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Dead End on a Hot Street

Chapter Text

"Rodimus Prime!" Ultra Magnus shouted up the stairwell of his brother's house. He heard a heavy thump above his head, and sighed deeply picturing the tangle of bed sheets and blankets on the dirty floor. He loved his nephew, he did, but this was getting absurd. He'd already done the laundry this week! Ultra Magnus shouted once more, "Get up this instant! You are going to be late for school!"

"Oh, relax. He's got a good ten minutes before his ride gets here," Kup laughed from the living room couch. The old man covered in wrinkles, and dull green hair sprinkled in grey, chewed on the edge of his unlit cigar as his co-worker fretted in the kitchen. "Kid'll make it. Just like he made it yesterday, and the day before that."

"'Make it' isn't good enough, Kup. If he really wants to join the force after he graduates, he must learn to be punctual," Magnus said, smoothing out his clean and pressed dark blue hair. He walked into the kitchen and picked up a wrapped turkey sandwich from the counter. Magnus put it in the paper back alongside the freshly sliced apple in its air-tight container and bottle of juice. "Self-reliance is a good thing."

"Which is why you re-packed the lunch he made last night all on his own," Kup said, raising an eyebrow. He pointed his cigar at Ultra Magnus. "You spoil that kid, and he's not even yours."

"He got points for effort, but I refuse to call what he packed 'lunch.'" Ultra Magnus said. A package of sugary cookies and a plain peanut butter sandwich wasn't enough for a growing teenager. What on earth were his brother and sister-in-law teaching him? "Making sure he doesn't expire due to poor nutrition isn't 'spoiling.'"

"Whatever you say," Kup laughed. He flipped through the channels on the old set in the living room, and settled on a fishing network. "But, I suppose you should spoil him while you can, Mags."
Magnus regretted asking immediately as the words left his mouth, "And why is that?"

"Because that kid is never going to end up in your division with those stuck up prats Prowl and Chromedome." Kup tapped his cigar on the edge of the couch. "Enjoy seeing him while you can."

Magnus closed the top of the lunch bag, and creased the folded top with his finger. "Excuse me?"

"Coming through!" Hot Rod said, skipping down the stairs three at a time. He zipped through the kitchen and grabbed the lunch bag from his Uncle, at the same time that he snatched up his backpack from the floor. His sneakers pounded on the linoleum tile as he burst out the kitchen back door in a flash of red hair and an orange and yellow button shirt. "See you later, Uncle Magnus!"

"Be home on time!" Magnus called out the door, to no avail. The kid was long gone, but at least it looked like his shirt was tucked in. Magnus shook his head. "That boy has too much energy. He must get it from Elita."

"Which is why I was saying," Kup said, standing up from the couch. He brushed imaginary dirt off his sleeves and walked over to his ride to the station. "He's never going to be in your snooty little division. That boy's gonna' be one of my Wreckers. I guarantee it."

"We'll see," Ultra Magnus said. 'Hot Rod' would probably prefer being in Kup's group with Springer and Arcee. He certainly fit in better, but Magnus could hold out. He had plenty of time to see how that boy would surprise them all. "He is Optimus Prime's boy after all. He'll grow into that name of his before you know it."

"I'll take that bet," Kup said, popping his cigar back in his mouth. "Now, are we going or not? I appreciate the ride since my truck broke down, but you keep dawdling in the kitchen and we're the ones going to be late."

Magnus considered leaving the old man to his broken truck for a half-second.

"You're an idiot, you know that?" Turmoil said, smashing the edge of the chair leg. The limb shattered, spilling both the chair and it's restrained occupant to the floor. The whimpering druggie curled in on himself. The gag stuffed in his mouth and tied behind his head was soaked in drool, and wrapped tight. Turmoil propped his foot up on the seat of the overturned chair. "You had the nerve to attack one of my guys and try and steal the product you couldn't afford!"

The larger man walked around the incapacitated loser. He was bulk, and built like an ox. Little guys could be intimidating, but Turmoil liked to think he held his own towering over everyone. "Now, I like my loyal customers, but you caused a scene. You almost drew attention from those fine men in blue. I can't let that go, friend. Not even for every single last bit of your credits."

Turmoil turned around, and spotted his companion. He crooked a smile and shook his finger at the bored underling. "Now you, on the other hand, have been making me proud lately."

Deadlock straightened up from his slouch against the back wall at the compliment. Turmoil left the whimpering sap and headed toward his faithful second. He ruffled Deadlock's hair like a father would a kid, despite Deadlock being at least twenty-two.

Turmoil said, "You've really been pulling your weight lately. I think you deserve a treat for that, don't you?"

Deadlock shrugged, clearly fighting the smile tugging on his lips. His eyes had zeroed in and glued to the chair in the center of the room. "Yeah?"

"Two birds with one stone then," Turmoil put an arm around Deadlock's shoulder and motioned at the wide-eyed, gagged ex-customer. Turmoil leaned down the couple feet to whisper in Deadlock's ear.

"He's all yours. Have some fun."

"Thanks," Deadlock said, pulling his favorite pistol from his side holster. He pulled away from Turmoil's hulking form, his lithe form stepping into the floodlight. Deadlock shoved his foot into the gut of the bound man, and twisted his heel. "Don't mind if I do."

"Knew you'd like that," Turmoil said. He saluted Deadlock, left the warehouse room knowing the kid could take care of his own cleanup.

Efficiency was the best. Turmoil shook out his shoulders, and adjusted his heavy black coat. The midday sun beat down on his back, but Turmoil shrugged it off. He not only got rid of a troublesome client, but he made sure Deadlock had something to keep himself occupied. That guy got twitchy when he was low on work, and killing things was all he was good at. Leave Deadlock alone too much and he turned to the damn Boosters for his kick.

A shot rang out behind him, followed by blood-curdling screams and Turmoil sighed happily. Music to his ears.

Hot Rod-for the record, the only one who got away with calling him by his given name was Uncle Magnus-yawned as he hopped out of Blurr's car. His own maroon two-door was grounded until further notice due to an unfortunate incident with a speeding ticket and Springer. "Thanks for the ride, Blurr."

"No problem. See you later, later, later!" Blurr answered, pedal to the floor and the blue roadster around the end of the block before the third tick was spoken.

Now there was a guy who deserved a speeding ticket or two.

Hot Rod hefted his bag up on his shoulders and looked down Main Street. His home was about a mile away from downtown, but he needed a quick stop at the Sports and Tackle for a new lure. Kup was taking the "Wreckers" fishing this weekend, and he promised Hot Rod he could join in. Hot Rod grinned as he tapped down the sidewalk. Arcee would be there! Uncle Magnus wouldn't mind if Hot Rod was a few minutes late.

The tell-tale shake of an aerosol can stopped him in his tracks. Hot Rod backed up a few feet to look down the alley between the Shoe Store and the Jewelry Store. Down toward the back wall was a man about Hot Rod's height with white hair stripped wildly in black and red. It was dim, but Hot Rod could make out tan skin, jeans, and a black jacket with red and yellow accents. The stranger was spraying the brick wall.

Uncle Magnus hated graffiti.

Hot Rod looked around for an officer, but didn't see any around. Using the phone in the jewelry store to call Springer or Kup was an option, but it was just one guy and they had their hands full lately with that Decepticon group. Hot Rod could handle a little vandalism. The guy didn't look that tough. If worse came to worse, Hot Rod was second on the track team.

Hot Rod pulled his backpack strap tight as he entered the alley, shouting: "Hey!"

Deadlock paused mid-spray, and looked down to the opening of the alley. A kid an inch or two taller than himself with fiery red hair and-damn if those eyes weren't blue. A fierce one, like they should have been red and on fire. Handsome face, young though-high school maybe with the backpack-and an orange and yellow shirt. Deadlock almost laughed at the yellow and orange flames painted on the cuffs of the kid's blue jeans, but he was too busy appreciating the high cheekbones.

"Yeah?" Deadlock asked, flipping the can upside down in his hand. He still had a few meeting markers to finish up for Gasket's dealers-the favors you did for friends, but he could spare some time to play with a good looking kid like that. Even better if he was looking for one of Gasket's boys. Deadlock would be more than happy to send him in the right direction. "What can I do for you?"

"You can stop vandalizing the side of Mirage's jewelry store, for one thing," Hot Rod said, crossing his arms across his chest. The fresh purple paint glistened on the brick wall. He didn't recognize the symbol, but it was a face made up of triangles. Like a pointed version of the Police Badge Logo. "He's a big fan of artwork, but I don't think that's quite up his alley."

Deadlock whistled, flipping the can again. Not a customer, just a little police officer wanna be. That was shame. "Well someone's got a backbone. How old are you?"

"I should ask you that," Hot Rod said, bracing his feet apart. The stranger was relaxed, but he was giving Hot Rod a nasty feeling in his stomach. The stranger was oozing confidence, and his clothes were loose enough that Hot Rod got the impression he was carrying. This guy was dangerous, but Hot Rod's mouth had never listened to those instincts before. It wasn't going to start now. "Aren't you a little old to be vandalizing buildings? Thought that was middle school stuff."

