

Rodimus didn’t wait for him to settle. If he waited, there would be another one of those long, awkward silences, and he’d thought they’d gotten past the awkward part. Instead, he tucked himself against Ratchet’s side before the medic got comfortable.

Ratchet grumbled, but he curved an arm around Rodimus anyway and didn’t seem to mind Rodimus making a pillow of his shoulder. His engine idled, warm and rumbling, and Rodimus found the sound soothing.

“Drift coming back tonight?” Rodimus asked because if there was ever a safe topic, Drift was it.

Ratchet huffed. “He’ll come back when he’s ready. Last I checked, he and Percy were bonding. Whatever the frag that means.”

Rodimus grinned. “That’s one weird friendship.” He paused and inched his palm over Ratchet until it flattened on the medic’s windshield. “You’re not… um…”

“Worried?” Ratchet finished for him. He patted Rodimus’ lower back. “Not at all. Perceptor’s Perceptor.”

Rodimus squinted. “Not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult.”

“Take it as a sign we should recharge,” Ratchet grumped.

“Old mech,” Rodimus teased, careful to keep his tone light and playful.

Judging by the light slap to his aft, he succeeded. Rodimus grinned and dutifully offlined his optics, focusing on the sounds of Ratchet’s frame, sounds he’d eventually memorize. More gratitude held at the tip of his glossa, but Rodimus didn’t voice it.

As Ratchet had said, it wasn’t necessary. Rodimus believed him.

For a start, this was a damn good one.

He slid into recharge to the steady, if not a bit snuffling, rhythm of Ratchet venting.

~

A sound in the stillness jolted Rodimus out of recharge. His optics snapped open, and he tried to roll, but there was a weight beneath him, and a hand on his spoiler, palm flat against the plane of it.

“Shh. It’s just me.”

Relief flooded his system. Rodimus went limp against what he recognized to be Ratchet beneath him, vents snoring as he remained in recharge. “Where’ve you been?” Rodimus whispered as he dropped his head back to Ratchet’s shoulder.

“With Perceptor. Didn’t Ratchet tell you?”

“Yeah. Forgot.” Rodimus hummed. “Didja have fun?”

Recharge kept trying to reclaim him. Rodimus valiantly fought it off as the berth jostled, and Drift climbed up into it, nestling himself carefully against Rodimus’ back and tangling their legs together.

“Of course.” Drift’s arm slung over his midsection, and his hand brushed Ratchet’s belly as a result. “Did you?”

Rodimus chuckled softly. “Actually, yeah.” He offlined his optics and focused on the warmth of Drift at his back and Ratchet rumbling beneath him. “Got you a present.”

Drift’s field fluttered with interest. “What is it?”

“Show you later.” Rodimus wriggled a bit to get perfectly comfortable and cycled a ventilation or two. “We gotta go back, all three of us. And you and me gotta win Ratchet a prize. Fair’s fair.”

Drift laughed against his audial and brushed a kiss over Rodimus’ cheek. “Sounds like fun.” He nuzzled the back of Rodimus’ head. “I’m glad you two got along. I was worried.”

“Fft. We’re fine. We’re big mechs.”

“I know. I still worry.”

Drift’s hand slid to Rodimus’ waist, but it was a mostly chaste touch as he gave Rodimus a little squeeze. “What did you guys do?”

“We can talk about it in the morning.”

It took Rodimus a stupidly long amount of time to realize that it was Ratchet who’d said the latter, his voice emerging in a rocky groan of annoyance. Rodimus’ berth shifted beneath him, and his optics snapped open as a broad arm suddenly wrapped around his waist and tugged him up and over Ratchet, until he was snuggled up on the medic’s other side, said arm still curved around him, his head now pillowed on Ratchet’s opposite shoulder.

Drift laughed and yelped as Ratchet’s other hand grabbed and pulled, tucking Drift in under his other hand.

“Shhh,” Ratchet said once he had them tucked where he apparently wanted them. He patted their frames in friendly staccato. “Recharge now. Babble in the morning.”

Rodimus chuckled and rubbed his face against Ratchet’s shoulder, soaking up the combined warmth of their fields. He reached across Ratchet and found Drift reaching back, tangling their fingers together with a little squeeze.

He met Drift’s optics over the swell of Ratchet’s chestplate, and they shared a warm smile in the dim glow of their combined biolights. A tiny knot of tension eased in Rodimus’ spark, and he shuttered his optics.

Oh yeah.

They were totally going to make this work.

****

[IDW] Walking the Wire 12

“I don’t know if I should congratulate you or offer my sympathies.”

Megatron startled at the unexpected voice, and then cursed himself for not being more aware of his surroundings. He’d been too preoccupied with his own thoughts while soaking in the warm solvent, and not paying enough attention to his passive perception.

Behind him, Ravage chuckled.

Megatron cycled a ventilation and went back to scrubbing his armor clean – paying more attention to the paint streaks this time. Apparently that was what had clued in First Aid, according to Ratchet. It didn’t help that what he and Ratchet had done in the medic’s private rack had not counted as getting clean. Megatron was forced to use the public facilities if he had any hope of showing up for his shift looking respectable.

“Perhaps both,” Megatron replied.

Ravage snorted, but whether he disagreed or agreed, it was hard to say. He sat on his haunches, head tilted, gaze steady. His field was completely unreadable, and he was not on any of Megatron’s sensors. If he hadn’t spoken, Megatron wouldn’t have known he was there.

“Do you disapprove?” Megatron asked as the fall of the solvent helped mask their conversation, but not by much. Luckily, the racks were otherwise deserted, as they often were whenever Megatron saw fit to use them.

“It’s not my place to approve or disapprove,” Ravage replied in an even tone he had to have taught Soundwave, for its lack of inflection.

Megatron glanced over his shoulder. “Yes it is.”

“Well, in that case, you can’t trust him,” Ravage said. His front paws kneaded the ground, talons extending and retracting as though aching to sink into something and cause mayhem.

“Yes, I know. But he can’t trust me either, to be fair.” Megatron flicked off the spray and stood there for a moment, letting the initial rush drip free of his frame.

“Then why are you together?”

Megatron snagged a towel, wiping his face before he turned toward Ravage. “Because there are different kinds of trust.” He rubbed himself dry, wicking away the more obvious bits of moisture.

