Chapter 1: Only the Strong
At one level—at many levels—Perceptor knew that simply saying, simply thinking the word did nothing. Some sort of primitive attempt at magic, using sound and thought to attempt to deny the real. And it surprised him that even he himself was susceptible to such a wild impulse.
But, staring at the energon pulsing over, through his fingers, studying the caved in, rent metal from the hole punched in him, through him, by Turmoil’s weapon, flat denial, however nonsensical, was all he had to fall back on.
He’d known the danger. You didn’t take a mission that involved boarding a Decepticon ship and not expect some danger. But this…? It stunned him.
No: what stunned him was not the fact that he’d been hit. It was that he was so weak. Kup hadn’t wanted him along, told him he wasn’t ready for it.
And he wasn’t. And he didn’t know why. He’d commanded troops before, and had admitted that he was, yes, perhaps a bit rusty in the practice of it, but…he had miscalculated.
Worse than that—he had made a beginner’s mistake—Turmoil’s taunt rang through his damaged audio, seeming to echo with each purple-pink flare of pulse-rifles around him. He’d given away his position, by talking. By trying to prove that he was pulling his weight, that he belonged here. That he was more than just…Kup’s minder.
And his slip had endangered them all. No wonder they’d all left, the battle surging deeper into the crippled ship. He could feel random bursts resonate through the floor under his back, hear the distant sounds of weapons fire. He could see and feel everything…except himself. He felt no pain, and that, to Perceptor, was the worst sin of all—not that he was dying, nor even that he was dying alone, but that he wasn’t suffering as he deserved.
They’re better off without me, he thought. Dead weight that they deservedly dropped. A traitor, all unknowing, unleashing the enemy upon them through his foolish need to prove that he was useful, that he was pulling his weight. That he was a soldier.
He wasn’t a soldier. He was a wrecked frame, a scientific mind without a killer’s spark. Not a pacifist so much as lacking the instincts of the others, instincts like Kup’s that had kept him alive, cagey, and still strong, after all he’d been through.
Under his back, he felt a high frequency vibration, like an engine whining, rising, wailing into some sort of system crash. The ship would explode. It was already airborne, just a matter of time before it burst, white and red, into raining shards of metal, showering death down upon the city below. Were they winning? Did that mean the Autobots were victorious, or did it mean that the Decepticons were so inured to death that they would destroy themselves rather than allow an Autobot victory?
He didn’t know—and he knew that a real warrior would know. Kup would know. Springer would know. For all their brashness, all their attitude, they knew—a science that defied Perceptor’s grasp.
Perceptor looked at his energon-stained fingers, turning them over under his damaged gaze, with a kind of dark wonder. It made sense some knowledge eluded him—his task had always been on the micro-scale, studying fine differences, infinitesimal variations. He wasn’t designed to look for the macro, the big picture, the infinite stabilities of combat that wove through the vagaries of circumstance.
He did not know.
He did not know.
And he would die not knowing. That was the worst of all—to have an insight, a flash of epiphany, only to have it wasted, any chance of application seeping from him with his leaking life-fluids.
His hands shook, half in terror, half in anger at the waste of it all.
And the floor seemed to hum again, something racing toward him, as darkness reached to close over his one working optic like a hood. And Perceptor felt his frustration surge, even as his energy waned, even as his hands dropped, limply, unpowered, down by his sides. He could feel his optic fading, blue going grey, could feel his energy draining, actuators losing charge. And there was nothing—NOTHING—he could do. Perceptor felt a rage, like a dragon of black flame, rise up through him, pushing against the cool fade of his dying light, hatred at his own weakness, hatred at his failing body, the weak systems clouding, clogging his thoughts.
A shape moved into his narrowing field of vision, a face, armored in white, optics glowing Autobot blue, flat, one dimensional in Perceptor's damaged sight. The new mech. The one who was…neither of them. Not Autobot, not Decepticon, but some other.
“Let’s get you out of here,” the other mech said, his voice buzzing into static on Perceptor’s damaged audio. White arms grabbed him, Perceptor too weak to protest, his traitorous hands flopping numb and weak.
“Leave…me,” he managed to whisper.
The other mech’s laugh rumbled against his back as he hauled Perceptor upright. “Doesn’t work like that, Autobot,” he said. “I came here to save lives.”
“Not…worth…,” Perceptor’s words faded, his head dropping back against Drift’s shoulder.
“Every life is worth it,” Drift said, a thread of anger in his voice, penetrating through Perceptor’s numb haze.
And then the darkness of the ship burst in to light and the scream of white air filled Perceptor’s audio and there was nothing stable in this world except Drift’s arms around him.
Chapter 2: Only the Strong
R (for violence/implied torture)
warnings: gratuitous violence.
For tf_rare_pairing "Turmoil/Drift: won't let you excape me"
“Deadlock.” The voice came out of the darkness, as if it was the darkness itself that spoke. A feral, living darkness. It seemed…amused, as if feeding on his isolation and discomfort.
Drift turned, in the darkness, trying to triangulate the voice. His hands floated to his scabbards, futilely. He knew before they closed on empty air that his short swords were gone—he didn’t even have to think to realize that the weight of his great sword was missing from between his shoulders. “Not my name,” he said, letting his voice echo into the darkness, if not to locate his enemy than to sense walls, obstacles around him.
A harsh laugh, that grated on his audio. He…knew that voice. “Turmoil.”
“You remember my name, at least.” A shadow stirred among the shadows. Drift tried to focus, but his optics had been jammed in high-key setting. His audio struggled to compensate, becoming extra keen.
“Yes,” Drift said, turning his head, determined to pinpoint the voice’s source. Even without weapons, he was dangerous. Wing had trained him hard, in Crystal City, wisdom through blows, knowing that it was the only language Drift could have understood at the time. Patient, yet, insistent.
Combat was not all that Wing had been teaching him, but it turned out, sometimes, to be the more useful part of Wing’s lessons. He balled his fists.
Another laugh, which echoed around the room, chafing Drift’s hypersensitized audio. “Belligerent as always,” Turmoil scoffed. “Regardless of the odds.”
“Yes,” Drift said. “You used to value that.”
Another stir of shadow on shadow. “I still do. You’re simply…misguided. Misaimed.”
A shrug Drift could hear more than see. “Isn’t that what you are? A weapon. Nothing more.”
Drift whirled toward the sound. It was true. In a limited fashion. He was a weapon. It’s what he’d believed all along. But he’d let the Decepticons wield him, call his shots and range for too long. And then the Autobots, even before, even attacking Turmoil’s own ship, how many vorns ago? Even then, trying to aim him. Take him over, as if he had to be one or the other. If not one, the other. If not blackness, white.
Drift wanted to aim himself. Make his own decisions. He’d let others make them for him for too long.
THAT was the other lesson Wing had been teaching him, in the rigid, stultified, self-righteous atmosphere of Crystal City. That was the point, the quiet subversion of teaching war in a city sworn to peace. That was the clarity in the opaqueness of the ‘Crystal’ City, buried deep in the blind, dark ground. “How little you know.”
The shadows moved, a fist flashing into Drift’s damaged sight to strike, hard and fierce, against his helm. “Yes. Let’s explore that.”
Drift brought his hands up in a cross-block, shoving the hand away. A weapon is nothing without a wielder: a warrior was nothing without will.
He had will. That could not be taken from him, at least.
Turmoil’s other hand struck, digging in, fingers harsh, tearing at the circuitry of Drift’s arm. Sparks flew, blinding Drift’s damaged video feed with white stars of static and pain. Drift bit down on a cry, bringing his free hand around, prying up the fingers, bending them back against their functional range.
Turmoil grunted in pain.
Drift shifted his weight, stabilizing his legs, seizing the larger mech’s hand in a wrist-bar.
Drift went down hard, abruptly, Turmoil cutting one of his legs by a blow behind his knee-joint. He sank his grey fingers into Turmoil’s black plating, refusing to let go, dragging down with his weight, straining the larger mech’s servos, using his mass and weight against him. As Wing had taught him.
“Show me pain,” Turmoil hissed, holding Drift’s weight on his arm. “Show me what you have learned, traitor.”
“Traitor,” Drift echoed, the word meaningless to him. Traitor to one meant loyal to the other. No. He had not cut himself free only to tie himself to another dangerous frame.
He let the rest of his weight fall, kicking his feet into Turmoil’s midsection. Turmoil grunted, struts collapsing, a whine of metal as plating gave to the heavy force, like anvils, of Drift’s armored footplates.
They tumbled to the floor, limbs lashing at each other, both blinded by darkness from without, and rage from within.
Turmoil reared up over him. Even Drift’s damaged video saw the moving darkness, the hateful red optics blaring a hot fury upon him like malevolent suns. “You will never escape me, Drift. Do you know why?”
Drift growled, bucking his hips, trying to shift the heavy pelvic frame off his chassis. His arms were pinned, useless, by Turmoil’s knees.
Turmoil chuckled, rocking forward, Drift’s forearm armor yielding with hissing pops from blown hydraulics. Drift’s sensornet flared whiter than Wing’s armor, then blue. He could feel the hot slickness leaking over his palms, his hand actuators sizzling into failure.
Drift drove his knee against Turmoil’s back, his greave armor edge biting into Turmoil’s backplate in one last, desperate attempt at freedom, at self-assertion.
“I won’t let you get away,” Turmoil leaned over, whispering the words, near, intimate, his EM field blooming over Drift’s own, which was staggering and clouded with bad current. “Because we’re exactly the same. Just inverse images of the same thing. You don’t leave until you see that, Deadlock.”
“Drift,” Drift insisted, feeble, but resolute.
Discard hypocrisy. Find your own path, your own way. Let no one make your decisions. Even if you have to fight through them, fight through yourself, fight through pain, and humiliation.You are not Autobot, nor Decepticon. You are not Turmoil's shadow. You are not Deadlock. Discarded selves. Discarded identities that no longer serve, that merely confine. You are Drift.
Whoever that is.
Turmoil laughed. “We can solve your drifting.” He sank one hand into the shoulder panel, tearing at the Autobot insignia. He leaned closer, so close that Drift could feel the heat of his optics on his cheeks. “And those blue optics are next.”
Chapter 3: Caught
A little bit closer, Perceptor thought. A little closer and he’d be near enough to risk the dash across the open and onto the Mabaya—Drift’s last known mission. If Drift himself weren’t there, surely some trace of him, some clue, would be. And Perceptor was determined to flush it out himself.
He’d slipped away from the other Wreckers. Most of them would be only too eager to help—well, perhaps not Springer—but their approach was…too obvious. Too noisy. And, to be honest, Perceptor found the symmetry pleasing—Drift had rescued him once; now he would return the favor, make his saved life begin to pay back the debt.
It was night and the dropship’s bulk was picked out of the darkness by halogen bright lights, washing the battered, space-pocked surface in high relief. Perceptor did not believe much in aesthetics, but it suited, here, too—an ugly mech should have an ugly ship.
Because in the end, that’s who this was really about: Turmoil. Drift’s megalomania about destroying his former commander matched only by Turmoil’s violent fixation on him. It had to end; it had to stop. One way or the other.
If, Perceptor thought, and the thought chilled him, it hadn’t already been settled by Drift’s death.
No. That sort of thought was not helpful. It stirred Perceptor up too much, when he most needed to concentrate.
He paused, in the blackest shadow of a shipping crate. The crate’s metal was cool against his shoulders as he edged along its side toward the sharp-edged pool of light pouring down from the Mabaya. He winced as his scope thudded against the crate’s support rib. He froze, straining his audio, wishing it were as enhanced as his vision, stretching to hear anything like a response from the ship. After a decaklik, he risked craning his head around the crate’s beveled edge.
Nothing. No movement, not even a random patrol. It had been like that for the entire surveillance he had set up on the ship—so why did his spark chamber seem to twinge? His black fingers rubbed idly against his reinforced armor. Never again, he thought. Not that way. But his spark chamber seemed on fire with the memory.
He thought about calling the mission—postponing it. He knew the Mabaya wasn’t scheduled to leave for another three solars. He still had time.
But…Drift might not. And to cancel a mission, when he had come so far based on…what? A bad capacitor? Ridiculous. Illogical.
He shifted himself, peeling his back off the side of the crate, preparing his actuators for the sprint for the access panel he’d marked out on the ship’s specifications. Oh, he’d done his legwork for this one. Never again be caught forgetting basic soldiership.
Now, he told himself, springing forward.
Before a hand crashed down upon his shoulder like a hammer of Primus himself, and the world went halogen white, then grey, then the crimson of Decepticon optics and of failure.
“So,” the deep voice cut through the last of Perceptor’s haze. “A little out of place, aren’t you, scientist?”
Perceptor twisted, wincing as the tight wires bit into his wrists, bound behind his back. Not stasis cuffs or anything like them. Not for him—simply fine wire, wrapped time and again figure-8ing around his wrists, shifting and biting in under his plating. His wrists burned from a half a hundred microcuts but that was nothing to the pain from his right shoulder, blazing, raw.
His scope was missing, sparks spitting fitfully into the gaping air, trying to bridge to a circuit no longer there. Out of place? Yes. Despite everything. He said nothing. What could he say?
Turmoil strolled around him, close enough that Perceptor could feel every micron of the Decepticon’s greater mass. And more—Turmoil’s footfalls were nearly silent, his joints oiled to soundlessness. Even the hiss of hydraulics was masked in his case, so for all his size, the enormous Decepticon commander could move with absolute silence.
And he was flaunting this, now. And Perceptor knew that it was Turmoil himself who had caught him out by the shipping crate. This was what a real warrior was like—one who had given over his entire body, his entire being, to the craft of war.
And Perceptor, for all his effort, all of his modifications, had clearly not gone far enough.
A deliberate scrape of the foot behind Perceptor, to let him know Turmoil was directly behind him. Perceptor refused to move, refused to turn his head to see the gaping maw of his torn lens assembly. The voice rumbled over his head. “You came looking for him, didn’t you?”
“I did.” No sense in hiding it. And maybe, if he could convince Turmoil that he came alone, no one else would get sucked into another morass caused by his sloppiness. There was no need to specify who ‘he’ was.
Turmoil’s enormous hand closed over Perceptor’s head, fingers on either side of his crestridge. They squeezed, enough to put pounding pressure through the metal. “Mistake, Autobot.”
“I see.” Perceptor kept his optics staunchly ahead, the right one feeding him constantly refreshing targeting information. On the wall, on the bolt on the wall, on the floor plate. Aiming at nothing, with no weapon to fire. It seemed…symbolic.
“No,” Turmoil said. “You don’t see.” Turmoil pushed down on his hand, bending Perceptor’s head back, until his optics met the red ones glaring down at him. “Deadlock,” Turmoil began, “is worthless.”
“Drift,” Perceptor corrected.
A dark laugh, that seemed almost to come from the shadows themselves, echoing around the room. “Deadlock. He can change his name, but he is still the same. Just like you, little scientist.” One thumb tapped Perceptor’s reticle optic, spiderwebbing it with cracks. “Superficial change.”
Yes. He needn’t respond—Turmoil could see his assent in his optics.
“Deadlock,” Turmoil continued, “betrayed us. He will betray you, in time.” He leaned in closer, his optics burning into Perceptor’s, until the red Autobot’s visual field was blocked by his face, his targeting reticle whirling down through numbers, splintered. “And the closer you are to him—or think you are,” Turmoil hissed, “the more damage it does.”
There was something ineffably bitter in his voice, that, even upside-down, Perceptor could see as some old, hidden pain.
Turmoil snorted, pushing Perceptor’s head away with something like disdain. “You’ll learn, Autobot,” he said, pausing for a moment behind Perceptor, as if mastering himself. He moved around Perceptor’s bound body, continuing the circle. “In time.”
He wheeled in front of Perceptor, his hip-panel at Perceptor’s optic level, folding his own massive arms behind his back. He bent down, the emotion in his optics giving way to malice. “Meantime, little scientist, what shall I do with you?”
He waited, head tilted in a parody of kind concern. Perceptor felt his mouth tighten, refusing to give words. They had betrayed him before, and he would give no more weapons to his enemy. His optics blazed up fiercely at Turmoil’s face, daring him, challenging him, defying him.
The smile on Turmoil’s face grew sharper, more feral. “Ah. I know. First, I shall make you scream. Then, you shall beg for your life. And…if you survive all that, I might let you see your…,” the word seemed to tremble on his vocalizer, like a drop of energon, “Drift.”
Perceptor’s optics flicked closed, briefly. Yes. He was still not a soldier, still lacked a warrior’s spark, but he could endure.
He would endure.
Chapter 4: Coming to Light
Coming to Light
Coming to Light
ref to torture, maiming, etc.
Darkness. Moving through darkness and then a sound—grating of metal on plascrete. Then a heavy impact, limp weight hard on the ground, fatigued metal plates crunching under the strain.
My weight. My plates. Perceptor’s thoughts were hazy. He had retreated behind a veil of pain, a temporary, blessed numbness. Turmoil had been…thorough. He had wanted Perceptor in pain; wanted Perceptor to beg. He had, and he was unashamed. Turmoil had promised him Drift if he begged. Which rather gave the rules of the game away: Perceptor had known what he must do, the threat creating a promise between them—if he begged piteously enough, Turmoil would let him see Drift.
He had no pride. Pride was for warriors. Not those who got caught. Not those who were liabilities.
And this was his reward—the blackness of a cell, hard, but solid ground beneath him, his overheated circuits finally cooling, without Turmoil’s methodical torment.
His optics struggled to cycle down to lowlight, to bring the blackness around him into any sort of focus, any sort of contour.
A sense of movement behind him. Not sound, not registering on his audios at all, really. But that wasn’t necessarily a surprise—it was, Perceptor considered, quite possible he had blown his high-gain receptors with the screams that had torn from his vocalizer.
The thought was distressing but it was, at least, a thought. Clear, coherent. Perceptor reached for it, as a sign of his returning faculties.
The not-sound behind him again, the sense of weight or pressure moving. Perceptor turned his head, trying to peer over his left shoulder into the murky dimness that was only now beginning to pixelate down into distinct shapes. Vision, yes. And something behind him, very close.
“Drift,” he croaked. His voice was raw, vocalizer sparking, buzzing with bad feedback. Turmoil would not have lied. Would he? Would he have let Perceptor fool himself, submit to his torture, yield to his agony, and all for nothing? Was that the greatest, worst, most ironic twist of the knife?
“Don’t talk.” Drift’s voice. But strange. Tighter, darker. No, Perceptor thought. Probably just a glitch in my audio. He pushed suspicion aside, clinging to relief. Drift. He was here. Turmoil hadn’t gone that far.
A clumsy fumbling against Perceptor’s back, opening one of his maintenance panels. “Level three code?”
“Unnecessary.” Perceptor didn’t need to have the pain diminished.
A snort that sounded much more like Drift. “Code. Please?”
Perceptor hesitated—Drift’s formal courtesy was more than a little disconcerting. Not that the white mech was ever actually deliberately rude. He simply didn’t often feel the apparent need for manners. Perceptor rattled the alphanumeric code, feeling blunt, awkward fingers punch it into the code panel.
His video lit up with yellow alarm codes—critical systems, dangerous levels, cascading failures. His audio blinked—damaged, but low on the repair-priority queue.
“Did he tell you to shut down the buffers?” There was no need to specify who ‘he’ was.
“No.” Perceptor had shut them down himself. He’d needed to have at least part of his mind clear from the crowd of messages, to remember what he was doing and more important, why he was doing it.
A silence from behind him, then a muffled something that might have been a curse. Then Perceptor’s access hatch was closed by careful fingers. The hand moved to his shoulder as he lay as if comforting him. “Who else did they get?”
“Who came with you?” Drift’s voice was tired, strained. It wasn’t all Perceptor’s audio glitch. Perceptor pushed up, against the comforting hand.
“I came alone.” It sounded…pathetic now. It was supposed to be, supposed to have been, grand, daring, brave. It was supposed to have been heroic, Perceptor sneaking onto the ship to free Drift all by himself. Stealth and secrecy. It had definitely been ill-advised. No one even knew where he was. Perceptor could see a hundred tactical flaws in the idea now, things that simply defied logic, rationality, sense.
And he was supposed to have been the scientist. Those were his stock in trade.
A strange sound. Then, “Just you I have to worry about getting out of here, then.”
Perceptor bridled at the pronoun, and the implication. “I came to get you.”
The hand tightened over his shoulder, thumb grazing, by accident, into the gaping wound where his scope once sat. “I’m already gone, Perceptor.” The hand lightened its grip, allowing Perceptor to turn, finally.
Drift’s face…or what was left of it. Perceptor could recognize the cheek armor, the crest. He could even recognize the lopsided smile. But the metal was scored, dented, as if someone had had a grudge against Drift’s looks, trying to mar them. And the optics…baleful red. Drift caught Perceptor’s expression, and the red optics dropped their gaze to the floor.
Perceptor followed the gaze downward and…oh. That’s why the hand had felt so awkward on his frame. Drift only had one, the other arm ending in a brutal, torn stump.
“Drift,” he said, quietly.
Drift shook his head, refusing the name. “Deadlock.”
“I won’t…I refuse to believe it.”
A sad laugh. “I refused it, too.” Drift waved the stump of his right hand. “No more swords for me; no more Drift.”
“It’s a…it’s a hand. We can get it replaced.” Perceptor grabbed for it, feeling the metal rough, bumpy with cauterized lumps, under his palm. Parts were replaceable. He knew this intimately. Parts were parts, and nothing to the mech inside. A hand was a hand. It was not…Drift. Never mind that it was the opposite of what Perceptor had tried to tell himself—that if he had the right modifications, the right adjustments, he could make himself a better soldier. A proper warrior. That his outside would make his inside.
That illusion didn’t matter now. What mattered was the brittle smile on the silver face before him.
Drift allowed the touch, and it struck Perceptor as the most intimate touch they had shared since the larger mech had pulled him, bodily, from Turmoil’s damaged ship. He did not want to let go, fearing that if he did, Drift might not allow another.
All Perceptor could think of were stupid words, dumb speeches about not giving up and being strong. Stuff that Drift would laugh at and Deadlock? Deadlock would despise. And that Perceptor wasn’t certain he believed in anymore. All that he did believe in was that Drift was in there, somewhere. Wanting to be recognized. And he flattered himself that he could do it. Not because he was the best, not because he was special. Simply because there was no other choice.
Not the best choice, but the only choice. It was becoming all too common for Perceptor, this feeling. Never quite making the grade; always a stopgap.
He reached his other hand for Drift’s face, his own black fingers trembling from the strain of his recent ordeal. He could imagine, all too well now, what had put those marks, those dents, on Drift’s armor, what had twisted one cheek lamé into that shape, seeping energon. Drift flinched away from the first brush of his fingers, before holding himself still, letting Perceptor’s hand gloss over his cheek, down under his chin, tracing a half-moon with his thumb. The smile crumbled under his touch.
“Did Turmoil lie, then?” Perceptor asked. “He said that if I survived, if I endured, I would see Drift.”
“Don’t ever trust Turmoil,” Drift said, voice thin and hard and attenuated, something stretched too far, threatening to break. “Don’t make the same mistake I did.” His good hand came up, curling into Perceptor’s elbow, but not—yet—pulling him away. The red optics lidded, as if ashamed.
“I don’t trust him,” Perceptor said. “But I do trust you.” He let his thumb glide over Drift’s damaged face again, as if accustoming Drift to touch. He could feel the other mech fight the desire to flinch, fight to hold himself still. He was, Perceptor thought, always a fighter. Perceptor knew that—and he just needed to remind Drift of it.
Drift tried to evade, turning his cheek, slowly, giving way to a shuddering sigh. “I’ll get you out of here, get you free. Don’t know how.” The optics were distant, calculating. “Don’t know how,” he repeated, “But I’ll manage. Somehow.” A flash of one side of his mouth. “I always do…until I don’t.” The flash faded, recalling some hard, past memory where even ingenuity and endurance hadn’t been enough.
“I am not--,” Perceptor said, tightly, knowing it was romantic and foolish bravado that spoke, and once again, not logic, nor tactics, nor reason, nor sense. “I am not leaving without you.”
Drift’s optics met his, dim, exhausted, red wells of what he had endured. “I don’t have the energy to fight you, too,” he said, almost pleading.
Perceptor felt a wan smile on his own mouth, a faint echo of Drift’s usual smirk. Who was he? No one special. But he believed in Drift, and would believe in him for him, if need be. He could have faith where Drift had lost his. He could do that much.