"Everyone's got to embrace their inner child once in a while," Deadlock said. He finished off the Con Symbol with one last spritz, smirking at the frowning teenager glaring openly at the can. Tense, fingers twitching. Attractive. This was a fun one. Turmoil'd have Deadlock's head if he killed a civilian, but he almost couldn't help himself. "Just like little kids like to pretend to be adults."

Hot Rod stood his ground when the man threw his can in a duffle bag and slung it around his shoulder and over his back. Hot Rod looked away for a second, and the man was standing about an inch from him. Hot Rod jerked back, away from what was looking like a big mistake. The stranger was the one looking up to meet his eyes, but it was Hot Rod who felt tiny.

"So, got a name, Mr. Hero?" Deadlock asked. His stomach tightened deliciously at the kid's narrowed eyes. Hit a soft spot. Anger looked good on him. Deadlock shifted from foot to foot and slammed his hands in his pockets. Playing, not touching.

Hot Rod put his shoulders back and straightened up to give himself another inch. "You first."

"Deadlock," said man answered.

"Hot Rod," the teenager replied in kind. It was only fair, but Deadlock's wild red eyes lit up. Hot Rod should have kept walking when he saw the spray can. Gone to a phone and called Prowl or Uncle Magnus. Hot Rod swallowed. "And I think you need to back up a step."

"Why?" Deadlock asked. He saw the kid's-Hot Rod's-tremble down his thigh, and the clenched fist. Kid was nervous. He was wound tight like a wire. Deadlock bit his lip, licking the chapped surface. It'd be fine if he got Hot Rod to throw the first punch. Then it'd be okay. Deadlock leaned forward, his mouth within biting distance. "I think I like being right where I am."

"There a problem here?"

"Springer!" Hot Rod said, jumping back about a foot from Deadlock. He grabbed his backpack strap and put his back against the alley wall.

Deadlock looked between the two and cursed. The kid knew an officer by name? Well, that wasn't good. No wonder Hot Rod was the confrontational type. Probably mimicking a misguided hero. What a pain! Deadlock shrugged, looking as casual as possible. "No, no problem here, Officer. Just a friendly conversation."

"That's over," Springer said. He threw his thumb over his shoulder and puffed out his chest. "Beat it."

"Yes, sir," Deadlock said. He walked backwards out of the alleyway, keeping eye contact with a pair of lovely blue eyes. That one deserved more exploration. "See you later, Hot Rod."

"Yeah," Hot Rod grunted. Springer grabbed him by the arm, and Hot Rod decided that being a good samaritan was overrated. "Just perfect."

Chapter Text

"What's got you in such a good mood?" Turmoil asked, squinting at his computer screen. Soundwave was going memo-happy again to all of the divisions, and he refused to use decent sized fonts. What sort of Mafia informant used size four font when it was already triple encrypted? Deadlock skipping into the hideout like he'd murdered a room full of school kids was not what he needed. That would mean more tiny-font memos. "I mean, I know you liked your treat earlier, but you're practically bouncing."

Deadlock spun a chair around next to Turmoil's and settled straddling the back. He dropped his elbows over the top, and grinned at his boss. "Met a guy."

Turmoil stopped typing. Last time Deadlock 'Met a guy' he ended up in six pieces with twenty bullet holes, and Turmoil had a mountain of cleanup. Turmoil curled his fingers into fists. "Yeah?"

"No fear, stubborn, in shape," Deadlock said as he ticked off the points on his fingers. He pictured fierce blue eyes and how close he'd gotten to a fight with him. That's how you really knew what a person had in them-how well they threw a punch. "Got a mouth on him, but I kinda' like it. I'm thinking potential recruit. He looked ready and itching to knock some heads in. Cleaners are like a skip away after that, and you've been looking for more help."

"Kid got a name?" Turmoil asked. If he impressed Deadlock enough to leave him alive, there was probably something worth looking into. Maybe not for Turmoil's team, as suggested, but he might throw the recruit Gasket's way. The old medic could use a few dealers who could defend themselves after yesterday's screw up.

"Yeah," Deadlock said, biting the edge of his lip. "Hot Rod."

"Red hair, few inches taller than you, cocky attitude, and a perchance for wearing clothes with flames painted on them?" Turmoil asked, rubbing between his eyes. Tiny-memos were about to become the least of his problems.

"You know him?" Deadlock asked, sitting up. "You try and recruit already?"

"Frag," Turmoil said. He pointed directly at Deadlock, and narrowed his eyes. "Stay away from that one."

"What?" Deadlock growled. "Why?"

"That's Prime's kid, you idiot."

"The son of Optimus Prime, the most decorated officer in the area and our Chief of Police. The son of Elita-One, one of the highest ranking and equally decorated members of our military. You, that son, find yourself a step away from a street fight with a hooligan!" Ultra Magnus shouted.

Hot Rod groaned, covering his eyes as he laid sprawled out on the couch. Kup was laughing at him in the kitchen over a cup of coffee, and Springer was doing his 'Disappointed in ya', Buddy' glare. At least Arcee wasn't here for this. Magnus had been ranting for a fully twenty minutes and he'd only now gotten to the 'parent' argument.

Hot Rod was grateful said parents were both out of town, or this would have been so much worse. Mom deployed, Dad out of town at an Officer's convention, and little Hot Rod stuck being watched by his Uncle. It could have been worse.

"I wasn't in a fight. There was no fight." Hot Rod tried, speaking under Magnus' tirade. He rolled over on the couch and sat up. Hot Rod repeated his story, hoping it would sink in. "The dude was drawing graffiti. I suggested he stop. We talked a little bit before Springer showed up. That's all that happened!"

"I don't know, Rod," Springer said, adjusting his cap. He was still decked out in his blues, though the top button and tie were undone, and leaning against the kitchen island. His hair was pulled back from his face, and his mouth was pursed in a frown. "That guy looked ready to jump you, and I know how your mouth gets away with you. If I hadn't shown up when I did, I bet I would have been pulling you two off each other."

"We weren't going to fight," Hot Rod said. He turned up and hung over the back of the couch. Uncle Magnus coughed when Hot Rod's shoe touched the couch cushion. He rolled his eyes and shoved his shoes off with his toes. "You were there, Spring! The guy was just in my face. It was all talk."

"It's never all talk with people like that!" Magnus said. Springer had detailed the suspect earlier, and he had 'Decepticon' written all over him. That mafia led to nothing but trouble. There was no way his nephew was getting involved with any of them for any reason. Magnus stared down at the boy. "And furthermore, what did you think you were doing? You should have called it in if you thought it was a real threat!"

"It was just one guy! I thought I could handle it!" Hot Rod said. He dropped back down into his seat.

"You are blowing this way out of proportion. Tell him, Springer!"

"I wouldn't go that far," Springer said. He tapped his foot on the ground. "If he was a high schooler, maybe. But he was at least in his twenties, and I think I've seen him hanging around some of Turmoil's boys. I think you would have been in way over your head if he decided to throw a punch, Rod."

"Fine, next time I'll call one of you guys," Hot Rod said, slumping down into the couch. The worst of it was Springer wasn't wrong. The jerk. Hot Rod ruffled his own hair in an aggravated scratch before slumping into the cushions. "Promise."

"Good," Ultra Magnus said. "You're still grounded for two days."


"You almost picked a fight with Prime's kid!? Prime!" Gasket rubbed between his eyes. The older doctor turned chemist groaned into his hands. He'd saved that kid from the streets, but if he'd known he was going to turn out this stupid, he would have let him stay lost in his drug-induced fantasy land. Gasket smacked the boy upside the head. "Deadlock you moron! You know how territorial Megatron is when it comes to Prime!"

"How was I supposed to know! Hot Rod doesn't look anything like his old man!" Deadlock argued. He rubbed the back of his head, and pulled his leg up on the bar stool rung. "Or his mom, for that matter."

"Yeah, well no one touches that little fact with a ten foot stick whether you're a 'Con or a 'Bot." Gasket lit his Bunsen burner, and moved the vial full of his now famous blue liquid over top of the flame. The liquid inside heated slowly, changing the color from a blue to a light pink. "Change of subject, then. How's life with Turmoil lately? He's not hitting you any more is he?"

"Gasket, come on," Deadlock said. He rubbed his mouth with the corner of his thumb, right over the crown that replaced the broken tooth. Deadlock licked his lips. Hot Rod's teeth had been perfect. Deadlock shook his head. Gasket. He was talking with Gasket about Turmoil. "That was one time, and I had it coming. We both know that."

"Yeah, but he's as trigger happy as you are," Gasket said, his voice low. They were alone in his private office, but you never knew where Soundwave's ears were. Or when he felt it was in his interest to snitch. "So watch it."

"I know," Deadlock sighed, but his heart wasn't into heeding the warning. It was stuck somewhere else mourning a missed opportunity. Deadlock tapped the glass of a loose beaker.

They fell into a comfortable silence after that. The concoction on the burner bubbled, and steamed hissed out of the top of the glass. Deadlock curled his head up into his arms and sighed. He stared at the beaker, but it wasn't his usual fixation.

"You're moping," Gasket said.