Silence settled between them. Heavy, but not tense. Ravage looked at him, and Megatron felt the weight of his assessing gaze. He let the silence linger while he methodically cleaned himself before he added, without looking at Ravage,

“I want to be with him,” he said, tone firm without being commanding.

“And you’re sure that’s what he wants, too?”

Megatron bundled the towel in his hands, twisting the fabric. He considered Ratchet’s confession, what Ratchet had done for him with Ultra Magnus.

He tossed the towel into the laundry bin. “Yes.”

Ravage’s head tilted. “Then that’s all that matters.” Something in his posture relaxed, plating unlocked as he dialed down from what was a defensive mode.

Megatron’s lip curled in a half-smile. “You’re not wrong, you know.”

“I rarely am,” Ravage replied, tone amused, mouth curving in a way that suggested a grin.

Megatron laughed, and it felt like a weight lifted from his shoulders, this tension between he and Ravage which had curled into a tight knot between his shoulder blades. He had missed their cameraderie, and had loathed the ache of guilt he’d felt in the interim.

“I need to ask a favor.”

“I’m listening.”

“Can you contact Soundwave and arrange a conversation?”

Ravage’s optics narrowed, head cocking. “Are you..?”

Megatron shook his head in a sharp negative. “No. I just…” He paused and cycled a ventilation, hoping to unknot the twisting coils of tension in his spark. “There are things I need to say. Words I owe him.” He owed Soundwave a great many things. An honest conversation was only the beginning.

“It can be done.” Ravage stood, padding without sound toward Megatron, only to pass him by and flick him with the stub of his tail. “Of all the sparklings I helped raise, I think you’re the most troublesome.”

It was Megatron’s turn to snort. “I hardly count as a sparkling.”

“In comparison to me, you definitely do. You and Soundwave both.” Ravage’s field flicked out, ripe with amusement and something that tasted of approval. “I’ll make contact and let you know.”

“I appreciate it.” Megatron moved past the mirror, giving himself a cursory glance. There were no obvious red or white streaks in his paint. Not on his thighs, his shoulders, his – he twisted to check – his back. All was clear. “Now I have to be on shift shortly. You know where to find me.”

“In Ratchet’s berth, yes, I know.”

Megatron rolled his optics. “I’m not always there.”

“More often than not, as of late.” Ravage stepped past him, toward the exit, tail twitching. “This is not me judging, by the way. Just making an observation.”

The door opened ahead of them.

The corridor wasn’t empty. Megatron’s co-captain stood in wait, leaning against the wall opposite the door, his arms folded over his chassis. He had one ankle crossed over the other, in a pose that was probably meant to be nonchalant, but didn’t quite manage it.

Ravage slunk down the hallway, leaving Megatron alone with his co-captain. Blue optics slid his direction as Rodimus pushed off the wall.

“Did you think I wasn’t coming to relieve you?” Megatron asked with a raised orbital ridge.

“No. I just didn’t think you wanted to have this conversation on the bridge.”

Megatron’s fairly good mood plummeted. He frowned. “And what conversation would that be?”

For once, Rodimus appeared serious and not so much his playful self. “The one where we talk about the fact you’re fragging my CMO, and he made the mistake of telling you about the fool’s energon.”

“Ah.” Megatron crossed his arms, standing firm. “I don’t think it’s any of your business whose berth I warm. You’re talking about the interfacing choices between two consenting mechs.”

Rodimus’ optics narrowed.

“Not to mention the fact Ratchet is no longer your CMO,” Megatron continued, because he could, and he felt Rodimus ought to remember that little detail about one of his crewmembers. “Technically, that position is First Aid’s.”

Rodimus audibly cycled a ventilation and rolled his optics. “I knew that, and don’t sidestep my point.”

“You’ve yet to make one.” Megatron shifted his weight. “Are you warning me? Threatening me?”

Rodimus squared his jaw. “Both.” He jabbed a finger toward Megatron’s chestplate, right below his badge. “Ratchet can make his own choices, so I’m not about that. What I am about is how much you better be genuine with him. He put a lot of faith in you. Don’t repay it by being… well, you.”

It was almost sweet, his concern for Ratchet. Megatron could tell it was genuine. Rodimus’ field was all but shouting at him, and he bristled with protective anger. He wasn’t particularly close to Ratchet, Megatron knew this much. So was it a generic protectiveness for his crew? Or distaste for Megatron in general?

Perhaps it was both.

“Again, it’s none of your business,” Megatron repeated, but the anger he expected to burst inside of him did not come. “But I’m sure Ratchet will appreciate you speaking on his behalf.”

Rodimus scowled. “You can’t threaten me with his temper.”

“Is that what I was doing?” Megatron’s lips twitched to conceal the smile wanting to break out.

Rodimus’ jaw twisted, optics narrowing like he wanted to show his pique, and held back at the last moment. “This isn’t a game, Megatron.”

Megatron hardened his gaze. “I never claimed it was. I certainly don’t think it is, and neither does Ratchet.” He gnawed on the inside of his cheek. “Our relationship is our business. As for the fool’s energon, that is my burden to bear.”

“Until you realize how strong you actually are and decide it’s time to stop pretending you’re an Autobot,” Rodimus retorted. His hands pulled into fists at his side.

“After this long, you still think I’m pretending?”

Rodimus tapped his chestplate again, and he was damn lucky Megatron was trying to be better, because his old self would have decked the other mech already. “I think you’ve been a Decepticon for a long, long time. And as much as I want to believe in Optimus’ little experiment, my crew needs me to be cautious. So that’s what I’m going to be.”

“Trust but verify,” Megatron said. “How prudent of you.” He stepped back, out of Rodimus’ reach, readying himself in case Rodimus tried touching him again. “If only you displayed such intelligence more often.”

Anger flashed in Rodimus’ optics. His lips formed a thin line, and then he stepped back as well, furthering the distance between them. His vents whooshed in a hard burst, and he looked like he might consider saying something else. But then he spun on a heel and stomped away, spoiler flick-flicking in gestures reminiscent of Starscream.

Megatron didn’t think either of them came away the victor in that conversation.

He sighed and headed to the bridge.

~

His shift was quiet, if not uneventful. There was a dull haze lingering around the ship right now. Their hope of finding the Knights of Cybertron had been dashed on the jagged rocks of a horror show. They hadn’t found answers, just more questions. They’d turned around, heading back the way they came, but it would take an equal amount of weeks to retrace their steps.

