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The Midst of Nothing

Chapter Text

Prowl watches, optics cold and empty, as the Autobots tear each other apart in the ring below. He has his hands folded behind his back.

"Such a fantastic display, don't you think?"

Megatron's words are mocking, and Prowl can see in his reflection that he has a cube of energon raised. The amusement is clear in his tone, his optics jovial. He always does like to take some high grade when watching the fights.

Prowl does not respond, simply pressing a hand to the glass keeping their box separated from the chaos down below.

Megatron laughs. There's a faint shuffling, and Ratchet is standing just behind Prowl, opposite of Megatron. The purple emblem on Ratchet's chassis glints, and Prowl has to suppress the sudden and unbidden surge of emotion when he spots it.

"Prowl--" begins Ratchet, hand on his shoulder. Prowl shrugs his hand off, determined to finish the match, to watch it to the end.

Megatron chuckles. "If he wants to see, then let him see, brother."

Ratchet shakes his head, and steps back into the shadows.

Prowl narrows his optics, intent on the remaining few Autobots in the ring, attacking each other. He recognizes Wheeljack, and Sunstreaker. There is a single femme in the group, along with a few other mechs Prowl does not know.

Sunstreaker rips his opponents apart - the femme in particular. Her scream fills the arena, but the roar of the Decepticon crowd overcomes it.

Wheeljack blows out his opponents' processors - he does this to two mechs at a time, the explosion ripping through their heads and spraying energon all over him.

Soon, it is just Sunstreaker and Wheeljack.

Prowl can't tell how Ratchet must be feeling, watching this-- but then, Ratchet has become cruel, like the Decepticons. And cold, like him. Empty. Ratchet can't be feeling anything, not now.

Prowl watches, as Sunstreaker charges at Wheeljack who had been finishing off another mech. The golden twin rams into his former comrade, and rips out a fuel line, here, there; Wheeljack's fins flash a deep red, then blue, then purple then red again. He fights back, but Sunstreaker is victorious, ripping out the ex-engineer's spark chamber - not spark, Prowl notices -- and tossing it aside. He shouts something, triumphant, and the Decepticon crowd goes wild.

In the reflection of the glass, Megatron smirks.

Ratchet averts his gaze.

Prowl does not.

***

"P-Primus, Sunny--" Sideswipe descends upon his twin, arms flinging around him.

"Wheeljack!" screams First Aid from a cell opposite the twins', hands on the bars and rattling them, the sound echoing in the dungeon. The young medic is hysterical, focused on the loss of yet another comrade. "Wheeljack...! You killed Wheeljack!"

Sunstreaker stands, shaking Sideswipe off - the red twin has been quite clingy lately - and stalks over to the bars of the cell directly opposite First Aid. "It was me or him," he snarls at the medic.

"You could have just injured him...!" shouts First Aid in response, "You didn't have to kill him!"

"What, so they can bring him back to this pit?" Sunstreaker's tone is dark, nasty. "I did him a favor, you fragging little glitch!"

First Aid stares at him in shock, and the entire dungeon is silent as well, save for the usual tap-tap-tap coming from Blaster's cell. Autobots watch from their cells, the glow of their blue optics bright as they listen, observe. This isn't anything special though. Fights like this are frequent now, a fact of their life as captives and toys.

First Aid is quick to recover his vocal processes though. "How dare you--" he begins, still shouting as he shoves a finger in Sunstreaker's direction, "How dare you even imply--"

"Shut up!" shouts a mech from a corner cell, hidden in the shadow. It takes Sunstreaker a moment to recognize the voice as Bluestreak's -- he hasn't heard the once talkative mech speak at all for a long time.

The entire dungeon decides to agree. Even Blaster's tap-tap-tap is missing.

"You all are a bunch of cowards. Wheeljack's dead, so what? Everyone's dead now." Bluestreak rises a little, and what's visible of his armor is a dark gray. "You call yourself warriors! Primus - you're all idiots."

The silence lengthens. Nobody dares say anything.

"Now shut the frag up! I'm trying to recharge here!" And just like that, Bluestreak's presence is gone, back to his corner hidden in shadow.

First Aid shrinks back into his cell, moving to his berth and simply curling up on it.

Sunstreaker turns and goes to sit with Sideswipe.

The rest of the Autobots carry on with their lives. It's terrible, decides Sunstreaker, that not a single one of them is surprised with Bluestreak's behaviour.

Even he finds it perfectly normal.

***

Ratchet is careful as he picks the item up, his touch as delicate as possible. The chamber itself is warm, and pleasant to touch. A long crack runs on one side, and he peers in, grateful that nothing has managed to worm its way through the crack.

The blue orb inside pulses, healthily so. Ratchet can't help but smile, and he finds himself lightly stroking one side of the chamber.

"Shh," he whispers to the spark, which hums a steady tune at him in response. He's glad, glad that he can do this much at least. "Everything's going to be fine, 'Jack. Everything's going to be fine. I won't let anyone hurt you anymore."

Prowl turns away from his spot by the darkened entrance of the empty arena - he has seen enough.