And more: He leaned forward, ignoring the wild protest of his damaged knees, brushing his mouth over Drift’s, letting the vibration of his words carry through the metal of Drift’s still lips. “Then don’t.”
Chapter 5: Disconsolate
Drift/Perceptor, hints of Deadlock/Turmoil and Drift/Wing
angst, mais oui.
I have like the WORST insomnia in the known universe so you've probably noticed that sleep, lack of sleep, bad dreams, waking up before the other person, etc, happens a LOT in my stories. Art, she does imitate life sometimes.
Deadlock—he refused to grant himself the name Drift, he was no longer Drift and everything he did and thought was a betrayal to the one who had been Drift—onlined, his body in a tangle of limbs, his processor still clogged and fuddled from some sort of memory purge.
Memory. Wing had taught Drift not to dread memory. Deadlock had lost that lesson somewhere along the way.
He let his red optics online last, slowly, feeling the heat differentials from the red lenses, so different from the blue. Another bitter gift of memory—that he remembered the difference.
A system hummed underneath him, metal warm and responsive beneath his cheek lamellar. Deadlock pushed his hand against the cool floor of the cell, leveraging himself slowly up from that, curling his injured arm against him.
Perceptor, sprawled beneath him, still in the heavy recharge of one whose auto-repair systems were near overclocking. It explained, Deadlock thought, the extra heat from the frame, heat which had felt so strangely comforting against Deadlock's own body, though his systems had long ago given up on repairing his damage. Auto-repair could do a lot—it could not regrow lost limbs, missing systems.
Sick, Deadlock thought, and so very, very you: to find yourself comforted by another's pain.
He let his hated crimson optics roam over Perceptor's frame. Turmoil had been....worse than usual. But, as always, meticulous. One thing Turmoil knew was precise control. He had always, always been after Deadlock about Deadlock's lack of it, and he knew that Perceptor's damaged frame—not crippled, not injured beyond the point of auto-repair—was a message for him. This is what control can do.
It was staggeringly unfair. The thought formed even as Deadlock rejected it as useless. One of those 'true, but so what?' statements that served no purpose, could serve no purpose other than to torment him. He had never had any use for that category of thought, first because it clouded performance. A proper Decepticon (and oh, how he had fancied himself one, once, been proud to think of himself as the best of them), had no use for moral morasses.
And Drift, or he who had deluded himself into thinking he was Drift, half-formed under Wing, would have tried to ape Wing, and nod sagely, and say, yes, that's true, and give an enigmatic smile and move on. Because Wing had told him, a half a hundred times, laughing, sober, quiet, in all moods that Wing did, that what was true and what was real were sometimes two very different things, and in that battle, when it came to it, reality always wins.
Drift had not liked that. What was true should win, but then, he had seen the reality of New Crystal City before he had seen its truth, or, what reality had done, how it had warped, truth. A beautiful idea, an ideal almost too pure for the world.
As had Wing been.
Deadlock pushed the thought away. All of them, hastily, like an angered child. He had no time for this. And Wing was dead. And Drift was dead, if he had ever truly been alive and not some phantom Wing had been trying to summon into life.
But Perceptor was real, and here. That was both a truth and reality. And a problem.
Perceptor shouldn't be here. For...so many reasons. Turmoil should have killed him immediately—why had he not? There was a reality Deadlock hadn't mastered yet.
Perceptor should never have come. Deadlock couldn't imagine—another failing of his—why he had risked himself. For Deadlock, surely not. For Drift? All the more reason to bid Drift good riddance—all Drift was capable of doing was killing off those who thought he was redeemed. Wing. And eventually Perceptor. It was just a matter of time.
He was better off as Deadlock. Also lethal, but at least as Deadlock, it wasn't his friends whose deaths he caused.
A taut, writhing restlessness overcame him. He wanted to get up, to move. He could feel it try to boil into rage, and, as he hung, propped over the loosened servos of Perceptor, he fought to keep still.
In recharge, the Autobot looked....like he didn't belong here. A gruff snort at his own inadequacy with words, ideas. Never good at them, Deadlock. Not even as Drift. Better with your swords even then. In recharge, the tense lines around the mouth had fallen away, and the optics didn't burn with that almost icy intensity.
But the face, even behind the shattered reticle, even with the optics shuttered and dim, looked peaceful, tranquil. No. That wasn't quite right. Wrong words.
...innocent. That was it.
And Deadlock had lain on that body, his face nestled against the red armor of Perceptor's lower chassis, as though feeding on his innocence. Vile, Deadlock.
He checked his chrono. Too early, still, for anything to happen. He wondered, vaguely, if Turmoil had the cell monitored. When he had served here, the brig cells had not been. Waste of resources, Turmoil had said. Why watch the dead mechs squirm?
What Turmoil had meant was why watch them hope, why watch them despair, when he himself was not there to be the cause of despair, he was not crushing their hopes between his massive palms. Prisoners were some sort of dark toy for Turmoil and part of the game was letting them have their time to plot and plan. Giving them rope to hang themselves on, Turmoil had called it. Probably, Deadlock thought, what he'd called it when he'd put Deadlock in charge of that strike team.
Deadlock wanted to lie back down, to burrow his face into the warm comfort of Perceptor's healing armor. But that would be an avoidance, trying to deny reality's insistent, approaching footsteps, try to bury his pain against Perceptor's body, as if the red Autobot had come simply to be a vessel for Deadlock's failure.
And part of him wanted to get up and try to cool himself, soothe himself, practice the control that Turmoil had mocked him for lacking. Part of him longed for his swords, not to fight but to run through the liquid, flowing practice forms.
He'd found he'd loved them, once he'd stopped fighting them. He'd fallen in love with, at first, the silver light glinting off the blade, as though carving words into the air, the movements so supple the metal seemed like water. But then he had learned the effort, and learned to love the effort, the smooth sweep and flow of his body, the precise firing of actuators, shifting of weight, of motion, of momentum. Wing would have him practice a simple, single move a hundred times, at different speeds. He'd thought it was punsihment, but had come to realize that that was what Wing had been teaching him—the exquisite interplay of body and space and time.
But here, in the dark, cramped cell, he couldn't. No room. No sword. No hand. Turmoil knew what he was doing. He always had.
A dim sound, half a whine, slithered like betrayal from Deadlock's vocalizer, and beneath him, the red frame shifted, black fingers coming up almost instantly to touch his cheek, his shoulder. And the placid innocence was gone from Perceptor's face, the optics spiraled in with worry, a small line of pain, like a needle, in the brow.
The gesture, the touch, asked a question as much as it tried to offer comfort.
“Go back to recharge,” Deadlock said, his voice a gravelly croak. He winced, and then tried to force one of his old smiles, the shy, cheeky smiles he had begun learning under Wing. Perceptor's own mouth quirked, as if trying to think of words and then giving up, letting his hands speak for him, tugging Deadlock back down against him, pressing his face against the warm armor. The red arms wrapped over his shoulders, one palm skimming down over the now/forever empty scabbard, and then tightening against him.
Deadlock did not deserve to be comforted. Did not deserve Perceptor's concern. But, he thought, suddenly, as Perceptor gave a soft sigh, Perceptor deserved any comfort, any solace he could get, even mutely, awkwardly, through Deadlock's damaged frame. He let the thighs curl around him like a cage within the cage of the cell. Deadlock...confined, trapped. And no longer fighting.
Turmoil had a way of just…appearing. Deadlock knew what it was, knew how it happened—silenced joints, powerful degaussers nullifying his magnetic field—but still the effect was eerie, to have a shadow suddenly fall over you.
Deadlock was marginally glad he’d separated himself from Perceptor, propped on the other side of the room, damaged arm cradled on his scratched and stained legs. Perceptor struggled to his feet—some sort of Primus-damned impulse to meet danger on his feet.
“Deadlock,” Turmoil purred, his visor glowing. “Not even a word of greeting?”
“What do you want, Turmoil?”
“Such humor you have, Deadlock.” A dark laugh. “Next time, I’ll insist on a proper greeting,”
Deadlock lifted his head, bleak red optics fixed on Turmoil’s face. He said nothing. Turmoil didn’t want Deadlock. He just wanted to break him down, and splinter anything that might tie Perceptor to him. He wanted to ruin Deadlock in front of Perceptor. That was how he worked.
Perceptor shifted on his feet—partly a wobble from half-healed servos, and partly uncertain, unsettled by the shifting currents in the room.
Turmoil’s optics tracked the movement. “Ah. And our little scientist.” His voice seemed to curl over the pronoun.
“Turmoil,” Perceptor said, steadily, his voice, his will, stronger than his actuators.
“Leave him alone,” Deadlock muttered.
“Oh? You dictate to me, now?” The grey helm turned to Deadlock. “From the floor?”
“It’s me you want,” Deadlock said, tiredly. Knowing it to be a lie, but trying, anyway. For form’s sake. …for his sake or Perceptor’s?
“I have you,” Turmoil said, patiently. “Does it bother you to think that it may be him I want?”
Could he? Deadlock’s brow furrowed, his good hand clenching under the cover of his stump. “Why should it?”
“Indeed.” Turmoil turned his attention back to Perceptor. “So, Autobot.”
“I will tell you nothing.” Perceptor’s fists balled, defiant, even as the metal of a bent plate squealed from the motion.
“You seem to think you know something I already don’t.” On the brink of laughter. Deadlock winced for Perceptor—Turmoil was most dangerous when he was amused.
Perceptor faltered, trying to read Turmoil’s masked face, trying to apply the tools of logic, deduction and science he swore by to the huge Decepticon leader. Deadlock could almost follow Perceptor’s thinking: did he argue that he likely did know things Turmoil didn’t or not? “Then what do you want with me?” His voice was quiet, almost a whisper.
A snort, and Turmoil’s right hand shot out, faster than Perceptor could follow, slamming the palm against Perceptor’s injured shoulder. Metal squealed from the heel-strike, Perceptor staggering back. Turmoil stepped forward, striking with his other hand, into the other shoulder, and then again, driving Perceptor back, blow by blow. “I want,” he said, calmly, “your pain.”
Deadlock watched, numb with an icy kind of horror. Well, Drift, he told that dead part of himself, bitterly. This is what you bring. This is what trails in your wake. No one would have endangered himself for Deadlock—and no one should. This is why you need to die. Whether or not you take Deadlock with you.
Deadlock forced himself to watch. It was an unfair fight. It was a disgrace to even call it a fight—Perceptor was brilliant with a rifle, but close in, with a mech twice his mass? He stood no chance.
But he kept standing, or trying to, refusing to let Turmoil keep him down. Even when Drift’s core ached, burned, begged Perceptor to stay down, to let Turmoil have his way, to give him what he wanted, Deadlock forced himself to watch, like cauterizing a wound. This is what your friendship brings. Every injury caused by you as surely as if you were throwing those blows.
Turmoil’s visor flicked over, almost orange with amusement as he gave one massive hammer punch, driving Perceptor to the ground. “Enjoying the show?”
Turmoil tsked. “I’ll have to try harder to amuse you.” He turned back to Perceptor, helping him up, the large hands almost solicitous. The sight of his grey hands on Perceptor’s red armor made Deadlock ill.
“Is this what you came here for?” Turmoil said. “Is this what you wanted, Autobot? To let me finish the job?”
Perceptor went rigid, one hand clutching over his chestplate, remembering. Deadlock remembered, too—Drift remembered—the sudden shock-blast of Turmoil’s cannon through the wall, punching through Perceptor’s armor, the strangely silent way Perceptor seemed to simply topple over.
Turmoil gave a pleased growl. “You do remember, don’t you? And I remember.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Ask your friend,” he said, wryly. “I never forget.”
Deadlock shifted, restless agony bubbling over his net like acid. He felt useless, stupid, lying here, doing nothing. But…what could he do? One hand couldn’t do much against Turmoil. And so…what good could he do? Showing he cared, showing that Perceptor’s muffled cries and involuntary winces cut into what was left of his conscience would only encourage Turmoil.
Deadlock felt Perceptor’s optics turn toward him, his helm rolling along the wall in a slow, agonized arc, dimmed with pain. He turned his hated red optics away. Don’t look to me for salvation, he wanted to say. Because I can’t do that this time. I just…can’t.
Turmoil turned, abandoning Perceptor like a toy no longer amusing. Perceptor slid down the wall, silver thighs buckling slowly, hands reaching almost blindly for the floor, for balance. His optics never left Deadlock’s face—he could feel them, a blue, hopeful weight that threatened to snap the fragile construct of his mask.
Turmoil approached, squatting down before Deadlock, his huge mass moving almost effortlessly, floating. Wing would approve, Deadlock thought, wildly. Of the quality of motion, at least. Somewhere, some-when, someone had taught Turmoil how to glide like that. “Have I given you enough to think about?” he asked, his voice soft, almost gentle. Almost…pitying. As if regretting that he had to break Drift, cut through everything Drift was and stood for, to get back to Deadlock.
And even beyond that—to get to Deadlock…before.
“Too much, as usual.” Deadlock hated the words, hated the answer—some old echo of whom he used to be.
Turmoil laughed, optics licking down Deadlock’s damaged frame, lingering on the missing hand. He leaned forward suddenly, deliberately blocking Perceptor’s line of sight. Deadlock flinched his head away. Like a fool. Like a coward. He felt the large hand close over his wrist, thumb rubbing the slagged and melted metal almost like a caress. “Think hard, little fighter,” Turmoil said. The lack of magnetic field damped his EM signature, almost making his presence feel cold, like an absence or void. “And one last thing to think about, while I’m gone.”
The hand squeezed harder, enough to blank Deadlock’s optical feed in pure white pain as Turmoil crushed the damaged, weakened metal. His systems overclocked from the stimuli flood, and by the time he had regained control of his HUD, his input feeds, Turmoil was gone, like a shadow that never was.
And in Deadlock’s lap…lay one of his swords. A taunt, a vile joke, a mockery.
And perhaps…a hint.
A/N Degaussers were occasionally found/used on Navy ships--they cancel out a ship's magnetic field, so that magnetic underwater mines would not register the ship or submarine in the area, and thus wouldn't arm/attach to it. It occurred to me, vaguely, that robots could use a similar technology to avoid some levels of detection. Lol more bad science.
Chapter 7: Decompensating
The short sword sat, like a burden heavier than stone in its sheath. He had held it until he could no longer bear holding it, contemplated it as he never had before, while Perceptor had fallen into an exhausted recharge, his already overtaxed autorepair systems pushed to their maximum, draining power and processing from his other systems. The hilt hadn’t warmed in his one good palm, as it had once. It felt bereft, orphaned. He thought, briefly, of trying to move through the sinuous, elegant practice forms, but alone…one sword was nothing more than a fancy knife. Its soul had gone out of it and it lay, dull iron, heavy with mourning.
He’d thought it was a dark joke—he began to see it as a riddle. What good was one sword? What good was one hand? What good was Deadlock?
None at all, it seemed. Even if he trusted himself to wield a weapon, he had no target.
Or rather…too many.
Turmoil, if he could get at one of the larger mech’s very few weak points. But Turmoil wasn’t here, and was likely to be on guard for that. And the fact that he’d let Deadlock have a weapon was, if nothing else, a sign of how little a threat he thought the white mech was.
Himself. End this, cheat Turmoil of his final victory. Or would that be letting him win, destroying Drift? No, it would be him, refusing to live as Deadlock. The last bit of Drift destroying his final, greatest enemy. Would Turmoil know? Would it matter?
Or…his optics drifted over to Perceptor, systems high-humming with autorepair.
He wouldn’t even feel it if you did it now, a voice whispered in the back of his cortex, susurrus, dark, pretending to be mercy. No more suffering for him, no more pain. No more watching Deadlock ground down under Turmoil’s malice. No. That, Deadlock realized, was all about him. Not what Perceptor might have to endure or think or feel, but what Deadlock was too cowardly to face from the face of another.
He came here for you. To rescue you. You have to face that. The whisper seemed to frown, oozing sympathy, toying with the pun.
I am facing that.
You’re not. You’re contemplating killing him so you don’t have to face it.
… Deadlock had no words for that.
Is it easier to imagine him dead than his trust betrayed?
Yes. You know that. Deadlock could imagine anyone dead as easily as he could flex his fingers. Then kill him. Something like seductive malevolence in the tone, pushing, driving at him.
His hand curled around the hilt, cold and hard. His optics roamed over Perceptor’s still frame, searching for a weak point. So many. So many he was boggled, for a moment, trying to weigh which might hurt least.
Hurt who least?
Deadlock growled, softly, but loud enough that something registered on Perceptor’s audio. The red frame shifted, uneasily. Deadlock stilled. The optics opened, blue and bright, even through the shattered reticle over the right optic.
“Drift?” Perceptor’s voice was curious, a bit timid, as if unsure if he would be interrupting something.
Deadlock shook himself, trying to clear the shadows from before. And also, to shake off the name. “Not Drift,” he said. “You’re better off once you realize that.”
Perceptor pushed to sit up, drawing up one knee. He winced as the effort to push off the ground sparked over the gaping wound where his scope had once sat. “No,” he said, in that way he had, patient, but firm denial. He reached and took Deadlock’s one hand between his.
No, but this will get you killed, Deadlock thought. Still, his hand curled within the black palms, allowing the fingers to twine through his. And this is weakness, Deadlock berated himself. But he could feel Perceptor’s EM field—real, alive, so unlike Turmoil’s cold one—softening against him, tension draining. And he could not deny him that much comfort. A hand. What is a hand worth, after all?
Pride, dignity, ability…ability to kill.
“Perceptor,” he said, suddenly. “We have to get you out of here.” Soon, while I can still care enough to want it, and remember why I care.
“I’ve told you: I’m not leaving without you.” The same quiet obstinacy, flat refusal, the fingers clinging more firmly.
“I-I can handle Turmoil. On my own.” A lie he tried to cover with a grin that went a little wild, like a turn taken too fast.
Perceptor studied him, and even through the cracked lenses, Deadlock knew that Perceptor saw too much. “Handle him…how?”
“I’ll…think of something.” Which had always been Deadlock’s idea of a plan, and Drift’s as well.
Perceptor shook his head. “Not good enough.”
The smile hardened, the edges curling down. “You don’t get to decide,” Deadlock said, and his voice held the note of everything he was trying to hide—everything he was trying to save Perceptor from.
No, the voice said. Not save him from. You want to save yourself the pain of his realization.
“Nor do you,” Perceptor said. “We’re both prisoners.”
Except I’m not, Deadlock thought. He knew he could get out of this cell. All he’d have to do was…eliminate every last vestige of Drift. Leave Drift behind like an empty husk, like metal shavings from a poorly machined engine.
“Look,” he said, and the honesty tasted like acid, “It’s my fault you’re here. Let me get you out of this.”
“It’s my fault I got caught,” Perceptor said. “I failed you."
“You didn’t.” Deadlock pulled, and this time Perceptor released his hand. Deadlock ran his hand over Perceptor’s damaged shoulder, because looking at it wasn’t enough. He needed to feel it, to know every inch intimately, because this damage…was his fault. It had to be owned.
“I am fine,” Perceptor lied, going the kind of rigidly still that showed that Deadlock’s probing hurt. “The damage is reparable and mostly cosmetic, and…,” he ventured a smile, “And I am not known for my vanity.”
Drift’s return smile was bitter, as he held up the corroded stump of his right hand. “I’m not anymore.”
Perceptor’s voice grew serious, his smile fading to something grave. “You are beautiful,” he said, dropping his blue eyes down Deadlock’s scraped and battered frame. “Still.”
Whatever joke Deadlock was trying to scrape from the back of his processor died when Perceptor leaned forward, suddenly, his hands pulling Deadlock’s head toward him, his mouth shy but insistent.
Deadlock wanted to protest, to pull his mouth away. There was no time for this. And if this was to happen…not here. Not here, in some squalid cell, without even the basic trappings of civility—not even a berth.Perceptor deserved better than that. Better than Deadlock, for that matter.
But despite all that, he found himself leaning into the kiss, not away from it, his hand moving to clutch a solid, stable part of Perceptor’s shoulder, a need he had tried to suppress since…since Wing, pushing to the surface, hot and selfish and demanding.
His one small moan of protest was smothered in Perceptor’s mouth, the red mech’s hands reaching around his shoulders pulling him down, pressing their bodies together, damaged armor on damaged armor, oversensitized nodes firing against each other. His fingers were clumsy but somehow knowing, sliding down Deadlock’s back, his glossa probing gently in Deadlock’s mouth.
Deadlock gave into the warm temptation of the kiss, his one hand clinging to the armor of Perceptor’s shoulder, his ruined arm floating out of the way.
“We shouldn’t,” he murmured, separating his mouth, reluctantly.
“We should,” Perceptor said, one corner of his mouth flicking upward.
“Now’s not the time….”
“We might not have a better.” Cool, logical, implying no guilt or blame, his hands stroking soothingly down Deadlock’s flanks.
Deadlock could not deny that logic, either. He shivered, feeling the heated metal armor underneath him, solid, still, reassuring, and wanting him. “You’re going to have to help me,” he said, quietly, dropping his gaze, then wincing at the red reflection of his optics over the silver of Perceptor’s face.
“Of course,” Perceptor said. He curled his spinal struts, the lean planes of his chassis sliding over Deadlock’s complicated armor, one hand sliding to the interface panel in Deadlock’s side. The plate seemed to burn under his touch, Deadlock aching with desire.
“Not yet,” Deadlock said. His vents cycled unsteadily. Not yet. He wasn’t ready for the intimacy of a connection, not ready to bare himself—when he barely knew who he was anymore. He couldn’t make this a better place, but he could do…something. He rolled heavily onto his bad arm, using the elbow to prop himself up, letting his other, his only hand, begin a wandering journey over Perceptor’s frame, fingertips tracing the glass’s framing on Perceptor’s chassis, before dipping into the sensitive elbow hinge.
Perceptor shivered, his vent hitching. Deadlock felt an unfamiliar smile, genuine, open, curve over his mouth, feeling the EM field tingle and shimmer under his touch. He brushed aside the hand that reached to him. “Lay back,” he murmured. “And offline your optics.”
Perceptor’s head snapped toward his. Deadlock shook his head. “Do you trust me?” he said. Dreading the answer, but needing, somehow, to ask. The ghost of Wing’s voice making him shake.
Perceptor dropped his head, shivering, his optics dimming. “Yes,” he sighed, his palms curling upward, settling on the floor like discarded flowers.
Deadlock fought his own desire, knowing it was better this way, easier this way, despite what his paltry, greedy systems thought. His hand trailed over Perceptor’s chassis, down under the abdominal join, glossing over the black pelvic span, tracing the seams, palm ghosting over the flat planes, fingertips curling into the cables and wires through the gaps. Perceptor gave a soft whimper, his body twisting, squirming under Deadlock’s touch. Deadlock felt the charge build between them, a push like static from his fingers against Perceptor’s frame, until he didn’t need to touch the armor at all, merely skim his hand over it, charge like infinitesimal lightning sparking between them. Perceptor gasped, short, quick bursts of ventilation, his hands clutching helplessly at the air.
This, Deadlock told himself. This is better. Perceptor reacted to his touch, surging, writhing, shivering with pleasure, optics obediently dark. Not in pain, at least not now. His hand skimmed over the armor again, tracing intricate swirls, random patterns, the mysterious glyphs of sensation and desire. His ventilation synchronized with Perceptor’s, somehow, impossibly, so that they gasped together, moaned together, Deadlock’s optics locked on Perceptor’s face, which rippled with response. Normally so reserved, kept in, Perceptor was open and exposed now, his entire frame a testament to his trembling desire.
It was time, it was enough, on the edge of what Deadlock could bear, the charge building through his own electrical system, a cool, shifting pressure. Deadlock leaned forward, dropping his mouth down onto Perceptor’s, closing the circuit, all of the charge his hand had been building crossing the contact point of their joined lip-plates. Perceptor jolted, the spark white hot and sharp between them, rippling over Perceptor’s sensornet, current draining from Deadlock’s frame capacitors, pushing into the red mech’s overload, the EM field flaring against him.
Deadlock softened the contact into a kiss, his glossa coy, teasing, gentle, lapping the ebbing waves of Perceptor’s pleasure, until the shudders faded underneath him, and Perceptor’s hands brushed his shoulders. He lifted his face, pursued by Perceptor’s mouth, the blue optics online and bright. And for another lingering moment, Deadlock forgot who he was and how they were here, and was just here and open and willing, Perceptor’s systems pulsing against him like the softest velvet.