Megatron spent the ship reviewing the data they’d pulled from the computers at Clandestine. It was simultaneously a relief and a disappointment to learn their ancestors, whatever offshoot of the Knights they’d been, were capable of equal amounts of horror and death as they were now.

For all that the Lost Light was searching for the Knights for answers, Megatron was starting to believe that they’d find no salvation in the ancient mechs.

Or maybe the search wasn’t about finding the Knights at all.

Midway through his shift, the bridge staff changed, staggered as always to ensure there was no moment without proper coverage. Megatron noted it absently, trusting the crew to change over without issue.

A presence in his periphery, however, attracted his attention. He marked his place in the report and looked up to find Bluestreak within speaking distance, giving him a curious look. The sniper’s threat lingered at the back of his mind, and Megatron had taken it seriously.

“Yes?”

Bluestreak moved a step closer, head tilted. “I’m trying to decide if I should congratulate you or wish you luck.”

“You’re the second person to say that to me today,” Megatron said. “Is there something about Ratchet I should know?”

Bluestreak folded his arms over his chassis. “There are a lot of things, but it’s not my place to tell you. It’s his.” He looked over Megatron’s shoulder, staring into the distance. “I still don’t trust you. But I’m beginning to.” His gaze wandered back. “Don’t frag that up.”

He should not feel as threatened as he did.

“Noted,” Megatron said.

“Good.” Bluestreak paused before he offered a hand to Megatron, his posture relaxing and his tone shifting to something more congenial. “If you need some information, let me know. I may not trust you, but what you and Ratchet are doing requires trust, and you still deserve proper knowledge and care.”

Megatron cycled his optics. “I… might take you up on that,” he said as he clasped Bluestreak’s hand for a firm, companionable shake. “Resources around here aren’t–”

“They’re slag, I know,” Bluestreak cut in, blunt but with a cheerful edge. He chuckled and withdrew. “You know how to find me, sir. If you want something a bit more informative.”

“I do. Thank you.”

Bluestreak nodded and slipped away, switching with Blaster on comms and letting the communications specialist take a much needed break.

Megatron couldn’t decide if he’d just made a mortal enemy or a tentative friend.

Autobots were strange.

The rest of his shift passed without incident.

Megatron made notations in the datapad throughout the report and put together something to send back to Cybertron to warn other potential spacegoers. He started a plan of action for future encounters with the estrix, planning on sending it to Ultra Magnus before he finalized it. He valued the other mech’s input.

Megatron paused.

He cc’ed Rodimus as well. He was, technically, the co-captain, and even though he vanished when there was important paperwork to be done, he seemed to take the safety of his crew seriously. Maybe, for once, he’d actually read this report.

He’d just clicked send when Ultra Magnus walked onto the bridge, early for his shift, per the usual. He didn’t like to be rushed when it came to the transfer of command.

Megatron saved his work, closed out his datapad, and tucked it into subspace. “You drew the short stick this evening, I see,” he said by way of greeting.

Ultra Magnus cocked his head. “I’m sensing that’s a turn of phrase that I’m not familiar with, but if you’re referring to having the late shift, then yes, I fear I did, ah, draw the short stick.”

“I’d apologize but something tells me you don’t mind.”

“I don’t, in fact. It’s quieter.” Ultra Magnus’ lips twitched in the closest thing he had to a smile.

“That’s good to know, for future reference.” Megatron slid away from the command console and let Ultra Magnus take his place. “There’s nothing to report. All’s quiet.”

Ultra Magnus nodded slowly as he logged into the system, registering himself as in-command. “Also good to know.” He paused and gave Megatron a sidelong look. “I had a discussion with Ratchet earlier today.”

Megatron didn’t tense, but it was a near thing. “So I was told.” He crossed his arms. “Is this something we need to have an official conversation about later?”

“No. Ratchet covered the pertinent points. As everything is consensual, the only one in a place for discipline is Ratchet,” Ultra Magnus answered in a steady tone, but his attention was focused on the console. Something in his posture suggested unease.

“I see.” Megatron inclined his head. “And do you have an opinion you wish to share?”

Ultra Magnus’ fingers swept over the console screen before he half-turned to face Megatron. “I have an opinion, but other than the potential ramifications regarding the chain of command, I don’t think your relationship is any of my business.”

Megatron chuckled quietly, trying not to gather the attention of the crew on the bridge. “I appreciate your discretion.”

“Mm.” Ultra Magnus turned back toward the console. “For what it’s worth, you are good for each other,” he added, so quiet Megatron almost didn’t catch it.

“Thank you.” A genuine flush of gratitude struck Megatron’s spark. For all that he expected Ultra Magnus to be one of his most vocal detractors, he’d quickly learned to appreciate the second in command’s professionalism.

What little Megatron could sense of Ultra Magnus’ field, there was a hint of embarrassment in it.

“Have a good shift, Magnus.”

“Enjoy your evening, Megatron.”

Megatron left before the moment could drag on any longer.

He found himself heading toward Ratchet’s suite without thinking about it. Ravage’s words lingered at the back of his mind, and Megatron almost changed course. But what did it matter if he spent more time in the medic’s berth?

He checked for Ratchet’s location and slipped down an adjacent corridor. Ratchet wasn’t off-shift yet, but he would be soon. They’d not gotten to the point of exchanging room codes yet. Another discussion to have.

Megatron walked through the front doors of the medbay, which gave a little ding of announcement as he entered. No one was immediately in sight, but Medibot came trundling down the main hallway, beeping a triple tone of greeting.

“I’m fine,” Megatron answered, lifting a palm to the drone. “You don’t need to summon anyone for my care.”

Nevertheless, a scan washed over his frame. Megatron sighed and waited for Medibot to complete its assessment. He knew what the result would be before Medibot finished, and sighed again as a flurry of sounds and lights erupted over Medibot’s frame.

Megatron palmed his face. “Please don’t send out an–”

Lights flashed in the lobby. Another, louder chirp started to echo from the rarely-staffed desk.

“–alarm,” Megatron finished. His shoulders sank. Yes, he knew he was quite literally falling apart on the inside. He didn’t need Medibot to inform him of such.

He might be co-captain of the ship, but he did not have the authority to deactivate Medibot’s call for emergency services. He could only wait for someone to do so.

“Alright, what stupid thing did you do now…?” First Aid emerged from the main hallway, wiping his hands with a mesh cloth, a streak of some kind of fluid painted across his chest. He caught sight of Megatron, and his shoulder tires swun with irritation. “You’re not injured.”