"I can't get that kid out of my head!" Deadlock said, sitting up. Those angry blue eyes were eating at him. Deadlock wanted to see more. He wanted to see those teeth turn into a snarl and shove the kid's face into the pavement. "You should have seen him. He was all fire and, when he entered the ally I thought he wanted a hit. The goody-two-shoes thing doesn't suit it."

"Tell that to his parents," Gasket said. He pulled the vile off the burner and poured the hot liquid directly into a thin cylinder about the length of his palm. He screwed a cap on tight, and shook the vile roughly.

"Can you picture it though?" Deadlock said, eyes lighting up. He could see it all now. If he survived the fight-Deadlock'd really have someone to count on. He could feel it. Deadlock was dying for another Cleaner. "The Prime's kid a 'Con. A cleaner working for Turmoil! Wouldn't that make ol' Megatron happy?"

"Treading dangerous waters, Deadlock," Gasket said. He threw the cylinder at the punk kid-they were all kids to Gasket at this point-and leaned back. "Speaking of things I've warned you about, that's the only one you're getting from me this week. So you better ration."

"I know, I know," Deadlock rolled his eyes. He held the vial up to the light. It paid to be on the supplier's good side. This little vial was worth at least a grand's worth of product. "Lay off the Neural Boosters. I swear, it's the only thing you and Turmoil agree on."

"We also happen to agree on the Prime kid," Gasket said. He turned the Bunsen burner off with a violent twist. "Don't play with fire, kid."

"Yeah, yeah, you get burnt," Deadlock said. He licked his lip, and twirled Gasket's little gift in his hand.

It took three days stalking the local high school and spying on a certain red head for Deadlock to decide stalking Hot Rod was worth it.

Day two, in particular, because it was the day Deadlock discovered the kid was on the track team. He always came in second behind some speedy brat with whipped back robin egg hair, but Hot Rod could move. The kid was built to be a runner. Deadlock rubbed his fingers together. Screw the fighting. He'd be fun to chase.

It was day four, and Deadlock needed contact. Turmoil hadn't had a job for him since his 'gift' and Gasket had been serious about his single hit until next week. Since his first two go-to's for getting his mind off life, Deadlock needed a third option. Worse yet, he couldn't make up his mind with what he wanted to do with Hot Rod once he'd gotten the kid. He'd thought of a million scenarios from beating him up, killing him, to making out, and pulling jobs together. Deadlock needed more information.

Hot Rod exited the school on the left side of the building, wearing his flame-painted jeans and a yellow tank top, exactly three minutes after the bell. He'd meet up with his track friend for a ride in two minutes. Deadlock started across the lot to intercept. If he caught him before the kid got to the friend and the car, he'd be set.

"Hey there, Hot Rod," Deadlock said. The teen's head whipped to the side so fast Deadlock thought it might come off. Deadlock walked over to the boy bolted in place with wide eyes. Surprise was the best way to go. "Fancy seeing you here."

"It's the high school, I go here," Hot Rod said. He sniffed, and glanced around at the kids pouring from the school building. This guy wouldn't be crazy enough to start something with so many students and teachers around, would he? "You're the one who doesn't belong."

"Guilty," Deadlock said.

Hot Rod took a careful step back, making his best to look casual. Deadlock somehow managed to look more crazed during the daylight than he did in that dark alley, and he couldn't tell if it was the bloodshot eyes or the smile. Hot Rod squeezed his backpack strap.

"So, anyway," Deadlock said, shrugging. He pointed over his shoulder to the white two-door with red stripes. "I was wondering if you wanted to go for a ride. I know a great little spot that has the best food you've ever eaten."

"No," Hot Rod said. 'In over his head,' Springer had said. Hot Rod could picture his next door neighbor's smug face already. He walked backward toward Blurr's car, keeping his eye on Deadlock. "And I've got my own ride home, thanks."

"Aw, don't be like that," Deadlock said. He followed Hot Rod, shrugging his shoulders. "I think you'll like it. And they never card, if you feel like sneaking a drink. High school kids still like that, don't they?"

Deadlock put his arm around Hot Rod's shoulder, and nearly shivered feeling the body heat. The kid was running hot like he had a fever and it felt- "Shit!"

Hot Rod breathed heavily, rubbing the raw knuckles of his fist. Deadlock hadn't gone down, but the punch had knocked him loose. Hot Rod backed up four or five feet and threw his arms up in case Deadlock retaliated. Students were staring at them, but none seemed keen on getting involved. Hot Rod snarled, "Don't touch me."

"Ow," Deadlock said, grinning. It'd be a long time since someone was able to get in a sucker punch. He hadn't even seen the fist fly! He rubbed the tender side of his nose. The kid had side-swiped his nose, missing the bone directly but still getting a good hit in. Deadlock was impressed. "Good shot."

"Stay away from me," Hot Rod said. He heard a honk behind him, and turned his head away quick to see Blurr waving. Hot Rod pointed at Deadlock, "I mean it. Don't you come near me again."

Deadlock grinned as the kid sprinted straight for the blue car. Screw Megatron, Turmoil, Gasket and Even Prime. This was worth it. Stay away? Hah. Deadlock laughed, "Not a chance, Hot Rod."


Chapter Text

Blurr was missing.

Hot Rod dropped his backpack on the ground, the contents rattling around as they hit the grey concrete. The black top road was bare, and no sight of a familiar blue car. Hot Rod dug his phone out of his pocket, while checking for any stragglers who might give him a lift. The school yard had already cleared of most students, and Blurr was still no where to be seen. His speedy buddy was usually pretty good about giving him a ride to and from school while his car was locked down. Hot Rod flipped his screen on, and frowned at the text message blinking in the top corner from Blurr:

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Something came up and I can't give you a ride. Catch you tomorrow!

"Okay, then," Hot Rod said, turning off his phone screen. He supposed it was inevitable that Blurr would be busy one of these days. Well that was a bummer on a Friday. Not to mention it was the day his dad got back from his trip. Hot Rod yawned into his hand and shoved his phone into his pocket. "Guess I'm walking."

"I could give you a ride, you know," a voice whispered in Hot Rod's ear.

Hot Rod shivered. That guy had gotten ridiculously good at appearing out of nowhere. Hot Rod sniffed, and grabbed his bag. "What do you want, Deadlock?"

Since Hot Rod punched Deadlock in the face, he'd reappeared after school to ask Hot Rod if he wanted a ride every other day for the entire week. If he hadn't left every time Hot Rod said 'No' he would have probably said something about it to Uncle Magnus or Springer. But as it stood, Deadlock was just persistent. That wasn't a crime, to Hot Rod's regret. It wasn't even at the level of harassment just yet.

Hot Rod usually didn't have a problem getting away either: Blurr was his ticket to avoid the man. Shame his normal escape route was cut off today by whatever Blurr found as a better use of his time. Hot Rod glared over his shoulder at his wannabe stalker. Deadlock stood with his hands in his pockets smiling innocently while waiting for Hot Rod's inevitable answer.

"It's really no problem," Deadlock said, tilting his head up. Hot Rod would never get used to the fact he was taller than this guy. Because he sure didn't feel that way. The way Deadlock kept his eyes glued on Hot Rod didn't help either. It made Hot Rod's stomach churn like it was trying to process one of Kup's home remedies. Deadlock motioned to his car, smiling wider. "My ride's pretty fast and we could stop anywhere you want on the way."

Hot Rod needed another escape. But who could he get? Uncle Magnus? No. Hot Rod couldn't call him. He was at the air port waiting to pick up Dad. Springer was on duty and couldn't take off. Arcee would be with Springer.Kup? No! He went with Magnus to get dad!

Hot Rod cursed and tried to pretend that Deadlock's smile wasn't widening by the second as he sensed the teenager's moment of weakness.

Deadlock licked his teeth. Hot Rod was running out of options and things were looking better and better for a certain Cleaner. This was better than when that stupid rival gang who had moved in on Gasket's turf ran out of ammunition in a fire fight. Deadlock couldn't believe his luck. In his stalk-research, he'd discovered Hot Rod didn't have many friends. He had that Blurr kid, and that was it. All the rest of the folks he hung out with were either related-Ultra Magnus-or worked with his Dad: Kup, Springer, and Arcee.

After that, he was pretty much all alone. Deadlock could relate to that.

"You don't really want to walk all the way home, do you?" Deadlock tried. He needed this. He'd spent too much time watching, and not enough alone. That one on one contact was essential for figuring out the kid and what Deadlock wanted to do to him. Hot Rod took up so much of his spare thoughts, it was only fair. "I just want to get to know you. Is that really so wrong?"

"It is when you're like eight years older than me," Hot Rod said, raising an eyebrow.


"What?" Hot Rod asked, eyes widening. Off guard. Good.

"You're seventeen, right?" Deadlock said. He held his hand out, and jingled his keys back and forth. A reminder that the ride option was still open. "I'm only twenty-two. That's not that big of a gap."

"I guess not," Hot Rod said. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and started to back away. Just like the days before. Hot Rod shook his head. "But I'm still not going anywhere with you."

"Oh, come on. I think you're interesting, and I just know we have a lot in common," Deadlock said. Hot Rod kept backing away, and Deadlock couldn't help the pout. Those blue eyes were glaring at him, and for once it wasn't appreciated. He needed the kid in his damn car! "What's one ride going to hurt?"