Chapter 8: Tangled
“Deadlock.” Turmoil let his feet scrape on the decking, making noise deliberately to startle the two prisoners awake where they lay tangled together.
Deadlock swore, viciously enough that Perceptor, underneath him, stiffened. He rolled clumsily off the red mech, keeping himself between Turmoil and Perceptor. “What do you want?”
“This question again?” Turmoil cocked his head. “Really. I expected so much more of you, Deadlock.”
Deadlock pushed to his feet, favoring his missing hand, holding the limb out, clumsily. “Sorry to be such a disappointment,” he said, sharp, red optics wary.
“Ah, that’s better.” Turmoil purred, the sound reverberating in his chassis. His optics flicked over Deadlock’s frame, lingering for a moment on the interface hatch, before sliding meaningfully over to the sole occupied sheath. “You could never disappoint, Deadlock. I have never taken that away from you.”
“Drift,” Perceptor said, sitting up. “His name is not Deadlock.”
“Has he told you that, Autobot?” A dark amusement, one under which Deadlock could easily see the threat. “Is he still playing that pitiful charade?”
Perceptor saw—or sensed—the danger, too, and hung, at a loss for the right answer. The correct answer, the truth, was something Perceptor himself did not want to admit.
“No,” Deadlock said, stepping between them, closer to Turmoil. “I haven’t.”
“I admit to some small dismay, Deadlock,” Turmoil said, letting the name roll from his vocalizer slowly, as though savoring it. “I had thought you could play better at betrayal. Or has the fun gone out of it for you?”
“It was never fun.”
A tsk. “Lying, now, Deadlock?”
Deadlock felt his mouth twitch.
Turmoil leaned down, the massive shoulders tipping, soundlessly, closer, blue lights from his internal engine glowing with power. He tapped the hilt of the short sword with one finger. “You didn’t enjoy pinning me in the engine room with these? Not at all?”
Deadlock turned away. “Should have killed you.”
“Yes,” Turmoil said. “You should have. And Deadlock would have, wouldn’t he? But you run with Autobots now, and Autobots…,” he let the sentence trail suggestively.
“…are weak.” Yes. Deadlock knew. How many times had he said that?
A purr of satisfaction. Turmoil straightened up. “Why don’t you redress that error, Deadlock?” He tapped one broad hand on his chassis. “Kill me.”
“What?” Perceptor’s voice was stunned, confused. Yes. His logic was not…their logic. But Deadlock understood, all too well, his good hand drifting toward the hilt.
Turmoil nodded, beckoning, encouraging him. “I’m unarmed,” he said. “Take your shot.”
“You’re never unarmed,” Deadlock muttered.
“Then how come you didn’t fight back in the engine room?”
“You know why.” The optics glinted with delighted malice. “Yes,” Turmoil said, running one thumb too familiarly under Deadlock's jaw. He tilted his head. “You know,” he added, conversationally, “I like this redesign you've done. Pretty.” The word seemed noxious coming from him. His gaze flicked over Deadlock's shoulder. “I think your little scientist would agree.”
He must have seen something on Perceptor's face. Deadlock didn't dare look. Perceptor’s word, ‘beautiful’ hovered in the back of his cortex. Like a curse.
Turmoil's gaze sought out Perceptor's—Deadlock remembered the sheen the optics would take when Turmoil let his vision shift to the periphery like that. He braced himself, knowing what was coming, dreading it, and dreading even more that he would probably succumb.
“Have you told him?” Turmoil said, abruptly, his voice sweet and toxic as glycol.
“No,” Deadlock said—a negation, and a denial. Wing's words came back to him—don't fight reality. You'll always lose.
But this time, either way, no matter what, he lost.
Deadlock's optics closed, nearly a wince: Perceptor playing right into Turmoil's role.
Turmoil gave that sensual purr of his, the one that still, still vibrated against some dark corner of Deadlock's psyche. “Deadlock and I, in our time, were...quite intimate.” In case there was any chance of Perceptor missing the point, Turmoil glossed one of his large hands over Deadlock's shoulder.
“I had...guessed,” Perceptor said, and Deadlock could hear a strain of forgiveness in the voice, aiming at him.
A dull anger stirred in Deadlock's cortex. Who was Perceptor to judge him? To hold or grant forgiveness? Who were any of them to judge him? “The past,” Deadlock said, jerking his shoulder away. “A lot’s changed.”
“You haven’t,” Turmoil said. “Not that much.”
Deadlock almost heard a wistfulness in Turmoil’s tone. A hope. His optics flared. “I have.”
“Oh?” Turmoil tilted his head. “Show me. Deadlock would kill me…what would this…’Drift’ do?”
“Kill him.” Perceptor’s voice thrummed through the air, with that same laser focus he had before he took a shot. Sure, solid, certain.
Deadlock wasn’t that sure. “Don’t push me, Turmoil,” he said, a warning and, in a way, a plea.
“Why,” Turmoil said, stepping forward, bumping his chassis against Drift’s shoulder. “not?”
“You know why.” It was an old game, throwing Turmoil’s words back at him, and Deadlock hated that he’d already fallen back into it. It felt like a fall, like a descent, where his old patterns, his old identity, was a flimsy outcropping he grabbed onto to stop from falling entirely into the abyss.
He heard the contented purr from Turmoil’s engine, and knew that the larger mech knew it too, and could feel the faint swirl of old desire stir up from some depths.
Turmoil nodded, almost a bow. “I’ll leave you two alone, now,” he said, mockingly gracious. “I presume you have…many things to discuss.”
And he turned on his silent heels, the force barrier rippling around him, and left them alone, knowing he’d won.
Deadlock desperately, desperately, did not want to turn around.
Chapter 9: Already Lost
“Drift?” Perceptor’s voice was as gentle as only his could be—a mech who had never had to yell over artillery fire, bellow down a mech twice his size.
“Deadlock.” Deadlock whirled, red optics blazing over Perceptor where the Autobot had settled himself against the wall. “For the last time!” He hated the consternation that flashed over Perceptor’s damaged face. “It’s Deadlock. Drift’s dead.”
“He can’t be.”
Deadlock brandished the stump of his arm. “Amputated. Dead. Gone. Excised.”
“That,” Perceptor said, “is a limb. You are more than that.” He tilted his head toward the ravaged gap on his shoulder. “We are more than our parts.”
“Please,” Deadlock said, and he found himself sagging toward the ground. You of all mechs, he thought. You of all of us should know how facetious that is. “Please don’t argue with me about this.” You don’t know what’s at stake.
Perceptor tilted his head, in a gesture so similar to Turmoil’s that for a moment, Deadlock was stunned, his systems firing numb. “That depends. Whom am I arguing with?”
The numbness blazed to life, an incandescent rage, and Deadlock flung himself at Perceptor, his good hand snatching at a chest plate. “ME,” he snarled. “You’re arguing with me.”
Perceptor’s mouth worked, debating, in his slow, analytical way, what to say. “I don’t want to argue with you,” he said, finally. Simple truth, which punctured Deadlock’s anger.
“Then don’t,” Deadlock said, holding onto the fading vestige of anger.
“I will not call you Deadlock,” Perceptor said, with that flat stubbornness Deadlock knew was unshakable.
It was…not a point Deadlock wanted to press right now. Not with all that was swirling through his head. “We have to get you out of here.” While there’s still time. While I still care. He could feel it slipping from him, his systems still hissing alive from Turmoil and the ghosts of the past he brought with him. Perceptor deserved better than what he could give, and…oh, he found himself wanting that sensual violence with Turmoil again.
Perceptor said nothing, trying to avoid that same tired argument again, knowing neither would yield there, either. “Let me look at you, first,” he said. Not a denial but a delay. “Please.”
Deadlock frowned but couldn’t find a valid reason, beyond shame, to deny the request. “Fine,” he said, dropping wearily to the ground. He thrust out his injured arm, knowing that that was what Perceptor really wanted to see. He turned his face staunchly away.
Perceptor scooted forward, drawing the arm onto a cradle made of his crossed legs. “Ah,” he said, and his voice took the tone of someone used to talking to himself. Deadlock realized he’d never really seen Perceptor in his element, from…before. Both of them haunted by pasts, but Perceptor seemed more at peace with his.
“There was…some attempt at cautery.” Perceptor rolled the stump over, his hands delicate, tracing the truncated cables. “May I ask how it was done?” His optics flicked up to Deadlock’s face.
Deadlock’s mouth twisted, and his systems fired a phantom of the memory. “Start to finish? Or merely the…removal.”
“The, uh, the process might be illuminating,” Perceptor said, peering back at the wound, scraping at a clot of energon that flaked off under his touch.
Deadlock gave a bitter smile. Well, then. “First, he broke each of the fingers. Knuckle by knuckle. The wrist itself was pinned in a vice.” His voice was flat, the old voice, Deadlock’s true voice, reporting it as though it had happened to someone else. Because it had: it had happened to Drift. “Then he crushed the palm.” His other hand jumped in some useless sympathy.
Perceptor’s hands had gone still, too still.
Deadlock gave a limp shrug, continuing, “Then the fingers were removed.” No. Hiding behind the passive voice. “He tore them off. One by one.” He would not protect Turmoil, nor Perceptor, nor himself, by hiding agency. “The palm…useless.” He remembered—a sparking, fluid slicked and charred mass of twisted black, throbbing with hot agony. Unsalvageable. He’d seen enough combat trauma to know there was no saving the hand.
“Oh,” Perceptor’s voice was chalky with regret and horror.
Deadlock looked down at the twisted mass of metal. Compared to how it had looked? This was nothing. Simply ugly, but not some sort of abomination to the idea of function. “And then,” he said, ruthless, pushing himself as well as Perceptor. He wanted the truth? He would have it. “Well. Turmoil normally equips a laser cannon. That’s the cauterization.”
Perceptor’s optics flicked closed, trying to avoid the image Deadlock knew was forming nonetheless across his processor. “I…am sorry.”
“’Sorry’,” Deadlock said, bitterly, “doesn’t solve anything.” He forced his red optics into Perceptor’s, holding his gaze.
“I know,” Perceptor said, softly. “Believe me. I know.”
Deadlock held the gaze for another few beats, enough to feel Perceptor’s resistance. “What else can you tell from it?”
Perceptor’s gaze dropped to the injury, but this time, his voice was soft, aware of the pain underneath. “It was left…untreated. And this, and this,” he risked two light brushes on the side panels, “are from the vise. Which was a drill vise. And…even so, you…almost tore free.”
Deadlock twitched. “Yes.”
Perceptor nodded, then bent lower over the stump, tilting it at odd angles, peering into it, shaking his head from time to time to clear a fragment of shattered glass from his reticle. “The-the underlying systems in the forearm are intact. There are structural joins here,” he tapped an area on the armor, “and here for replacement.” He looked up. “It is repairable.”
I’m not. Not in any way that matters. “Yes,” Deadlock said. “Doesn’t matter, though.”
A bitter smile, and he could almost feel Wing’s disappointment, like a black feather stroking his cheek. “Never getting out of here.”
“You can,” Perceptor said.
“There’s a difference between ‘can’ and ‘will’.” Oh, I can: I don’t want to do what that requires.
Perceptor’s hands curled over the damaged armor, his optics intense, cortex leaping right through to the core of what Deadlock wouldn’t say. “Betray me, then. Do what you need to do to save yourself.”
Save myself. There’s no saving me. There never was. There’s no me to save. Deadlock said nothing.
“It will save one of us,” Perceptor said. “If you don’t, we’re both lost.” Logic and reason again, cool, steady. Deadlock felt his own essence writhing, restless, a shifting worm by comparison.
Already lost. Deadlock pulled gently on his arm, pulling it from Perceptor’s grasp. “Anything else you wanted to check out?” he said, pitching his voice deliberately harsh.
Perceptor’s mouth gaped open, wordless, worried, at a loss. “No,” he said, eventually, dropping his hands. “I just…I wanted to do something.” He scrubbed his hand over his face, prodding gently at his shattered reticle. “I feel…useless.”
Deadlock knew the feeling, and worse, the hollowness that came along with it—a dried husk, brittle without purpose, a hard shell, with nothing underneath. Until…Wing. Who had done his best to show a better way, and died because of it. Died in Drift’s fight. “It’s why we have to get you out of here,” he said. He tipped a shoulder in an approximation of a shrug. “So we can find you a better purpose than throwing yourself away on me.”
Perceptor bluntly shoved aside part of his response. “We need,” he said, “a plan. Get out of the cell and then we’ll disagree about who gets free.” There was an implacability in his optics that barred argument.
Deadlock sighed. Fine. It was something better to do than sitting in this cell running endlessly through the same arguments, joor after joor.
Besides, he knew full well that plans, however good, changed the instant they came within range of enemy fire.
Chapter 10: Errant
Turmoil is a creep
Dear Lord I suck at updating things. I'll get on some kind of schedule and get the rest of this up soon. If you can't wait for my slack lazy stupid ass, it's on my LJ fic comm under the mabaya tag.
It was a guard this time, someone Deadlock didn’t recognize. Then again, yes; Turmoil probably had to replace a large number of his crew.
Two guards, really, one ranging outside the cell, his rifle’s eye alternating between the two captives as his partner flicked down the barrier. “Coding bracelet,” Perceptor murmured. “Allows his EM field to pass unnoticed through the force barrier.” His mind was turning with plans—a good distraction, Deadlock thought. Perceptor’s optics were keener and his EM ran tight and smooth along his frame—alert, focused.
Deadlock gave no sign of acknowledgment, his optics focused on the guard outside.
The second guard bumped Deadlock’s knee with one toe. “He wants you.”
Deadlock’s idea to use the guard’s weapon against him faded: the guard had no weapon. Turmoil was almost taunting him with his confidence that Deadlock would not attack an unarmed guard.
No: Deadlock would. Drift wouldn’t. Attacking the guard, then, would cross that line, and Turmoil knew it.
Well, who are you?
Deadlock. I’m Deadlock. Drift is dead.
So what are you waiting for?
His optics flicked over the guard’s frame, spotting weaknesses like little fireflies. He felt his hand bunch over his sword. One sword couldn’t do much but it could kill a guard. And it could kill Drift and all he stood for.
Not so dead, then.
The guard rocked back, sensing the threat, but dropped a datapad across Deadlock’s thighs. Clever enough: Deadlock couldn’t hold a weapon on him and read. Deadlock dropped his hand away from the hilt, reaching for the pad.
‘You will come with the guard. The guard outside the cell will remain outside, weapon on our little scientist friend, as an insurance against your very, very best behavior.
I know you won’t disappoint. You never do.’
“What?” Perceptor asked, craning over. The guard stepped in, blocking the line of sight.
“Come with me,” the guard said, reaching a hand to help Deadlock stand. He jerked a chin at the pad, knowing it said the important things, and that he was just for show. Deadlock slapped the datapad with stinging force against the proffered hand, rolling awkwardly to his feet.
“Stay here,” Deadlock said, in a coward’s glimpse over his shoulder. “I won’t be gone long.”
“Don’t let him break you,” Perceptor whispered.
I don’t have a choice, Deadlock thought, despairingly.
The guard caught something in his face, and curved an arm around his shoulders, almost gently. He must know, Deadlock thought, about Turmoil. And somehow the unexpected, unwanted sympathy almost broke him down there.
You can defeat one guard, make a break for it. Frag the stupid Autobot scientist. No. He revolted from the thought.
Didn’t used to be so fragile. I know. I know.
This Drift is ruining you. He’s…almost gone. A virus that needs time to purge.
Not gone enough. I know. Deadlock shuttered his optics, letting the guard shepherd him through the cell’s forcefield lock. He cast one last agonized look over his shoulder, at where Perceptor stood at the honor position, like someone watching a champion on his way to a combat.
Deadlock felt sick.
Turmoil awaited him in Deadlock’s old quarters. His belongings—what few he’d ever claimed—had been stripped, and the room had the flat stale smell of long disuse. A symbol, of course. Turmoil always thought in symbols and codes.
A gesture of the chin sent the guard retreating from the room, the door whooshing shut and locked behind him. Turmoil paced the length of the room, slow, contemplative, massive hands folded behind his back.
“Was it,” he asked suddenly, turning, “so bad here? Did you hate it that much?” There was a sudden, vulnerable sharpness Deadlock was entirely unprepared for. A trick, Deadlock told himself. A bait to draw you out.
“That’s not the point,” Deadlock said, keeping his gaze straight and focused on Turmoil’s broad chassis. “That’s not why I left.”
“Oh?” Turmoil shifted imperceptibly. “Then illuminate me, Deadlock. Why did you leave?”
“You were holding me back,” Deadlock said, and he heard the growl of Deadlock’s old voice resurfacing.
So did Turmoil, who gave a pleased grunt, turning to move toward the berth. “You need to be held back, Deadlock. For your own good.”
“My own good,” Deadlock spat.
Turmoil settled on the berth. “Don’t you see it, Deadlock? Have those Autobots blinded you with those blue optics they gave you?” Seated, he was just at Deadlock’s eye level.
Fine, Deadlock thought, aware he was only buying time, and not even sure why he’d do that. Hoping to bore Turmoil to death, maybe. “See what?”
“You,” Turmoil said, reaching over to tap meaningfully at the glass of Deadlock’s windshield, “are empty here. A compass without a needle. Look at you, and everything you’ve done, Deadlock. Running away or running toward, but always running, always letting something else be your pole.” Turmoil sat back, watching the effect of his words.
And even if Deadlock had wanted to, he did not disappoint. His whole body seemed to…quiver, hands not knowing if they should ball into fists, his face awash with different emotions, but most of all, even above the sinking chill that the assessment was true was that Turmoil, whom he’d written off as a useless, stupid fool, had been right, had all along known Deadlock better than Deadlock knew himself. “No,” he said. “I’m different now.” Wing, he thought desperately but then realized that invoking the ghost of a dead mech was exactly what Turmoil was talking about—making someone else be the touchstone of his decisions.
“Ah,” Turmoil said, simply. He reached for Deadlock’s hand, his good one, and pulled him backwards, toward the berth, folding his massive arms around Deadlock’s chassis. “I see a redesign,” he said, his voice throaty, purring against Deadlock’s back, buzzing against the terrible emptiness of the Great Sword’s sheath, “but I don’t feel anything else that’s different about you.”
“You’re wrong,” Deadlock said, but even he didn’t believe it.
“Am I? Tell me, Deadlock. How did you get here? What brought you back into my grasp?” He ran one thumb up the inside of Deadlock’s knee armor.
Deadlock stiffened. Yes, of course, and it galled him that Turmoil knew it so easily, because it meant that…he hadn’t changed. Despite his best efforts. He still bulled his head down and went off on his own, heedless of endangering others.
Turmoil gave a consoling mew, pulling Deadlock back more tightly against himself. “You’re good at one thing,” Turmoil lowered his head between Deadlock’s shoulder and his audio. “Give into it. And admit, at last, that you need some control.” The voice was black and heady and deep, resonating through Deadlock’s frame. Offering, still.
“Let go of me,” Deadlock said, twisting his shoulder away.
Turmoil laughed, jerking Deadlock back harder against him, closing his knees around Deadlock’s thighs, enveloping him in his mass. “Make me,” he whispered.
And Deadlock hated that the voice and the challenge thrilled him.
“You have one of your little swords,” Turmoil prodded. He took Deadlock’s hand, leading it across Deadlock’s body to touch some twisted, lumpy plate of metal on his chassis. “This is from last time, Deadlock. Do you like how it feels?”
“Stop it,” Deadlock hissed, jerking his hand away, optics fixed rigidly ahead at the blank wall across the room, Turmoil’s EM pulsing hard against his back.
“And if I don’t?” Turmoil leaned closer—the orange optics lit Deadlock’s white shoulders like thin flames. Deadlock didn’t respond. “You need this, Deadlock,” Turmoil rumbled, and Deadlock knew it was a punishment as much as some attempt at retraining him, the way Turmoil’s hands crawled possessively over his frame, curious, but as if they had every right to touch, to own.
Deadlock stood, frozen, the hands exploring his frame, down his thighs, over his chassis, along the architecture of his arms. He could have broken free, could have turned, drawn his blade, at least made a stand’s show of resistance.
But why? And for what? It would only end one way: Turmoil would get what he wanted. The guard pacing outside the cell flashed back to Deadlock’s memory. He could fight and lose and not fight…and lose. This was an intricate agony to him that for once, fighting, violence was not the solution. And he knew Turmoil as well as Turmoil knew him, and that his resistance, his refusal, would end with a sniper’s shot through Perceptor’s spark chamber. And after that…? He’d have no reason to resist, no one to try to protect. No reason to keep up any pretense of being other than what he was.
Which was many things: traitor, runaway, renegade, warrior, false idealist…but not Drift.
Chapter 11: Rut
Warning for pnp dubcon
Deadlock arched up, hating the ecstasy pouring through the connection, hating the pleasure he drew from the link with Turmoil’s systems, throbbing, pounding against his. This was…not like with Wing, the strange, complicated intimacy he’d had with the light flyer, fierce but gentle. And it wasn’t what he wanted—or thought he wanted—with Perceptor: something sweet and mild and giving. This was raw and violent and selfish and dark.
And Primus help him, he wanted it. He sank his hand into Turmoil’s wrist, digging into the cabling, feeling the larger mech shudder against him.
Turmoil’s dark armor enveloped him and it seemed somehow symbolic: his whiteness covered, brightness surrounded, by the massy darkness.
The arms loosened around him, and Deadlock felt his knee servos struggle to take the returning weight. Turmoil’s cool EM field twined around him possessively even while his arms let go. He waited for Turmoil’s remark, that he’d wanted it, needed it, something to rub in what they both already knew.
Turmoil’s hands moved with smooth, practiced efficiency, pulling their cables apart, giving his the tug that let it retract smoothly back into its housing. He held Deadlock’s in his curled hand for a moment, rolling over the contact points with his thumb, before tugging it, and then following it in, depositing one last caress on it as it snugged into its socket. Deadlock flinched at the light touch, repulsed. Which was, of course, Turmoil’s intent.
The heavy arms came to rest on his shoulders, companionably, Turmoil propping his chin on Deadlock’s helm. They stayed there for a long moment, Deadlock standing between Turmoil’s broad knees. “You know,” Turmoil said. “You could have all this back.”
“An empty room.”
A soft laugh. “It would not be empty for long.”
Deadlock shifted. “No.”
“Mmm,” Turmoil murmured, almost a hum, as though that was precisely the response he’d expected. “I’ve been thinking about what you said. Before you blew the Black Star.” Another snort. “I did rather like that ship.”
“What I said.” He almost didn’t remember. Why should he? That had been Drift.
“About how the Autobots are where we began and we’ve…somehow fallen.”
Oh. I’ve been thinking about what you said, too. Outcast. No one will accept me. “And.”
“And.” The weight pressed down on his shoulders, the hands flexing and balling, possibly a threat. “An answer this time: why did you leave?”
You. Me. This. Restlessness. Frustration. I don’t know . “You didn’t go far enough.”
“Ah.” That sound, like a round clicking into a chamber, Deadlock stepping into Turmoil’s snare. “And…your Autobot friends. Do they…go far enough? Are they winning the war at your pace, Deadlock?”
No. “There’s something more than just winning.”
Deadlock pulled away, his one hand snapping his hatch closed, drifting, tempted, over the short sword’s pommel. If he didn’t have Perceptor to worry about…. You don’t.
He’s holding you back, that Autobot.
Turmoil’s right. I need to be held back. Deadlock tore himself free, pacing across the room.
“Honor. Ideals. Vision.” He tried to summon the ghost of Wing’s voice with his, but the warm golden gaze and bright armor were a long, long way from this darkness.
“Intangibles,” Turmoil said. He lowered his head between his shoulders, keeping Deadlock at optic-level.
“So is ‘victory’.”
“Yes. And you see how easily intangibles fall prey to reality, Deadlock.”
Deadlock had no answer. Turmoil could always do this to him, spin him up with words. “What do you want?” he asked, optics narrowed. “Be clear. For once.”