“Medibot seems to think I am,” Megatron said.

First Aid vented noisily, walked up behind the drone, and plucked an override into a panel. The shrill alarms ceased, Megatron’s audials rang, and Medibot honked. It spun around, back down the hallway, in a huff if Megatron had to guess.

“One of these days I’ll update his programming where it concerns you.” First Aid watched the drone retreat deeper into the medbay. His gaze shifted back to Megatron. “I guess you’re looking for Ratchet, since you can drink regular energon now.”

Was there anyone on the ship who didn’t know of their relationship now?

“I am.”

First Aid swept the cloth over his chest, wiping away whatever fluid spattered his armor. “He’s in his office with Rung.”

“His office?” Megatron echoed, arching an orbital ridge.

“Yes, we’re still working on that.” Humor edged into First Aid’s tone. His visor brightened. “You know how it is. Once you start something, it’s hard to let go.”

Megatron snorted and gave First Aid a sidelong look. “Is it your turn to threaten me?”

First Aid shrugged and tucked the dirtied mesh cloth into an arm compartment. “I think you’ve probably been warned off by enough mechs. At this point, you already know what’ll happen if you hurt him.” He dusted off his hands and peered up at Megatron. “He’s a grumpy old pain in the aft, but we still love him. And I think you’re starting to figure out why.”

Words wouldn’t come.

Damn, but Megatron hated medics. Why did they have to be so insightful?

“He is a force of nature,” Megatron admitted.

First Aid snorted. “That’s one way of putting it.” He gestured over his shoulder. “You can go on back there. They aren’t doing anything that can’t be interrupted. I already asked.”

Megatron moved to pass First Aid, but he hesitated, searching the mech’s visor for a clear answer to his friendliness. “You don’t seem opposed.”

First Aid slipped past, and Megatron followed him with his optics as he moved to sit behind the unused receptionist desk. “I think if you’re faking it, the truth will out sooner or later. But for now, you and Ratchet seem to be good for each other, and it’s the kind of thing that makes for a peaceful afternoon for me.” He ducked behind the desk, rummaging the contents of a cabinet. “That’s all I need to know.”

Fair point. And something to contemplate later.

Megatron left First Aid to his business, and made his way to Ratchet’s office, passing by Medibot’s recharge station, where the tiny drone was plugged in and charging, lights twinkling across the small frame.

The door to Ratchet/First Aid/the Chief Medical Officer’s office was open and voices drifted out, though Megatron couldn’t make out the words. He rapped his knuckles on the edge of the frame as he popped his head into view. He immediately spied Ratchet behind his desk, and Rung sitting in front of him. They both looked up as he knocked, Rung with a warm smile.

“I think that’s my cue to leave,” Rung said as he pushed himself out of the chair. His plating fluttered around his frame in a gesture Megatron had learned to recognize meant he was pleased.

Ratchet scowled. “I’m not going to frag him over the desk. You can stay if you want.”

“Now, now, don’t disappoint him like that Ratchet,” Rung said, clicking his glossa. He turned and flashed Megatron a soft smile.

Ratchet’s face colored.

Megatron had to fight off a grin, because he had to admit, it was hilarious to watch Ratchet get flustered, because it didn’t happen often.

“He did not come here for a… a tryst!” Ratchet spluttered.

Megatron leaned against the door frame, folding his arms. “Now, why are you so sure about that?”

Rung chuckled.

Ratchet glared and pointed a finger at him. “Don’t you encourage him, Megatron. He doesn’t need it.”

“If anyone needs the encouraging, it’s you,” Rung replied with a wink Megatron’s direction. “Stubborn old mech, isn’t he?”

Megatron huffed a laugh. “Bit rusty, too.”

Ratchet’s glare darkened into a scowl. He looked half a second from blowing his top, and all he could manage was a splutter of words.

Rung didn’t seem the least bit phased. He patted Megatron on the upper arm as he passed. “Congratulations, Megatron.”

Somehow, Megatron thought he meant more than his newfound relationship with Ratchet.

He tipped his head in acknowledgment.

“Just go!” Ratchet hissed.

Rung chuckled and slipped out the door without a backward look. If anything, he had a jaunty step about him, and a sense of delight glimmered in his field.

Autobots were just fragging weird.

Megatron twisted his jaw and directed his attention to Ratchet. The medic cycled a long, steadying ventilation, as if gathering his patience around him like a mantle. Only then did he lift his gaze to Megatron, immediately following it up with a frown.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m surprised you can tell.” Megatron pushed off the edge of the frame and stepped into the office, triggering the door to close behind him.

Ratchet frowned and rose from the desk, moving around it. “I’ve been making it my business to know. It’s part of being a decent Dom.”

“Ah.” Megatron leaned against the wall, not trusting his bulk to those delicate chairs. “Nothing is wrong. I’ve just finished running the gauntlet of everyone who wants to protect you.”

Ratchet scowled. “Those idiots,” he muttered, gaze shifting away for a moment, color staying in his cheeks. “Well, if it makes you feel better, you have at least two mechs willing to give me the shovel talk on your behalf.”

“Two?” Megatron cycled his optics. He could only think of one mech who would conceivably threaten Ratchet, and he wasn’t certain Ravage approved enough to bother.

“Your pet cat, for one.” Ratchet leaned against the desk, hands braced along the edge. “And Rung.”

Megatron startled. “Rung?”

“Yeah. That’s why he was here.” Ratchet shrugged, but it was far from nonchalant. His frame language was visibly tense. “He wanted to remind me of the enormous responsibility I’m accepting by bringing those dynamics into our relationship. As if I didn’t know.” He scowled, but there wasn’t much heat about it.

Megatron’s spark warmed. He wasn’t sure why Rung would speak on his behalf, but he appreciated it nonetheless. It made him feel less separate from the crew of the Lost Light.

“Don’t. Don’t do that.”

Megatron’s lips curved, fighting off a smile. “Don’t do what?” he asked innocently.

“Don’t look so smug.” Ratchet pushed off the desk and stalked toward him, not with menace but with intent. If it weren’t for the coil of heat winding through his field, Megatron might have been concerned. “You’re not usurping my crew just yet.”

Megatron barked a laugh and lowered his arms, slipping them around Ratchet as the medic came within reach. “They’re your crew are they now? How many captains does this ship have?”