Ratchet is playing a dangerous game, and Prowl must now prepare himself to join in.

Chapter Text

Ratchet is elbow deep in a dead Autobot when one of the smaller Decepticons, one whose name he cannot remember, appears at his door.

"Ratchet, sir," says the small mech, staring boldly at him. This one doesn't know how to fear him, not yet, but Ratchet is in a generous mood today. He straightens himself, withdrawing his arms from the Autobot's insides. His hands are covered with energon. Not the first time, never the last.

He fixes the mech with a stern look. The mech shrinks back a little.

"What is it?" asks Ratchet, an edge in his tone. Generous as he feels today, he cannot appear soft. Casually, he wipes off energon and coolant.

"Megatron requests your presence," says the mech, regaining some of his confidence. Ratchet nods, stepping away from the corpse and towards the messenger. He can clean up some more later on.

"Dismissed," Ratchet tells the mech as he herds him out. He turns, just enough to reach over and punch in some codes to lock the door. Once, a long time ago he would have never needed a lock.

***

Megatron is waiting for him when Ratchet enters. The large silver mech is leaning back in his chair behind the desk, watching the medic as he slips in.

"Brother," says Megatron.

"Megatron," greets Ratchet as the door shuts behind him. "You wanted to talk to me?"

Megatron nods, standing and making his way around the desk. "Come," he says, "let's take a walk."

***

Megatron leads him around the palace - Ratchet doesn't want to call it a fortress - and eventually they end up on one of the balconies overlooking the city.

The city Megatron built over old Iacon, on the backs of Autobots. Ratchet shakes the thought away, watching the mechs below instead.

"So," Megatron is using a tone Ratchet recognizes as interrogatory. "Brother. Stories about you have been reaching my audios lately."

"What kind of stories?" Ratchet leans on the railing, keeping his motions controlled. He can spot some small ships in the distance, along with a few transport units, their slow pace highlighted by the Seekers flying loops around them.

"The dangerous sort," answers Megatron, placing his hands on the railing. He mirrors Ratchet, looking to the distance and following the transports with his red optics. "You've been visiting the Autobots."

"Nothing wrong with that," points out Ratchet, though it likely comes across as defensive. He notes that Megatron is the only one of the Decepticons who still calls their captives Autobots. "Prisoners" and "slaves" have been popular lately.

"And spending considerable time with them," adds Megatron, turning to look at Ratchet with a pointed look.

"Only during my free time." Ratchet feels like a youngling, scrutinized by its mentors. "Is there a point to this?"

If Megatron is irritated with his boldness today, he does not show it. Then again, Ratchet thinks he's the one who should be irritated with Megatron. The silver mech is cutting into his time off duty, short as it is.

Megatron shifts into a more relaxed position, though Ratchet knows it's everything but relaxed.

"The point is, my brother," begins Megatron, and there's that edge in his voice, that edge which was once reserved only for Starscream, "your loyalty to the cause, to our new Cybertron -- to me -- has been called into question."

Ratchet stares at him, as he feels his spark whirl in its chamber, anger lacing his tone when he speaks. "Who dares?" he demands, "We've been over this, Megatron--"

"Indeed, we have."

That's when Ratchet realizes this is yet another test, and the look on Megatron's face...well, he can't tell if he has passed or failed this time.

:Lord Megatron.: The voice is sharp and clear, loud enough even over Megatron's comm line that Ratchet can hear it.

"Soundwave." Megatron is still looking at Ratchet. The silver mech's optics narrow, ever so slightly. Ratchet doesn't move, keeping as still as possible.

:Skywarp has arrived ahead of the Vos transport.:

"Send him to my office." Megatron wastes no time, never has. "Notify me when the rest of the transport arrives."

:Acknowledged.:

There's a beep as the connection fades. Megatron is already moving to reenter the building. He glances, once, at Ratchet, but the medic does not move from his spot by the railing.

Ratchet only moves when he is alone again, and by the time he makes his way back down, the transports in the distance are close enough that he can make out the individual Seekers flying about.

***

Seekers. There are Seekers in the building.

Prowl heard them, earlier, the distinctive clacking of their footsteps reaching him and rousing him out of recharge. He could do nothing about them, though, so he found himself preparing for yet another day of having little to do. He let his feet do the work then, not particularly caring where he went.

Now, he stands by the door to Megatron's private quarters, the one room in the entire wing Megatron has refused him access to. He paces before it, hands folded behind his back, as he thinks, and ponders.

There must be something in there, something that Megatron doesn't want him to see.

Of course, there is also Megatron being paranoid enough to not want anyone else in his quarters. Prowl isn't blind to that possibility, to the simplest reasons available.

A part of him tells him though, that it can't be that. It can't be so simple, that Megatron values his privacy so much not even his pet is allowed in his quarters. Not when Megatron has already forced him through most other things that should have been private.

Idly, he wonders if Starscream had been privy to those same things.

Speaking of Starscream...Seekers in the building signal that he has come to visit. Prowl could try to catch him later, make him talk a little to lift his boredom, but Prowl is well aware there's little chance for that. His best bet is Ratchet, and even then the medic has a tendency to rant instead of actually talking.

