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An Art and A Fortunate Accident

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“I was suicidal. But then I met someone who saw the best in everyone—even me.
Maybe there's someone out there who can save your life, too.”
— Chromedome, The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye Annual #1


The sad-looking mech was tall and boxy, his paint a warm orange and visor a lonely yellow.

“The worse the death, the more painful the memories,” he said, sympathy written in the tilt of his head. Rewind frowned at the non sequitur. The mech must have assumed from Rewind’s frustrated cry that he was mourning a deceased friend—a logical assumption about someone visiting a Relinquishment Clinic, but incorrect in his case.

“Who are you?” Rewind asked, a touch sharper than intended. He always felt defensive of Dominus Ambus and his search for his friend. More often than not, explaining his quest led to the hated, skeptical, “Are you sure he's not dead?” No, Rewind knew in his spark that Dominus still lived. He would know if he had died. He would.

“Everyone calls me Chromedome,” the mech said, holding his slender fingers out in greeting. Rewind craned his neck upward, appraising Chromedome and recording him in full. He had a pretty average frametype, but the lines were attractive and colors cheerful. They didn’t match his drooping shoulders and the downward slope of his visor.

“Why are you here?” Rewind asked for the sake of documenting as much information as possible. He liked to give his spontaneously recorded footage some kind of context, especially when it came to meeting new bots, even if he never saw them again.

“To do something about it,” Chromedome said cryptically.

Rewind tensed. It was one thing to witness all these bots going willingly to their deaths, but another to actually speak with someone who would rather die than face the war.

“What happened to make you give up?”

Chromedome didn't hesitate to answer: “It stopped being worth it.”

“The war?” Rewind asked.

“Living.”

*

Despite his sobering honesty, Chromedome must not have been a bot of conviction, because it didn’t take much effort for Rewind to convince him to leave the Relinquishment Clinic and grab a pint at Maccadam’s Old Oil House instead. Over a pitcher of cheap high grade, Chromedome loosened up, and they talked about their lives before the war and what they had been up to since. Chromedome was younger than him, but he bore a deep-set weariness that aged him. Rewind had been delighted to learn that he had been a cop before the war—a detective, really, Chromedome had corrected him, which Rewind immediately told him was even cooler.

“So I've been wondering: What's with the camera?”

Rewind touched the blinking camera mounted at the side of his head. “I'm an archivist,” he said. “I archive.”

“Are you filming right now?” Chromedome asked. Rewind nodded. He could tell Chromedome was bothered by it. A bot with something to hide, then. But who wasn’t?

“I'm always filming,” he explained. He didn’t see any reason to be apologetic about it. As the old saying went, Everyone’s shape serves a purpose.

“What do you do with all the data?”

Rewind shrugged. “Lots of things. Sometimes I’m paid for it. Sometimes it serves as court evidence. Sometimes I make documentaries. Sometimes I just like having videos of my friends. And more often than not, it's good to have a sense of self-preservation in these times. My memory banks go back millions of years—before the switch to the New Calendar, even.”

A brief but intense expression of worry crossed Chromedome’s face, obvious despite his visor and mask. He looked much more concerned than the average bot who found out about Rewind’s camera. Oh, Rewind was suddenly very, very intrigued.

“Don’t worry,” he said, trying to modulate his speech to sound reassuring. “I won't pry.”

“Thanks. I’m probably not that interesting enough anyway. I’m just a mech,” Chromedome said, clearly lying. He wasn’t even looking at Rewind.

Rewind tilted his helm to the side, looking thoughtful. “You’re interesting to me,” he said sincerely.

Startled, Chromedome looked up. He appeared surprised, and then pleased, before he hid his embarrassment behind a large gulp of energon.

Sipping his own drink, Rewind gestured for Chromedome to talk. He prompted, “Tell me more about what it was like to be in Mechaforensics. Did you do total autopsies as often as they show on TV?”

*

As last call was announced, Rewind found himself reluctant to say goodbye to Chromedome. It had been a long time since he had really connected with anyone and spent so much time just hanging out. Though he made friends easily, his quest meant that he was constantly on the move, so maintaining them was difficult. He had recently stopped trying.

But Chromedome was smart, with an acerbic (if rather self-deprecating) wit and lots of interesting anecdotes, and Rewind wanted to know him better. As they spoke, he had found himself distracted from ruminating about Dominus Ambus’s fate. It was nice to take a step back from his exhausting search to talk for the sake of talking. And part of him worried that once they parted ways, Chromedome would find his way back to the Relinquishment Clinic.

He was trying to think of some way to stick by Chromedome’s side without seeming too clingy when his new friend said, “You’re not from around here, right? Do you have a place to stay?”

Rewind shrugged. “I was just going to check in at a hostel or something. Sometimes I just sleep in little nooks I find in the city. I’m a little low on Shanix.”