"I'm the son of the police chief," Hot Rod said. He had the nerve to lick his lips. "I can name at least twenty reasons why getting into a car with you is a bad idea even if you are just some punk who likes to graffiti walls."

"Right," Deadlock said.

Hot Rod grabbed his bag and backed away toward the road he needed to follow to get home.

Deadlock looked both ways, like one would if they were crossing a street. The second Hot Rod turned his eyes away from Deadlock to check for traffic, the Cleaner slammed his elbow into the back of the kid's neck, dropping him like a rock.

"How have things been at home with Hot Rod," Optimus asked as he dropped his bags in the back of his brother's large blue SUV. Kup was asleep in the back seat with his hat over his eyes and snoring away. Optimus was happy his cigar was at least unlit as hit hung loose on his chest. His Truck must still be broken. Optimus closed the back of the car door. "I know you weren't exactly looking forward to house sitting when I left."

"Aside from his inability to wake up on his own in the morning," Magnus said, "I think it's been fine. No real arguments, and he's behaved himself."

"The kitchen table is still in one piece?" Optimus asked, trying not to laugh when Mangus glared at him. His older brother was never all that good with jokes.

"Yes, and all the chairs, too." Magnus said. He rolled his eyes, and wiped his hands off on a clean towelette. "Your living room furniture is in one piece."

"Good to know," Optimus said. He adjusted his bandana, the tip of which was resting on his nose, and reached around his neck to re-tie the knot. "I want to claim I wasn't worried about the two of you, but you know how it goes."

"You can rest assured, the worst incident that occurred while you were gone was Hot Rod playing police officer before his time."

"Oh?" Optimus asked.

"He ran across someone vandalizing a jewelry story and took it upon himself to ask the man to stop." Ultra Magnus opened the passenger door for his brother. Optimus hopped into the seat, and Magnus went around to the driver's side. He opened the door, and saw Optimus's narrowed eyes at the cut off story. In his seat, Ultra Magnus finished, "Well meaning, but unwise. He's lucky Springer walked by on patrol and split the two up before a fight could break loose."

"He's always been hot headed. Hot Rod always leaps before he looks, no matter what he intends." Optimus said. He rubbed his mouth through his bandana. He didn't need photographs to see Hot Rod standing up to someone and letting his mouth get away with him without thinking. "I wonder where he gets it."

"When you figure it out, let me know," Ultra Magnus said. "I'd like to put them on traffic duty for a week."

Optimus chuckled. "Fair enough, but for now-I'd just like to see him. It's been a long week away from home."

"I couldn't agree more."

Deadlock had Hot Rod in the car. He was in the trunk, but that still counted as in the car.

Deadlock may have been taking things a little too quickly with this whole Hot Rod thing.

He slammed on the breaks as he drifted into the side corner of his favorite empty lot. Far away from Turmoil's place, and no where near Gasket. It was a safe place where he could shoot targets, or practice drifting across the dirt when he was stressed, or pick apart dead bodies when he was bored. Home away from home. Deadlock lifted his parking break and kicked his door open.

All it was missing was a shed or a house or hut or something for when it rained.

Deadlock popped open the back trunk of his car, and looked around. He had an empty lot surrounded by trees and no lighting. It was good enough.

He pulled Hot Rod out of the trunk, and tried not to get too excited holding the limp and warm body in his arms. Holding Hot Rod felt like carrying raw fire. Deadlock's arms were burning and it was spreading to every limb in his body. He needed to wake the kid up and get his head straight. Deadlock needed a good story. And an apology. He needed Hot Rod to not want to call the police on him. Or die. Deadlock wasn't exactly thinking clearly right now and cooperation was in everyone's best interest.

Deadlock lifted Hot Rod bridal style and walked over to an outdoor set of lawn furniture he'd set up for when he wanted to take a break. He plopped Hot Rod in a chair and dragged another one over across from him. The air was warm, and the sun was still in the sky, but it'd be gone in another or so. Time was getting away from him.

The Cleaner leaned over and shook Hot Rod. "Wake up."

When Hot Rod didn't sir, Deadlock slapped the kid. "WAKE UP!"

Hot Rod jerked awake, his hand cradling the stinging pain across his cheek. He rubbed the tender flesh, and was reminded of that one time Springer decked him. "Ow."

"You're awake! Good." Deadlock said, sitting far too close to Hot Rod's person. There was loose gravel under his feet, and he was sitting in a hideous white chair with red stripes that looked like it'd been painted to match Deadlock's ride. Hot Rod ground his teeth together when Deadlock leaned in again and said, "I'm sorry."

"What?" Hot Rod asked.

"I'm sorry," Deadlock wrung his hands together. He jerked his foot up and down, and looked around nervously. "For hitting you. And panicking."

Two and two came together much faster than Hot Rod would have liked.

Hot Rod had been kidnapped. He was in an abandoned field with a madman and he had been kidnapped. Hot Rod figured it might happen sooner or later in his life, concerning who his dad and mom were and all, but he hadn't been predicting this. Hot Rod looked around the empty yard, and nearly said the wrong thing when he spotted shell casings. Instead, he settled on a much safer, "Where am I?"

Deadlock hummed happily. "Do you believe in infatuation at first sight?"

"Huh?" Hot Rod asked. He looked around, and checked for exists. This guy was nuts and Hot Rod might actually need to make a run for it. Deadlock rubbed the inside of his palm with his thumb, and bit his lip. His eyes were wide, and Hot Rod swallowed. "Are...are you on something? Because you're looking a little burned out."

Deadlock rolled his eyes and huffed, like he'd been accused of being on boosters a million times before. Hot Rod asked the wrong question. Deadlock leaned forward. "Yes or no? Do you believe in infatuation at first sight? Not love, infatuation. Curiosity. Ever met someone and they just take over your head?"

"No," Hot Rod said. Technically Springer would have qualified if his Dad's stories were any indication, but he didn't want to give Deadlock a single bit of legitimacy to his madness. So Hot Rod lied. "Can't say that I have."

"I did," Deadlock said. He crawled over the space between them, pinning Hot Rod to the chair without touching him. "With you, I mean. Moment we met in the alley way, I knew, that we had a connection. I just can't figure out if I want to break your face or make-ma-mall, go hang out at the mall. I think with enough time getting to know each other, I can figure that out"

Hot Rod leaned away from Deadlock. There was something wrong with this man. "I think right now, I just want to go home."

Deadlock pouted, and bit the edge of his lip. "And we could hang out later?"

"Sure," Hot Rod said. Fat chance. "Yeah, but I've got to get home or my Uncle is going to wonder where I am."

"I think you're just telling me what I want to hear."

No shit, Hot Rod thought. This was getting ridiculous. Hot Rod wanted to go home, and that Deadlock guy needed to back off. Now.

Hot Rod slid down in his seat, and pulled his leg up to smash his foot into Deadlock's chest. The man grunted, and let go of the chair's arm. Hot Rod snaked around and under Deadlock's arm, stumbling onto his hands and knees as he scrambled across the loose gravel. He made it two feet before Deadlock tackled his side, shoving his cheek into the rocks and overturning the lawn chair.

Deadlock pulled the boy into a make-shift stepover facelock, trapping Hot Rod's ankle between his thighs, and held Hot Rod's arm against his back, instead of grabbing him around the neck. His other hand shoved Hot Rod's face into the ground.

The two breathed heavily, Hot Rod unable to buck Deadlock off him. The madman snarled, and pulled on Hot Rod's hair.

"Don't, don't do that again," Deadlock growled in Hot Rod's ear. His voice was deeper. It sounded like a razor slicing through something. Dangerous. Hot Rod breathed harder when Deadlock wrung his hair and pulled tighter. "Do you understand me?"

"Screw you," Hot Rod said, pulling at his arm. "Get off me!"

"Fine," Deadlock sighed. Hot Rod couldn't see him, but he could hear the exhale, and the settled weight. Deadlock shifted, and Hot Rod's head was freed. It didn't do him any good, though, as Deadlock still had a grip on his arm. "We'll do this the hard way."

Hot Rod mouth snapped shut when he felt the metal barrel of a gun press into the back of his head.

Chapter Text

"Hot Rod? You here?" Optimus asked, dropping his duffle on the floor next to the door. He had braced himself for impact after ringing the doorbell, but he entered his home without the tackle hug he was expecting. Instead, the house was quiet-and that was never a good sign when Hot Rod was at home. His son didn't know the meaning of the word 'Quiet.' Optimus rubbed the side of his cheek under the bandana. "He knew I was coming home today, right Magnus?"

"Of course," Magnus answered. He placed the rest of Optimus' bags inside the room, and closed the front door. Magnus checked his watch, frowning deeply at the dial. Magnus looked at his brother. "He said he'd be home early from school to greet you."

"Hot Rod!" Optimus called a little louder up the stairs. He leaned on the railing, and listened for a thump on the ground, or some sort of music playing-but he heard nothing. So, Hot Rod hadn't taken a nap waiting, and he wasn't listening to anything. Optimus yelled up the stairs again, just in case: "Are you home?"