“Still not enough.” Ratchet gripped his hips, fingers sliding into Megatron’s seams. “This ship is a madhouse, and we’re all the afflicted.”

Megatron snorted. “That’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think?”

Ratchet hummed a noncommittal noise and looked up at Megatron. “You’re too damn tall,” he grumbled.

“You could tell me what you want instead.” Megatron’s engine rumbled a quiet purr. The air thickened with anticipation, and Ratchet’s field stroked over his with intent.

“Since when have I ever taken the easy way out?” Ratchet asked. He looked up, glossa flicking over his lips, his field pressing in on Megatron, ripe with heat and want.

“And they say I’m stubborn,” Megatron sighed.

He slid his hands to Ratchet’s face, cupped him gently, and brought their mouths together in a soft, warm kiss. Ratchet relented, lips parting to welcome his glossa, his hands tightening on Megatron’s seams. Need pulsed a steady beat in his field.

“Are you going to bend me over your desk after all?” Megatron asked against Ratchet’s lips, his hands sweeping down to trace a delicate path over Ratchet’s intake cables.

Exasperation spiked in Ratchet’s field. “I’m going to maim, Rung.”

Megatron chuckled and pressed a kiss to the corner of Ratchet’s mouth. “Your habsuite then?”

“Yes, my fragging habsuite. I’m not an exhibitionist.” Ratchet’s tone was sharp, but there was humor in the harmonics of it.

Megatron swallowed his irritation with a kiss, and then another one, because that was what people in relationships did. They were soft, and they were playful, and they teased each other, and they trusted one another.

They shared habsuites and came to each other’s workplaces and made friends with their friends and talked about things.

He and Ratchet still needed to work on the latter.

Progress, however, was being made.

Together.

Megatron had to admit, it had a nice ring.

[IDW] Walking the Wire 11

Ratchet loitered outside the office Ultra Magnus had claimed for himself for five minutes before he gathered the courage to press the chime.

The door opened immediately. Ratchet eased inside, found Ultra Magnus crouched behind a desk much too small, bent over a stack of datapads and frowning at them. He didn’t look up. Probably didn’t get much visitors here.

Ratchet didn’t ask if Ultra Magnus was busy. He knew the answer to that.

“I’d like to turn myself in for disciplinary action,” Ratchet said as he dropped heavily into the chair opposite Ultra Magnus, fiddling with it for a moment to make it adapt a shape best suited to his frame.

Ultra Magnus stilled and lifted his head. “Beg your pardon?”

“Disciplinary action. Me.” Ratchet rolled his shoulders and tried to effect an air of ease. He wasn’t sure he succeeded. “I’m making it easy for you.”

Ultra Magnus cycled his optics. He set down his stylus. “Alright,” he said, cautiously. “Might I ask why?”

Ratchet smoothed a hand around his mouth. He cycled a steadying ventilation. It was a good thing Ultra Magnus was already seated.

“For not only starting and continuing a relationship with Megatron, but also revealing the true nature of fool’s energon to him,” Ratchet said. “To start.”

Ultra Magnus stared at him. For a long moment, he said nothing. His field tentatively touched Ratchet’s, as though trying to feel out the truth, before it retracted.

Ultra Magnus laced his fingers together and folded them on top of the desk. “Rodimus owes me his undivided attention for a week,” he said at length.

It was Ratchet’s turn to blink. “What?”

Ultra Magnus’ expression remained unreadable, but the corner of his mouth twitched. “Ratchet, I may be blind when it comes to many things, and my ability to read a social situation is passable at best, but I have noticed the growing relationship between yourself and Megatron. So this comes as no surprise to me.”

He paused, lips pursing into a frown, and cycled a heavy ventilation. “Though you taking it upon yourself to put the crew in danger by revealing the truth about the fool’s energon is troublesome.”

Ratchet, for his part, gaped. “You knew?”

Ultra Magnus nodded slowly. “I know now. I suspected before.” His lips formed a grim line. “Rodimus, of course, thought I was losing my processor. He actually suggested I have First Aid run a scan. Thus the wager.”

Ratchet searched for words, and couldn’t think of a blessed one. He didn’t know which was worse. That he and Megatron were apparently not as discreet as he’d thought. That Ultra Magnus tacitly approved of their relationship. Or that Magnus had taken the stick out of his aft long enough to make a wager with Rodimus.

One he’d apparently won.

“I think I shall relish the ‘I told you so’ for many months to come,” Ultra Magnus added with an air of fond amusement.

Ratchet coughed in his intake and gathered his wits back around him. “Should I consider that approval then?”

“Approve is not the word I’d use.” Ultra Magnus’ shoulder stacks twitched, armor fluffing and resettling around his frame. “But in terms of disciplinary action, I cannot honestly conceive of a punishment to suit your transgression. I’d strip you of your rank, but you’ve already passed it to First Aid. Supposedly.”

Ratchet couldn’t decide if Magnus’ frank tone was eerie or a relief. He felt as though he’d slid into some sidealong dimension where nothing made sense anymore. Including the fact he actually wanted to try a relationship with Megatron.

He shifted, the chair shifting with him. “Then I’m not going to be punished?”

A cable in Ultra Magnus’ jaw twitched. “Ratchet, the very purpose of punishment is to deter someone from repeating an action in the future. And while beginning a relationship with Megatron is perhaps in poor taste, there’s no rule against it.”

Poor taste? Primus, Ratchet couldn’t tell if that meant the idea of it made Ultra Magnus’ nauseous, or if he disapproved but couldn’t bring himself to say it. Or if it was some thin reference to the fact Megatron was who he was and no one should desire a relationship with him, least of all Ratchet.

It was surreal.

Ratchet stared at Ultra Magnus.

The former Duly Appointed Enforcer of the Tyrest Accord cycled a ventilation. “However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for your actions.”

“Consequences for fragging Megatron?” Ratchet arched an orbital ridge. “I thought the never-ending guilt-trip was it.”

Ultra Magnus rubbed his forehead. “Consequences for putting the Lost Light in danger,” he corrected. He frowned, deep and stubborn. “You’ve taken the leash off someone who is capable of great and terrible things.”

There it was. The guilt he’d mentioned. It clawed up out of his tank, took root in his spark, and knobbed up his intake. It threatened his ventilations, reminded him of his own selfishness.

“You don’t think he’s sincere?” Ratchet asked. Because clearly his own judgment was compromised and had been for quite some time.