Turmoil’s head tilted, battlemask quirking upward. Amused. Then he leaned forward, swiftly, so that Deadlock could see, could feel the rush of that much mass moving at that great a speed. The optics stopped a handspan from his. “I want? I want to break you down, Deadlock. I want to make you suffer for my ship. My command. But more than that, I want to strip away all this pretense, “ he made a fastidious gesture with one hand, “and get down to who you are. Who you can be.”
Who I can be. Killer. “I know who I am.”
“You know who you want to be. That’s…different.”
Deadlock curled his hand over the short sword’s pommel. “I’m sick of your philosophy games, Turmoil.”
“Ah, resorting to violence. Yes. That’s exactly what this…Drift would do.” Turmoil pushed to his feet, stretching languorously, leaving his midsection, for a long moment, terribly, terribly exposed, the long scars on his armor from where Drift had pinned him to the wall of the Black Star casting ugly shadows over the smooth plating.
The blade seemed to fly into Deadlock’s hand, flashing outward. Turmoil slipped sideways, just as the blade reached him, so that the solid slice was cut down to a spark-slinging nick over his chassis. A set-up, of course. “It will,” he observed calmly, “take more than the one sword to kill me.”
Deadlock recovered his balance, the blade cutting a silver crescent of light, coming back for another slash. Turmoil stepped back again, taking the next slash on his forearm.
“Which means more to you, Deadlock? I’m going to offer you a choice.”
“I’m not interested in your games,” Deadlock said. He’d lost sight of what he was doing, lost sight of Perceptor, of Drift, of Wing, of everything other than Turmoil’s hot insult pouring over him like molten steel.
Turmoil continued, backing another step, moving to block the next strike with his other arm, metal clanging and skreeling. “Simple choice, Deadlock. Don’t you want your Great Sword back?”
Deadlock went still, locked down, the empty sheath seeming to ring with hollow pain. Yes. Oh yes. But...one hand. He couldn't....
Turmoil nodded: he had Deadlock’s attention now. “Your Great Sword,” he murmured. “Think of it. That? You could kill me with. This…toy?” He made a derisive snort.
The image flashed to Deadlock: Turmoil’s energon, purple and hot, spilling from his damaged joints, taunting Drift to kill him, to finish the job. His palm itched, his stump blazing. “What’s the trade?”
“The trade?” Turmoil swept in again closing his hand around the blade. He squeezed, letting the blade bite into his palm plating. “Simple. Prove to me this Drift is dead.”
“He is.” He’s not. Or it wouldn’t hurt this much.
Turmoil saw the truth in the too-new red optics. He jerked his hand away, leaving a line of energon up the blade. “I trust,” he said, wryly, at the door’s keypad, “you know what to do.”
Yes. No, oh…no.
Chapter 12: Losing Ground
Deadlock returns to the cell. Perceptor assesses the damage.
Perceptor pushed toward the cell’s barrier-lock as Deadlock crossed it, blue optics alight with concern. “Dri--,” he shook his head, struggling into the compromise. “Are you injured?” His optics scanned Deadlock’s frame, his hands itching to touch, regretting not having some tools. He was not a medic, but he could have done…something.
“No,” Deadlock said, his voice flat and dry and…hollow sounding. He pushed past Perceptor, turning to give one hard look at the guards. “You’re done. Go.”
They gave him one last hard look, but left. Deadlock stayed immobile, watching them go.
He slumped, lowering his head, heading stolidly toward the back wall. He turned, resting his back against the cool bulkhead, sliding slowly down the smooth surface, head tipping up, exhausted. His hand clutched the scabbard for something like comfort.
Perceptor knelt down in front of him. His optics focused on the smear of purple-blue energon on Drift’s hand (he refused to, could not, think of him as Deadlock). “What happened?” he asked, reaching for it.
Perceptor hesitated, but concern overcame all else. “What’s this, then?” He tapped at a stain.
Deadlock bent his head, slowly, looking down wearily, and then shrugging. “Turmoil’s.”
And…he let Drift live? Perceptor’s optics scanned. No, there had to be more damage. Turmoil had to have done something. Something. He reached forward, squinting, studying Drift’s battered frame through his spiderwebbed lenses.
Deadlock’s hand flew up, batting Perceptor’s hand away.
“Drif—“ the word slipped out, before Perceptor could stop it, and before he could even finish it, Deadlock had grabbed his wrist, twisting it around, Perceptor falling to the floor on his right side, following the pain in his arm.
“Drift is dead,” Deadlock hissed, gouging his thumb into a sensor cluster in Perceptor’s wrist, until the optics flared with pain.
“No,” Perceptor said, insistently. “Don’t let him win.”
“Shut up,” Deadlock said, and the tone of voice was so jarring, so…unlike Drift that for a long moment Perceptor just stared. “Don’t you get it?” Deadlock said, louder than necessary, the sound buzzing in Perceptor’s audio. “He’s dead. I’m doing my best to make sure you don’t end up that way, too.”
Deadlock leaned over, ventilations heaving something, some feral sound deeper than a snarl, his face twisted. Not in anger, Perceptor realized, but in torment, misery. Deadlock hated what he was doing.
But why? Perceptor forced himself to think, clung to that familiar coolness of logic, a thin thread, surrounded by a maelstrom of heat and pain and confusion and...he'd admit it...fear. Think. Why was he doing this if he didn't want to? Because Perceptor would never, could never, believe that this was Drift. Nor Deadlock, whom he'd never known but Drift had come from him and the one could not have birthed the other were he so steeped in brutality.
“Afraid of me?” Deadlock sneered, but under it, Perceptor could hear a plea.
“No,” he said, “Never.” It...wasn't entirely true. But Perceptor knew that if he let Drift slip, let Deadlock have his fear, Drift would drown, be gone forever. That was what he was most afraid of.
That's unacceptable, Perceptor thought. That's not what I came here to do. I came here to rescue Drift. If I have to die in the attempt, so be it. The debt will be paid. But it would all be for nothing if Drift was gone.
Deadlock reared up, catching Perceptor's wrist in his one hand to slam it down hard against the floor. “I'll teach you,” he said, a twisted grin on his face as the pain of the impact shocked through Perceptor's frame, “to be afraid.”
There's a mystery here, Perceptor thought. Something happened with Turmoil. Something that had taken Drift and done this. He looked into the baleful red optics—they did change the face, so much, but he knew, he had to believe that Drift was still behind the red lenses. “Tell me what happened,” he said, quietly.
“Tell you,” Deadlock's voice was harsh. “Better idea. I'll show you.” He leaned his chassis hard on Perceptor's shoulder, his hand raking down the red armor. Four slices of pain blazed across Perceptor's already-taxed sensor array. The hand tore down his chestplate, under its reinforced framing. It was a parody of a caress. Deadlock growled, and Perceptor felt the sharp bite against his shoulder armor, sinking in, solely to cause pain.
He couldn't stop himself—a whimper of pain escaped his vocalizer. Deadlock growled, a sneering smile growing over his face, but his optics were flat, distant.
“That hurts,” Perceptor reported, knowing that Deadlock had to know this. How was this a key? Had Turmoil done this? The thought of Turmoil’s hands on Drift’s frame sickened him. “Is that what you intend?”
“Don’t talk to me,” Deadlock snapped. He shoved his truncated arm on Perceptor’s chassis, using the forearm as a bar weight, pinning Perceptor’s back to the ground. His optics savaged down Perceptor’s frame, his cortex tangled in thoughts.
Perceptor brought up his other hand, resting, for the moment, on the white spaulder. Not pushing away, not fighting back…just yet. “We’re on the same side,” he said, quietly.
“No, we’re not,” Deadlock said, mouth curling. “You don’t accept me; none of you do.”
Perceptor’s hand gripped at the armor “We do.” No, he thought. That is…inaccurate. A seed that Turmoil had somehow planted—no. A seed that the Autobots themselves had planted: Kup, Springer. This was just…fertile soil for it to take root. “I do,” he said, letting the naked truth stand for fancy rhetoric.
The red optics softened, growing depths, depths that Perceptor’s words seemed to ripple through. He felt Deadlock shudder against him. Something was in there, fighting. Perceptor struggled upward, against the bar of Drift’s forearm. “You don’t want this.”
“I have to,” Deadlock said, weakly. “You don’t know what’s at stake.”
“Tell me,” Perceptor murmured. “Let me help.”
“I don’t need your help!” Deadlock reared back, striking Perceptor across the face. He froze, horror rippling over his mouth as shards of blue glass scattered from Perceptor’s shattered reticle.
Perceptor couldn’t stop the pain from flashing over his face, the involuntary wince as Deadlock moved. But he forced himself calm. Something was bigger than his pain. “What do you need?”
The mouth tightened in anger. “You’re not Wing.”
Perceptor blinked, the words making no sense to him. Wing? He filed that for later. No time for that now. Do not lose focus, Perceptor. Do not. Any slip could be fatal. “I know,” he said, simply. “I’m sorry.” He filed the hurt away for later, too.
Deadlock gave an animal sound of pain and rage, his hand raking down Perceptor’s side. “You,” he said, finally, a dangerous hiss, “have no right.”
There’s no right answer, Perceptor realized, suddenly. Nothing he could say, no amount of reason or placating could calm Drift down. And he knew enough about tactics to know he…didn’t know enough to outmaneuver Deadlock here. Except….
Perceptor squirmed his weight, causing Deadlock to have to adjust, throwing his arm out for balance, leaving the sheath where he kept his sword unprotected.
Deadlock read the move too late to block Perceptor’s hand from wrapping around the hilt, half drawing the blade. They struggled, neither having a leverage advantage, tugging at the hilt before Perceptor threw himself to the side, dislodging Deadlock’s weight enough that his resistance faltered. Perceptor drew the blade back, wielding it awkwardly in the small space between them.
Deadlock swung down at him, and Perceptor managed—barely—to block the blow with the sword. Deadlock snarled, rearing up, throwing his body hard on Perceptor’s, using his own mass and frame as a weapon. There was something wild—beyond wild—in his optics, something that would let him harm himself, break his own body, to damage Perceptor. Why? Why? Perceptor couldn’t think; not under these conditions. He needed time. And space. And no one trying to kill him.
Perceptor swung the blade awkwardly, his elbow banging on the ground, truncating the stroke.
Deadlock sneered. “What do you intend to do with that?”
“Get off me,” Perceptor said, throwing an unfamiliar note of command in his voice. “And we can discuss this like reasonable, civilized mechs.”
The optics narrowed, the blue never looking quite so malevolent as now. “I’m not,” Deadlock said, “either one.”
Perceptor realized his mistake: Drift had told him of his past, back on Cybertron. “You know what I meant,” he said, but he knew that was a losing gambit even as he said it. He braced the sword, boldly, pushing back with his legs, wriggling partway out from under Deadlock’s mass to gain more room.
Deadlock grabbed at Perceptor’s leg, hauling him back. Perceptor swung wildly with the blade; it clanked off the large shoulder fairing before glancing off the dirt-streaked white helm. “I will hurt you,” Perceptor said, a desperate warning against the flare of light in the optics.
“Will you?” Deadlock said. “Really.” And the voice didn’t seem like Drift’s, nor Deadlock’s, but almost…some thin parody of Turmoil’s.
But Perceptor had committed to it—he shoved back, harder, using every measure of his long legs and leverage, to brace distance between he and the white armor, walking his shoulders up the wall, clearing his arm’s range. “I will.” He gripped the sword better—he thought it was better—between both hands, holding it between them, the silver edge glinting a line to Deadlock’s chin.
A smile crossed Deadlock’s face—a parody of a smile, a twisted, stunted thing. He clambered forward on his knees, keeping his optics locked with Perceptor’s, until the point of the blade rested at his throat. He tilted up his chin, pushing forward. “Do it,” he said, his voice vibrating down the blade. It was a plea, a challenge.
He pushed closer, optics flaring bright and wild, and Perceptor felt the sickening push of the blade cut something, saw a blue-purple trail of energon slide down the blade. Deadlock’s grin was stiff, ossified.
Perceptor flung the blade away. It bounced, clattered, droplets spattering, spun in a noisy spiral on the floor somewhere beside them, the noise filling everything between them. Perceptor’s hands shook, his optics flickering with a surplus of emotion. He hated this; hated what it was doing to Drift, and he began to wonder, for the first time, as he watched Deadlock, after a moment, lunge after the blade, heavily, clumsily, if there was any trace of Drift left in there at all.
Chapter 13: Visiting Hour
Turmoil makes the most of Deadlock's absence to get under Perceptor's skin.
Turmoil knew only that Deadlock had failed. He had expected nothing less. After all, as he kept saying: Deadlock never disappointed. Every moment he dragged this out, every moment he suffered, was a payment for what he had cost Turmoil. Bringing Deadlock back would more than even the scale: it would allow Turmoil to reclaim his honor, his command dignity. Deadlock had cost him, in the optics of the others, and Deadlock’s return, his obedient return, would definitively prove Turmoil’s ability, his mastery. And the thought, if Turmoil were honest, of Deadlock, back, under his command, but tamed, managed, sent a thrill of raw crystalline lust through him.
He waited, outside the cell, watching them. Letting them eventually realize he was there, letting them wonder and worry how long he had been there, staring, motionless. Letting them realize how powerless they were even in such basic things as privacy.
Deadlock saw him first. A natural soldier, Turmoil thought, Deadlock knew to scan his perimeter. So it was only a matter of time before the red optics flared, catching sight of Turmoil—a shadow in shadows.
He stiffened, somehow telegraphing something to Perceptor, who had hunched on the far side of the room. Deadlock had failed, but apparently progress had been made: Deadlock and the Autobot were no longer curled, entwined together as he’d seen them before—after a long moment, the red mech’s gaze seemed to follow Deadlock’s eyeline like a trail.
Turmoil moved, placing a hand on the force barrier. “Come,” he said to Deadlock, not acknowledging Perceptor’s presence.
“Come yourself this time?” Deadlock snapped, but he climbed slowly to his feet. Turmoil saw a trickle of dried energon under Deadlock’s chin, spattered over the white chassis, the clear windscreen. Interesting. Something had happened. Turmoil’s engine revved, an image flashing from his processors: Deadlock, pinned beneath him as he licked the wound, his glossa tasting the sweetsour taste. Deadlock writhing, hating and wanting simultaneously.
“I crave variety,” Turmoil said, flatly, pleased by Deadlock’s rising. “Now. I have work for you.”
“Work.” Deadlock’s tone was sharp.
“He doesn’t work for you,” Perceptor cut in.
“He has. He will.” Turmoil didn’t even bother to look over at Perceptor.
Deadlock moved to the barrier lock. “What work?”
Not a refusal. Turmoil grinned under his mask. “Does it matter?”
“I’m not going to fight for you.”
Turmoil tilted his head. “You really think I’d throw you into combat, Deadlock? With so many open opportunities to betray me?” He shook his head. “Truly, Deadlock, you insult my intelligence.”
“What work, then?” Deadlock pressed closer, face nearly against the force barrier.
“Weapons maintenance. You used to enjoy it.”
Perceptor started to say something, squelched it down. Also interesting, Turmoil thought. And all the more reason for what this was really about.
“That’s…all.” Disbelieving. Part of the game, of course.
“That’s all. It’s tedious work. And I imagine you’d like a change of scene. Perhaps some time by yourself.” He wouldn’t really be by himself: the armory had more video and security protocols than any other room on the ship. And Turmoil, honestly, was curious to see if Deadlock would actually maintain the weapons, or attempt to damage or sabotage them. He considered it…a barometer of Deadlock’s condition.
“By myself.” The question implied.
“I thought I might want to…reacquaint myself with your scientist friend.”
“He’s not my friend,” Deadlock said, and Turmoil could hear that it was automatic, a denial attempting to protect Perceptor. Perceptor, however, did not hear it that way: Turmoil could hear the sharp click of hydraulics as Perceptor recoiled. Turmoil allowed his gaze to flick over, to savor the hurt on the Autobot’s face.
“Then you won’t mind,” Turmoil countered. And Deadlock’s shoulders sagged, defeated in this, at least.
“Fine,” Deadlock said, quietly.
“If you behave—if he behaves—no harm will come to him.” Turmoil threw this at Deadlock, to gauge his response. Ah, a flicker of concern. Deadlock was not his…yet. Turmoil reached his arm through the force barrier, enjoying the raw irony that to pass through, Deadlock would have to take his hand, let the EM phase synchrony initiator read over his own. Letting himself, in a sense, be covered by Turmoil.
Deadlock’s hand was numb in his, stiff, as he stepped through.
“You know the way.”
Deadlock nodded. Too quickly—either he was too much still this…Drift, or he was plotting something. Turmoil’s interest piqued. He could hardly wait to discover which one it was.
But for right now….
Turmoil stepped through, the static of the force barrier rippling through his net. It hurt, but it was a quick, raw pain that he could not entirely call unpleasant. He crossed to where Perceptor sat on the floor, still leaning forward after Deadlock’s departing frame. Turmoil stayed out of the way, letting Perceptor stare as long as he wanted. Yes, he thought. He is leaving you. And leaving you to me. Whom you know he does not trust.
He waited until the blue optics floated over to him, working their way up his frame, trying to sense weaknesses. Turmoil snorted. One didn’t survive to his level of command by sporting obvious physical vulnerabilities. His own mechs would have taken him down ages ago if he were that easy to read.
Turmoil sank into a squat, tilting his head. “Well,” he said, fighting to keep the amusement from his voice.
“What do you want?” Perceptor’s voice was edged, doubtless remembering pain.
Turmoil spread his hands. “As I said. Merely to…talk.”
“I have nothing to talk about.” The arms folded protectively over his chassis.
Turmoil smiled behind his mask. “Well then. I shall have to start.” He rolled forward in his squat, to rest one massive knee on the ground. “Has Deadlock told you about his past?”
“Enough.” Deliberately closed down. Some vulnerability there, Turmoil thought.
Ah. “And how much is this ‘enough’?”
Perceptor’s optics jumped to his face from studying Turmoil’s knee, next to his leg. Evaluating it for a threat, as if he could read intent from the limb. “Enough that I feel no place to judge him for his past.”
Turmoil laughed, letting the echo fade, watching the confusion in the blue optics. “Let me ask you something.” He caught Perceptor’s sudden stiffness. “Oh, I assure you, merely a philosophical question. I would not ask you to betray any of Deadlock’s confidences to you.”
“Still playing at that…delightful delusion,” Turmoil nodded, easily. “I concede. Drift.” As though Perceptor were too stupid to keep them straight, as though he were conceding to Perceptor’s inability.
He saw the startlement in Perceptor’s face. Which of course was his intent. Keeping the Autobot off his footing was both a tactical advantage and very, very entertaining.
“Certainly. Which matters more, in judging a mech: his past or his current behavior?”
Perceptor frowned, one dented lip-plate cracking open. “This is about Drift.”
“It is a question. I cannot stop you from extrapolating.” Yes. Of course. Like you thought it would be anything else.
Perceptor met his gaze steadily, light glittering on the spiderweb cracks of his shattered lens. “Behavior. The past has too many factors.”
Turmoil nodded. “And, based on that, since you have guessed. How would you judge your…Drift.”
“He’ll never join you again.”
“No?” Turmoil propped one elbow on his knee, chin on the hand. “Define ‘join me’?” A beat. “Right now, he is obeying my orders. Before, he willingly came to me. Did he tell you what we did together?” A measuring look. “No, of course not. Sweet how he tries to protect you.”
Perceptor’s hands clenched, as though over an imaginary weapon. “He didn’t try to protect me. He doesn’t need to.” Something there, Turmoil thought. Some crack in the red Autobot’s own psyche.
“So he told you that we interfaced.” Deliberately blunt, a casual shrug, as if it were no small matter. Just to underscore the shock of it.
And Perceptor’s face reacted as if Turmoil had struck him with an electrowhip. “No...,” Perceptor breathed, in pain. He amended, hastily, “no, he didn’t tell me.”
“Present behavior,” Turmoil reminded, grinding Perceptor’s own words into the wound. “Or did he interface with me to…protect you?” Pushing that button again, stifling his laugh.
Perceptor remained silent. He could control his vocalizer, perhaps, but his emotions ran over his face like a fast-scrolling datapad. It occurred to Turmoil that he might profit by asking Deadlock about this scientist. Another tool, another weapon to use against him.
Turmoil sat back. “So. I have been open with you. Surely you will grant me the same courtesy. How do you possibly think you can save him?” From being what he is.
“I…don’t know.” Perceptor said. “Honestly.”
Chapter 14: Choke Point
Turmoil does enjoy turning 'helping' into a wedge between them.
Deadlock rounded the corner back to the cell, hating his own obedience. You should leave. Make a break. Take down the guards who escorted you. Find a way.
No. Perceptor. He couldn’t leave the other mech. There was that much left in him of consideration or mercy, or sense of fairness. He’d thought, as he’d cleaned the weapons, about his options. Join Turmoil again, go back to the Decepticons. No. And the fact that that had even formulated itself into a question distressed him. Stay with Perceptor and die but die together, as Autobots. Possible, though…Turmoil would draw that out into endless agony. And…was he an Autobot anymore? Would they ever accept him, especially after this? Would Perceptor after what had just happened between them?
Or do neither, escape by himself, become a free agent once again, neither Autobot nor Decepticon, neither Drift nor Deadlock.
He’d wondered, briefly, what Wing would have chosen. Which is the pure choice here, Wing?
An ache, hollow, cold, answered him.
So he’d found himself horrifically obedient, cleaning the weapons, lying to himself that he was building a false trust from Turmoil, letting him think he was winning, letting Deadlock convince himself this was strategy. And trying frantically not to imagine what Turmoil was doing to Perceptor, what he might have to go back to.
Maybe, he thought, Turmoil would make his choice for him.
No. Coward’s way.
He froze, outside the force barrier. Turmoil, hunched over the lean frame of Perceptor—limp and helpless on the floor. A fierce feral part of him rejoiced, as though weights had been taken from him, inhibitors taken off—he could go after Turmoil unimpeded, settle this once and for all. But another part fell in shock, horror, self-blame, that he had left Perceptor with Turmoil, knowing what Turmoil was capable of. And more than a little guilt for his earlier thoughts.
“Turmoil!” he bellowed. His hand pounded at the force barrier, uselessly. Typical irony of Turmoil’s to use the barrier to keep Deadlock out.
Turmoil didn’t flinch, didn’t move, showed no response. “You’re back,” he said, blandly.
“Get away from him.”
Turmoil turned his head, looking at Deadlock over his shoulder, optics glinting orange warm in the dim light. “Suspicious, Deadlock? Or jealous.”
Deadlock seethed. “Should never have trusted you.”
“Trusted me?” Turmoil rose, turning to face him, one hand splayed over his chassis. “Deadlock, I’m touched.”
Deadlock glowered, pacing along the barrier. “Let me in.”
A dark laugh. “That’s what I’ve been saying to you for…how long?” Turmoil stepped deliberately in Deadlock’s line of sight, blocking his view of Perceptor.
Deadlock snarled in pure frustration. “What did you do to him?”
Turmoil shook his head. “It’s what he did to himself, Deadlock. I’m merely trying to help.”
“Help,” Deadlock said, bitterly. “No one needs your help.” He whipped out his short sword, striking the barrier. Bluewhite sparks flew, shocking up Deadlock’s hand, but the barrier didn’t give.
“You need it most of all, Deadlock,” Turmoil said. He stepped away from Perceptor’s prone form, toward the barrier. “Put your weapon away.” He held a hand to the barrier, offering contact.
Deadlock glowered, but, after a long moment, shoved his blade roughly in its scabbard, holding his hand against the force barrier’s surface for Turmoil to grab and drag through. Turmoil took advantage—of course—of the forced proximity, letting his hands drag over Deadlock’s shoulders. Deadlock merely shrugged past, more concerned with Perceptor than anything else.
Turmoil trailed behind him, chuckling, as Deadlock dropped to his knees by Perceptor’s frame, just as the blue optics flickered dimly online. And then, he saw what Turmoil had been clever enough to hide between Perceptor’s arm and his body.
He held up the emergency ration pack, optics hard with accusation. “What--?” He didn’t even know how to finish that question, what upset him so much about it—beyond the sight of Turmoil’s emergency ration pack being fed into Perceptor’s body. Like some…contamination.
Perceptor’s lean face was stricken, mortified.
Turmoil came up behind Deadlock. “You let him divide the rations, of course. Two hands. It only makes sense. It would seem that your scientist shorts his own rations for your sake. Or,” Turmoil’s smirk was audible, “he is not such a good little scientist and miscalculates how much his autorepair needs.”