"Where on earth is that boy," Ultra Magnus said. He pulled down the blinds, and spotted his car still in place in the drive. So he hadn't taken that out. Was he perhaps with Blurr? Magnus shook his head. "He should be here."

"I'll call him," Optimus said, not wanting to waste any more time discussing where his wayward son was or was not. He opened his phone and dialed.

The harsh ringtone blared from Hot Rod's pocket, shocking them both. Deadlock darted his eyes to the playing music and the slight buzz from the phone's vibrate option. It was the police officer's anthem, and it dragged Deadlock out of his angry daze. The gun felt ten times heavier in his hand and he pulled it away from the soft red hair. He looked at it and his hand, as if one or both was possessed.

"Ah, what am I doing?" Deadlock asked himself. He got off Hot Rod and wandered a few feet away. He shoved his gun back in his holster and shook his head. Deadlock was confused. Did he want to hurt Hot Rod or didn't he? What made him go for the permanent option first? Deadlock shook his head, burying his hand in his hair. "Why do I always go there?"

Hot Rod didn't move. The weight was gone, and his phone was still blaring loudly, but he couldn't see behind him. He didn't know if Deadlock still had that gun pointed at him or not. Hot Rod turned his head shakily to the side, fingers sliding across the dirt. The other man sat in the dirt, facing away from Hot Rod. Deadlock's shoulders dropped and back was wide open. Hot Rod swallowed, and slowly moved up.

"Sorry," Deadlock said, not turning to face Hot Rod. He rubbed his face, and scratched the side of his thigh with the barrel of his gun. "Sorry, I didn't mean that. I just. You make it hard to think."

Hot Rod didn't answer. Deadlock sounded more like he was talking to himself as it was, so an actual answer might not be the best idea. He slowly shifted until he was on his feet. His phone had gone silent, but that was the least of his worries. Hot Rod stood up, and placed one foot behind him, ready to turn and run. Where? He hadn't a clue. But he was positive he'd find a landmark or something once he got off the road.

Hot Rod's phone rang again, but this time he slammed down his finger on the 'Goodbye' button to cancel the call. He didn't catch the name of the caller, but who knew what would set off his captor in the state he was in?

Deadlock moved, stilling Hot Rod. He dug through his pockets and pulled out a jingling set of keys. Deadlock rolled them over in his hand, and turned just enough to throw them at Hot Rod. The kid caught them, and looked down at the small set.

"Your back pack is in the trunk," Deadlock said. His voice was as monotone as he felt. He screwed up. Deadlock screwed up big time. With Hot Rod, and later Turmoil. And Gasket. He'd be so disappointed. Deadlock, sucked in a breath to steady himself. He leaned over, hugging himself. "You can use the car to drive home, since you probably don't want me to give you a lift back."

Hot Rod clenched the keys in his hand. There was something wrong with this man. But unlike before, Hot Rod didn't feel scared. He felt something else digging at his gut. Hot Rod shook his head. What was going on?

"When you leave the lot, take a left and drive about ten minutes. Then take a right, and that road'll drop you off near Maccadam's. I think you can find town from there," Deadlock said. He pulled at a loose piece of red hair buried in his white bangs, and tugged on it. "You can just leave my car at the end of the street or something."

Hot Rod slowly walked a wide circle around the sitting Deadlock. He kept his eyes on the depressed man, inching toward the car. He wasn't going to turn down a ride if he could help it. But. Hot Rod looked around the empty field, and the defeated looking kidnapper. Hot Rod licked his lips, and asked against his better judgement: "Do you have a ride back?"

Deadlock shrugged. He didn't, because there was no way he was calling Turmoil or Gasket for a ride. But that was maybe for the better. The walk might do him some good. Help clear his head of red hair and bright blue eyes. He'd taken the kid out here to get to know him better, and he'd shoved a gun barrel into his hair. Maybe this was why Turmoil and Gasket discouraged him having friends. Deadlock smiled weakly, "I'll be okay."

Hot Rod looked between the man and the car, biting his lip. Deadlock had harassed him, kidnapped him, and then put a gun to his head. But, Hot Rod thought, he looked so wretchedly lonely sitting in the dirt. He was like a kicked puppy.

Maybe all this crazy guy wanted really was a friend.

The teenager bit his lip, whatever the case, he couldn't leave the guy here all alone. Not looking like that and with a gun, anyway. Who knows what he'd do.

"If you leave the gun here," Hot Rod began, standing on the other side of the car. It was his shield between the two just in case. He sucked in a breath and did the stupidest thing he'd done all week, though he couldn't shake the feeling it was the right thing to do: "I'll drive you back."

Deadlock looked over his shoulder, eyes wide. "Huh?"

Hot Rod asked, "Do you want a ride back or not?"

"Yes," Deadlock said, a flicker of hope dancing in his chest like a spark. He Slipped off his gun harness and walked over to the furniture. He shoved it under the low lawn chair and walked over to the car. He looked Hot Rod in the eye, and sucked in a breath. "Thank you."

They both knew those words weren't in regards to the ride.

Deadlock opened the car door and sat down, putting his hands in his lap. Hot Rod waited a full minute, his heart beating loudly enough for Deadlock to hear it. The boy opened the door and slid into the black leather seat, sitting next to his stalker and now kidnapper. Deadlock didn't move an inch, or say anything as Hot Rod put the keys in the ignition and twisted. The car roared to life, and his trembling hand grasped the stick.

They drove for a good five minutes before Hot Rod broke the silence. "You always kidnap people you want to get to know?"

"No," Deadlock said. He bit the edge of his thumb. Which was true. People who caught his interest barely lived long enough to get to this stage of a relationship. At least he had confirmed one thing: He didn't want to shoot Hot Rod. Deadlock wasn't sure what that left him with. "This is a first."

"Okay," Hot Rod said. He slumped his shoulders and pressed on the gas harder. His fear seemed to have slipped away, but he almost preferred that to this awkwardness between them. Hot Rod glanced down at the bare side where his holster used to hang. "Why'd you have a gun?"

"I live in the lower district of Kaon," Deadlock said, glancing over at Hot Rod.

"Enough said," Hot Rod sighed. He knew that area as the place that he 'should never go under any circumstances' from every relative and friend he had. No wonder Deadlock was crazy, growing up in a place like that. "Living there, it'd be weirder if you didn't have a concealed weapon."

"Something like that," Deadlock said, slumping in his seat. This was too surreal. How did he have such amazing luck with this boy?

Hot Rod licked his lips as the conversation died out again. It was going to be a long drive home.

"Where is that boy?" Optimus asked himself, staring at his phone. Hot Rod missed the first call, but his second had been sent straight to voice mail. So either his son had turned his phone off after the first call, or he'd been screened.

Neither did a thing for the sense of worry that overwhelmed him.

Optimus clutched at the phone, staring at the screen that read 'Hot Rod' and 'Missed Call.' Was his son in trouble? Did Megatron finally make a move? He hadn't been missing long enough to file an official report, but Optimus was playing with the idea of abusing his power. He could call Springer and have him look around.

"If Hot Rod isn't home in another fifteen minutes, I'm sending out the Wreckers for him, orders or not," Kup snarled to himself on the couch. His arms were crossed and though he was looking at the television he wasn't watching. "And then I'm tanning his hide for making us worry."

"You'll have to get in line, I believe his how the saying goes," Ultra Magnus said. He tapped his finger against his arm in time with the second hand on the clock. "And if he's just out joyriding with Blurr, then I'll be sure to let you have your turn after."

"Let's all calm down," Optimus said. "I for one, would be happy if driving around with his friend and losing tack of the time is all that happened."

"I suppose you're right," Ultra Magnus said. He took a heavy seat on the couch next to Kup. He wiped his face with his hands and sighed. "He's still in trouble."

"Oh, no question there," Optimus said. He clicked open his phone and stared hard at the 'missed call' screen.

Hot Rod was in so much trouble.

The teenager parked Deadlock's car at the end of the street around the corner. It was within easy walking distance of the house, but his uncle and father wouldn't be able to see Deadlock's ride from here. Hot Rod pulled the keys out of the ignition as the clock blinked 'eight' at him. He held them in his lap and considered his other options to going home. His dad was going to kill him when he got into that house.

"Why'd we stop here?" Deadlock asked. He was slouched into the side of the car, glancing at Hot Rod from the corner of his eye. He'd been pretty quiet since their conversation about his gun, and wasn't looking forward to the inevitable. "Your house is at the end of the street."

Hot Rod should drive all the way up, run inside and tell his dad the crazy in the car kidnapped him and that's why he was late.

Deadlock would be arrested and probably sent to trial and jail. Hot Rod'd be off the hook. Easy.

That's what a sane person would do.

It was the rational thing to do.

Hot Rod twisted one of the keys on the simple chain. He didn't know why, but he wanted to give this man the benefit of the doubt. Deadlock had backed off. It had taken a distraction, but he'd stopped. Hot Rod sucked in a breath. Deadlock was lonely. He was also crazy. But loneliness did that to people. It would be rational to turn Deadlock in and let him face the consequences of his actions.

Hot Rod had never been all that rational.