That is, if Ratchet isn't at the meeting, or in his clinic. Prowl has a feeling though, that he'll find the medic in his workshop today, taking apart corpses.

He turns, settling on having a chat with Ratchet - and that's when he hears it.

It's faint, but there. The soft groan of a mech rising from recharge, the whirring of systems straining to reactivate. The soft hum of an engine, slowly growing. It is only because of Prowl's own silence that he hears it, and that's when he realizes --

There is someone inside Megatron's quarters.

Prowl can't help but smile, horrifying as the thought is. He is right, after all, and this someone...Prowl has his suspicions who, but he can't be sure, not yet.

The very thought brings hope to his spark, and suddenly his mind is sharp again. Someone is in there, someone who could very well be the one mech Prowl wanted to see. It is as though a veil has been lifted from over his optics, as though fog and cloud have been wiped away.

Prowl feels alive again and he knows he will enjoy the challenge cracking Megatron's access code will bring.

Chapter Text

"I should have left you back in Vos!" snaps Starscream, shoving Skywarp aside yet again. "Let Thundercracker deal with you!"

Skywarp grins, then warps himself behind the red Seeker, who whirls around just in time to be tackled.

"Get off!" shouts Starscream, temper flaring, as he struggled with Skywarp. The purple Seeker was being unusually-- well, more annoying than usual, at least. Granted, Starscream himself is feeling more irritable than he usually is.

This usually only happens whenever they have to use the transports. Generally, it's policy that the Seekers are allowed some time off to fly outside, but Starscream has been busy all orn, too busy, really.

Skywarp isn't helping.

"Come on, Screamer," he's saying, tone playful and almost outright mocking. "We need to get you outside!"

Starscream shoves him off, before regaining his composure and straightening himself. He re-assumes his post in the command center, trying to ignore all the amused looks the transport's crew are shooting at each other. If any of them start calling him Screamer, he's going to start shooting things in return.

Skywarp isn't done with unintentionally humiliating his commander though. "Screamer, if you go in there and try to bite Megatron's head off," he drawls, though he's grinning, "I'm not warping into Megatron's quarters just to save you."

Starscream whirls around, and fixes him with a glare. He's about to start putting Skywarp back in line the old fashioned way when an idea comes to mind.

He starts smiling. Skywarp's grin falters.

"Well then," says Starscream, red optics glinting, "Since I am so likely to attempt biting Megatron's head off when we arrive, why don't you go and soften him up for me, so to speak."

"Ahaha...." Skywarp isn't grinning now. "...slag."

"I suggest you make your way to the release deck before I send you out through another....less comfortable way."

Skywarp promptly makes himself scarce.

***

Thundercracker is about at the end of his patience when a ball bounces off his helm.

"Who threw that!?" he demands, glaring up at the group of six Seekers hovering in the air. Each of them is holding a long piece of metal, each shaped haphazardly, but thin enough to hold. "And which one of you started this?"

One of the Seekers raises his hand, opening his mouth to speak, but Thundercracker cuts him off before he can even begin.

"No, I don't care who started this," he states. "All six of you are in trouble. And feet on the ground, now!"

"Thundercracker sir, there's a mech asking for an audience outside." Isotach, one of the Seekers Starscream hired to help keep things running, is suddenly by his side, datapad in hand and looking very, very amused.

"If it's the crazy one again--"

"No sir, the other one."

Thundercracker lets out an exasperated sigh. "Send him to Bitstream." He turns his attention back to the group of six, who have begun to argue among each other and have begun trading a few blows. "You six! Attention!"

Immediately, they fall in line, standing at attention. Thundercracker shakes his head. Really Starscream, he thinks, this is the future of Vos you want?

"There's also a security issue," says Isotach, scrolling through his datapad casually, "Tarn's transports to Simfur have been cutting through Vossian air space."

"What's Shockwave playing at?" Thundercracker sighs, then shakes his head. "We'll have to send some of our best diplomatic speakers for this. No, our most logically-minded mechs. Wait, make that both." When Isotach starts writing that down, he turns back to the six who are thankfully obeying him for once. "If you six think that Starscream's absence means you can fool around and start playing games in the base's air space, you're obviously very, very wrong."

The six remain quiet, their optics flickering to each other.

"Don't," continues Thundercracker, glaring at each of them in turn, "let me catch you again. And don't let Starscream catch you when he comes back."

They nod in unison. Isotach starts humming.

"Get out of here." Thundercracker makes sure his tone is stern.

The six scramble to fly off, already arguing with each other again.

"That went well," says Isotach, chuckling. "Now then, about the meeting later..."

Thundercracker grimaces, then turns and leads Isotach back inside.

***

Megatron is waiting for them, face set in a deep scowl as Starscream strolls into the throne room flanked by several other Seekers.

"Megatron! So good to see you again." Starscream is all smirks and glinting optics as he casually walks right up to Megatron. His Seekers linger behind, not daring to step up to the dais the way their leader does.

Megatron reaches over and pushes him off, though the action is not quite as forceful as it once might have been. Starscream steps back when he's pushed, managing to catch his balance before he can fall.