Deadlock’s optics bored into Perceptor’s, reading the downward tug of Perceptor’s mouth as an admission of the first. “You didn’t.”
“You need the energon,” Perceptor said, quietly. “I do not.”
Deadlock glared down at the flabby bag—obvious testimony of how wrong that assessment was. “Apparently, you do.”
Perceptor looked away. “I’m…unimportant.”
You’re what this whole thing’s about, Deadlock howled inside his head, barely managing to master himself before blurting it out in front of Turmoil. Deadlock’s hand tightened over the bag, force-squeezing more energon up the line. Perceptor winced as the new energon kicked on another level of systems. “You lied to me,” he said, mouth flattening.
“Seems a lot of that,” Turmoil murmured, “For Autobots. Your scientist has led me to understand you were not entirely…forthcoming about our tryst.”
Deadlock stiffened, blinkering his optics against the soft sympathy in the blue gaze. No, no you don’t understand, he thought, angrily, and then…he didn’t want Perceptor to understand. Didn’t want to have done what he did, what he knew he’d succumb to again.
Turmoil approached, and Deadlock’s sensor net registered the familiar coolness of his degaussed field. Large hands stroked over his shoulders, familiarly, affectionately, one then dropping to wrap his waist, pull him back against Turmoil’s frame.
Deadlock saw the look of jealousy, hurt, and confusion mixed on Perceptor’s face. “Not,” he hissed, “now.”
Turmoil chuckled, his mouthplate brushing into Deadlock’s throat. “Why not now. He says himself he’s unimportant.” The hand on his waist’s thumb brushed up, against his interface hatch. “And all of this…Autobot self-sacrifice,” he purred, rubbing a thigh against Deadlock’s, “is so incredibly erotic.”
“Because I said not now,” Deadlock snapped. His one hand pushed away Turmoil’s groping arm, acutely aware of Perceptor’s gaze, his tight, stricken expression. It was one thing, possibly, to imagine the two of them together, and nominally accept it; quite another to actually witness it, accept it that way.
Turmoil laughed, agreeably, releasing his grip with one last reluctant stroke. Deadlock gave a warning snarl, turning back to Perceptor. “Why?”
Perceptor struggled to sit up, hands regretful on the tube of the autoinjector. “You need it more.”
“You don’t get to decide that.”
Perceptor looked stricken, his mouth playing through a range of expressions. “It was a…tactical decision.”
Deadlock glared. “We’ll talk about this later.”
“Oh,” Turmoil goaded. “Don’t let me keep you.”
“Go away, Turmoil,” Deadlock said, optics glinting dangerous over his shoulder. He would not give Turmoil the satisfaction.
Except, of course, they already had. How stupid could Perceptor have been?
“You want to do something useful, Turmoil?”
Turmoil laughed. “Do I?”
Deadlock wheeled to face him, jabbing at the chassis with one finger, the gutters of Iacon in his words. “You could have given us enough fraggin’ energon to begin with. So we wouldn’t have to split it so fine.”
“Now,” Turmoil said, tilting his head, his optics an orange, amused line, “Where’s the fun in that?”
Chapter 15: Drive
The Mabaya is under attack...but it doesn't bring freedom.
Pointless headcanon that small strafers would have harmonic crystal drives to boost to FTL. It's SO not canon. Want more headcanon? Crystal drives are dangerous so the Autobots long ago stopped using them, but they're fast and efficient, so Decepticons kept them, regardless of the danger.
Deadlock wished there was something in the cell he could destroy. He paced, feral. Perceptor knew better than to interrupt him, propped back into the corner, trying not to see the spattered greasy stains of energon on the floor, along Drift’s chassis.
Stupid, Deadlock thought. Just…everything. Stupid. Perceptor, starving himself in some…completely idiotic attempt at heroic sacrifice.
Completely Autobot attempt.
Same difference. Not that Deadlock had done much better. He’d caught, too late, the glitter in Turmoil’s optics, the amused coldness in his voice before he’d left, still wrapping the long tubes of the emergency ration’s autoinjectors around his fingers. “I’ll leave you, little scientist, with your Drift.”
Perceptor hadn’t caught it—or at least, hadn’t caught the meaning. Turmoil didn’t slip. Not that way. A hint to Deadlock that he’d caught Deadlock’s sudden, frantic concern—concern Deadlock would not have for an Autobot. Concern Deadlock had never had for his own troops.
A sign how far you’ve fallen.
I grew up in the gutters. There’s not very far to fall.
Finally, Perceptor could no longer take it. “I’m sorry.” He slumped in the corner, staring at his hands, folded over his lap. Useless hands, but at least he had them both. And how had he used them? To cheat.
Deadlock turned, his heel scraping on the rough decking, his red optics blazing furious. “That…doesn’t help right now.” A long moment, the solitary hand clenching into a fist, then spreading itself open, with effort. “Why?”
Perceptor bit the inside of his mouth. A nervous habit that Deadlock—Drift—had always found almost endearing. Now it seemed a sign that he was trying to hide something. “You need to stay strong.”
Deadlock’s mouth curled into a snarl. “You don’t get to unilaterally decide that.” He continued his pacing, footsteps fast, irritated.
Perceptor looked stunned. “I was trying to help.”
“Help,” Deadlock scoffed. “There’s no help.” Perceptor didn’t realize what he’d given away, what he’d made Deadlock give away to Turmoil. To himself. “You were trying to control me.”
“What? No!” Perceptor sat forward. “You needed it more than I di—“
Deadlock swung down, his red optics blazing. “You think I’m weak. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“No!” The black hands clutched over the red greaves, the optics wide and worried. “Drift, I just thought tha—“ He flinched as Deadlock, trembling with fury, tore one of the damaged panels off his truncated arm, simply to have something to throw. At Perceptor.
Deadlock stood, ventilation heaving, his damaged arm sparking and spurting fitful fluids as the panel struck Perceptor’s shoulder. Perceptor gaped, staring at the damaged arm, ignoring the sharp gouge in his front shoulder panel from where the torn plate had bitten.
A tense moment.
“I’m not weak,” Deadlock growled.
“No,” Perceptor said, barely daring to pitch his voice above a whisper. “You’re not weak.”
Drift ‘s hand balled into a fist but suddenly he stopped, words boiling in his vocalizer, but before they could pour out, the ground seemed to buck beneath his feet.
He dropped to his knees, quickly, arms spread for balance, cocking his head.
“What?” Perceptor, already on the floor, felt the shock against it.
Deadlock didn’t answer, optics dimmed, tuning into the sudden freq pitch of the crystal drive, whining into evasive maneuvers. He called up the base outline for this model of ship, snorting bitterly. Further proof of what he’d always been—a ‘Con. He still had data archives of ship plans, standard weaponry, comm protocols, all of it. Everything else…surface changes. Maybe Turmoil was right.
He looked up at Perceptor abruptly. “Move.”
Perceptor…didn’t. Deadlock tore at his scabbard. It might be one sword, it might not be much by itself, but it was a weapon, and something that right now could speak far more concisely and eloquently than Deadlock himself. The blade flashed toward Perceptor. “MOVE.”
The floor seemed to vibrate. A tactical jump-boost, designed to pull them out of target lock. Even Perceptor caught the whine from the drive, rolling forward, dropping his palms flat against the decking. His optics went distant for a klik, trying to sense through his palms. “Under attack.”
Deadlock growled. “Yes. By your Autobot friends.”
That got Perceptor’s attention—he looked up, abruptly. “They are your friends as well, Drift.”
Deadlock twitched, halfway between a flinch of pain and holding back some kind of assault. “I don’t have any friends.” Didn’t matter, anyway. Just a matter of time before the Autobots blew the engine. The light strafer class vessels were notorious for the weakness in the underhull—and right on cue, the room seemed to buck, rocking under a hit.
Deadlock scanned the room. There wasn’t really any place that was safe, not from a drive-housing breach. It would flood the room with toxic harmonic radiation. But there, in that sort of cut in from the force-barrier’s lock. It might shield someone from the worst. If.
Perceptor still wasn’t moving. He heard the crystal drives whine higher, knocked out of tune. Frag.
He lunged forward, grabbing Perceptor by the projection of his shoulder, hauling him toward the small nook, his strong hand hard on the armor. Perceptor had to scramble, only half on his feet, to follow the force of Deadlock’s movement, landing heavily against the force barrier.
It wasn’t much, but it was as far as they could get from the crystal drives.
Perceptor climbed awkwardly to his feet, acutely aware that the energon in his systems was Turmoil’s, his tanks still roiling at the thought and the thick richness of the fuel reserved for command line mechs. “Drift—“
“Stay down!” Deadlock swung out his foot, hooking the back of one knee so that it buckled, sending Perceptor tumbling back down. The ship rocked again, metal groaning around them, the panels of the walls and floor shifting against each other. The drives howled, enough to hurt his audio. He cursed, part of him bitterly pleased at the look of shock on Perceptor’s face.
Yes , that shadowed part thought. Not the clean and pure Autobot you are. Filth. Guttersnipe. The kind the Autobots ignored back on Cybertron, beneath notice. His hand curled over his sword, half for comfort, half contemplating violence. Kill him. This is your chance.
He’s just like the others. Judging you. Better than you.
No one’s better than me.
Don’t even have to do anything, Deadlock. Just switch positions. Drive’s going to crack. Take care of him for you.
Deadlock felt ill, only partly from his thoughts. The harmonics of the drive were sour, seeping through the floor like a noxious gas. Stupid gesture, he thought. If the floor cracks, we’re both dead. Doesn’t matter what order they find the fraggin’ bodies.
The room heaved again, sending Deadlock stumbling, Perceptor falling back against the barrier before a loud, hideous wrenching sound of metal tearing apart screamed through the air. Without thinking, he threw himself at Perceptor, tackling him to the ground by mass alone, his one good arm wrapping around the chassis, even as Perceptor struggled against the attack.
…that wasn’t an attack.
The floor split, noxious blue-green light that was thick with sound and radiation stabbing through the gap. It was the last thing Perceptor saw—the sickly light tainting Drift’s white armor—before he slipped offline.
Chapter 16: Haze
The radiation didn't kill them. Turmoil, of course, would find that too unsatisfying.
Deadlock woke under the too-familiar lights of repair bay. Everything hurt: light, sound, the berth under him, the air striking his armor. His memories were fuzzy, vague, and seemed to slide into vertigo.
“You’re awake.” A familiar voice, laden with memories. Deadlock turned his head, slowly, the room slewing hard to one side, his tanks roiling. Turmoil, his grey-brown bulk cutting an almost soothing shadow into the too-bright light.
“What do you want?” he managed. Even the shadow hurt, the edges of it seeming to slice against his armor.
Turmoil shrugged. “Checking on my best soldier.” Something not entirely false in his tone.
“Sad state if that’s true.”
Turmoil laughed. “Nothing keeps you down for long, Deadlock,” he said, affectionately. “Not even crystal drive radiation.”
Crystal drive. Memory flashed back over him, a crack of sea-green light, a whine so high pitched it sent white lances through his optical feed, cutting his audio receptors, and..., “Perceptor.”
Turmoil tilted his head, pausing. “The little scientist.” He spread his palms. “We did as much as we could.”
Deadlock stiffened. “He…?” It—no. It was inconceivable. Perceptor. Dead.
Turmoil shifted his weight from side to side. “He was not as strong as you are,” he said, neutral.
Deadlock dropped his helm back onto the repair berth. No. But Perceptor had been shorting himself. He was weakened to begin with. And how much, after all, could one damaged body be as a shield? It had been, perhaps, nothing but symbolic and, like every gesture Deadlock had made to move away from his past, ultimately futile.
Turmoil bent down to his far side, coming up with something. It took the weight on his chassis for Deadlock to recognize it, his body jerking with shock, the long line of the hilt floating over his chin. His Great Sword. His hands clutched around it.
His optics swam with confusion. Turmoil chuckled. “While we had you down and…compliant, it seemed a good time to engage repairs.” He patted the hands folded over the Sword’s sheath, his enormous hand covering both of Deadlock’s. “I’ll leave you to rest.” His EM field seemed almost buoyant against Deadlock’s as he bent over, his optics an orange bar meeting Deadlock’s red. “It’s good to have you back.”
It was childish, it was weak, it was wrong, but Deadlock clung to the Great Sword with both his hands, one the sleek black of New Crystal City, the other the matte of Decepticon stores, curling himself around it as a core of stability around which he was trying to coalesce. His cheek pressed against the pommel’s jewel, the blade’s flat edge pressed possessively, protectively, between his dark thighs, every fragment of his core trying to tendril around it. His new hand didn’t hurt, merely tingled, seeming unfamiliar, but wrapped itself obediently, wantingly, around the blade it had never known.
Turmoil had some motive for returning it to him, he knew, but Deadlock could think of none truer than that Perceptor was dead and with him the whole motivation to keep the sword away from him. What was the point in killing Turmoil? He’d gone beyond an Autobot now, could never go back to them; had no reason to go back to them. What would they do if he suddenly returned—Decepticon repairs, Decepticon optics, and missing Perceptor? Right. That would go over…well.
Deadlock had no options now, nothing to hold him back, keep him from falling. It was a bitter gift, the sword, all the more bitter for the unconscious irony that the first time he’d gotten it had been over a death.
Wing, he thought, desperately, mouthing the name like a sacred thing against the scabbard. He’d sworn, at times, he’d felt Wing in the blade, the jet’s gentle, reassuring presence. He’d sat with the blade, communing with it, feeling warmed and accepted by it, even when the Autobots did their best to reject him, cut him coldly out of their circle. They’d never accepted him, except Perceptor. And now Perceptor was…gone.
Deadlock would give anything to have Wing here, even a ghost, even for a moment. Maybe Turmoil was right—his moral code had always been someone else’s, but Wing’s had felt…right. Pure and clean, two things Deadlock had never felt.
It was no wonder the blade stayed silent—Deadlock was too far gone, too tainted. Too numb to even grieve.
Perceptor groaned, the sound seeming to fill gaps around beeps and clicks, as his optics slowly cycled on. He was floating on a cloud of sensor-foxing chemicals, feeling no pain at all, for the first time since he’d set foot on the Mabaya. It was…strange, and stranger yet that he found himself almost missing the pain, that the warm fog that held him felt false and dangerous.
He heard a rumble, turning his head, only then realizing his optics were no longer compensating for the shattered feed from his crackled lenses. His optics had been repaired. Replaced. A disturbing thought—Decepticon technicians had been at his systems. What might they have done, what damage or sabotage might he not find until later? Even though it was repair, even though he felt no pain, he felt…violated.
“Drift,” he croaked, clinging to something like hope.
Turmoil shook his head. “He took more of the radiation than you did.”
Perceptor shuttered his optics. No. “He’s offline.” He had to hear it, in simple words. As though nothing else would penetrate.
“He’s online, but…very damaged,” Turmoil said.
Perceptor quivered. Not dead. Then…there was hope.
Hope that relied on Decepticon repair technology.
He pushed up, weakly, onto his elbows. “Let me work on him. I can help.” He could do that much for Drift: check his internals, at least, scrub him clean of any Decepticon bugs or programming. And then…maybe….
Turmoil shook his head, amused, as though he expected the attempt and thought it almost…charming. “No. You…understand why.”
He did, as much as he hated it. The Autobots, situations reversed, would not allow two Decepticons to have access to the kinds of tools he’d need to work on Drift. Still, hope. If Drift lived, he could escape. Perceptor didn’t matter. There was one thing he didn’t understand. “Then, why keep me alive?”
Turmoil laughed. “I have my reasons, little scientist. It should be enough for you that you are alive.”
Chapter 17: Renegotiating
wow I really should remember to update this huh?
The Sword had said nothing to Deadlock all that night, nor the day after, nor the following. Still, he’d clutched it—some talisman from some distant reality, as if he were willing to shed the Autobot Drift, but cling, somehow, onto the Drift Wing knew. The one who had, momentarily at least, some clarity of vision, when the red haze of violence had cleared. He could almost…see.
He wondered if he’d ever see anything that clearly again.
He recovered. Slowly, he felt the radiation receding from his system, drawn into the isotopic blankets they lay over him, the fluids they changed. It was complicated and tedious and involved, a visible testament of Turmoil’s investment, that he would authorize this much. For Deadlock. For whatever he thought Deadlock was.
“Your quarters,” Turmoil said, standing officiously by the door, self-satisfied, as though he’d always known this would happen.
Deadlock pushed past him, trying his best to ignore the cool waft of Turmoil’s EM against his side. Turmoil followed him into the room, pausing by the doorway.
“What do you want, Turmoil?” Weary challenge in Deadlock’s voice.
“Merely taking you in,” Turmoil said, his voice going to a husky purr. “The sword and all.”
Deadlock whirled, just to keep his body between Turmoil and the Great Sword, as though Turmoil could snatch it away. He realized, too late, that that fear was a testament to what power Turmoil had gained over him
Let him try.
Turmoil laughed. “Well,” he said, spreading his hands, “you wanted that sword to kill me, yes? Here’s your chance.”
Deadlock’s hand flew to the hilt, tempted, but waiting. This was…not how it was supposed to be. “No,” he said. Still too weak. The Sword would kill him, and maybe he’d miss. Maybe he’d die for nothing, in a useless swipe that only dismembered Turmoil, but left him alive. He had to wait. Until he was sure he could survive it. Just…that long. He had no dreams of living beyond that. Just…end this.
“No?” Turmoil sounded amused. “The weapon but not the will, now?”
“I pick when. I pick where,” Deadlock snapped. “Not you.” Yes. No will. No point. Better use the sword against myself. Perceptor’s dead. I’m…beyond dead.
He had no idea why he didn’t. Revenge or suicide…both the same thing. But here he was, once again, rebuilt and clinging onto life for its own pathetic sake, as he’d done, as he’d always done, even in the gutters. He’d seen mechs who had chosen death, and felt a nothing but a hot stir of contempt for their weakness. No. he would not be weak. Not…that weak.
Turmoil shook his head. “Grasping after control,” he tsked.
And Deadlock was, and he knew it. Because without even that illusory control, rote resistance, he’d spin away into nothing. He thrust his hands on his hips, fingers curling over the edges of his scabbards. “You think I’ll fight for you again, you’re…,” he tossed his head in derision.
“And after all the fighting I’ve done to get you back, that’s a little…ungrateful,” Turmoil said, placidly. “But I entirely understand. You need some time to grieve your Autobot friend.” He moved, as if he’d thought about touching Deadlock’s shoulder, then thought better of it, his hand falling back to his side. “Should you need anything,” he said, over his shoulder, turning his back to Deadlock, “contact me.”
And with a silent movement, Deadlock was left alone with his thoughts.
Where he least wanted to be.
Perceptor sat stiffly across from Turmoil, the Decepticon commander obviously at his ease. Around them the repair equipment beeped quietly, the small closet-sized room halfway between a cell and a rest bed. “You understand,” Turmoil was saying, and for a moment Perceptor had a hard time matching this voice, this demeanor, to the mech who had so brutally tortured him on his capture. Perceptor let his optics drop to Turmoil’s hands, forcing himself to remember. Those hands. So much pain. Careful, surgically precise in their infliction of agony. “Repairs at that level are costly. We do expect some…return on our investment.”
“Investment,” Perceptor echoed.
Turmoil reached over, tapping the energon ration in front of Perceptor, significantly. “Or,” he said, as a mild threat, “you can refuse to refuel, and we will simply…force you.”
Perceptor’s hands moved slowly to the ration, hated that he was obeying, but knowing full well that Turmoil did not speak idly. He tried to convince himself that he needed to fuel, to stay strong, to keep his cortex functioning. Until he could find a way out. Or…better…, “I can work on Drift.”
Turmoil laughed. It was a strangely genuine sound. “Persistence,” he chuckled. “But again, I am forced to refuse your generous offer.” He tapped the autoinjector of his own ration, slowing the feed. “Counteroffer: you work on some other project of mine. In a…scientific capacity.”
Turmoil laughed again. “You’re…new at negotiations, aren’t you?”
“I will not work on your weapons.” Perceptor hid the sigh as the energon hit his systems, autorepair soothing itself on. It felt like a betrayal, or contamination at the least, to take the enemy’s fuel in his company, even though he told himself it was merely to find some strength, to find a way to get to Drift. He had a purpose, now, for the first time since his capture. A real purpose, that burned in him like a star in the darkness. He would find a way to see Drift.
“Did I say weapons?” Turmoil tilted his helm. “It would be, at the very least, unwise to let an Autobot near my ordnance.”
“I want to see Drift.”
Turmoil stood up. “I think, perhaps, you forget that you’re a prisoner.” His palms slapped flat on the table, looming over Perceptor, silent, dangerous. “Do you need a reminder?” His hands curled, gouging into the table, crumpling the metal. “I can,” he said, his voice dangerously soft, “extract some…entertainment value from you, at least.”
Perceptor leveled his optics into the orange gaze. “I have nothing to lose,” he said, clearly, flatly. “And nothing else to offer.”
Chapter 18: Do Not a Prison Make
bad things happen. some more
“Are you going to let me out of here?” Deadlock’s voice sounded…almost normal. Almost, that was, like Deadlock. And Turmoil heard it, too, the similarity. As Turmoil had suspected, free from the influence of the Autobot, Deadlock was returning to his old ways. For good and ill.
“You’re not a prisoner, Deadlock,” Turmoil said. “Beyond, of course, whatever mental prison you’ve created.”
More philosophy. More words. Deadlock had never been good with them, even when he thought he knew what he was; even before he questioned everything.
“Then why’s the door locked?”
“It’s not. You simply have to put in your authorization code.”
“Tried that,” Deadlock snapped, hating what that had cost him—as if donning part of an old uniform again. It felt like signing on with the Decepticons.
“Ah.” A pause, Turmoil doubtless calculating his approach. “I suspect,” he said, “you might have utilized the wrong rank code.”
Deadlock went rigid. “And what is my ‘right’ rank code?” His voice was flat, dangerous.
“Well,” Turmoil’s conversational tone was all too comfortable: Deadlock had stepped right into one of his snares. Again. “Clearly, you’re not my Second anymore.” Another pause. “Or are you?”
Perceptor knew it was his suffering Turmoil wanted. Not him. He, his frame, was irrelevant save as a vessel to get Turmoil what he wanted.
And Perceptor wondered how long it had been that way. Possibly from the very instant in the dockyard. Everything, always, giving Turmoil exactly what he wanted. Playing into a game where he didn't even know the rules.
But this time, he had no choice in the matter. This time, such knowing, such speculations, just made things…worse.
Turmoil had him pinned, one broad knee against his backframe, resting his weight over Perceptor’s center of gravity. And Turmoil might move lightly, but he was, in the end, massive, heavy, powerful.
And Perceptor…was not. For all the fact that he stood taller than Drift, he’d never upgraded the power of his servos. Just their stability, their steadiness. He was not a powerful mech, in terms of brute strength. Nor did he have Drift’s caginess about groundfighting. He thrashed, possibly piteously.
Turmoil snatched his hand from mid-swing, hand clamping over the wrist like a barrier of solid iron. Images of Drift’s destroyed hand—what Perceptor had seen, mingling with what Drift had told him—flashed over Perceptor’s processor. He flinched, visibly, as two fingers pinched one of his own.
“I could,” Turmoil murmured, his voice dark with suggestion. “A scientist needs his hands, but….” He waggled the finger back and forth in its joint, testing, taunting, showing his power. Perceptor sucked in a vent, determined to hold himself back. Not to scream, at least. Had Drift screamed?
Turmoil laughed, releasing the hand. “Later. Maybe.” His hand swept down Perceptor’s side, hard at first, but then shifting to gentle, almost delicate brushes. Perceptor writhed under the touch, hateful, unwanted. “Better,” Turmoil said. He leaned lower—the weight changing on Perceptor’s backstrut, a shadow falling over his face. “You bleed fear,” he said, as though this were somehow…erotic. Desirable.
Perceptor tried to clamp down on his emotions. His face was immobile, he knew this. He knew this. So then, what was Turmoil sensing? What could he shut down?
Turmoil lifted his shoulder—his powerful arms lifting Perceptor’s weight easily—snaking a hand in for his interface hatch. No.
Perceptor thrashed, but everything was against him—momentum, angle, mass, leverage, basic strength. His heels thudded uselessly against Turmoil’s kneeling frame, spine bucking and twisting as much as it could, pinned by Turmoil’s knee. Turmoil laughed, snapping the hatch open, prodding one finger into Perceptor’s access port. Perceptor hissed in pain at the blunt contact, freezing, half-arched off the ground.