"Don't ever do that again," Hot Rod said, thrusting the keys into Deadlock's limp hands. Their fingers brushed, and Deadlocks' skin felt like ice. Hot Rod's resolve strengthened, and he sucked in a breath. He caught the man's red eyes and glared. "Ever."

Deadlock slowly sat up straight, his hands curling around the keys. His face opened into innocent confusion, mouth agape and eyes wide. "What?"

"And," Hot Rod continued, swallowing deeply. He needed to do this right. A real test to see if Deadlock was sincere about the whole friend thing, and just confused, or if he was a real threat. Hot Rod gripped the door handle. "If you promise to leave me alone for one week, and I mean that! No stalking, no texts, no nothing! If you can do that for a week, then maybe. Maybe. We can hang out or something at the mall, or shopping or something. How does that sound?"

Deadlock dove forward, bracing himself on the dashboard and Hot Rod's seat. He cornered the teenager, his eyes wild and breath quick. Deadlock asked, "Do you mean that?"

"Yes," Hot Rod said, averting his gaze. Deadlock's body was cool, and it made his own feel a hundred times warmer in the close contact. Hot Rod leaned back into the door, and repeated his terms: "One whole week, though! I so much as catch sight of you, and it's off!"

"Okay," Deadlock said. He nodded and a smile started to spread on his face. Deadlock was getting a second chance. He never got second chances. Deadlock's heart picked up it's pace, and he felt good things coming. Hot Rod was the one. He knew this kid was special. He knew it! Deadlock smiled. "One week. I can do that."

"Alright," Hot Rod said.

The Prime's son shifted in his seat, and after a few more awkward moments of breathing the same air, he pulled open the door. He stepped out of the car, and left Deadlock inside, smiling like crazy. Hot Rod worked his way around the car to the trunk, and tapped on it. Deadlock clicked the trunk release and he retrieved his backpack.

By the time Hot Rod made it to the front of the car, Deadlock had moved into the passenger seat. He leaned on the open window and smiled dumbly at Hot Rod.

"See you in a week," Deadlock said as Hot Rod walked by.

"Yeah, a week," Hot Rod confirmed. "A full week."

He shifted from one foot to the other before giving up and waving shyly. He half skipped a few feet away before sprinting around the corner toward home, leaving Deadlock and his car far behind.

Hot Rod hoped he didn't regret this.

Chapter Text


"Blurr!" Hot Rod said, catching up with his friend in the school hallway.

After being grounded into oblivion for not being home when he said he would, all thanks to a certain kidnapping-which was ultimately Blurr's fault for not being there to pick Hot Rod up on time-the Police Chief's son felt he was due an explanation. Plus, with all that time by himself with the television and radio gone, he had time to wonder just what had held Blurr up. It wasn't like him to be late.

Grounded or not, Hot Rod found himself a tad worried about his speedy buddy.

Hot Rod grabbed Blurr's shoulder and spun him around when he didn't answer. "Where were you, yesterday?"

"Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere!" Blurr said, his voice faster than usual. His eyes darted to the side, and back to Rodimus' face. He held his other arm and rubbed it beneath his track jacket. Blurr smiled and shrugged. "Just got busy, busy, busy, busy."

"Are you okay?" Hot Rod asked, hiking his back pack higher on his shoulder. Blurr twitched, everywhere: his eyes, his fingers, and there was of course a third symptom. Hot Rod squinted at him. "You look sort of pale."

"Fine, fine, fine," Blurr said. He started to scratch at his arm through the jacket. "Nothing Nothing Nothing wrong."

"Yeah, forgive me if I don't believe that," Hot Rod said. He looked up at the school clock, and back at his friend. Looked like he was skipping second period. Hot Rod grabbed Blurr's arm and started to drag him toward the janitor's closet. "Come on."

Save inside the confines of the janitor's closet, his class books on the floor and arms crossed, Hot Rod confronted his jittery friend. "Okay, what's up with you?"

"N-n-nothing," Blurr said, his mouth twisting as he tried to avoid his verbal tick. "I'm fine, fine, fine."

"You're shaking, you're twitching, you're pale, and you're stuttering," Hot Rod said. He poked Blurr in the chest. "What did you do?"

"Nothing!" Blurr shouted, and covered his mouth quickly. "Nothing, nothing, nothing."

Hot Rod huffed, and reached up. He pressed Blurr against the wall, and opened his eyelid. The pupil was a pin-point, and there were tiny red lines growing around the edges. Hot Rod let go, and his shoulders dropped. "Blurr, are you on something?"

Blurr winced, and grabbed his robin egg hair. He looked at the floor, before biting his lip, and just shouting, "Yes!"

He dug in his pockets and pulled out a tiny packet of discrete white pills that resembled common aspirin. Blurr held it up. "Speed boosters."

"Where'd you get these?" Hot Rod hissed, lowering his voice and grabbing the tiny bag.

"Yesterday, yesterday afternoon," Blurr said, biting the edge of his nail. He grinned a little, almost manic. "Good, good, good, stuff."

"I said 'where' not 'when,'" Hot Rod repeated. He shook the bag in Blurr's face. "Who gave you these?"

"Swindle," Blurr said.

Staying away from Hot Rod for a week was easier than Deadlock had anticipated.

A new batch of assignments from Turmoil was keeping him more than busy. Deadlock whistled as he sat in his car, waiting for the next one to make an appearance. To his luck, if Turmoil knew about his little rendezvous with Hot Rod, he hadn't said anything about it. So, either Turmoil didn't know, or didn't care, and either worked out just fine for this particular Sweeper. But, that was off topic.

His current assignment took priority. He still had six to go afterwards. It was a busy week.

Deadlock leaned on his steering wheel and watched for his next target. The poor sap who'd pissed off Turmoil would be exiting the building across the street in three, two, one.

Right on schedule, the nameless man left the building and wandered into his car. He had red hair, like Hot Rod, and blue eyes, like Hot Rod. About the same build, though a little taller.

Deadlock licked his lips, and wondered if fate were playing with him.

He started the engine of his car, and followed the other man in his beat up sedan. Or, if he wanted to look at it the other way, Deadlock considered, maybe fate was being kind to him.

Giving him something to play with.

It's not like he knew this guy's name anyway.

Surely he wouldn't mind if Deadlock called him "Hot Rod" while they played.

Deadlock could get it out of his system, so that when he did finally see his new friend again, he wouldn't be tempted.

The sweeper grinned and followed closer. This was too perfect. Maybe he'd just snatch him and save him for last.

Deadlock licked his lips. So many possibilities. And he did have a week. Deadlock laughed, and turned up his radio. A blast of rock music burst through the speakers, and his target flinched in the car in front of him. So cute. Deadlock grinned. So why not?

"Swindle," Hot Rod repeated. "You got speed boosters from Swindle."

"Yes?" Blurr answered, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's no, no, no big deal."

Hot Rod narrowed his eyes, and smacked his friend upside the head. Hot Rod shook the bag again. "You bought speed boosters from Swindle! You are high, Blurr. How is this not a big deal!?"

"Come on," Blurr said. "It's just a little fun. It's just speed, speed, speed."

"You think it is," Hot Rod said. "But who knows what's actually in these things, Blurr."

Hot Rod looked at the little pills and his heart raced a few beats higher just thinking about it. This stuff was illegal. Blurr could get into real trouble for this. And maybe it was just the 'Police Chief's Son' talking, but if Uncle Magnus or Kup or Springer found out his best friend was on drugs, Hot Rod would never see him again. And Hot Rod was fairly selfish when it came to this sort of thing. So the pills had to go.

"Don't get any more of these," Hot Rod said. He reached over and turned the faucet on in the mop sink.

Blurr stared, "What are you doing? Those were expensive!"

"You shouldn't have bought them," Hot Rod said. He upended the bag of pills under the running water and watched them dissolve. He ignored Blurr's squeak of terror. Hot Rod shoved the empty bag back in Blurr's hand. "Don't do it again."

"You aft!" Blurr hissed. "What's the deal!?"

"I don't want you to get into trouble!" Hot Rod answered back. He grabbed Blurr's hand and dragged him out of the closet. "Come on, I'll sit with you while you come off of this."

"No," Blurr said. He snatched his hand back and stomped in the other direction. "Get your own ride home!"

"Blurr," Hot Rod said. He dug the heels of his palms into his eyes and breathed out slowly.

Blurr would cool down, and it'd be okay. He had to.

"It's really not the same," Deadlock hummed, sitting on the man's back. He pet the man's red hair, and rested his chin on the back of his knuckles. "I'm pretending you're Hot Rod. And I'm calling you Hot Rod. But you're really not Hot Rod."

The man whimpered in response. "See? You don't even shiver like he did."

Deadlock huffed and pulled out his gun. He pressed the barrel on the back of the man's head and pulled the trigger. After a pop, and a splatter of blood across his clothes and floor, Deadlock put his gun away.

It wasn't the same.

Deadlock stood up, and dragged the body behind him. He should clean up, and get going with the rest of his assignments. But, Deadlock decided, he'd take his time.

Because the next week wasn't coming fast enough.

Deadlock wanted to see Hot Rod.