"Spare me the pleasantries, Starscream." Megatron's tone indicates that he's simply not in the mood for their usual banter. For once, Starscream is in a similar mood.

"Here you go, mighty Megatron." Without any further ado, the Seeker produces a bundle of datapads, holding them out to Megatron. The bigger mech takes them, casually handing them off to Soundwave on the side.

"All is well in Vos?" asks Megatron, easing into the routine. Starscream nods, even if all the details and information can be found in the reports he just gave over. Initially, Megatron had wanted one of the few Seekers loyal only to him in Vos, supervising and essentially spying. He had managed to send one in before Starscream retaliated.

Starscream had enjoyed personally ripping off that one Seeker's wings and shipping him back to Megatron's doorstep. Nobody knew what happened to said Seeker.

"Were you expecting any less?" says Starscream, smirking and crossing his arms. "We're doing so well without you."

Megatron only glares at him in response, though his right hand twitches - a tiny gesture Starscream recognizes from their days in the war. Once, it meant that Starscream had just earned another trip to the repair bay, nowadays, it just means Megatron is itching for a fight.

Starscream doesn't oblige him, stepping back to stand just before his Seekers.

"I believe you have one of ours."

Megatron's glare becomes fiercer. "You sent Skywarp ahead."

"Indeed." Starscream starts moving closer again. "Now, return him."

The silver tyrant's expression changes, however. It goes from his infamous angry glare, to a highly amused look. "Find him, then," says Megatron when Starscream opens his mouth again, "Since you were so kind to send him ahead and thus essentially dismissing him...I have taken the liberty of allowing him free reign over his activities."

Starscream's optics widen ever so slightly, as realization takes hold of him. "You let that dolt loose on the city--!"

Megatron's smirk is enough of an answer for him.

Chapter Text

"Gold-aft isn't popular, what makes you think everyone would want to see him again? Everyone liked the engineer's explosions more."

"No, no, no, you don't understand this at all. The crowd went crazy with the way Sunstreaker killed Wheeljack. He'll fight again, against more this time, and build up approval."

"We can't slagging well focus on just him! Megatron's not gonna like it, and then we'll be slagged too."

"I don't see you coming up with any better ideas--"

"Gentlemechs, gentlemechs, let's not fight. I have an idea."

"...well, let's hear it, then!"

***

"You don't get it, do you? Ratchet betrayed us."

Sideswipe grimaces, settling his gaze on Bluestreak. The Praxian is snarling at one of the new mechs - a young yellow bot who had come in earlier that day. Sideswipe has long since given up on trying to find out where these supposedly Autobot younglings are coming from.

"W-well, they were just stories!" the young bot squeaks out, though he manages to stand his ground. Impressive, thinks Sideswipe, but it won't be enough to survive in the arena.

"That's right," says Bluestreak, optics dimming, "They're just stories. Ratchet the Autobot's only alive in the stories."

The young bot looks slightly confused, though at the same time irritated. Sideswipe moves closer to him, standing as near as he can to the bars separating their cells.

"Aw, knock it off, Blue," calls Sideswipe, trying to grin. "The kid's obviously never been around famous mechs like us."

Nearby, Sunstreaker mumbles something that sounds suspiciously like "kid wouldn't want to". Sideswipe ignores him, only leaning against the bars and grinning down at the young bot, who takes a step back, away from him.

"I'm not a kid," he says, flatly.

"Sure you aren't," responds Sideswipe, smirking.

"Break it up, you two," snaps Sunstreaker from the other end of the cell when the young bot opens his mouth to speak again. Sideswipe can't help but make a small, annoyed sound, even as he steps away from the bars. He makes his way back to Sunstreaker, and that's when he sees why his twin called him off.

Ratchet is standing at the entrance to the entire jail block, arms crossed, gaze sweeping over all of them. The guards with him move, marching to one of the cells in the corner. The larger of the guards point inside, and Ratchet nods.

Sideswipe realizes what's happening when the guards slam the cell's door open, and enter.

"Frag you!" he shouts, just as his fellow Autobots join in. They rattle the bars of their cells, shouting insults at the medic and former comrade.

Ratchet remains silent the entire time, arms crossed, coldly watching the proceedings. He does not flinch when the guards pull Bluestreak out, slamming him against the bars of the opposite cell. He does not wince when they shove the staggering Praxian up the steps, nor does he twitch when Bluestreak spits energon in his face. Expression cool and clearly guarded, he wipes the energon off once Bluestreak is pushed past him, escorted outside by the guards.

The Autobots fall silent, every blue and yellow optic trained upon their former medic.

"Took Bee from us, now you're taking Blue too?" Sideswipe breaks the silence, and he knows Ratchet heard him. The white bot stiffens, then turns his head to lock gazes with the red twin.

Ratchet narrows his optics at him, before turning and simply leaving, disappearing into the brighter world beyond.

The door falls shut behind him a moment later and the guards take up their places, leaving the Autobots to themselves, and to their thoughts.