You can endure this, he told himself. You can endure this. It’s merely pain.
A shifting weight above him, and the sharp shock of a module, driven home into his port, and the sudden, syncopated throb of a datastream against him. Resonance began building, first shaking over his net, but building, quickly, to a sort of rippling agony. Pain. Just pain. Turmoil above him, reveling in the pain, controlling his datastream, slower, slower, lighter, then letting it slip, forging cross-ripples of electric pain across Perceptor’s net, his own module unconnected.
Turmoil lifted his knee, the relief of weight so great that for a moment Perceptor couldn’t process that he could move, wracked by dataflow, pinned by pain. Perceptor rolled, resisting the urge to curl into a ball, like a system cysting around an infection. He swung at Turmoil, leering above him, backhand landing on the broad shoulder panel. Turmoil laughed, slamming the arm down onto the decking, holding it with one thumb like an iron bar.
“More,” Turmoil said. His datastream hitched against Perceptor’s system, demanding, insistent, a tattoo of control. “Fight more.”
Perceptor kicked one leg, curling the other up to wedge it between Turmoil’s belly and his own, trying to use the entire actuator force, every joule of power in the pistons, to shove the Decepticon off him.
“Yes!” Turmoil’s optics blazed, his free hand riding a hard line down Perceptor’s frame. His vents blasted heat against Perceptor in a sudden wash of ions.
And it hit him—Turmoil wanted him to fight back. Needed the fight, the resistance.
The exhilaration of discovery was short-lived, when Perceptor realized, also, that that left him two choices—resist or submit. And either way…gave Turmoil what he wanted.
He gave a cry more of despair than pain, a suffering so deep it could not find its way to a name, that made pain seem like a shallow thing, a spark-deep, core-cutting agony.
Chapter 19: Battlefield
still on a downward slope
Deadlock sat, numb, as the others eyed him. This will be over soon, he thought, the dark looks, the judging sneers. This would pass. And better it pass while he couldn’t feel a thing. He had a vague…rustle of something like hope that he’d stay this numb forever, but he was learning better than to trust anything. He wanted to die: his body had wanted to live; he wanted to change: fate had brought him right back here, sitting around the command table at Turmoil’s right hand.
He kept thinking of Perceptor—the sniper’s words seeming to echo from the depths of Deadlock’s hollowness, his cool vulnerable optics seeming to stare into Deadlock’s emptiness. Dead. It seemed impossible. Another mech who believed in you, Deadlock, and paid for that belief with his life.
His fault. He was a fool to have believed. Gave him enough warning. Gave him enough signs.
The punishment for foolhardiness shouldn’t be death. And I tried to save him. I tried.
See what your ‘trying’ accomplishes?
What to do? What to do when your body insists on living, your cortex insists on functioning? He wanted to lie in that room—though not even that really, his old quarters laden with memories to the point of scenting the air—he wanted to lie still, external feeds cut off. He wanted to throw himself in the acid pain of his loss. He wanted to mourn: Wing, Gasket, Perceptor, himself.
But his body had demanded fuel, and after a while, the weakness outweighed the pain of the hunger, and the distraction of the gnawing emptiness in his tanks had ceased to distract his cortex from the list of everything he’d done. Betrayer. Traitor. Coward. There weren’t even words to describe what he was, no string of syllables strong enough to hold his self-loathing. And that road had somehow led…here. Nowhere and everywhere.
“And Deadlock,” Turmoil said, the orange line of his optics warming on the white frame, “will cover the initial battle plan. Which,” he added, with bright amusement, “he will be monitoring from here. So, best behave, mechs.”
Deadlock let his optics shutter for a long moment, hoping the moment would crest and pass.
The box dropped with a ringing rattle at Perceptor’s feet. He looked up, dully.
Turmoil gave a nod down at him. “Go on,” he said, “I brought you…a compromise.”
Perceptor hesitated, but his curiosity won. That and the awareness that had been growing for cycles now, like some fast-replicating virus, that if he were to trap himself in his head, do nothing he would surely go insane. He needed to do…something. His problem, his failing, in the cell was that he had done so very little. Talk. All he’d done was talk. Useless.
He pulled the box over: it was filled with broken parts: damaged circuit boards, melted wires, cracked servos, a hundred little parts, all useless.
“You said you wouldn’t work on weapons. Surely, it’s not above you to repair mech components?”
He wanted to protest, to resist, to point out that these parts, repaired, might go into mechs that had killed, would kill, Autobots. But…Drift. It seemed like a metaphor, repairing from the microlevel. “I’ll need tools,” he said, aware that it was simply a dignified surrender.
“You’ll have everything you need,” Turmoil said, his deep voice hinting there was more meaning in there, as though simple declarative was beneath him.
“I need to see Drift,” Perceptor countered. There was a strength, he was discovering, from having seen the worst of one’s fate. When one’s back is against the wall, one has some leverage.
“That,” Turmoil gave an amused optic flicker, “can be arranged. If…you behave.”
Perceptor looked down at the box of parts, his will shredded between refusal and obedience. He couldn’t bring himself to answer in words—they always failed him.
He reached for the box. Turmoil laughed.
The battle raged on in front of Deadlock, in the small blips on the tactical screen. And inside him, as he watched the distant combat, watched red blips surge for and encircle blue blips, another battle. Did he know those mechs, the blue ones? Had he fought with them? For them?
They weren’t Wreckers, he consoled himself. Wreckers would have done a more creditable job on the battlefield. But still, the fight tore at him, as though it had grown thousands of claws in his processor, tearing its way through his last reserves of strength.
The doors to the command center whooshed open. Deadlock didn’t look: he knew who it was without needing to see the huge brown-grey bulk, the orange-red optics, glowing in the backlight.
“Miss it?” Turmoil stepped closer, optics flitting from the command display to Deadlock.
“No.” A lie. Whatever side he fought on, whatever badge he wore, he couldn’t deny that he lived for combat: life and death separated by a line thinner than a razor’s edge, where everyone was equal, no one special, no one safe. Combat was the ultimate democracy.
“You’re wasted up here,” Turmoil said.
I know. Deadlock said nothing, studying the display.
“Here,” Turmoil’s finger brushed the hologram, expanding a fragment of the battlefield. “What would you do?”
Deadlock studied the scenario, calling up the topography: the Autobots held the high ground, a sloped salient, firing down in a wide firefan. He knew what he’d do—charge the damn thing himself, knowing that they were spread thin, knowing that he’d have a good chance of making it to the top to take them all out. “Air support,” he said, dully.
He felt Turmoil’s optics on him. “Is it possible you’re learning?” Quiet mockery.
Turmoil gave a moue, leaning over, his void-cool EM field rasping over Deadlock’s. “I prefer it when you fight me, Deadlock.”
A laugh. “So this? This is your resistance?”
Deadlock raised his head, meeting Turmoil’s gaze. “Yes.”
Turmoil shook his head. “I expected better from you. These Autobots have weakened you, Deadlock.”
Chapter 20: Show of Force
ahahah wow I should update this huh?
Get to see Drift. It was becoming, Perceptor was acutely aware, something like a monomania. And he recognized it for what else it was—something to cling onto, to wrap himself around, some reason to endure. It would all be worth it, if he could see Drift.
And he realized that that was a lie. He wanted to do more than see him; Perceptor wanted to talk to him. And he knew how foolish that was—he’d tried his best to talk some consolation into Drift, and that had failed miserably. He knew his words couldn’t do any good. So he tried to console himself that he just wanted to…see. To know that Drift was all right.
And then, plan. They had to get out of here. There had to be a way. This place was killing them, more surely and more insidiously than the crystal drive radiation.
Perceptor stopped, his hands stilling on the circuit board he was welding. Just like the Axion, Mabaya seemed to have an bottomless box of damaged components and circuits and misaligned servos. Parts for refit or salvage.
Your priorities are wrong, Perceptor, he thought. Finding Drift and then making a plan: you’ve tried that before, with decidedly poor results. Repeating the experience will only lead to a repetition of results. Have you forgotten that basic tenet of science?
Plan first. Then find Drift. Prove you’re not helpless or weak. Do what you came to do in the first place: rescue him.
Perceptor looked at the pile of junk parts, and up at the mech bent over the worktable next to him. Buried in his own work, he hadn’t seemed to notice Perceptor’s pause. Perceptor dropped his gaze back to the board he was working on. Something could be done with these parts. Nothing big: there was no sheet metal for armor, plating. But…something could be done. He felt something stir in him, something that didn’t dare to call itself hope, as his cortex stirred back into life. You’ve been a scientist, Perceptor. You don’t lose all of that.
He reached down, pressing to open a storage compartment.
A shadow fell over him. He steeled himself, looking up, coolly.
A mech looked down at him over a pistol’s barrel. “Come on.” He sounded impatient, the red optics glaring and hostile.
“Why?” Perceptor pressed the compartment closed again, keeping his gaze level and steady.
The mech smirked: contempt, disdain. “Something about seeing Deadlock.”
Perceptor’s spark pulsed, hard enough to hurt. Drift! He wasn’t ready. He didn’t have a plan. But. “Yes,” he said, standing up. Turmoil hadn’t lied. For some reason, that felt more unsettling than anything.
Turmoil had not lied, but Drift had been right, warning Perceptor not to trust him. Perceptor could see Drift. Just not hear, just not touch. Just not anything that might provide comfort beyond the fact that Drift was alive. And Drift could not see him.
A thick sheet of one-sided barrier separated them. An interrogation chamber. Drift, sitting, looking achingly as Perceptor remembered—the hand had been replaced, the Great Sword reared over his head as he paced the room. Only the optics were wrong—Decepticon red. And the mouth—twisted into a flat hostile sneer, as if it had never smiled. Deadlock’s face, brimming with self-loathing.
“Drift,” Perceptor breathed, one palm flat against the barrier between them. So much between them.
This was cruel, but crueler was yet to come: the door opened. Turmoil’s too familiar bulk blotted the light from the corridor. Drift turned, and Perceptor caught the flash of the gem in the Great Sword’s hilt. Perceptor braced for violence, for Turmoil to swing, for another round of the torture he knew all too well, all too intimately.
He was wrong. Drift tilted his head up, snapping something—Perceptor could tell by the way his optics flashed. Turmoil gave one of his slow headtilts, amused, before reaching one hand for Drift’s forearm, his massy dark hand closing over the arm. Drift didn’t resist, letting himself be pulled to the berth.
Perceptor watched in a stiff, frigid horror as Turmoil pushed a compliant Drift onto the flat surface, his hands roaming over the white frame. The large palms roamed possessively up the white planes of Drift’s hip scabbards, Drift shuddering into the touch. His own hands raked down Turmoil’s armor, gouging into small breaks in the armor, prying at the seams.
It was…obscene. It was horrifying. And Perceptor couldn’t look away.
He’d told me. He’d told me he was gone, told me he was lost but this…but this.
He’d never thought of this. Even when Turmoil had thrown the idea in his face, he’d refused to imagine it, refused to picture it as anything remotely involving consent. Anything remotely like Drift, his mouth biting into Turmoil’s throat, leg twining around Turmoil’s. his interface hatch open, cables tumbling out over his frame.
Perceptor watched, horrified, helpless, frozen, as the two connected, watched the soundless spectacle of their bodies thrumming to the same tempo, Drift’s body arching and writhing under Turmoil’s datastream, under his groping hands.
Drift was…so beautiful, even now, with red optics blaring from his sockets, his body twisting sinuously, erotically. Perceptor hated the high hot arousal that sang through his net watching the white mech’s wanton display.
No. This isn’t Drift. It can’t be. You were wrong, perhaps all along. Perceptor’s hands tightened, one gouging into the other wrist, deep enough to hurt, deep enough to compress the power core line, a dull starved ache building in his hand, as a sort of counterpoint to the sharp pain of a piston warping under the pressure.
It wasn’t enough. He could still feel.
The bodies bucked, abruptly, locking rigidly into the overload’s fadeout, Turmoil’s head turning, optics glinting with that mix of amusement and malice, as if he could see right through the mirror barrier, right into Perceptor’s agonized face.
Perceptor felt ill, his hands clutching against the barrier between them. He thought of his feeble plan with disgust. What did he think he could put together—what did he possibly think he could assemble from scraps and junk—that could fix…this?
Chapter 21: Meeting of Shadows
Perceptor had slumped in that black room until they came for him. He’d hoped for a guard, hoped for an anonymous no one. Which meant he got…Turmoil. “Deadlock looks well, don’t you think?” Turmoil had purred conversationally, his optics glowing, sated, behind the visor.
“You told me he was damaged. From the radiation.” A flare of righteous outrage. He had been lied to. He threw the lie in Turmoil’s face.
“He got better. We spared no effort for a mech as valuable as Deadlock.” A hint of a smirk in the voice.
Perceptor wilted back against the wall. “What have you done to him?” His voice was soft, halfway between an accusation and a question.
“Done? Nothing. Merely reminded him who he is.” The uncanny flash of movement—the dark, heavy shape dropping to one knee in front of Perceptor.
“Why did you show me this?” if he were not so…in pain, not so broken, he would never have been so weak as to ask the question aloud, give Turmoil the satisfaction of his humiliation.
“He’s not dead,” Turmoil said, calmly, “But as far as you’re concerned, he’s gone.”
Perceptor nodded. Yes.
Numb routine. Perceptor’s body refused to die, though he wanted to. He wanted to. There was simply…nothing to live for. Thoughts of escape? Futile. Even, imagining (which was an act of imagination far too vast for his current abilities) he could manage, singlehandedly, to escape from the bowels of the ship, gain his freedom…what was the point? The Autobots didn’t need him. He was worthless, at worst, at best, he had run off, broken their trust, and they’d have no reason nor will to want to take him back.
He hated that the only solace he had was burying himself in those never-ending boxes of parts. Fixing, repairing—it was no longer a hopeful metaphor. Now, it was just something that kept his hands busy, some part of his cortex off of himself.
He reached in, blindly, for the next part. His hands patted over the flat surface for a handful of kliks before it struck him: the box was empty. He looked over at the neat stacks he had made—flat racks of motherboards, servomotors arranged by size and power rating, capacitors ranged by voltage. Neat, orderly. If only anything else in his world was.
He sighed. He’d been here long enough that they no longer noticed him, really, idly guarding him, knowing he was ‘tame’, non-defiant. Knowing he didn’t need more than a cursory eye. A disgrace as a Wrecker. Perceptor flung the accusation at himself, almost enjoying the bitter slash of pain.
Perceptor stood up, taking the empty box. Another. He’d get another from their medbay. There was always another, sometimes the parts so new and fresh that they still reeked of char, still sticky with energon and coolant fluids.
The ‘guard’ nodded at the door. You’re no threat, Perceptor. Without a gun, you’re nothing but a machine to repair small parts. He realized that should have stung, and it was even a further sign of his degradation that…it didn’t.
Perceptor stepped into the corridor, turning up toward the repair bay, box in hand. He heard voices, and turned, ducking into a small alcove behind a set of emergency blast doors. He was still an Autobot, his insignia fresh and bright on his chestplate. And Turmoil’s ‘protection’? Probably as trustworthy as the Decepticon commander himself.
“What I want to know is,” one voice said, “Does it bother you to be killing your former Autobot buddies?”
A snort. “Right. You think it bothered him to be killing us when he was one of them?”
Perceptor stiffened, clutching the box in front of him. They could only be talking about, talking to, one mech.
Drift’s voice, but flat, harsh, the way he spoke the few times he’d gotten truly, truly angry. “Did it bother me to shoot Clutch in the head?”
A flash of white. Perceptor restrained himself from looking. Oh, Drift. He tilted his head back, optics shuttering, as if trying to shut out the evidence of how far Drift had fallen. Or, if Turmoil told it correctly, who Drift was really revealed to be.
A bitter laugh. “Yeah, kind of ironic, don’t you think? You shooting someone for disloyalty?”
The other mech chimed in. “You flip sides so many times, Deadlock, I’ve lost count.”
A dangerous, feral growl. That, Perceptor knew. The familiarity was spark-wrenching.
“Don’t know why Turmoil wants you back.” The voice was brittle with disdain.
A tense silence. Then, Drift’s voice. “He wants me because I’m good at killing.”
The first mech laughed. “Just…don’t really care who you kill, do you?”
“No. I don’t.” Open threat in the words. Tension sang through the air. Perceptor could picture it, the low crouch Drift would take, one hand on the hilt of one sword, optics wide and wary. The silence built, crested, and then erupted into a dark sound.
“Whatever.” Footsteps, walking away.
Perceptor pushed himself from the wall. The guard would be waiting, wondering where he was. And he desperately didn’t want to play and replay the scene over in his cortex. He stepped around the flat plane of the bulkhead…
…and came face to face with Drift.
They stood, frozen. Staring at each other, optics wide with something like fear, standing, broken, bare before each other. Drift’s hand was still on his sword—just as Perceptor had imagined and the fact that he had pictured it so clearly in his mind made it all the more poignant—the arm over his chassis twitching, as though blocking his spark. Perceptor found himself clutching the empty box between them like a barrier or shield, something hard and hollow, some talisman against his own weak emptiness.
“Drift,” Perceptor said, the word falling, unbidden, unwanted, from his vocalizer.
“No,” Deadlock said, but there was something moving, an injured serpent thrashing behind the red burn of his optics as he turned away, staring through Perceptor like a ghost.
Perceptor lingered for a moment, staring at the white and black frame, so familiar, so strange, storming into the shadows of the corridor, as if being swallowed by Mabaya’s darkness.
Chapter 22: Vision
PG also I am so facepalming that I haven't posted the end of this. MEEP. /adds to list
Deadlock hunched around the Sword. His entire body was sore—as much as part of him rose to Turmoil’s touch, some vicious conflagration of lust—the rest of him hated that, hated himself for responding. He’d rationalized—as much as anyone could rationalize how and what stirs one’s core systems—that it was strategy: without friends, without allies, he had no choice but to forge some alliance, using his body as the anvil.
Even he didn’t wholly buy it.
And Perceptor. He’d been told Perceptor was dead. Dead. Then who the frag was that?
Perceptor. It was him. It had to be. And Turmoil had lied.
No, he hadn’t lied. Deadlock’s cortex trotted out the words. Turmoil had said they’d tried their best. He’d implied, omitted the truth. Let Deadlock guess. And Deadlock had guessed the worst.
The worst? Or what you wanted all along?
No. Vile thought. Deadlock’s entire body recoiled from it. But the truth… the truth would have changed everything.
Would it have?
And now you know, know Perceptor’s still alive and you? What are you? Turmoil’s doxy. Traitor twice over. Nothing.
So he curled, aching, raw and roiling with self-hatred and disgust, around the sword—the only straight, pure, sharp thing in his world. He’d never prayed before; always thought that was just so much…superstitious nonsense. Words to invisible abstractions hadn’t helped down in the gutters, echoing unheard from the filth smeared walls. Prayer was useless: something the weak did to hand off control to someone else, make a virtue of their helplessness.
Well. He was weak, then, and he’d give anything to hand control off to anyone. Anyone but Turmoil. Turmoil had taken enough of him. And he, pathetically, was lying here, trying to make a virtue out of recognizing his weakness, trying to quell it before it destroyed everything.
Destroyed what? You’re already gone. Drift has to be dead. There’s no future. Drift never had a future. Future was for Deadlock.
No. Even then, the future was something Deadlock chased, pursued with headlong abandon, shooting through anything that obstructed his view. As though if everything were down and dead, he could finally see. If he filled enough gutters with blood, enough sparks with the pain of loss, he might float free of his own.
And now, no future. Perhaps Drift more than ever: drifting, floating, aimless.
Deadlock snarled, throwing his frame to the other side of the berth. Stupid. This is what comes of thinking. This is what all this…self reflection will do. Tie you up in knots, wrap you up so tight you can’t even move.
Wing! He begged the name, not even capable of thinking what else to add. Just…Wing. As though the white jet could solve everything by his mere presence. Yeah, you’ve…made a deity out of him, haven’t you, Drift. He’s not. He’s just a mech who had everything you wanted, who showed you it was possible. He’s just the only mech who ever saw anything good in you. And you got him killed for that.
Deadlock cried out, a raw sound of pain, a wound that he felt would never heal.
Wing wasn’t a god, but he was better than Deadlock had ever been, and he was the only glowing thing in the entire expanse of Deadlock’s memories. He clung to those memories, summoning the feel of Wing—his warm smile, his quick passion, his openness—even though he feared his filthy fingers would stain those.
“Wing,” he whispered, helpless. The Sword felt cold under his hands. Rigid. Giving nothing. No comfort for you, Deadlock. You don’t deserve any. Never have. Perceptor dead, because of you. Wing dead, because of you. A restless night? Far, far less than you deserve.
He slipped into an aching, uncomfortable recharge.
Drift. A flare of white light, like lightning, but softer somehow.
Deadlock. Drift’s dead.
You are always Drift; have always been Drift.
He’s gone. Wasn’t a survivor. Weak.
And calling yourself by the name another gave you makes you…less weak?
Deadlock subsided before the voice. It was too much like Wing. It was…uncanny. And even as he stung at the words, part of him surged forward. Wing. Only Wing could tangle him so thoroughly in his own ideas, show him plainly, elegantly, the error of his thoughts.
He ran out of words to say. Don’t know what to do.
Survive, Drift. As you always have.
I want to be better than I was back then.
A ripple of something like laughter. That’s your mistake, Drift. Because you’ve always been just as you are. Intense, idealistic, pure.
And Deadlock felt a surge of something young and raw over his spark. He wanted to argue, and at the same time he didn’t want to argue, wanted to believe those words were true.
Please don’t leave me. And he felt every shredded scrap of weakness in his voice, in his whole frame, yearning toward something he could never have. Intense, yes. And he knew his weakness in this darkness and stood, trembling, by it, knowing Wing—if it were Wing—would be the last to judge. Fearful, even so.
And he felt the warm rush of sunlight, air and wings. Don’t leave yourself, Drift.
Chapter 23: Bottoming out
Nothing left. Perceptor had nothing left. Drift was gone: hopelessly, irredeemably. He’d seen the red optics and this time, there had been nothing left: flat and dead and empty, as though the light didn’t go all the way down to the filaments.
And he? He was lost. At the end. Another kind of nothing left. He felt empty, hollow, scraped out and raw. And he’d thought, for cycles, as he hunched mechanically over a pile of broken parts, hands finding some comfort in the tedium. And for a long time despair had beckoned him with its long fingers. There seemed no point. He couldn’t escape. They’d never let him leave. It was only a matter of time before Turmoil remembered he existed and he’d serve his part—all unwilling—in another of Turmoil’s violent schemes.
Live, and be used against Drift. Or die and kill all hope. Something had made Drift run away. There was something there that felt how far he was falling, that couldn’t bear to be seen. Something that might be brought to hope.
But what else was there?
The word came to him as though it had crawled down the walls, a sinister lizard, unblinking, intense, alien.
It seemed to slither before him, in the periphery of his vision.
He looked up, and it seemed to him that the room around him burned, shimmering with hot tongues of flames. He could almost feel the heat, like a wall slamming against him, heating his armor, penetrating to the coldness of his desolated spark.
Perceptor looked down, missing his targeting reticle for the first time, staring at the timer component in his repair tray, hands stilled over its repairs. A broken timer. It seemed like a symbol, but also, a possibility.
He looked around the small workshop, as if seeing it for the first time. Yes.
“Deadlock.” Deadlock groaned, in some pain beyond physical. He felt a weight of an arm over his chassis, pinning him to the present, to reality. He had a sudden distressing thought: this was what flyers felt when grounded—the dream of flight cut short.
“Turmoil,” he muttered, feeling the familiar cool weight of the commander’s EM field. Bad enough Turmoil stalked his waking states. Now…his recharge.
It made sense: it was Turmoil’s way. Slow erosion rather than all-out decisive battle. It was exhausting, had always been exhausting, even in the battlefield. And Deadlock felt that he was finally, finally succumbing. Not because Turmoil was wearing him down as much as…he had nothing left. The ideals that had kept him going—though blinded, twisted, corrupted—lay shattered around him. He could not fight alone. The echo of the dream, Wing’s dream, the jet’s gentle touches, soft, accepting words seemed to sour as it faded.