"Are you alright, Hot Rod?" Elita asked. She adjusted her monitor to stop the glare, and rested her arms on the desk. On the screen via web cam, was her son-sulking. "You look upset. This isn't about being grounded, is it? Because your father explained, and I happen to agree with him about the punishment if you're looking for sympathy."

"No," Hot Rod said, smiling a bit. He sat up right, centering himself more in the web cam. His mother, her pink hair down around her shoulders and smile wise as always, was a welcome sight. He wished she could call home more than three times a week. "I had a fight with Blurr at school."

"Is he alright?" Elita asked. Blurr was the one with the blue car, who kept escaping speeding tickets if she recalled correctly. "What was it about?"

Hot Rod shifted in his seat. To get Blurr in trouble, or not to get Blurr in trouble? That was the question. Hot Rod decided on a happy medium. "I caught him doing something he wasn't supposed to, and he got mad when I called him out on it."

"Yes, that can make your friends angry," Elita smiled. She un-cuffed her sleeves and rolled them up to her elbow. The heavy pink fabric of her dress suit, unwelcome and stuffy tonight. "But I think you did the right thing. I'm sure he'll come around when the consequences of his actions come to bite him. And then you'll be there for him."

"Yeah, that's what I'm hoping," Hot Rod said. He leaned back in his chair, and flicked a pencil hard to roll across. "Thanks, Mom."

"No problem, honey," Elita said. She tapped her fingers on the counter. "So, aside from being grounded and your friend in trouble, anything new and exciting happening?"

For a moment, Hot Rod was tempted to tell her about Deadlock. But only a moment. Hot Rod shook his head and smiled. "Not really. Same old, same old."

"Are you sure?" She asked, leaning closer to the camera. "Nothing at all?"

Curse a mother's intuition, but Hot Rod remained firm. "No, not really."

"Okay," Elita said. "But you know you can tell me anything, right?"

"Yeah," Hot Rod said. "I know."

"Just checking," she said. "Well, if that's the case, why don't you hurry along and send in your father. I promised him I'd have one last chat after you were done."

"Okay, night Mom," Hot Rod said. He leaned up and kissed the camera, before walking way.

Elita laughed, and waved her boy disappeared from the camera. She crossed her arms on the desk and sighed.

She didn't like it when her son kept secrets.

But she'd find out sooner than later what was going on. She would make sure of it. As Optimus sat down, she grinned. And she had the best back up in the world to make sure that happened.

"Hello, Optimus, I think we need to have another chat about our Son."

Chapter Text

“You know I don’t mind driving you to school,” Springer said, slowing to a stop in front of the school building. His green SUV hummed loudly as they idled in the drop off zone. “But it’s been a week. You’re not grounded any more, so you can go back to riding to school with your friends, you know.”

Hot Rod shrugged, and snatched his back pack up from the floor. Springer was trying to be discrete, but Hot Rod knew a probing question when he saw one. That called for a half-truth. “I know, but it’s been nice riding with you again. You’re always so busy, so why not wriggle out one more ride while I can get it?”

“Suppose so,” Springer said. He reached over and ruffled Hot Rod’s hair and leaned on the seat. “That mean you’re getting your own ride home?”

“Yeah, I’ll get one,” Hot Rod said, knowing full well he’d probably be walking. Blurr was not an option at the moment and Hot Rod didn’t have much else to go by. But all that would do would worry Springer, wouldn’t it? Hot Rod leaned over and hugged Springer tight. At least this friend wasn’t still mad at him. “I’ll see you later! Thanks for the ride!”

Hot Rod clicked open the door and was out of the car before Springer could properly respond. Thankfully, he heard the engine roar back to life as Springer pulled away from the school and headed for work and his shift with Kup.

Letting out a sigh, Hot Rod slipped his back pack up over his shoulders to hang off his back and shoved his hands in his pockets. He headed toward the school, hoping that maybe he could at least talk to Blurr today.

Gasket pulled the beaker off the shelf and glanced over at his visitor. Deadlock was whistling as he dumped his arms under the running water of the sink. The dried blood washed away in coppery streams, as he scrubbed away with heavily lathered pink soap. The scars on his bare back shined in the light as he moved, his clothes tossed to the side to dry after their own scrubbing.

“Looks like you made a mess,” Gasket said, putting the drug down on the table. He laughed. “Or did you just not bother to clean up between each target?”

“I cleaned up in between,” Deadlock said, dumping his head under the running water. The sink was something they snatched out of a restaurant kitchen going out of business. The bowl was deep and the faucet was high, making it perfect for washing when you didn’t have time for a shower. He grabbed a handful of soap and ran it through his hair. Deadlock needed to be spotless for this afternoon. “I just had a little fun with the last one.”

A lot of frustrated counting-down-the-seconds-for-today fun that involved lots of stabbing.
Deadlock smiled more, glancing at the clock. He’d even waited an extra day to try and sweeten the deal. Hot Rod would have to appreciate that!

“Must have had a good time, considering you look rather happy,” Gasket said, leaning back in his seat.

“Oh, no, that’s not why I’m so happy right now.” Deadlock said. He popped his head up from the sink, the water dripping down his neck. He smiled wide, showing off his teeth and slapped the side of the sink. “I’ve got a date tonight!”

Gasket dropped the beaker he was holding.

Blurr wasn’t speaking to him.

Hot Rod had attempted no less than four times to try and catch his friend in the hallway, to be shut down. And of course, it had gone as well as it had the rest of the times he’d tried that week.

What a bummer.

The teenager rubbed the side of his face as he rested his forehead against the inside of his locker door. Hot rod sighed and pulled the book from the top shelf he needed for his homework and closed the locker door.

The worst of it all, was Blurr looked like he’d gotten more of those speed booster pills from Swindle. He was twitching all class, and Hot Rod could see the blood shot eyes from across the room.

At least he hadn’t gotten caught yet, though part of Hot Rod wished he would just so someone else might intervene.

Hot Rod let his backpack hang on one shoulder as he trotted outside of the school building. Maybe he should be the one to rat out Blurr. It wasn’t like the kid could be angrier with Hot Rod right now anyway, and he needed the help. But then again, maybe it could get worse and, Hot Rod huffed. He also didn’t want to get Blurr into trouble though. Hot Rod scratched the back of his head and growled to himself.

Why did this stuff have to be so complicated?

Preparing for the long walk home, Hot Rod headed down the sidewalk with his head down. It made for a wonderful surprise when a voice called out, “Need a ride?”

Hot Rod’s head shot up and he looked to the side.

Deadlock was standing there with his hands in his pockets and his ankles crossed as he leaned up against his sports car. His hair was combed neatly, and his clothes were pressed under his thick black jacket. He was smiling sheepishly—an expression Hot Rod didn’t know a guy like that could do. Hot Rod swallowed.

“It’s been a week, right?” Deadlock said, licking his lips. He rubbed the side of his neck and avoided looking at Hot Rod. “Cause last time I saw you was at eight a week from yesterday night and you said I could see you and right?”

Hot Rod blinked trying to make some sense of Deadlock’s rambling. He held his hand up and said, “Yeah, it’s been a week. You’re…you’re okay.”

“Great!” Deadlock said, his head shooting up. “I was thinking about you a lot lately and how much I didn’t want to blow this, so you know.”

“Yeah,” Hot Rod said. He shifted from one foot to the other unsure how to handle this. “So, uh. Hi.”

“Hi,” Deadlock said, smiling a little wider. He tipped his head back toward his car. “Want to go do something?”

Hot Rod stared at the car, and weighed his options. He had said that they could hang out if Deadlock stayed away for a week—which he had. But, something was still off about that guy. There was no way this was safe.

Blurr’s car sped by in a flash past them both, not even so much as a slowdown to wave at Hot Rod.

Deadlock watched Hot Rod watch the blue car as it headed down the road, and Deadlock bit his lip hard to keep from smiling. An abandoned Hot Rod meant more fun for him after all.

Deadlock cleared his throat, and opened the passenger side of his car. “I was thinking of getting a burger some place, wanna come?”

“A burger?” Hot Rod snorted. “Weren’t you trying to get me to go to a bar last time?”

“Hey, had time to think, remember?” Deadlock said, tapping the side of his temple. “Seemed like an okay thing to me, unless you gotta’ be home right now or something.”

“No, I don’t,” Hot Rod said. And he didn’t. His grounding was over, so he could stay out until at least nine if he wanted.

Hot Rod stared at the empty street where Blurr had been, and then at the white and red car with the inviting open door.

“What the hell,” Hot Rod huffed, throwing his backpack into the footwell of the passenger side seat. He followed and tried not to flinch when Deadlock shut the door wearing the biggest grin he’d ever seen. “Burgers sound fine.”

Deadlock dropped into the seat next to him, starting the engine and peeling away from the school with more control over his speed than Blurr. Hot Rod sucked in a breath and stared at himself in the reflection of the car window.

He had said he’d give this guy a chance.

Hot Rod hoped he didn’t regret it.

Chapter Text

Hot Rod regretted everything.

He shifted in his seat, tapping his fingers on the table while they waited for food to show up. Hot Rod and Deadlock sat on opposite sides of the torn booth, with Deadlock’s legs stretched out under the table. His feet rested on the side of Hot Rod’s bench, essentially locking him into the booth table seat.