***

The guards make themselves scarce upon his command. Ratchet moves, locking the door with a code. A pause, and he enters another, soundproofing the room. When he turns, Bluestreak has flung himself towards him, slamming into him a moment later. Ratchet cycles his vents, forcing himself to keep calm even as the Praxian brings up an energon blade against his neck cables.

"Killing me won't change anything." Ratchet finds himself staring into blue optics, fierce with determination and anger.

"It'll be a start," snarls Bluestreak, dragging the blade over neck cables, before pausing as the tip reaches the side of the medic's neck. A thin line of energon follows the blade. Ratchet presses himself back against the door.

"Is that right?" Ratchet stifles a chuckle, "You've got a long way to go." With practiced ease he reaches out, scraping at Bluestreak's tattered doorwings before the other can stop him. Bluestreak yelps, scrambling away from him.

Ratchet grins now, and pounces. Bluestreak screams as he attacks sensitive panels, driving his fingers against sensors. He had been this bot's medic for vorns -- Bluestreak isn't going to win this.

"I give, I give!" Bluestreak laughs as he throws his hands up, pushing at Ratchet.

"That right, Autobot?" sneers Ratchet, though he cannot suppress the sincere glee in his tone as he keeps up his attack. Bluestreak thrashes, still laughing, barely trying to stave him off.

Moments later, they are regaining their composure, though neither can hide their identical grins.

"I'm getting better, aren't I?" asks Bluestreak, once they're both settled around a table, each with a cube of energon in hand. "At acting."

Ratchet nods. "There'll come a time though, when you can't be just acting anymore." He takes a moment to sip his energon. "You'll have to really kill me."

"Aw, we've been over this," starts Bluestreak, frowning and gesturing with the energon cube still in hand. "I can't kill you, Ratchet, and you can't ask me to, that's just being mean. And don't you dare say that you won't hesitate in killing me when the time comes, because you're Ratchet and that's just not you -- even if you're a 'Con now. Which I still don't understand since nobody ever explained it to me. Not to mention..."

"Bluestreak." Ratchet looks him in the optics, and says it anyway. "I won't hesitate to kill you when the time comes."

"I don't believe you." Bluestreak looks right back at him, doorwings high and twitching. "And don't ask me to. Believe you, I mean."

Ratchet sighs and shakes his head, letting the matter drop. "I heard you shouted at Sunstreaker." It's the only other topic he can think of right now that won't damage anything.

"He was shouting at First Aid." Though Bluestreak is going along with this new topic of his, the doorwings at his back are still high.

Ratchet flinches at hearing the name of his former apprentice, but forces himself to remain calm otherwise. "...About Wheeljack."

Bluestreak only nods in response. Ratchet decides to find something else to talk about.

"You haven't been recharging well." It's the first thing that comes to mind, and it's true. Ratchet's scans are telling him that Bluestreak lacks rest, and his systems need time to recuperate.

"It's hard to, in that cell." Bluestreak's doorwings have lowered, ever so slightly. Ratchet hopes the other can relax while here. "And...I don't like it when they shout, so I try to be awake to stop them."

Something clicks in Ratchet's mind, even as the Praxian before him starts babbling again.

"Why don't you recharge here, for now?" Ratchet cuts into the middle of Bluestreak's sentence, and the Praxian stops, and stares at him.

"...you won't try to kill me in my sleep, will you?"

Ratchet laughs, and stands. He leads Bluestreak to the nearby berth.

Once he's certain Bluestreak is well into recharge, he turns and contacts Starscream.

Chapter Text

He's so close, so close to breaking it.

Prowl grips the door frame, shaking. The taste of victory, of triumph, is so vivid, so real. These past few solar-cycles have been hard on him, what with his sneaking about, trying to avoid getting caught. Certainly Megatron would have noticed something by now and become suspicious, but no, Prowl has been triumphant.

Megatron's codes are layered, arranged in such a way that no average hacker can get in. Prowl is not the average hacker.

He finds himself glaring at the keypad. It feels too easy, really, and Prowl's fairly certain there's yet another layer beneath the codes.

He punches in the last few numbers, then keeps himself still, his doorwings stiff against his back, high in the air.

The door slides open.

Prowl waits. Nothing happens.

He steps in, cautiously looks around, then cycles his vents at the sight that lies before him.

***

"So, how's your pet?" Starscream struts his way to the chair, just as Megatron strides behind the desk.

"Prowl is of no matter to you." Megatron gives his once-second a dark glare, and the Seeker only returns it with a smirk, tapping the desk with slender blue fingers.

"Still haven't gotten him to willingly interface with you?" Starscream laughs, leaning back as far as he can with his wings in the way. "You simply do enjoy the challenge, don't you, leader."

"Where is Skywarp?" Megatron decides to completely ignore the topic, and skip ahead to something else.

Starscream makes a face. "We still haven't found him. This is your fault, letting that teleporting fool loose. He could be anywhere by now."

"I was not aware you had to keep your warriors on a leash, Starscream."

"Skywarp is an idiot." Starscream can play the ignoring game too, though his expression becomes stern. "And he's been causing trouble lately. Hence the leash."

Megatron frowns, listening, thinking. "And how is this far from his usual behavior?"