“I have an extra recharge slab at my place,” Chromedome offered. “You’re welcome to crash there.”

“You don’t have to feel obligated,” Rewind said, but Chromedome shook his head.

“No reason for you to pay for a slab when I have a perfectly fine one not in use. And honestly? I’d be grateful for the company.”

Rewind reminded himself that this was a bot who had been waiting in line to kill himself not so long ago. It would be good for him to be with someone who could watch over him. And if Rewind was being honest with himself, he ached for companionship, even if it would be a poor substitute for Dominus’s towering intelligence and kindness.

“All right,” he consented. “But you have to let me buy you a drink or two next time, okay?”

Chromedome’s visor flashed briefly at his words, and then he seemed to stand up straighter. “Deal,” he agreed.

*

His third night at Chromedome’s apartment, Rewind found out about the nightmares. Awakened by the sound of screaming, he burst into Chromedome’s room, ready to tackle some intruder. Instead, all he found was Chromedome twitching on his recharge slab, clutching at his helm and shouting. Sympathy flooded Rewind.

Though he nearly got smacked in the head when he tried to get closer, he managed to grab one of Chromedome’s shoulders and shake it as vigorously as he could.

“Wake up,” he said. “Chromedome, wake up. Wake up!”

Chromedome snapped awake and reached out wildly, choking Rewind with a vice grip.

“Hrk!” Rewind choked, his voice box emanating static. “Chrome—kzzt!—dome! It’s me—kzzt!—Rewind!”

Chromedome’s visor cleared, and Rewind dropped to the floor with a soft clang. “Rewind?” he said sleepily, then sat up straight. “Oh Primus, I didn’t mean to . . . I’m sorry.”

Rewind rubbed his neck as he got to his feet. “Quite the reflexes you have there.”

Chromedome looked embarrassed—no, ashamed. “Cop training,” he mumbled. “Are you all right? I’m really sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Rewind grumbled. He climbed onto the wide recharge slab, and Chromedome shifted over to make room for him to kneel on the still warm surface. “What were you dreaming about? It sounded like someone was killing you.”

Chromedome rolled onto his side away from Rewind, curling his limbs in close. “I wish,” he murmured, quiet and miserable, into the darkness of the room.

Rewind didn’t know what to say to that. He reached out to rest his hand on Chromedome’s shoulder. It was shaking.

Silence hung between them, tense and awkward.

“Sorry for waking you,” Chromedome said finally.

“Don’t be,” Rewind said and immediately hated how useless he felt. He wished he could do something, say something to make Chromedome not sound so sad. Instead, he tried a distraction: “You haven’t asked me why I was at the Relinquishment Clinic.”

Chromedome flipped around to face him, and even in the dark Rewind could see his morose expression tinged with curiosity. “I thought you were grieving. I didn’t want to force you to talk about it.”

“I was searching for someone,” replied Rewind. “Someone I’ve been searching for for a long time.”

“Who?”

“His name was Dominus,” Rewind said. “Dominus Ambus.”

“The name sounds familiar,” Chromedome said. “Who was he? Your friend?”

Rewind’s visor flickered, and now he was the one to look away. Softly, he answered: “Dominus was everything.”

*

Chromedome tried to convince him he was fine, but Rewind knew a tortured bot when he saw one. He insisted he would stay with him, curling up on the left side of the slab. He was tired, but he stayed up combing through recently acquired footage until he was sure Chromedome had fallen asleep again.

When he finally succumbed to his exhaustion, he dreamed of Dominus Ambus and Luna-1.

*

In the morning, they shared an energon cube and watched the news. It was the broadcast of some patriotic speech Optimus Prime was giving after returning from the battlefield. His inner circle hovered around him, wearing expressions ranging from annoyed to nervous.

“I still can’t believe you used to work with Prowl,” Rewind said as the officer fielded the reporters’ prying questions deftly.

“Yeah, well,” Chromedome said, sounding uncomfortable and just a little sad. “We don’t really get along anymore.”

“I'm not sure he gets along with anyone,” Rewind pointed out.

“I guess not,” Chromedome said, but he still looked downcast. “He wasn’t always like that.” He laughed immediately after the words left him. “Okay, that’s a lie. He’s always been like that. But not with me.”

“Were you close?” Rewind wondered, though he thought he could guess.

“We were partners,” Chromedome replied simply. “We were inseparable.”

Rewind knew something about inseparable partners. His spark ached for Dominus Ambus, the one bot who had always gotten him, who had treated him so well. He missed him so much. “What happened?”

Chromedome shrugged. “After the war began, circumstances changed and we went our separate ways. And after a while, we stopped seeing eye to eye on things.”

“You miss him?”