“I think he’s played at peace before.” Ultra Magnus unfolded his hands and leaned back. He reached for a datapad, fiddling with the attached stylus. “I’m cautious,” he said, his tone as careful as the word he’d selected.

Ratchet tipped his head. “Fair enough.”

Ultra Magnus’ gaze flicked up to him and then fell to the datapad, skittering, as if uneasy. “And he’s your responsibility now.”

Ratchet’s vents stuttered. He blinked. “Come again?”

Ultra Magus spread his hands. “You trust him enough to put the safety of the crew, the quest, this ship at jeopardy. If anything should happen, you’ll share the blame. That is, if any of us survive long enough for an ‘I told you so.’”

Ratchet swallowed over a lump in his intake, the weight of Ultra Magnus’ words sitting heavy on his shoulders. “Understood.” He cycled a ventilation, hoping the jitter of his internals wasn’t audible. “I appreciate your lack of moral judgment, Magnus.”

“You’re good for each other,” Ultra Magnus said, his tone perfectly bland. “Whatever I think about Megatron, if it’s an act or not, I’m seeing improvement. And I’m going to hope it’s sincere. For our sake and yours.”

“Yeah, me too.” Primus, this was such a bad idea. But it was too late to back out now.

Ratchet patted the arm of his chair and made a motion to rise. “Well, next on my list is Rodimus.” And after the joy of this conversation, Ratchet couldn’t wait to see what juvenile or furious comment Rodimus had to offer.

Or how much he’d immediately round up a lynching squad and go after Megatron, certain it was all Megatron’s fault in some way.

“Oh, please. Allow me.” Amusement danced in Ultra Magnus’ optics, and was that a twitch on the corner of his lips? An almost-smile. “After all, there is the matter of our wager.”

Ratchet managed a small smile himself. “Well, I’d hate to deprive you of something so entertaining. Be my guest.” He edged around the chair, backed toward the door, and hoped it didn’t resemble a retreat.

“And Ratchet?”

He paused before he could escape. “Yes?”

The almost-smile lingered on Ultra Magnus’ lips. “Good luck.”

Ratchet snorted. “Thanks.”

He was certainly going to need it.

Ratchet returned to his quarters in a daze. He was sure he passed others in the corridors, but their faces were blurred to him, their comments like static. He had approval from Ultra Magnus of all mechs. It wasn’t absolution, but the closest thing to it.

He felt as though he’d walked blind through a field of landmines, and somehow managed to avoid each and every one.

He’d left Megatron recharging in his berth. But it’s no surprise Megatron was awake by the time he’d returned. He hadn’t moved far. Propped up on the berth, a datapad in one hand while the other arm folded behind his head, he looked the picture of ease.

Delectable ease.

Ratchet stared at him for a long moment, caught between the oddness of his conversation with Ultra Magnus, and the desire he suddenly felt for the murderous warlord in his berth.

Crimson optics acknowledged him. “How’d it go?” Megatron asked.

Ratchet paused and ran through a gamut of replies

“Ultra Magnus has a sense of humor,” he settled on and stood at the foot of the berth, admiring the splay of Megatron across it.

Tempting.

He could do something with this.

Megatron snorted a laugh. “Is that so?”

They weren’t quite relaxed with each other. Not that they’d been before their argument. But there was a certain simplicity now. Like they’d finally confronted the combiner in the corner, acknowledged it was there, and decided they’d just have to deal with it. The combiner continued to linger, looming over them, but they had a plan.

“Um hm.” Ratchet considered the trunk of toys beneath his berth. A scenario unfolded at the back of his mind. “Were you aware he and Rodimus had a bet regarding our relationship?”

Megatron lifted an orbital ridge. “I didn’t know Ultra Magnus was capable of making wagers.”

“Neither did I.” Ratchet leaned forward, admiring the shape of the responsibility reclining in front of him. The menace he knew lurked beneath the armor. The intelligence sharp and guarded behind red optics.

He braced his hands to either side of Megatron’s knees. Sometimes a fusion cannon was just a fusion cannon apparently.

Either way, it was a deadly weapon.

Ratchet cycled a ventilation and caught Megatron’s gaze. “Tell me you understand what I just did.”

Megatron tilted his head. He set the datapad aside, giving Ratchet his full attention. “What was the punishment?” he asked, tone quiet. Grave. At least he comprehended the gravity of the situation.

“None,” Ratchet said, and put fake cheer into his voice. “Unless you count the fact I am now directly responsible for your actions. Good and bad.”

Surprise flickered in Megatron’s field. He pulled himself fully upright, one ankle drawing up to tuck under the opposite knee. “Why would you do that?”

“I didn’t have much of a choice.” Ratchet straightened and moved around the berth, leaning his hip against the edge. “When I told you the truth about the fool’s energon, I chose to believe in your sincerity. If you go down, I’m going with you.” He huffed a laugh without humor, the grim nature of the situation burbling in his spark like clotted energon.

Megatron swung his legs over the edge of the berth, and when Ratchet moved, he trapped Ratchet between his knees. “You trust me.”

“I don’t even trust myself anymore.” Ratchet scraped a palm down his face, ex-venting noisily. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’m making a mistake. I don’t know if this makes me selfish. I don’t know anything.”

He could have kept the truth to himself, rather than admit such weakness to Megatron. But Ratchet was tired. Of fighting himself. Of pretending he didn’t care. Of holding on to his grump because it was all he had left.

The war was over. He desperately wanted it to stay that way.

Firm fingers wrapped around his wrist, pulling his hand away from his face. “You trust me,” Megatron repeated, his tone lower, firmer. “I won’t betray that trust, Ratchet. I don’t wish to return to war. I may not quietly submit to a cage or execution, but I don’t want to return to the status quo.”

“I guess time will tell,” Ratchet said, his hands landing on Megatron’s thighs, right above his knees. Heat warmed his fingertips.

“You trust me,” Megatron murmured, like a broken recorder, stuck on the same track over and over again.

Ratchet rolled his optics. “Yeah, and it’s probably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.” He squeezed Megatron’s knees in warning, to prove he shouldn’t be taken lightly, no matter what emotions grew in his spark. “I swear to Primus below if you betray us, betray me, I will cut your spark out myself. With surgical precision. Don’t think I won’t.”

“I believe you.” Megatron’s knees slid inward, trapping Ratchet’s hips between them. “And now I think I’m going to kiss you.”