“Tell me about the sword, Deadlock.” The hand sleeked down his hip, possessive. Not lustful, merely reminding Deadlock of his place: as a thing to be used.
“A sword.” Deadlock tried a noncommittal shrug.
“Not a…common weapon, Deadlock. Nor,” Turmoil’s hand moved, tweaking an attachment point, “a very useful one.”
Deadlock flinched from the hard pinch. “No,” he agreed. It was useless. It could kill him if he used it. It was a useless weight, a memento of a mech he no longer was, didn’t deserve to even want to pretend to be.
“I hadn’t figured you for sentimentality,” Turmoil said. He pulled back on the shoulder, pushing Deadlock’s back flat on the berth, his visor warm and orange, oozing false sympathy.
“Lot you don’t know about me,” Deadlock muttered, some awful fusion of his former recalcitrance and the mech he’d wanted to become.
“Of course,” Turmoil purred. “And I am looking forward to…reacquaintance.”
Deadlock shuddered at the thought, hating how his pelvic frame surged up against Turmoil’s roving hand, his body betraying itself to some self-punishing need, as if hoping Turmoil would finish him off, end him, their rough joining culminating in eradication. As if overload was only too ephemeral a taste of the nothingness he wanted to embrace forever.
The hand stilled over his interface hatch. “Why won’t you fight me, Deadlock?” A question, more honest than Turmoil’s usual. As though his very acquiescence were getting to the larger mech, penetrating where all his resistance had failed.
Deadlock shrugged. “Maybe you win.” Perceptor had seen him, seen how…empty he was. And he had fled from his own failure. He’d stupidly trusted Turmoil. Knowing better. He barely had energy to be angry at the tank, after all the anger that he thrust at himself. Stupid, Deadlock. Know better. You of all mechs.
Turmoil loomed over him, his dark mass blotting out the light, like an omen. “You’re no good to me broken, Deadlock,” he said, half gentle, half in threat.
“It’s what you wanted,” Deadlock muttered, tiredly. Exhausted, already, an only moments out of recharge. “No more insubordination.” It was all the attack he could muster—throwing in Turmoil’s face that he was giving him what the larger mech had always claimed to have wanted from him, and Turmoil still, somehow, finding it unsatisfactory.
“Not…yet,” Turmoil said. He pushed away, sitting up from the berth, a rush of cool air where his systems had pressed against Deadlock. “You bore me.”
Deadlock felt a bitter ember flare at the words, as though Turmoil’s worst insult were the first, thin notes of hope.
Chapter 24: Hiding and Hesitation
Deadlock knelt on the floor of his quarters, the whetstone’s rhythm filling his attention—the sound of it, the feel of the smooth rasp against metal, the slow revealing of the silver edge, the smell of sparks and shavings. It was the only thing that soothed him, now, and touching the blade was like touching Wing, touching that memory, that phantasm of a dream.
That’s all it had been. A hopeful dream. Wing was dead. You saw him. Wing was gone and you’re gone. If he were here he’d turn his back on you in disgust, wish he’d never known you.
I wish I’d never known him.
No. Wing was…the touchstone of everything.
He ruined everything. I knew who I was, what I wanted, before him.
Another schuss down the blade, echoed by a sigh from Deadlock’s vents. If I was so weak that one mech could topple that….
Disarrange. And Turmoil knows you. Turmoil’s putting you back together. Reminding you who you are.
In his image. In what he wants me to be.
The whetstone stilled in his hand, his systems roiling with emotion. He wanted to do. He wasn’t a thinker, a philosopher. He wasn’t made for this.
You weren’t made for anything. Useless. Scrap. Surplus. Every part—or just about—salvaged or stolen. That’s who ‘Drift’ is. Patchwork, mosaic. Lumps and chunk of others pretending to be whole. That’s what you are. That’s who you are.
‘Don’t leave yourself’. The…hallucination’s last words floated back to him, thin, gauzy, insubstantial and yet unbroken. Don’t leave yourself. Wing had believed in Drift. In one Drift, at least, one fragment in all that twisted mass. And that fragment had been beautiful and strong, and sustained him.
So he’d thought. So he’d hoped.
His other hand tightened on the blade, strong enough that he felt the edge bite into the metal of his fingers. Weak. Always had been. He’d just hidden it so well.
The door behind him opened. He forced himself not to move, not to shift.
“Busy?” Turmoil’s voice floating over him, catching at him like a net.
“No.” Not a lie. Not the truth. He couldn’t even narrow down to one, there, either.
“Ah,” Turmoil said, stepping closer, letting his shadow fall over Deadlock’s white shoulder. “Your sword.”
“Yes.” The less said, the better. He could try to coalesce around monosyllables.
“It comforts you.”
Deadlock forced the tremor from his shoulders. Too close. Physically, emotionally. Turmoil was always too close. “Metal,” he murmured. “Just dumb metal.” If only it could comfort him. If only.
Turmoil hung over him for another long moment, enough that his wry doubt filtered down through the air. “Come with me,” Turmoil said, abruptly. Deadlock frowned at the tone. Like a possession, he thought, like he owns me.
“Does it matter?” A hint of amusement.
Deadlock’s optics shuttered closed for a moment, trying to block out reality. “No.” He rolled to his feet, hands placing the sword in its brackets with long practiced ease. He felt, as much as saw, Turmoil take in the gesture, a sign of difference, distance, change between them. He stood, numbly, a glower kindling in his optics. Resentment at Turmoil for calling attention to his hollowness; resentment at himself for being so hollow.
“You won’t need that where we’re going,” Turmoil tipped his chin at the Great Sword, cresting over Deadlock’s helm.
Deadlock shrugged, his one resistance. His sword. Inert or not, silent or not, dumb metal or not, it was his. Turmoil had stripped away, already, so much. He would not let this go.
It wasn’t much, he consoled himself, as Turmoil quirked his helm, turning and gesturing Deadlock to follow him. It wasn’t much, but perhaps it was a start.
It had taken…decacycles, each klik an eternity too long. It seemed strange that time seemed to crawl, agonized, even more slowly after Perceptor had decided on a plan than when he had drifted aimlessly, just floating in a sea of worry about Drift.
Drift. His spark seemed to burn colder at the name, refusing to believe, despite the evidence.
No. Deadlock had turned away. If Drift, if every trace of Drift had been truly eradicated, Deadlock would have stood his ground, laughed, mocked me. He would not have turned, his face such a mask of stiff horror. Drift. I will…I will never call him Deadlock. I will never believe that.
But, he and Turmoil, writhing together like serpents, his body heaving and twisting with black ecstasy. Drift would not…could not…? But he had. Perceptor had seen it.
Turmoil had made sure.
Perceptor’s hands stilled on the detonator he was cobbling together. It had taken ages, it seemed, but his single-minded focus had numbed the guards, to where they found his want to spend every moment not in recharge working through boxes of damaged components, his optics shifted to microscopy repairing the infinitesimal integrated circuits, testing resistance, capacitance, everything as though electricity were a metaphor, almost amusing. Certainly non-threatening. Their tame little Autobot.
“Guess you don’t have much else to look forward to,” one had murmured, shifting another box of damaged parts onto his workbench. And Perceptor realized he’d meant it…as a kindness. And for a moment his spark had ached—that these mechs were all so damaged that even sympathy, even mercy and understanding, came out twisted, wrong, charred.
“No,” he’d agreed. And the moment of connection passed. He could not save everyone. He was likely not going to be able to save himself.
Acceptable losses. If it took out the Mabaya, if it took out Turmoil, no price was too high. If it ended…this.
Not true: Drift was too high a price, if Drift was alive.
Perceptor ground his optic shutters together. Doubt. In that slim word ‘if’. So much doubt. And scientists did not like doubt, uncertainty. He wanted surety, not speculation.
He looked up, the room almost gaping in silence. He had to know. What was one day more? Everything, nothing?
It didn’t matter. He had to know.
Chapter 25: Backslide
He didn’t recognize the Autobot. Then again, other than the Wreckers, he didn’t know many Autobots on sight. Well, and a few notable mechs who had made themselves notorious as troublemakers to the Decepticon databases. Like Sunstreaker. Ironhide. But this mech? Nobody. Nothing. Only the sleek polish Deadlock had seen all Autobots wear like a birthright—no fear for dwindling resources there. No making do with less. Not like here where mechs had to earn their grade of energon.
Deadlock could feel Turmoil’s optics studying him, ready to feed on his discomfort, dismay. He kept his face still, trying not to betray any emotion as the Decepticon commander moved to the mech, chained, optics blanked. The shock of the familiar slapped across him—he had been here, bound like this, head turning, helpless.
And he knew Turmoil knew this, had set up the echo to remind him of his place. Of where he had come from and where he stood. Begging the question: which side of the line is preferable, Deadlock? Is it better, at least, to see the blows coming?
Turmoil sidled up to the mech. The movement was silent, Turmoil’s ghostly glide, stepping around the mech, letting one finger trace a line from one shoulder, around the chassis, as though he were drawing a guideline for a saw. The Autobot jumped, at first contact, his blinded optics turning, trying to track Turmoil by that one languid finger. Turmoil’s gaze flicked to Deadlock, checking the effect, probably, as he stepped behind the Autobot. See, Deadlock? Remember this?
Deadlock felt his tanks revolt, wanting to make some sound, to scream or howl or warn or…something. But he kept himself still, silent, raging inside, like a storm tearing at his systems, watching, transfixed, torn.
Turmoil dipped his head down beside the mech’s audio. “How should I kill you, Autobot?” he purred, his voice the sensual silk Deadlock remembered so well. The prisoner twitched, twisting in the bonds, trying to get away from the sudden voice. Deadlock could practically see the amusement roil off of Turmoil, like an aura, a heat shimmer.
“Let me go,” the prisoner said, the failing defiance even more pathetic than actual pleading would have been.
“That is not an answer to my question.” The tone still playful, but Deadlock could see the optics rake over the green frame, scouring for vulnerabilities. The hand struck out, grabbing a projection of armor at the elbow, twisting it in his grip, the metal squealing as he wrenched it. The mech arched up, screaming, cursing, before he sagged down, the bindings taking his weight, knee servos failing. “My default,” Turmoil continued, voice edged now, laying a hand, heavy and open, on a shoulder panel, just enough to threaten, “Is to tear you to pieces. Bit by bit.”
The mech heard, believed. It wasn’t a lie. Turmoil…didn’t lie.
“But,” Turmoil continued, his voice a susurrus whisper, “That would be boring.” He tilted his head, optics meeting Deadlock’s. “Don’t you think so, Drift?”
The name shocked him, even more than the betrayal. He’d half expected the one, at least. But after so long, that name seemed plastic to him. False, counterfeit. And obvious fraud.
Except to the Autobot, whose blind head whipped. “Drift? He’s here?”
A moment of silence, Turmoil weighing Deadlock’s agony of indecision. Was he Deadlock, or was he Drift? Could he claim the name, or lie his way through?
“I’m here,” he said, stunned that mere words didn’t shatter.
Another one. Another prisoner. Of course—he had been a fluke; Perceptor had been connected to him. Turmoil had a penchant for prisoners, always. Even the Black Star with its huge cells…Turmoil just enjoyed the idea of captivity. Mechs living or dying at his whim, as though their silent slow suffering was fuel for some sort of malign engine.
Until he wanted them for some other purpose. Like dragging Deadlock down into the gutter in which he belonged.
This one…remembered. For far too long. Remembered him as Drift, remembered him as Deadlock. His blue optics roved, following Deadlock from the moment he’d entered the room, trailing Turmoil, like some wind-eddied leaf. Hollow, empty.
“I’ll leave this to you,” Turmoil murmured, leaning up against the wall, arms folded over his chassis. Deadlock barely hesitated. He knew his job. He knew what was expected of him.
Wing isn’t here.
I know. Oh. I know. Wing was nowhere near here, his glowing, incandescent white would break this place, shatter it into a thousand dark shards.
“Drift,” the mech said, optics burning cold.
“Deadlock,” he corrected, circling the frame on which the Autobot was bound. He scanned, almost rote, for vulnerabilities, weaknesses.
“Always? Huh?” The head turned, following him. “Double agent. I always figured.”
“Figured nothing,” Deadlock retorted. Rote. Meaningless. The first hit, mere words, to distract the mech from following Deadlock’s hands. One of those hands lashed out, fingers finding a weakness behind the joint, jabbing, hard enough to crush the energon line.
Wing’s knowledge, Wing’s skill: to read an enemy, disable him instead of kill. In Wing’s world, that was a mercy.
But this was Deadlock’s world. And this was torture.
The Autobot cried out, a sound that melded into a pitiful wail. Deadlock paused waiting for the initial spike of pain to ebb, gaze hard on the other’s face. His other hand moved, prying up an armor plate at the wrist. His face twitched, a sort of twisted echo of the grimace of pain.
To his left, Turmoil shifted, letting his foot scrape on the floor. A reminder he was here, watching, judging.
As if Deadlock could forget.
A third strike, and Deadlock felt an old, familiar, mirthless laughter bubble up in his vocalizer as the mech tried to double over in pain.
“You’re not…,” the Autobot gasped, lifting his head. “…even asking any questions.”
“Don’t need to,” Deadlock sneered, giving into the darkness that was ruffling the edges of his vision, the calm, hot malice that had lifted him out of the gutters. “Already established you don’t know anything.”
Chapter 26: Nadir
Perceptor entered the code to the door. The guard had told him simply, ‘cleanup’ but his very tightmouthed reticence was more than a clue of what Perceptor would find behind the door. It may have seemed that Turmoil had forgotten about him, but Perceptor knew better by now: destroying him was Turmoil’s hobby, his recreation. It was the opposite of vanity that assured him that Turmoil did not, would not, forget.
The door opened to a tableau of a nightmare: energon, spattered on the walls, pooling purple and dark on the floor. Plates of armor, springs and cogs, bits of wire, littered the floor near the table, dented and torn and battered. And the smell. Burnt ozone, the acrid black smell of melted wire insulation, metal heated past melting point, the tang of fluids and something mustier underneath, as if pain and fear and despair had a smell that stung at the optics.
This, his cortex told him, cool, logical, this is what could have been your fate. This could have been your end. For there was no doubt that the mech—the bulk of the body dragged aside, thrown to recycling and salvage, was dead. And Perceptor found himself hoping, in spite of the evidence that crunched and stuck under his footplates, that it was a quick death.
He dropped his sorting bins on the floor and got to work. Perceptor found himself hoping he hadn’t known the mech, as he picked up the scraps, sorting through the sticky metal for parts that could be salvaged.
Whoever had done this hadn’t had an optic toward salvage, merely brutality. He frowned, sorting bits of wire, using his insulation stripper to peel off damaged coating, testing the copper’s conductivity before spooling it around a finger and dropping it in a bin for re-extruding, duckwalking awkwardly around the table, reaching for another part.
A dull clank of metal, a small piece falling on the worn grating of the decking. Perceptor twitched—he’d thought he’d be here alone, but that sound came from…the corner. A thousand malignant possibilities raced through his cortex. Until his optics cycled into the darker levels of lowlight and….
The white armor was stained, smeared with energon, blackened with scorchmarks. The red optics glowed dully in the light, half-lidded, one hand prying up a handplate, worrying at the metal, twisting it back and forth, waiting for it to snap. As though that was some cue.
Perceptor froze. ‘What have they done to him?’ was his first question, but no. The real question was ‘what had he done to himself?’ Perceptor edged closer, wary of the feral glint in the optics as Drift caught sight of him, hand freezing in its work.
“Get out.” Drift’s voice was a scalded echo of what Perceptor remembered.
“Job to do,” Perceptor countered. He took heart in the glimmer of recognition, the way the optics focused on his face: knowing him.
“No place on this ship is.”
Drift gave a vague nod, the white finials slicing arcs in the darkness. Agreeing—no safety on this ship, for either of them. “I did that,” he said, distantly, lifting his damaged hand, gesturing toward the sticky mess on the floor. A warning. A cry for help.
“Yes.” It sickened Perceptor to think of—less the brutality than what it had obviously taken out of Drift. But Drift did not need his disgust right now. Drift stared at him, long and hard, the hand returning to his lap, the other hand closing over it, ready to re-begin the work of tearing at it.
Perceptor moved forward, laying a hand over Drift’s. “Don’t,” he whispered, “please.”
The courtesy seemed to hurt—Drift flinched, optics flicking shut. But the hands stopped under Perceptor’s and the optics, when they reopened, looked desolate and lost.
Perceptor rocked forward, awkwardly, onto one knee, pulling his arms around Drift’s shoulders, tugging him off the wall, feeling the sluggish resistance, and then, abruptly, the break, the yielding, the white arms coming around him with the force of something like a trap. No, not a trap, but a desperate mech clinging onto hope. The stained white frame shuddered against him reeking of sweet char, and something more: fear, despair. The hands trembled over his back, as though aware of what they had done, what they had enjoyed doing.
“Don’t know who I am anymore,” the voice said, broken, pitiful, the helm bumped awkwardly against Perceptor’s, as though unwilling—or afraid—to face him.
“Drift,” Perceptor murmured, letting the vibration travel through their contacted metal. He stroked the back of the white helm. He moved closer, knees crunching on broken bits of metal, shards of glass. Not heeding, not caring. “You’re Drift.”
Deadlock still felt numb. But it was a different numbness than before. Now it felt warm, mobile, life returning in hot jabbing prickles where before it had been cold and heavy and dead. Perceptor had murmured against him, for cycles it seemed, like a fall of rain, steady and patient, falling and falling until it could penetrate the cold, hard ground. He’d repeated Drift’s name until Deadlock had responded, his voice almost a whimper. And then he had whispered plans, like a promise: the crystal drive, an explosive charge, escape. And Deadlock had felt something stir within him, some hot serpent of revenge writhe to life, sink its dark fangs into Perceptor’s words. And the idea—blowing the ship, detonating the Mabaya, Turmoil, this whole wretched nest of bad memories, burning it up…had glowed like a pole star to Deadlock.
“Yes,” he’d murmured. He would help. He would help destroy this ship, and Turmoil. Entirely, completely, no half measures. Not this time. Burn out the ship, destroy all the malice and evil. Raze the world.
He hadn’t told Perceptor that part, of course. Private, personal, a truth too deep to express. But Deadlock knew he was stained, damaged, ruined. He knew there was…no redemption, no recovery for him. Only in death could he hope for some measure of recompense, some amount of peace.
“You look…disturbed.” Turmoil’s voice, rumbling against his side. Deadlock lifted a hand, dropping it on his own crest.
“Have reason to be,” he muttered. Like Turmoil cared. Like Turmoil wanted him any other way.
“You do,” Turmoil admitted. “And how is Perceptor?”
Deadlock felt the too-familiar smirk splay on his mouthplates. “How do you think he is?”
Turmoil chuckled, letting one of his large hands trail down Deadlock’s side. “One hopes, miserable.”
Deadlock grunted. Yes. That would hardly be a lie to admit.
“And you, Deadlock? How are you?” The hand slid between Deadlock’s thighs, for the narrow gap in the armor. He shuddered, half-aroused, half-disturbed.
“Miserable,” he said, a bitter echo, turning his orange-red optics on the flat glare of the visor.
Turmoil laughed outright, and for a klik his bared throat was just…there, within reach, within range, as he threw his head back. And Deadlock…didn’t move. There, right there, a cable he could crush, a piston rod he could maul. And he lay there, hand limp on his brow, fingers barely even curling around the hatred in his palm, tangible as a stone.
And Turmoil pushed a knee between his thighs, his hand moving to the interface hatch tucked under the chassis, rumbling with contentment. “Good.”
Chapter 27: Seeds of Light
Perceptor squatted in the small impromptu cell, back to the door. For once he was glad of his broader shoulders, as he opened his storage compartment. Yes. The last bit he needed, the oscillator. All he needed now was to plant the device.
It was simple, almost crude, both the device and the plan. The crystal drives. Already probably still compromised from battle, their tuning soured, it would be a small matter to set the phased oscillator to blow the harmonics entirely, the devastated crystal obliterating everything. Death by sound.
It was almost fitting, Perceptor thought.
The only problem was, of course, how to get it there. He needed to get to the crystal drives. Somehow. Drift had promised he’d help, had nodded, tentatively, at the plan. It had been the only thing that had raised some depth beneath the coruscating red lenses. He had to have patience. Drift would remember.
If Drift didn’t betray him.
No. Vile thought. Abominable. Do you trust him, Perceptor?
With my life. I have even so by telling him. He could betray me, kill me at any time. I will have faith. I will believe in him.
It’s all I can do.
His hands closed over the oscillating detonator, fighting the helplessness, the want to do more. Not all the science in the world could help now. He merely needed patience. And faith. And hope.
Deadlock tapped in the orders, shooting one quick glance at Turmoil before he sent them. He knew Turmoil would look them over—Turmoil had granted him some roles, but he did not expect much trust to go along with them.
Right on cue. “The crystal drives.”
“Someone needs to clear the area. He seems expendable.” He could feel Turmoil’s gaze, like a curtain of lead, on him. Deadlock turned his head, the flat sneer fixed on his face. “Unless you have someone else in mind.”
“Other Autobot prisoners,” Turmoil countered. It was a test.
Deadlock shrugged. “Or one of them.” His mouth curled. “I just don’t know any of their names.” He could feel tension singing through his shoulders, the weight of the Great Sword like memory given mass, pulling him down, grounding him. He gritted his dentae, radiating, with force, that he didn’t care.
“He came to rescue you,” Turmoil said. “Don’t you think that’s a little…ungrateful?”
“He came to rescue Drift,” Deadlock said. “Not who I am anymore.”
Deadlock turned his head, optics locking with Turmoil’s, letting Deadlock’s familiar sneer paint itself over his face. “You killed him, remember?”
“And suddenly,” Turmoil said, leaning forward in his seat, visor flaring, “you’re not boring anymore.”
“We can’t have that,” Deadlock snarled. And it was Deadlock’s voice, and Deadlock’s mannerism, but underneath, Drift was clutching at the chance, hiding behind the heavy mask.
Another measuring look. “I was getting tired of him, anyway,” Turmoil said, handing back the datapad.
It seemed like an eternity, the dull cycle of shift and rest, an eternity drawn out by the scant rations they gave Perceptor, that dimmed his cortex, narrowing his focus in time so that sometimes, he was amazed at how long his shiftcycles were: he’d look up from a repair and find…only a scant few kliks had elapsed.
“Hey,” the guard said, abruptly, tapping the worktable with his gun. It wasn’t personal, wasn’t a threat, Perceptor had learned. Simply…how they had learned to communicate, these Decepticons. He had learned so much—too much to process all at once—of what it must have been like for Drift to serve here: casual violence at every turn, brutality and sarcasm, constant competition, undercutting, twisted motives.
And Perceptor realized he was hardly immune. How much had he changed, had this place changed him? Would he have thought so gleefully of revenge weeks ago? Would he have ever, even for a moment, contemplated abandoning Drift?
He tipped his head up, newly abashed, feeling a line of connection between himself and the guard. We are both what this place has made us. “Yes.”
The gun tipped its eye up. Perceptor felt no menace at all from it. Not that he trusted the guard, nor even that he was so sunk in apathy. It was…just how things were here, a result of the poison they all breathed. The poison that was Turmoil. “Another job for you.”
Perceptor nodded, rising slowly to his feet. He’d been increasingly careful, since he’d caught this plot, since he scraped enough desire to even want revenge, to appear as unassuming and unthreatening as possible. Helpless Perceptor. It was not a role he’d ever been proud of, but here, it was his protection. Protective camouflage, he thought, holding his empty hands wide. “Cleaning?”
“Kind of. Crystal drive.”
Perceptor was glad for the stiff mask his face had become, that hid so easily the fierce smile. Drift had come through. He nodded, letting the guard shepherd him to the corridor.
“Shielding nodes,” the guard said, his voice pitched low, as though almost afraid someone would overhear. “Buy you some time if you work fast.”
Perceptor stopped, turning to look at the mech as though seeing him for the first time. Mercy? No. He couldn’t call it that. But some almost base concern. He felt something like a pang: this mech, this feeble spark of light, would be destroyed when the ship blew.
How much light was worth fighting the darkness?
“I’ll remember that,” he said, quietly. “Thank you.”
Watching the mask slam down over the Decepticon’s face at the simple courtesy hurt, on almost a metaphysical level. Perceptor nodded, the detonator secure in his storage, as he moved obediently to follow.