Chromedome vented softly, looking down at the table. “I still see him sometimes.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Rewind said. Chromedome’s head shot up, and their gazes met. Rewind tilted his head.

Looking down again, Chromedome said quietly, “Yeah. I miss him a lot.”

*

It turned out that Chromedome didn’t have work that day, so Rewind asked him for a tour of the neighborhood. It was nice to have company, after being alone for so long. Rewind was a social bot who had once been surrounded by friends, but after Dominus Ambus’s disappearance, he realized that they were more Dominus’s friends than his own. Although shapism wasn’t as openly rampant as it had been in the old days, he was still treated differently from the bigger, “regular” bots. Unfortunately, his non-mobile alt mode hardly helped matters.

But Chromedome didn’t seem to mind walking, and he adopted a gait that was slow enough for Rewind to catch up but not so slow that it was demeaning. Rewind was embarrassed at the surge of gratitude in his chest.

“So what do you want to see?”

Shrugging, Rewind said, “I’ve been off-planet for a while and haven’t visited this part of Iacon in ages—not since Zeta Prime was in command. Any footage would be great.”

Chromedome took him to Autobot Memorial Plaza, where a sobering projection of fallen soldiers’ designations and serial numbers scrolled endlessly. Rewind took the opportunity to record the entire list until it looped back around again. Though he didn’t see Dominus Ambus’s name among the deceased, he knew he would scour the list in detail later. After a while Chromedome took a seat on a nearby bench and busied himself with a data pad. He waved off Rewind's apology for making him wait.

Once the data was logged and filed away, Rewind climbed up onto the bench, pulling his legs up onto the smooth surface and hugging them to his chest. “Have you lost anybody?”

After a long pause, Chromedome said, “No one close to me has died so far,” but he looked disproportionately sad for this statement. “Just coworkers, neighbors, bar buddies, you know. All things considered, I guess you could say that I’ve been lucky.”

Rewind wondered if Dominus Ambus had perished in battle, his body mangled beyond recognition or salvage and forever lost among a field of corpses. His Conjunx Endura had preached pacifism, but his build was big and strong, and he was a formidable threat in combat. It wasn’t completely inconceivable for him to end up fighting in the war—although what Rewind couldn’t believe was the way he had disappeared. He had been there one day and gone the next, without a single word. Whatever Dominus’s fate was, he just wanted so badly to know. His spark wouldn’t rest until he knew for sure. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Definitely lucky.”

Chromedome didn’t say anything, eyes fixed on the memorial. The data pad lay forgotten in his lap. Rewind noticed the slouch of his shoulders and wondered if he should try to distract him from what were clearly dark thoughts.

“So why did you join the Autobots, if don’t mind me asking?” he tried.

Chromedome glanced at him in surprise, as if he had forgotten that he was there. After a moment, he shrugged.

“It was never much of a conscious choice,” he admitted. The people I worked with, the friends I had—they all joined the Autobot cause, and it seemed natural for me to, too. Besides, I was a cop. For a long time, I was taking down Decepticons because they were insurgents. It was my job to maintain law and order. After that, it just seemed to make sense.” He grimaced. “I know it’s not exactly an inspiring story, but it’s the truth.”

“Do you ever wonder what it would be like if you’d done the opposite?” Rewind asked.

“Joined the ’Cons?” Chromedome said. “No. They’re terrorists who need to be put down, or else Cybertron and its citizens will never find peace.”

His vehemence startled Rewind; Chromedome had never seemed particularly political before. He almost sounded like he was reciting one of those old propaganda holovids. Rewind’s confusion must have shown on his face, because Chromedome added, almost accusatorily, “Why? Do you?”

“Sometimes,” Rewind said. “I’m old enough to remember the Ratioists and the rise of the Functionists. Before Dominus Ambus picked me up, I was what amounts to a slave. I remember being treated like a drone, as if I lacked a spark. I remember being constantly starved for energon because the slag we were allowed barely ever tided me over. I don’t agree with the Decepticons’ methods, but I understand their cause.”

“They’re depraved lunatics,” Chromedome declared. “Their revolution has spun out of control, and the more bots that are romanced by their dangerous ideology, the more our race is at risk.”

“Some people call them heroes,” Rewind said.

“Some people are blind,” Chromedome scoffed. “They’ve grown far beyond what their cause was supposed to stand for. I’m not against revolutionary upheaval—as I told you, I was constructed cold and haven’t forgotten the apartheid—but the Decepticons can’t be allowed to continue this madness.”

“For someone who wasn’t invested from the get-go and hasn’t lost anyone, you’re pretty passionate about the cause,” Rewind observed. Chromedome shrugged, seeming to deflate. That empty, lost look washed over his visor again.

“Hey,” Rewind said, laying a hand on Chromedome’s arm, which was practically half his size. “Why don’t you show me something else? Maybe something a little more uplifting?”