"Because--" Starscream pauses, then snaps, "It just is! There's something...off about him. Like he's hiding something."

"Then look into it! Really, Starscream." Megatron is chuckling even as he speaks. "Must you keep forgetting you have your own state to take care of now?"

Starscream only glares at him, and for a moment both mechs are taken back to the war. Back when theirs was a game of control and defiance.

It is a game which has no place in the world they are currently building.

"Was there something else, perhaps something of greater importance, you wanted to talk about?" Megatron is impatient, as usual. "I'm too busy to entertain your whining."

"Ah, yes, since we were talking about pets, earlier..." Starscream grins as he stands, leaning on the desk and towards Megatron. "I've been meaning to take one myself."

"You have the shuttle."

"He's useless!" Starscream slams both hands on the desk, rattling the items scattered about on it. Megatron's gaze flickers to them, but he soon returns to holding Starscream's glare.

"So you would take another Autobot to satisfy your sick hunger." Megatron's optics burn with a hidden emotion, something that Starscream can't quite place a name on, so he only stares back, blankly. He's well aware though, that Megatron's words are a mask, a cover for the fact that he keeps more than a few of these Autobots for his own twisted pleasure.

Starscream decides not to comment on that, and again he plays the ignoring game.

"I've already picked one out," he says instead. "I want - I want the Praxian. The youngling."

***

"Optimus..." Prowl's voice is barely a whisper, but it's enough. The blue and red mech before him groans, systems whirring to life, optics coming online slowly.

Bright blue optics widen in shock at the sight of him.

"It's you...you live." Prowl moves, forces himself to walk and close the distance between the door frame and the bot chained to the corner. He hears the doors shut behind him, but they are no longer of importance to him.

Optimus shutters his optics, once, twice, and Prowl realizes his vocal processor has been shut down - or even removed. In that moment of realization, everything becomes too much for him. He falls to his knees, finding them weak, just as he reaches his Prime.

Overcome with emotions that he simply cannot reign in anymore, Prowl reaches out and touches his forehead to Optimus's.

Optimus dims his optics, and Prowl keeps still, savoring this moment. He finds himself tracing the cracks in Optimus's windshield, lightly running his fingers over various injuries left behind by hands much bigger than his own.

"I'll get you out," Prowl whispers as he pulls back, "Ratchet - Ratchet is not quite the traitor we thought of him. He has a plan and - and I'll get you out."

Optimus looks up at him, gazing at him with a look that Prowl can read far too easily.

Don't come back for me.

Chapter Text

Bluestreak watches, optics narrowed, as a good portion of the Autobots move to the front of their cells. He has his hands around the bars of his own cell, pressing himself against them with his doorwings held high.

"All right, all right - listen up all you blasted glitches!" The Decepticon is standing at the entrance of the jail block, a datapad in hand. He's black and purple all over, and clearly has a ground vehicle for his alt-mode. Bluestreak doesn’t remember his name, just that this mech only appears whenever a match is coming up.

The louder Autobots mostly ignore him in favor of making rude noises and just plain ignoring him, even as the guards start moving to threaten them. The majority are keeping quiet though, not at all interested in being punished. Bluestreak seeks the familiar ones out, taking note of them. First Aid, hugging his knees on his berth. Blaster, busily tapping the wall of his cell. Moonracer, calmly polishing her drained gun. Several others, each doing their own thing, each determined on keeping sane.

Bluestreak notes that Sunstreaker is among that majority, but he isn't doing anything at all. No, the golden twin is just standing there, by his berth, and gazing directly at the Decepticon. Sideswipe is busy jeering.

The black and purple Decepticon turns and barks a command to one of the guards, too far away and overcome by the Autobots’ noise for Bluestreak to hear. Despite this, he knows what's coming next.

He releases the bars, just as he hears the first cackle. When the second cackle of electricity comes, he jumps back, pressing himself against the wall behind his berth. At the same time, he spots Sunstreaker jumping up and grabbing Sideswipe, pulling him away from the bars.

The bars of every cell come to life, energy running down them and sending any Autobot in contact with them flying back onto their berths. A second wave comes, and any Autobot who had clung on begins to scream as the shock of raw energon flows through their systems.

Even when silence has settled - save for that tap-tap-tap - the bars remain active. Bluestreak can hear their steady hum from his berth.

"Listen up, glitches!" shouts the Decepticon, apparently satisfied. "The next match is due in a few solar-cycles! And we've got something special lined up for you all."

Bluestreak shutters his optics. "Something special" usually meant the ones in charge had either gotten bored or were running out of ideas for matches.

Even as the Decepticon calls out the numbers of the chosen bots, Bluestreak can't shake the feeling of dread rising in his spark.

Then he notices Sunstreaker staring at him, and Bluestreak realizes only then that they both have been called.

***

Helex is an all right city as far as cities go, Skywarp admits that much. Indeed, there isn't as much space as Vos has, nor is it as pretty as Praxus had ever been, but it has its own charm.

For starters, everyone Skywarp had flown by today had been relatively normal. It seemed to him that everyone was just...sane here. A complete contrast to every single Decepticon he had ever met, much less every other Seeker in Vos.