Chapter 28: Gears in Motion
Turmoil ambled around Deadlock’s quarters, hands folded behind his back, ignoring—or feeding on—Deadlock’s glower.
“Search if you’re going to search,” Deadlock snapped, throwing himself back along the berth in a picture of insolence.
“And if I’m not?” Turmoil turned, optics glinting, taking in Deadlock’s pose with a sort of appreciative amusement.
“Then what are you here for?” Hard to keep the sneer out of his voice, but it was a good mask for his tension.
“Entertainment, of course.” Turmoil paused, staring at a blank spot in the wall. “Symbolic, I think, that these walls remain so bare.”
“Is it.” Deadlock steepled his fingers on his chassis, studiously ignoring Turmoil.
“I think so, yes.” Turmoil moved over, dropping one hip on the berth. “Blank slate.”
“Always, Deadlock.” Turmoil canted his head. “Finally wiped clean again.”
“You might be surprised.”
“Or I might not.” Turmoil laughed. “You’re so easy to goad. Can you really say I haven’t controlled everything—everything—since you returned?”
Deadlock thought of Perceptor, murmuring to him in the messy, spattered interrogation room: the plan, the revenge, details, timelines. Beautifully set, with all the scientific precision he’d come to know from Perceptor. A comforting thoroughness, control. He’d clung to it as a kind of stability, a world around which he could try to reform himself.
It didn’t have to hold. It didn’t have to last long. Just long enough to get Perceptor free. Just long enough to blow the ship.
And then Drift would be free.
Maybe…I’ll see Wing again.
“No,” he said, slowly, finally. Turmoil never lied. Deadlock would allow himself one. “You’ve always been in control.”
Turmoil purred. “And yet you keep fighting me.” He reached forward, running one hand up Deadlock’s leg. He leaned closer. “Don’t ever stop fighting me, Deadlock,” he whispered, his voice soft, importuning, like a lover’s.
One lie and only the one. Absolute truth: “I won’t.”
Perceptor placed the oscillator in position, backplates scraping the ground as he tucked it under the harmonic resonator. Once he cleared the room, the proximity fuse would fire and then he’d have less than half a cycle to make it to the escape pods. He remembered the codes—Deadlock had murmured them like an intimacy, the alphanumeric string a bond between them. He would get there, wait for Deadlock. They’d leave, be done with this horrid place. Put it all behind them.
I will keep your secrets, Drift, he thought. I will tell no one.
And then begin the long painful work of putting themselves back together. The physical changes would only be the obvious, the easiest. Perceptor never wanted to see Drift’s optics red again. He wanted to scour that white armor, obliterating every trace of Turmoil’s touch, Turmoil’s influence. Replace that hand, yes. Even the hand was too much of a reminder, too symbolic.
He found something like a smile, bitter, blasted, pushing against his mouth. Wait. Patience, Perceptor. Do not rush, do not fling yourself headlong into the future, so blind that you trip over the present.
He pushed to his feet, long legs unfolding. The crystal chamber was still sour with bad harmonics, his balance gyros whirling a little off kilter, despite the protective nodes. Cross the threshold and the fuse would fire. Cross the threshold and it would all begin.
Perceptor tapped the code, the door whisking open, a blast of icy air slamming down on him, an old technique to dampen the harmonic leakage. He stepped through.
He sent a quick burst on the Autobot channel as he stepped past the cold sonic barrier. A risk, a tiny one the one way to get Drift to know it was time to move.
And walked straight into the guard.
Red optics glared, suddenly suspicious, the hand shifting over the gun in his hand. “Communication.” He looked…disappointed.
Perceptor’s spark guttered, as though he could feel the oscillator begin its slow build behind him. “Glitch,” he said, quietly. “From the sonic barrier.”
“It’s never happened before.”
“Different design. Half-done repairs.” Perceptor was willing to cook up a thousand excuses. He knew better than to move, standing there, patiently, hands raised. “During my capture.”
The guard grunted, but some of the wariness faded from his gaze.
“Besides. Who would I comm?” A legitimate question. Deadlock was lost to him. Only that small ember of Drift was real, mattered.
The guard nodded, shoulders loosening. “All right.” Perceptor felt an ironic twinge at being written off as so helpless, so tame…so easily. “Let’s get the nodes off,” the mech said, reaching forward to detach one from Perceptor’s shoulder. “Then take you back.” There was pity in his voice—he knew the radiation would ravage Perceptor, and regretted it.
No. Not an escort. Perceptor didn’t have time for this.
It was an instant’s thought, and even less in motion, to snatch the gun from the slack fingers, bring the butt of it up under the mech’s chin, hard enough that the mech’s cortical feed was disrupted. He collapsed in a loud clatter.
Perceptor stood for a moment, hand curling around the pistol’s grip. Something almost familiar. He strode to the door. Froze. He looked back at the limp form of the guard. He’d be…the first to die. Perhaps he’d feel it. Perhaps come to, just as the sonic overload began tearing apart the ship. He’d die in agony.
Did he deserve that?
Perceptor felt an oath, unfamiliar, long buried, bubble up over his vocalizer. How much light is worth saving, Perceptor? How much dark do you embrace? Who wins, if you leave this spark of kindness here to die?
He moved, stooping, hauling up the limp form, bracing one of the other mech’s arms over his shoulders, tilting the weight onto his hip as he coded the door open.
Mabaya, he thought, grimly, even as he struggled under the awkward weight of the unconscious mech, whose only mistake, only blessing, had been trusting Perceptor, whose only weakness was being less brutal than he could have been, Mabaya will not win.
Deadlock stiffened at the sharp burst of static over the Autobot channel. He sat up, reaching automatically for the Great Sword on the berth beside him. Was he ready?
Did it matter?
He was ready to get it over with, to lay down the burden of his past, the weight of his failures, at the feet of one final redemption. To give his life for something, someone, much better than he. He held the Great Sword for one long moment, his red optics searching in the depths of the blue jewel as if hoping to scry an answer. Not for himself, but that it would be all right. That Perceptor would survive, that he’d make it, and that this would all be over. If he saved one life, it would be worth his.
One life was worth more than the string of failures that made up Drift’s life: starving, stealing, numbly following anything that looked like light, no matter how dark it became, convincing himself that the fault was the growing darkness and not the light, itself, fading.
He sighed, after along moment; one last prayer—a symbol of his idolatry—floating over his cortex. Simple, too simple.
Everything in those two words—admission of his own weakness, insecurity, the child of the gutters, face and hands upturned, empty, begging. Back at the beginning. As if he’d never left.
You never have. They can smell it on you.
Wing couldn’t. Wing didn’t.
And Wing died. From your betrayal.
And no one else will. No one else will die for me, Deadlock thought, levering off the berth, driving the Great Sword home into its attachments between his shoulders. It all ends here. Soon.
All of it.
Perceptor raced—as fast as he could burdened by the unconscious guard—toward the bank of escape pods. Something like luck, something so close to it that for a moment he briefly considered having some faith in some deity, kept his path clear. The late hour, he thought. Or perhaps that these were generally unused corridors. He didn’t question; he just accepted, with a sense of gratitude that clung at anything that didn’t hurt.
Still, he could feel time ticking away, as though it were hammering at the soles of his feet. The harmonic radiation was beginning, already, to wear on him: blurring the edges of movement, making his limbs heavy, leaden. He was going to be late. Still within the window, but pushing the edges of safety. Drift would get there before him. He’d be safe. And that was more than enough.
The chrono was racing down the numbers as Deadlock moved through the corridors. He didn’t dare run: that would attract instant attention. He kept his customary, head-down glower, striding down the corridors, hands hovering over his short swords, daring anyone to stop him.
Ironic how hostility read as ‘nothing to hide’ here.
Ironic how easily you’ve adapted to it. You really think you can go back?
No. Not going back.
He rounded the last corner, the blast doors leading to the escape pods at the end of the long corridor. He slowed his steps, letting his optics travel over the walls, the decking, the ceiling. Partly to check range, sweep, how much clearance he’d have. But partly because…this was where he’d die. His last stand. His second chance—his wasted second chance—ended here. He would burn himself up, one last immolation that would hopefully blaze bright enough to burn away all the darkness, all the failure, all the missteps, all the wrong he’d ever done, ever been.
It was a good place to die.
And he thought, briefly, madly, of Wing, who had died, surrounded, mourned by friends.
No one would mourn him. No one would even notice he was gone. By now Perceptor had probably made it to the pods, blasted off, escaped. He was free, clear. Deadlock could hope for a moment of remembrance.
Then again, he didn’t deserve that. He deserved to be forgotten, not mourned. He’d caused Perceptor enough pain—physical, emotional—alive. He didn’t want to cause any more in death.
Deadlock turned, his back to the escape pods, pulling the Great Sword from his back. The gem glittered blue, the color of life, of hope. Wing’s sword, which he’d had no right to take, no right to tear it from the City and all it stood for. His hands were…filthy. Unworthy to even hold it. Unworthy to wrench it from its home, squandering it to be lost so far from home.
So far from home.
Home. You never had one.
The glyphs down the blade ignited, burning in the darkness, lambent as hope. He cycled a vent, feeling the hot air blast down his legs as he spread his stance.
//Turmoil. Let’s finish this.// His voice grated, harsh, the voice Turmoil would remember. Defiant, arrogant.
Deadlock tightened his hands on the hilt. He could feel it—the strange, pulling, drawing sensation from his spark, flaming along the blade, his intent, his will, everything he was and could be, made visible, made light, made into a weapon.
Wing. Please. Just once. One last time. Forgive me.
Chapter 29: Breaking Point
“Really now,” Turmoil cocked his head. “All this way, for a demonstration of your sword.” The words were light, mocking, everything that Turmoil was, but Turmoil was no fool. He’d stopped outside of Deadlock’s lunging range, bringing his cannon to the fore.
“I’ll make it worth your while.” Deadlock swung the blade in a smooth heavy arc. Not threatening, but promising.
“Interesting choice of battlefield, Deadlock.” Turmoil’s optics raked the corridor. “Or should I say…Drift?”
Deadlock twitched at the name. “Not who I am anymore.” If I ever was.
Turmoil’s voice took on a dangerous sneer. “You don’t deserve to wear the name Megatron gave you. Gutter-crawler.” The epithet was tacked on as an afterthought, a deliberate gibe.
Deadlock felt his mouth flatten, hard enough to bruise. He knew what Turmoil was doing: strategic application of insult and force. Prodding at his weakpoints the same way he did in the interrogation rooms—pick and pry, until you became your own worst enemy.
It was, after all, how Turmoil had ascended to command. How he held it. “Drift, then,” Deadlock answered. “Gutter crawler. Who is going to kill you.” His own attempt, cack-handed and awry, to pry up some of Turmoil’s almost serene persona.
“Such confidence, Drift.” His optics flicked up the length of the glowing, coruscating blade. “Pretty.” As though that were an indictment.
“Works well enough,” Deadlock said.
“Oh, I know.” Turmoil gave an indulgent chuckle. “You honestly don’t think I didn’t recognize that for what it was, do you?” He shook his head. “You always did read caution as cowardice.” He moved to one side, telegraphing the movement, watching Deadlock’s reaction. “In fact, I may know something about that sort of sword that you don’t.”
“Know how to use it,” Deadlock muttered. “That’s enough.”
“Is it.” Turmoil lunged forward, the back of one hand swatting at the blade, testing. Blue flame crackled, slamming into Turmoil’s hand. The servos fired, the hand curling in, snatching itself away from the blade. Turmoil: Cautious. Cunning. “Do you know what happens if you die holding it?”
“As long as I take you with me? Don’t care.”
Turmoil chuckled. “Sweet image, that. You and I, bound together in death.” A low swat, a feint, testing Drift’s guard. He blocked it, easily. The blow hadn’t been intended to land. He should have known that, should have kept his skill disguised. At least a bit longer. Deadlock growled at himself. Letting him get to you. You’re better than this. Wing would expect better of you.
You owe Wing better.
The thought resolved in his cortex, like a lens of diamond. Wing deserved his best. He felt the heat of his anger fall away, only the purity of his purpose remaining, solid and strong. Stop Turmoil. Buy Perceptor time to escape. Save a life…for all the lives he had ruined. Paltry recompense, but perhaps, in giving his own, he could gain some measure of redemption.
Maybe Perceptor wouldn’t hate him. That would be something. That would be enough.
Another laugh, this time obviously goading. “I suppose. But only if you’re certain that I actually die.” He tapped a hand on his chassis. “I have proved remarkably hard to kill.”
Too true. He rocked, warily, refusing to let his center of balance settle. Just like Wing had taught, the constant rolling motion. “I’ll make sure of it, this time.” It had been a mistake, before. A misreading of Wing’s principles: even Wing killed in combat. And Turmoil…even talking with him was combat.
“I hope you do,” Turmoil said. “If you fail,” he tsked. “Just imagine, trapped in that pretty sword of yours. Knowing, feeling everything.” His optics flickered, amused. “Together forever. Just…my way.” He spun on one toe, faster than anything his mass had any right to move, whipping a hand at Deadlock’s head.
Deadlock blocked it with the flat of the blade. It needed, Deadlock thought, to be done right. They both knew it would end only one way, and neither was rushing headlong, being careless, ceding any advantage to the enemy. He saw Turmoil’s chin tuck as he noticed the flat of the blade, and what it could have been. Did I miss, Turmoil? Deadlock asked, silently. Do you think I can’t do any better? Or are you questioning why I skipped the opportunity to remove your hand?
Deadlock felt a familiar smile spread over his face, mind, body, everything stirring to life, blazing up brightly, almost incandescent. One last blinding burst of light and life, he thought, every moment crystalline clear, every sense sharp enough to hurt. And he would take this life, this blinding white mass of energy, and he would shape it into a weapon, hurl every particle of his being toward the end of this journey. From the gutters…to the dark maw of space. So far and yet…in some ways he had gone nowhere at all.
Turmoil swept in, like a gale, one arm, one leg, aiming for Deadlock. He could only dodge one, leaping back over the leg, letting the hand strike on the spaulder he managed—barely—to turn into it. Metal squealed and he felt the shock of pain, as the force rippled through him. He bent with it, not fighting, letting it snap him over to one side, turning the momentum into energy to fuel the arcing slash he came up with in a recoiling blow.
The sword bit, with a resounding screech of metal, into Turmoil’s side. Sparkfire flared from the cut, Turmoil giving a grunt of pain.
“Archaic,” Turmoil spat, but with less conviction. He shoved the blade aside, yanking it from his body. He tried to wrest it from Deadlock’s grip, but his own energon slicked the blade under his hand.
They fought, after that, in a grim, determined silence, dropping words as weapons. Turmoil’s limbs lashed out, fast, in half-feints, designed to wear Deadlock down, keep him on the edge of anxiety. The blade flashed, blue fire blazing along its length, eager for the fight, eager to end this. However it ended, it would be over, Deadlock’s anger, anxiety, everything he had wrought would finally…he hoped…be laid to rest.
He was ready.
The Decepticon guard was slowing Perceptor down. Part of him was screaming to abandon the dead weight, to bolt for the escape pods, but another part told him, grimly, that he had committed to this. He would finish what he started, or die while attempting it. He had given up too much already, to yield this last bit of principle. Not now, not at the very end.
Still, the racing chronometer seemed to echo in him, as though he were hollow, and time ran through him. He hustled, as best he could, the mech’s weight a drag on his shoulder. Here, he thought, rounding a corner. The escape pods just ahead. And by now, Drift would be gone, free of this place. That mattered, too, more than anything. If he could save Drift…it was all worth it.
Even the harmonic sickness that he could feel slowly overtaking him, dragging on his limbs, greening out the edges of his vid field, turning each fast movement into nauseating vertigo, until he felt with each step that his feet would fall off into space. Just a little bit farther, he told himself. Just a little bit more.
A burst of light and sound before him. White hot, shocking him with memory, like a lance through his cortex. He halted, rigid, trapped in memory, his chassis bursting with remembered pain. He knew that sound. He knew that light. He knew.
And he knew that cry, recognized it, of involuntary, inchoate agony. Not the muted echo of memory escaping from his own vocalizer, but Drift.
The sound of the mech beside him falling, clattering to the ground, was a dim tinny sound, as his whole being seemed to shatter apart and coalesce around one word, one thought:
He had given too much to let it end here, let it end this way.
He staggered, lurching to the side, as though past and present collided within him, knocking him off-balance. No. No.
He moved without thinking, snatching the blaster from the guard’s hip, shuffling forward, one shoulder dragging along the bulkhead—the ship’s solidity the only thing keeping him upright. And he needed its bland, blank mass as he approached, his vid field clearing.
Turmoil lay slumped on the deck, sparks and energon guttering from half a dozen wounds. He was missing his left arm, charring black smears along the truncated shoulder. And barely visible, around him, a too-limp bit of white armor. Drift, half his side blown away, Great Sword still clutched in feeble fingers, half the actuators blasted off, the arm itself stripped down to the titanium underframe. His optics were cracked, one finial snapped from his helm, energon spilling over his white frame, bubbling from his mouth.
Turmoil moved, dragging forward, awkwardly, posting on his one arm. “Mine,” he said, his voice the frayed edge of dark velvet. “Mine.”
Perceptor had a brief flash of thought—that Turmoil, too, had been reduced, stripped down to one basic concept, one mere syllable to encompass his entire being, essence become monomania. Turmoil’s hand reached for the sword, wrapping around its blade with a kind of trembling triumph. “Forever, Deadlock,” Turmoil hissed, his voice harsh, dry, a predator’s naked aggression, finally unmasked from its false civility.
Drift’s red optics flared, his hand clutching weakly at the hilt, a token rejection, one foot striking numbly against the chassis as it loomed over him. He tried to speak, a sound so clogged with static that Perceptor had to run it through his audio queue a half-dozen times before he could make out the single syllable: “Drift.”
Turmoil simply brought his weight down, laughing, wetly, as his mass overpowered the damaged pistons. “Mine,” he said, and his darkness seemed to cover Drift entirely, the red optics guttering dim.
Perceptor fired, sick and numb. One clean, hard shot, everything he had, all the will and strength he could summon. His awareness followed the bolt of energy, as if riding along its light, feral, brutal, wanting nothing more than to kill. He’d die, and be happy for it, if only…if only Turmoil died with him.
It took…too long, Perceptor thought, to haul the dark mass of Turmoil off Drift’s frame. But he’d done it, his vid field smearing, his balance gyros revolting. He’d thrown—somehow—the guard into a pod, slapping some code into the destination, setting it free. Done. For good or ill, he had saved that life. And now he was setting about saving Drift.
Drift was…a shattered wreck, barely responsive, his optic shutters merely fluttering when Perceptor addressed him. The only sound he made was a high, thin keen of pure pain, as Perceptor hauled him free, lifting him into his unsteady arms. He fumbled, clutching the sword, laying it atop Drift’s frame, closing one of Drift’s hands around it, hoping, mutely, helplessly, that the sword could comfort where he could not.
He staggered, burdened, to a pod, trying not to look at Drift, not to catalog the damage. Just…moving. Forward.
He fell into the pod’s seat, letting Drift sprawl over his lap. It was cramped—a pod designed for one, the two of them crowded together. But Perceptor didn’t trust his shaky energy reserves, his ebbing strength, with programming two pods. And besides, if this failed, if this was their last moment…he’d rather be with Drift, dead, floating lost in space. Together.
“Almost,” he murmured, wasting a klik to stroke a soothing hand down the ruined white frame. The red optics tried to focus, some incoherent syllable choking from the vocalizer. Perceptor ground his mouth plates together in hard resolve, punching the launch codes for the pod.
He rocked forward, as if summoning strength, curled over the battered body, forcing his vision to clear, his cortex to work. After a long—too long—moment he looked up, his hands flying with a haste born of desperation, tearing through the rudimentary programming of the pod’s comm systems, dredging the ancient Autobot retrieval and distress codes from somewhere in his cortex. His hand trembled as he hit ‘enter’. Now…he thought, his visual field fading to a sickly green, he could rest. It was in the hands of others. Or fate. Or destiny. He had given up trying to control.
He bowed over Drift’s body, too late to save him from the damage, but letting himself press against it, the sword between them, clinging onto everything he’d ever wanted from this world.
Chapter 30: Regen (Epilogue)
Took me way too long and too many prods to move the whole thing over here. But in case there are still any Drift/Percy peeps out there...here you go, complete at last!!!
“Going to have to strap you to that fraggin’ berth, aren’t I?” Springer frowned, as Perceptor moved, on shaking legs, past him.
Perceptor said nothing, concentrating on the movement. He knew his prognosis—he would recover. A few more treatments, a few more flushes of his systems would drain the last of the harmonic toxicity from him. It was just a matter of pushing through.
And he had to see Drift. From the moment he’d awakened, in the repair bay of the Axion, he’d asked—or tried to—about Drift. Even before his vocalizer worked, he’d tried to ram the syllables through, optics darting desperately around the room. No one would tell him, and it was…killing him. How to live with that much failure? What would be the point, to live, weak, defeated in spirit? So he’d forced himself up, jerking two of the leads from his chassis, yanking a catheter from his coolant line, and forced himself down this hallway.
So different, everything, from his last memory—the Axion was clean and bright, buzzing with the chaos of the Wreckers. Mabaya had been dark, dim, fogged with menace. And through both, he walked, leaning heavily on the wall, hoping. Hoping.
He stilled in the doorway to the CR chamber, his spark spilling over. There, floating in the tank, head bowed as if in submission, limp, lax, hung Drift. The tank’s nutrients had cleaned him, bathing off the stains of energon and coolant and lubricant, softening the edges of black char to a faint ghost of grey. The systems were reknitting themselves, slowly, and as he watched, a fabricator slid down the outer edges of the tank, shooting a quick laserflash grid to record measurements for some new part.
The damages were horrific, and Perceptor felt a flare of relief that he hadn’t had a chance to catalog all of them before. He might have been crushed under the weight of despair.
But Drift, hanging, the vitals on the monitor pulsing steady and regular: it was the most beautiful thing Perceptor could ever remember seeing.
“You shouldn’t be here.” Springer, his rough voice mollifying, gentle. “He’s alive. You don’t need to see any more.”
“I do,” Perceptor whispered. “I do.” He wanted to see everything, to sit by the tank, to study Drift from all angles, record every movement, no matter how remote. He’d stare at the steady pulse of the vitals, for that matter, taking strength from their sure rhythm, throbbing alive, alive, alive.
And free. Both of them.
“When does he come out?” Perceptor braced his feet, pushing away from the wall, balancing, carefully. The message clear: he would stand here, immobile, unmovable, until he got an answer.
“Supposed to come out yesterday,” Springer said. He frowned. Drift wasn’t his favorite mech. And repairs were not his forte. He was going by the manual—the only time Springer ever went by the book.
“Let me look,” Perceptor said. He pushed into the room, moving closer.
“Perceptor. I don’t think—you’ve done enough.”
“No.” A flat hardness to his voice, a tone he hadn’t had before…before Mabaya.
“You broke enough rules going after him on your own,” Springer said, throwing an obstacle at him.
Perceptor, if he’d had the energy to laugh, would have laughed the threat off. Turmoil had broken that, too. “Later,” he said. He forced energy into his legs, moving to the tank. He stared down at the readouts, and then up, Drift’s form floating, serene, in front of him. Please, Drift, he thought. Please. It will all be worth it, everything, if you live. Come back to me.
Springer stepped closer, tapping the readouts. “See? Vitals say he’s fine, but….” He rapped the side of the tank with a knuckle. “Nothing. No response.”
No response. “To you,” Perceptor said, quietly. Drift had responded, even in the depths of despair, in the torture chamber. He turned his gaze to the tank. “Drift,” he said, his voice raw with emotion, laden with the memory of everything they’d been through. He raised his hand, laying his palm on the cool glass, the barrier between them. “Drift.” Nothing more. Just the name, calling, summoning Drift back from wherever he was.
And the optic shutters twitched, red lights glowing in the nutrient blue, blind, seeking, finally finding, focusing, on Perceptor’s face. One hand moved, slowly, sludgily, a feeble, weak gesture, armor blown off, stripped so that Perceptor could see the actuators fire, reaching out, palm open.
He heard a soft whine, realizing too late that it was his own voice, as the hand tapped the other side of the glass, shadowed against his palm. And when he looked up, the red optics glowed with mute, gentle gratitude.