“What? Are you asking permission?”

Megatron chuckled. “Sometimes, I think it’s better if I do.” He tugged Ratchet closer and slanted their mouths together, his glossa teasing the seam of Ratchet’s lips.

Ratchet opened to him, swallowing a moan, arousal swirling hot and tight in his tanks. It raced down his spinal strut, burning away the anxiety running like ice through his lines. Megatron’s glossa touched his, the kiss deepening even as it remained soft. Romantic if Ratchet had to put a description on it, though romance had never been part of the picture for them. Because it’s not a relationship. Or at least, it wasn’t.

It was now.

“Mm. If only I didn’t have to be on shift in an hour,” Megatron said against his lips, his field rolling over Ratchet’s with hot intent.

“An hour’s more than long enough,” Ratchet scoffed.

A mouth nibbled on the curve of his jaw. “Not for what I want to do to you.”

Ratchet’s hands slid up, until his thumbs framed Megatron’s interface panel. “But it’s plenty of time for what I have in mind,” he purred as he nuzzled into Megatron’s intake. “There’s a little game I want to play.”

“Go on.” Megatron slid a hand around Ratchet’s side, toying with a thick armor seam.

Ratchet nibbled on a cable, the rumble of Megatron’s vocalizer against his lips. “It’s more of a wager.” He brushed the pad of his thumb over Megatron’s valve panel, grinning as Megatron’s ventilations hitched. “A test of your endurance.”

Megatron groaned, and his armor rippled. “I’m half-afraid of what your devious mind has conjured, but I do enjoy a challenge.”

“I thought you might say that.” Ratchet nipped Megatron’s intake and then forced himself to draw away.

He crouched and pulled out the crate beneath his berth, rummaging through it for the item he sought. It paid to be organized. He found it quickly and stood, holding the vibrator between two fingers as he showed it to Megatron.

“This goes in your valve,” Ratchet said as he planted his free hand on Megatron’s thigh.

Crimson optics focused on the toy, spiraling in and out, his field spiking with desire.

“But only I have the control,” Ratchet continued. He slid his hand upward, fingertips grazing over Megatron. “If you don’t beg me for relief by the time your shift is up, then you win.”

Megatron’s glossa swept over his lips. His gaze slanted toward Ratchet. “What do I win?” He plucked the toy from Ratchet’s hold and turned it around and around in his fingers.

“A favor of the most erotic kind. Free of charge, of course.” Ratchet rumbled a laugh and leaned in, brushing his lips over the curve of Megatron’s jaw. “But if you beg me for an overload, and I’m quite sure you will, then I win the prize.”

“It’s only pleasure?” Megatron asked.

A lump took residence in Ratchet’s intake. “Of course,” he said, careful to keep his tone light despite the ripple of outrage coursing through his spark.

Someday, when things were less fragile and every conversation wasn’t a challenge, Ratchet would sit Megatron down and poke at the origin of all those misconceptions. He would peel back the layers, find the root of the uncertainty, the unease, the agitation. And if it was at all within his ability, he would help Megatron heal.

Someday. Just… not today. They remained fragile and tentative, and Ratchet did not want to stir a nest that was content to be left.

Megatron licked his lips again, and he held the toy back out to Ratchet. “And what if I say the other word?”

Couldn’t bring himself to call it a ‘safe word,’ could he? That was the Decepticon in him.

“Then it’s a full stop.” Ratchet took Megatron’s jaw in hand gently and pressed his forehead to Megatron’s. “No games. No winners or losers. Full stop.”

The puff of Megatron’s ex-vents ghosted over his lips. “Very well. I’ll take on this challenge.” His thighs pressed inward, against Ratchet’s hips. “And I’ll be the one victorious.”

Ratchet chuckled and let go of Megatron’s jaw, but only so he could slide his hand between Megatron’s legs and caress the very heated valve at the apex of them.

“We’ll see.” He circled the seam, felt the rise of charge against his fingertips. “Open up.”

A shiver ran through Megatron’s field. His panel slid aside, the scent of arousal and lubricant filling the air with delicious tang. Megatron’s engine purred a quiet rumble, and his vents hitched as Ratchet circled his rim with careful fingers. Megatron was already wet, and Ratchet couldn’t deny it was intoxicating how much Megatron wanted him, wanted this.

Ratchet hummed a laugh. “So ready for me,” he murmured and mouthed his way to Megatron’s cables, felt Megatron swallow against his lips. “Just what datapad were you reading anyway?”

“Nothing of import,” Megatron said, the words a rumble Ratchet could taste. “My thoughts were elsewhere.”

“Worried about me?” Ratchet teased.

“Yes.”

Shock cut through the building arousal. Ratchet pulled back so he could see Megatron’s face. His hand shifted, lubricant-damp fingers resting against Megatron’s thigh.

“Don’t look so surprised,” Megatron said, gruff. “We are in a relationship. And I am fully aware of how the Autobots would view your actions as of late. I have enough guilt on my shoulders without adding your punishment to it.”

Ratchet swallowed over a lump in his intake. “I changed my mind.” He tossed the vibrator aside, shifting to hold Megatron’s hips, slotting himself between Megatron’s thighs with growing familiarity. “I want you now.”

He rolled his hips, spike surging free, grinding over Megatron’s valve in a slick slide of lubricant and heat. He’d save the game for another day. Right now, he wanted to kiss Megatron, touch him, take him as lovers did. Because that was what they were.

“What of our wager?” Megatron asked, but his ventilations hitched, and his fingers curled against Ratchet’s sides, tugging him closer.

“Save it for later.” Ratchet found his way to Megatron’s lips, pressed a kiss to the corner of them. It was his turn to be courteous. “May I?” he asked as he rolled forward, spike nudging at Megatron’s valve rim in blatant interest.

Megatron gripped him and tipped backward onto the berth, pulling Ratchet with him in a feat of strength he might not have attempted, had he been under the spell of the fool’s energon. Ratchet grunted, flailing, and it took awkward maneuvering to get them where Ratchet wanted to be: Megatron beneath him, Ratchet notched between his thighs, their lips so close they tasted one another’s ex-vents.

Ratchet had a hand hooked around Megatron’s thigh, the other braced on the berth beside Megatron’s shoulder. Need broiled inside of him, spark pulsing to an uncertain beat.

“Is this my answer?” Ratchet leaned forward, and Megatron curled upward to meet him.