Granted, a lot of the bots living in Helex right now had once been Empties, now trying to build new lives for themselves.

As he flies by a group of them, they wave to him, something they always do when the Seekers are in town. Apparently a large number still hold them in high regard, despite their actions in the war.

Skywarp doesn't mind, that just makes things easier. He does a few loops for them, before heading off on his way. He can hear them cheering after him, even as he rounds the corner into a side street.

After a day of mindless wandering and just enjoying Helex in all its glory, Skywarp wants only to visit a certain mech who lived out here instead of at Megatron's fort.

"Yoohoo!" he calls, as he transforms and lands before the little store front. Usually, lines formed outside, as bots from all over the state waited for their turn, but today, the street is empty, and Skywarp can't help but notice that the store itself is dark.

"Weird," he mumbles. Ratchet rarely leaves the clinic, unless, of course, Megatron wants him at the fort. Maybe that's the case here.

Skywarp likes Ratchet. Though the medic is usually withdrawn and keeps his distance from the other Decepticons, he knows how to party. Hard. Skywarp had found this out when he spiked Ratchet's energon once, a long long time ago. That had been fun, and Ratchet had certainly started opening up more after that, as much as he was inclined to open up with other Decepticons at least.

A frown graces the Seeker's faceplates. Skywarp knocks once, twice - just in case. But there's no response.

Well, it just so happens he knows the exact codes Ratchet used to keep the place locked up. That had been an...interesting excursion into Ratchet's office - Skywarp decides he'll have to do that again sometime.

He sends the codes to the door's control panel. It beeps at him once, then he hears the click of the door opening. Maybe he can surprise Ratchet when he gets back. It has been a while, after all.

With a grin, Skywarp enters.

***

"Well, well, well."

Just the sound of Starscream's voice is enough to make Prowl groan internally, though he's barely able to keep a stoic look on his face.

Starscream smirks at him. "If it isn't Megatron's favorite pet."

Prowl flicks a doorwing in annoyance. "What do you want, Starscream?" Just over a solar-cycle ago, he might have been willing to speak with the Seeker, but now...

He had seen Optimus. He had seen the wounds in the hidden places. Too small to have been inflicted by Megatron, too precise. Wounds that Megatron just so happened to have never noticed, because he was too busy inflicting as much pain on Optimus as possible, not at all caring about the places he couldn't reach.

There is another possible culprit aside from Starscream...but it sickens Prowl to think of Ratchet that way.

"Tch, is that any way to speak to the lord of Vos?" Starscream's own wings twitch in annoyance, and Prowl's gaze flickers to them ever so briefly. It's one thing they have in common - Seekers and Praxians - and it's certainly enough.

"I'm not interested in talking to you." Prowl takes a step back, determined to make it to his quarters.

"Obviously not," sneers Starscream, hands on his waist. "So, what have you been up to? You've been sneaking around, I hear."

"I live here, I don't need to sneak around." Prowl manages to keep his tone flat and matter-in-fact.

"Hmph!" Starscream glares at him, striding even closer and thrusting a finger into Prowl's face. "Listen to me, you fool. As far as circumstances go, you need me - and the rest of Vos at that - if you want any form of salvation for your precious little clique."

Prowl doesn't flinch away from the finger invading his personal space. "You don't make sense, Starscream." He turns, pushing the Seeker's outstretched arm down as he begins making his way down the corridor again. "And I don't know what you're talking about."

With the agility he’s famous for, the Seeker slips past him far too quickly and comes to block him from going anywhere at all.

"Well, well, isn't that just a pity," mocks the Seeker, "That you'd just abandon your comrades like that. Hah! Just imagine, your precious little Praxian youngling going insane, with nothing but the rest of his life in the Pit, killing and dying. Or what about Soundwave's little pet? Left to rot behind closed doors forever..."

...Soundwave’s little pet? Prowl freezes, considering this knowledge. Certainly, knowing this did not change anything. All it did was add to the list of Autobots to release.

Though how Prowl is going to save this particular one, he isn't sure. Soundwave's quarters are much more secure than Megatron's, simply because Soundwave knows all the tricks of the hacker trade himself.

"Starscream." Prowl keeps his voice soft, but the tone cold, and stern. The same voice he once used with both Autobot and foe alike. "I am not one to leave comrades behind."

Then Starscream smirks, and that's yet another thing from the past they share.

***

An orn ago, Ratchet had sent out a notice that his clinic would be closed for several solar-cycles, but he hadn't expected things at the palace to escalate and keep him away for so long. All things considered, he does not actually have the time to be making this little trip down to Helex. Several problems in the palace's systems had been reported just earlier in the solar-cycle, and he actually has a transport from Tarn to coordinate.

He freezes though, when he came close to his clinic.

The door is open, and light spills out, engulfing the street before it.

Ratchet pulls out his blaster and fiddles with it, letting it charge up a bit. Steeling himself, he walks toward his own clinic, and enters.