Chromedome nodded and helped him off the bench.

“When was the last time you visited Trion Square?”

*

Chromedome took him to Trion Square, the Museum of Cybertronian History, the Center for Alien Cultures, and somewhere Rewind had spent many, many vorns in the past: the Iacon Public Library, a dazzling Cybertronian institution millions of years old, made of banks on banks of data and slender towers that spiraled up toward the sky. It was one of Rewind’s favorite places in the world—there were millennia of data to absorb, with new information being filed away every day.

Rewind instantly raced to a computer terminal. He heard Chromedome’s quiet chuckle behind him. By the time the taller bot joined him, Rewind was already plugged in.

“Where should I start?” Chromedome asked. Rewind instantly felt guilty. He didn’t mean to make Chromedome work on his off-day.

“You don’t have to do anything,” he said. “You can go back if you want to. I’ll be fine here.”

But Chromedome said, “I don’t mind,” and Rewind felt a surge of pleasure in his abdomen. He could certainly use the help . . .

“All right,” he said, waving a hand at the terminal next to his. “Let’s get you hooked up, and you can help me sort through all this stuff.”

*

In the evening, they returned to Chromedome’s apartment to refuel and recharge. Rewind projected an old movie onto an empty wall, and they moved the chairs so they could sit facing it. Chromedome filled two cubes with energon and handed one to Rewind. Rewind thanked him and patted the chair beside him.

“Thanks for spending the day with me,” Rewind said. “I had fun.”

Chromedome beamed. “Me too,” he said. “I should be thanking you. It’s nice to have company.”

“Agreed,” said Rewind. “And I really do appreciate your help. Sometimes I feel like this search is driving me off the deep end. But I can’t stop looking. You know?”

“Of course,” Chromedome said. “Anything I can do to help, let me know. I can’t imagine losing a Conjunx Endura like that . . .”

Rewind’s hand rose to rub the plating over his spark. He looked down and confessed quietly, “Some days, I wake up thinking he’s still with me. Getting up after I remember that he’s not is always the hardest.”

Chromedome grabbed his hand and squeezed it tightly. “Then you’re doubly strong for getting up every day. I don’t know if I could do it, myself.”

Rewind squeezed back in gratitude, shamelessly loving the comforting sensation of a big bot’s servo engulfing his significantly smaller one.

“Do you date? I know a lot bots prefer not to, especially since the war started . . .”

Shrugging noncommittally, Chromedome answered, “Just here and there. But the last bot I was really committed to . . . It was a long time ago.”

“It didn’t work out?”

“We fell out,” Chromedome said. “I blamed extenuating circumstances at the time, but in retrospect I think we would have been terrible for each other in the end.”

“Do you still talk to them?”

“Occasionally,” Chromedome said, fidgeting with his hands, “but it can be awkward. Sometimes I suspect he still has feelings for me.”

“Ah,” Rewind said. He had no experience with former lovers; he and Dominus Ambus had been each other’s firsts—something that had delighted Rewind at the time. It seemed so inconsequential now. He just wanted Dominus back, regardless of circumstance.

“I also suspect he tries to scare off anyone I go on more than one date with, but really, he needn’t,” Chromedome was saying. “I’ve met some nice bots, but I always feel like something’s missing. There aren’t many second dates.”

“That spark of immediate connection,” Rewind supplied, and his spark gave a desolate twinge at the memory of Dominus Ambus offering him his first taste of proper energon, purely out of compassion.

“Exactly,” Chromedome said. “I’ve started to accept that it’s just not something I’m meant to have. I guess I don’t deserve it.”

Rewind frowned. “Don’t say things like that. Of course you deserve it.”

Bowing his head, Chromedome mumbled, “I don’t know about that. On a logical level, I understand why people refrain from intimacy, given the war and everything, but I always told myself that if I ever found someone I truly connected with, I would ask them to be my Conjunx Endura as soon as I could. I've started to think that I'll never get the opportunity, though.”

“Hey,” Rewind said, tipping Chromedome’s chin up with his free hand so he was looking directly at his visor. “You’ll find someone, all right? And they’ll be lucky to have you.”

He jumped as Chromedome embraced him suddenly. “Thank you, Rewind,” he whispered shakily against Rewind’s helm. It was an unexpected but not unwelcome gesture. Rewind leaned into Chromedome’s shoulder and shut off his visual feed briefly, simply enjoying the feeling of being close to another bot.

When they separated, their hands were still linked, and Rewind certainly wasn’t going to remark on it if Chromedome didn't. Lonely abandoned creatures like them needed the comforting reassurance of another bot. There was nothing wrong with that.

And as they settled down to fuel up and watch the movie, Rewind realized that he felt more whole than he had in a very long time.