Megatron slid a hand around the back of Ratchet’s head, drew him closer, until they were sharing ventilations. “You damn well know it is,” he growled, and brought their mouths together, glossa stabbing into Ratchet’s mouth as if in claim.

Heat and charge licked down Ratchet’s spinal strut. He groaned into the kiss and rocked forward, slow and deep. Megatron rippled around him, hot and wet, his free hand pulling on Ratchet’s hip, pulling him deeper.

Ratchet sank into him, pouring out the emotional gamut into the kiss. Their clashes were usually ones of fervency, rough around the edges, chasing after pleasure because it was the only thing which made sense. This was different. Slower. Paced.

They kissed like they were trying to memorize the shape of one another’s mouths. He tasted the curve of Megatron’s jaw, the warmth of his intake, before wandering back to Megatron’s lips. He felt every vibration of Megatron’s moans, and their frames rose and fell together like they’d always known the rhythm.

It should have felt awkward.

It didn’t.

Megatron had to be on shift soon. Ratchet couldn’t take the time to lay him out, explore like he wanted. But he could do it in the future. They would have time another day, and Megatron would allow him to do so.

Perhaps with a smirk and a smart-aft comment, but he’d stretch out over the berth, let himself be tied down if Ratchet asked, and he’d moan and arch under Ratchet’s fingertips. He’d look beautiful, those bright red ropes twisted around his armor in complicated patterns. He’d submit like he was sparked for it, and Ratchet would treat that trust with the reverence it deserved.

A surge of arousal ran like fire through Ratchet’s lines. His pace quickened, plunging into Megatron, circling deep, grinding against external nodes and pulling cries of pleasure from Megatron’s intake. Their armor clashed, grating noisily, their fields thoroughly entangled.

Megatron made sounds in his intake, ones that found their way to Ratchet’s array and shot lust down his spinal strut. His engine roared, rattling the berth and Ratchet, and heat blasted from his vents.

“More,” he demanded against Ratchet’s lips, the berth creaking as they rocked together in increasingly urgent motions, lubricant slick between them, Megatron’s spike grinding against Ratchet’s abdomen.

Ratchet panted into the crook of Megatron’s intake, his denta grazing cables. He shifted his grip on Megatron’s thigh, pulling it tighter, changing the angle of his thrusts. Megatron tipped his head back, groaning long and low, his valve spasming around Ratchet’s spike.

“Like that?” Ratchet asked with a low chuckle, his vents coming in short gasps, heat coiling and churning inside of him like a radiator about to burst.

Megatron’s grip on the back of his head slid down to Ratchet’s jaw, jerking his head up to press their lips together. “Don’t have time for you to tease me,” he panted against Ratchet’s mouth.

He clenched and Ratchet groaned, thrusting deep enough to grace Megatron’s ceiling node, charge surging hot through his lines, setting off a rattle in his knees. He breathed a curse, slipping his glossa into Megatron’s mouth, swearing he could taste the need on Megatron’s glossa. It choked the air between them, rode high on their fields.

He pressed his forehead to Megatron’s, thrusting harder and faster, engine roaring, Megatron moving with him like they’d always known this dance. It felt like staking a claim or making a promise, only without words, because words could be twisted while actions and fields shouted the truth.

They were in this together now. That was the choice Ratchet made.

“Get used to it,” Ratchet growled, his lips sloppy against Megatron’s, his field surging over Megatron’s in a tidal wave of need. “You’re mine now.”

By Magnus decree, no less.

A shudder ran across Megatron’s armor, and Ratchet read the lust in it, rather than fear. His fingers tightened on Ratchet’s upper arm. His other hand slapped against Ratchet’s back, keeping him pinned close. His thighs clamped tight, a moan long and low slipping from his intake, and then he was overloading, valve rhythmically rippling around Ratchet’s spike as he spurted hot and wet over Ratchet’s belly.

Ratchet growled, gripped Megatron’s hips, and bore him down into the berth, thrusting hard and fast. Need clawed down his spinal strut, coiled in his belly like a blaze. Megatron’s hands cupped his face, yanked him into a kiss that was more denta than lips. He panted, hot over Ratchet’s lips.

Release whited out Ratchet’s perception for a long, dizzying moment. He sank down into Megatron, pleasure flooding his system in a white-hot crackle of charge. He buried his forehead against Megatron’s chestplate, over the Auto-brand that forever carried the scent of battle.

Silence briefly settled over the tick-tick-tick of cooling frames. But of course, Megatron couldn’t abide by it for long.

His hands swept up and down Ratchet’s back. His engine rumbled with amusement. “I’m yours, am I?”

“Shut up,” Ratchet muttered. He lifted his head, shifting until he sat back on his heels, sliding out of Megatron in the same motion.

Megatron lay back against the berth, folding his arms behind his head, still splayed beneath Ratchet as though completely at ease despite the transfluid streaking up his belly and the fluids seeping from his valve.

He smirked, optics glimmering with humor. “You’re the one who said it.”

“Heat of the moment,” Ratchet declared. He checked his chronometer. “You’re gonna need a rinse before you take your shift. I suggest you get to it.”

Megatron’s hand boldly slid down his frame, fingers sliding through the slick between his thighs. “And who’s fault is this?”

Ratchet ignored the frisson of heat the sight sent down his backstrut. “Yours, of course.” He slid out from between Megatron’s thighs and off the berth, away from temptation.

“It always is.” Megatron grunted and swung his legs back over the edge, pulling himself off the berth and briefly wobbling on his knees. “You never told me what Rodimus had to say.”

“That’s because Ultra Magnus wanted the honor of telling him.” Ratchet grabbed a mesh cloth and dampened it. “I suppose we’ll find out later.”

“And won’t that be a treat.” Megatron snorted, and paused in the doorway to Ratchet’s small, but private washrack. “Are you going to join me or not?”

Ratchet nibbled on his bottom lip. He probably shouldn’t but…

“Since you’ve made a mess of me, I might as well,” Ratchet said, tossing the damp rag into the recycling basket.

Megatron’s smirk had no busy turning Ratchet’s insides to heated coils. “Whatever helps you recharge,” he said, and vanished into the washrack.

Ratchet cycled a ventilation and swept a hand down his face.

Just what on Cybertron had he gotten himself into?

Something he wasn’t willing to give up apparently.

Ratchet snorted and stepped through the door.