Chapter Text

Ratchet grumbles, frustrated. His clinic is - well, it's perfectly fine, and therein lies the problem. Everything is in perfect order, and nothing appears to have been stolen. Looking around some more, he hurries to the counter and checks the credit balance. It is just as he had left it.

This leaves only the back room, if the intruder has not fled the area yet, and that's the one place Ratchet doesn't want anyone poking around in.

Whoever it is...Ratchet steels himself, striding over to the door, and slamming it open with a quick burst of codes to its access panel.

Nothing. The room is empty, and like the clinic front, everything as he had left it...

...only not quite. Ratchet works his gaze over the room, finding a few tools misplaced and on the floor. They had been scattered around on the floor, as though someone had stumbled there and slammed into the shelves. His gaze moves to the shelf running along the innermost wall, registering just how empty it looked.

He lets out a soft grumble, before walking over, reaching into the shelves, and flicking the switch hidden there.

The walls begin to shift, so Ratchet moves back, and lets them part to reveal the steps behind the shelves.

***

Barricade had been in the middle of what a human would call "a shitty day" when Starscream barges into his office, demanding to see the mech in charge of the matches.

He decides that his solar-cycle has gone from "shitty" to "potentially absolutely hilarious".

Starscream is shouting, and essentially doing what Barricade would call whining, but there are no surprises there. Instead, Barricade is surprised that he's here because of some Autobot. Of course, the funny part is that Starscream of all mechs would come in here and ask for an Autobot to be taken off the match roster.

"I informed your team some solar-cycles ago! That particular Autobot is to be kept from the arena until further notice!" Starscream's angered gesturing is almost comical, but the sheer fury in his tone is enough to keep Barricade from providing witty comments. He's been on the receiving end of that fury before, and he certainly doesn't want his day to go back to being "shitty". Or worse.

"You will have to take that up with Megatron." The mech who just so happens to be in charge of the matches is tall and mostly blue in color, a bored expression adorning elegant faceplates. Barricade has never seen this particular mech lose his composure before.

"I have," snaps Starscream, "You were informed."

"Then perhaps Megatron disagrees with you."

"Do not try me, Cryotek." Starscream's tone takes a dive from furious to cold, but Cryotek's expression doesn't change, gaze set on Starscream with serene red optics. Barricade doesn't envy either of them in this situation.

"I answer only to Megatron; such are my orders," says Cryotek, arms crossed, "And you have no authority here, Lord of Vos."

Starscream scrounges up the nastiest of his looks, but he can do nothing. Megatron made it clear to all Decepticons that acts of aggression between state officials would be taken as acts of war. Barricade subscribes to the rumor that this had been Soundwave's idea.

Starscream's expression suddenly smooths over, and the Seeker smirks. "Oh, we shall see, Cryotek," he hisses, "We shall see."

Then the Seeker turns on his heel and leaves them.

***

Ratchet finds Skywarp waiting for him, anger burning in his optics as he levels his gun upon the medic. The sparks lining the walls of the room glitter and turn in their compartments, apathetic and oblivious to what is going on here.

"Sparks, Ratch?" shouts the Seeker, "of all things, you had to go and collect sparks?"

Ratchet has to resist letting the palm of his hand meet his face. Instead, he lets go of his own blaster, letting it drop, hoping to avoid aggravating Skywarp any further. He doesn't want to think about the effects of a teleport in so close a proximity with this many spark chambers.

"It isn't what you think it is," he starts, slowly.

"What, you experimenting on them?" snaps Skywarp.

Realization hits Ratchet, as he considers his options. No matter what he does right now, the odds are stacked against him. It is, after all, innate in a Cybertronian to revere the spark, and though Skywarp is far from being the average Cybertronian, he is no different in that regard.

"Hear me out." Ratchet manages to keep his tone level, the same tone he uses on some of his more difficult patients. "There's a very good reason these sparks are here."

"Yeah, right!" Skywarp keeps the gun raised, watching him with desperate red optics. "There's never a good reason to collect sparks."

"These belong to Autobots."

This gives Skywarp pause, as he turns his gaze to the rows of spark chambers occupying the wall next to him. Ratchet watches him, certain the Seeker is processing this, figuring out the implications. The medic knows that sparks are sparks, regardless of the faction of their owner, but he has no way of knowing if Skywarp believes likewise.

After a long moment of silence, Skywarp finally cycles his vents. "That sure doesn't make it any better," he says, even as he powers down his gun, lowering it. "Just something I can accept."

Ratchet shutters his optics and smiles, picking up his own blaster and subspacing it. "I can explain why I'm doing this, but upstairs." He pauses, then remembers Skywarp spent more than a solar-cycle on his own. "Over a cube of energon."

He turns and starts heading up the steps, satisfied to hear the clack clack of Skywarp's thrusters behind him.

"I'm not the one you have to explain to." Skywarp's voice is different from usual, lacking the enthusiasm Ratchet is used to hearing from him.

Ratchet takes a moment to finish opening the door before turning back to the Seeker. "What do you mean by that?"

Skywarp is looking back up at him with a frown. "Starscream says he'll be here in half a joor."

It's just then that Ratchet picks up the faint cackle that signifies the death of an open comm line.