“Something wrong?” Deadlock asked, biting the side of his lip and smiling in that way that said he knew exactly what was bothering Hot Rod. Which he did. Deadlock’s foot tapped back and forth against the worn pleather. “You said burgers were fine.”

“And they are,” Hot Rod said. He rubbed the side of his arm, and sent Deadlock a tiny glare. “Just wasn’t expecting to go so far away to get them, that’s all.”

“It doesn’t look all that pretty,” Deadlock said, waving his finger around at the unkept building with torn seats, peeling wallpaper, and burnt out overhead lights. “But they do have the best burgers around.”

“I can believe that,” Hot Rod said honesty. He shrunk down a bit in his seat and hoped desperately that people didn’t recognize him. Normally he could forget his dad was the chief of police, but when you were sitting in a burger joint on the edge of Kaon filled with shifty looking people like Deadlock, it was rather hard to ignore. “Just feeling out of place.”

“Eh, no one cares,” Deadlock said. The lady at the counter called out their number, and Deadlock disappeared for a few moments leaving Hot Rod alone in the booth. He reappeared with two baskets smothered in fries. “You learn to mind your own damn business around here.”

Hot Rod nodded, taking one of the baskets. he found the burger under the stack of hot fries, and at least there was one thing on this trip that looked good.

Deadlock popped a few fries in his mouth and leaned on the table. “Besides, that big old target on your back thanks to your dad also doubles as a shield. Not many people are stupid enough to mess with that guy’s kid.”

Hot Rod took a bite out of his burger to smother the little well of pride that bubbled up at the thought of his dad being a real force to be reckoned with. He chewed and wiped the side of his mouth. “This is good.”

“Yeah, it is,” Deadlock said, talking more about Hot Rod sitting across from him than the food.

And Hot Rod hated that he knew it.

“You don’t have enough,” Swindle said, leaning on the side of the building. He licked his finger as he continued counting the bills in his hand. “You’re twenty short, speedy.”

“Wh-what do you mean I don’t have enough, enough, enough?” Blurr asked, biting the edge of his thumb. “It’s what you said, said, said!”

“For your first couple of samples, yes,” Swindle said, shaking his head back and forth. He shoved the money back at Blurr and pat the shaking hands. “But price goes up after a week of satisfied customer service!”

“What!” Blurr shouted. “That’s not what we agreed!”

“Well, of course not, but you know how business is,” Swindle said. The teenage dealer shrugged his shoulders without a care, and checked his nails. He held up the small bag of pills and shook it. “You want these? I need another twenty.”

Blurr growled and dug the other twenty out of his back pocket. “This price going to go up again? Because I’m sure you’re not the only one with this stuff.”

“But I am the only one you’re going to risk talking to,” Swindle said, swapping the cash in Blurr’s hand for the small bag. “Happy doing business with you.”

Blurr stared at the tiny bag, and went back to biting his nails.

Where was he going to get that much money?

Deadlock had picked Hot Rod up from school, taken him to eat at his favorite diner, and now he was taking the kid home and the following things had not happened: Deadlock had not molested Hot Rod, the good way or the bad way, he hadn’t scared the kid, and he wasn’t calling the cops.

Instead, they had a nice conversation about nothing and Deadlock had been told things that he already knew from his week of stalking prior to their official meeting, but hey—probably shouldn’t mention that to Hot Rod.

Part of the Cleaner was happy things were going so well, but the other half of him was still itching to throw the kid in the back seat.

Probably not on a first date.

Especially when the kid didn’t know this was a date.

Deadlock shifted gears as they went up the hill back toward the main part of town and glanced at Hot Rod in the next seat. “What time did you need to be home, anyway?”

“Ah, around eight,” Hot Rod said. Technically it was nine, but just in case he might want to show up early. He pulled out his phone and checked for any messages. None. That was good at least.

“It’s only six now, if you wanted to do something else,” Deadlock said, tapping his finger on the stick.

Hot Rod watched him carefully, with a gaze that burned with the message “I’m suspicious” and it took a great deal of Deadlock’s self control to not reach over and kiss him. Or bite his lip to make the glaring worse and start a fight.

Either worked.

“Like what?” Hot Rod asked, shifting in his seat.

They crossed the county line from Kaon back into Iacon, and Deadlock continued tapping his fingers on the gear shift as they drove. Hot Rod was tense in his seat, alive but not as energetic as he was before. Something was eating at him. Could probably use something to get all that tension out of his system.

Deadlock had a few ideas that might help.

“Wanna go get into a fight?” Deadlock asked, grinning.

“A fight?” Hot Rod asked, scrunching his nose. “With who?”

“With me?” Deadlock asked, innocently enough. He shrugged and winked. “When we first met you looked like you wanted to punch me and then later you got a good one in. So you must like to do it a little bit.”

Hopefully more than that.

“And besides, you look like you could use it,” Deadlock continued. “Roughing something up does wonders for all that pent up frustration.”

“I am not getting into a fight with you,” Hot Rod said, glaring out right.

“Why not?” Deadlock asked. He whistled and pulled his car into an empty store lot on the edge of town. No one around for miles and the shop lights were all off. Empty. He hopped out of the car, and walked around. He opened the passenger door and tugged on Hot Rod’s arm. “Come on, it’ll be fun!”

“How is getting into a fight fun?” Hot Rod asked, struggling but not quite fighting Deadlock’s grip yet.

“Trust me,” Deadlock said. He backed up a few paces and patted his chest. “Come on. Hit me. Better than screaming into a pillow.”

“I don’t need to hit you,” Hot Rod said through gritted teeth. He threw his hand out as if to emphasize his next point. “I don’t want to hit you!”

“I want you to hit me,” Deadlock said, smiling.

He wanted Hot Rod to hit him hard. And then Deadlock would hit him back and they would fight. It’d be great. Deadlock’d been waiting weeks to really see this kid cut loose. That had to be where all his fascination was coming from. There was more to this kid than fiery eyes and a short temper. Had to be.

He didn’t care what Turmoil or Gasket said. This kid was potential, and Deadlock was getting a little tired of always working alone.

This could be so much better.

“It’ll be good for both of us,” Deadlock smiled and shrugged. “But if you need incentive to get the mood started, I’m sure I’ve heard some stuff about your mom that might make you want to hit me.”

“Heard um,” Hot Rod said, his lip quirking into a smile. “Trust me on that one.”

“Dad?” Deadlock offered, his own pulse raising with that tiny hint of acceptance. “What about him?”

“More about him than my Mom,” Hot Rod said, leaning on the car. He crossed his arms and held his head up. “I’m not hitting you.”

“Fine, then I’ll start,” Deadlock said.

Hot Rod had half a second before Deadlock’s fist lodged itself up under his ribs. The boy sucked in a breath, leaning over and grabbing onto Deadlock’s arms as they stood there. Deadlock could feel his heart beat faster and loved the sound of the kid growling as he shoved Deadlock off hard enough to knock him over.

“See? Doesn’t that feel good to hit me back? “ Deadlock laughed as he hit the ground. “You look better already!”

“What is wrong with you?” Hot Rod asked, rubbing under his ribcage.

“I want you to hit me back,” Deadlock said. He lurched up and grabbed Hot Rod around the waist. He threw the kid down, back hitting the pavement and jabbed his elbow under the kid’s rib again. “And you’re not doing it.”

“I’m not hitting you!” Hot Rod said. He shoved at Deadlock’s chest, and kicked a knee up. “Get off!”

“I’m trying!” Deadlock laughed. He grabbed Hot Rod’s leg to drag the kid forward as he leaned over him. He whispered in Hot Rod’s ear, “I need a little more cooperation out of you though for that. It takes two you know.”

After two harsh seconds of heavy breathing and Hot Rod’s eyes widening, the kid finally threw the first punch into the side of Deadlock’s face.

Chapter Text

“Everything hurts,” Hot Rod said, staring up at the cloudy sky. He lay sprawled on his back, arms out and breathing heavy. He wasn’t sure if he could move if he wanted to. Hot Rod touched his chest, and felt the sharp stab of pain shoot from his rib to his arm. “Ow.”

“I know right,” Deadlock answered, in a similar position about a foot from him. He’d spent next to an hour throwing punches back and forth with an angry Hot Rod. The kid kicked and wrestled and really socked him a good one in the chin at least once. Absolutely everything ached in the best possible way. This was heaven. Deadlock breathed in and let it all out in a delighted sigh, and the grin on his face was bright enough he could have lit up a store. “It’s the best feeling ever.”

“No, it’s not,” Hot Rod said. He pushed up on his elbows and forced himself to sit up, his ribs and everything aching from bruises he was scared to count later. Hot Rod scratched at his shirt and glared down at the grinning Deadlock. “Was that really necessary?”

“Yes,” Deadlock said, rolling over onto his side and using his arm as a pillow. He closed his eyes and grinned. “You feel better don’t you?”

“I feel bruises,” Hot Rod said, huffing and rolling his eyes. He checked himself over, happy at least that none of his clothes had ripped, even if he was covered in dirt.

“Not that part, the other part of you,” Deadlock said, opening one red eye and smiling up at Hot Rod. He checked his watch for the time, and grinned at the little seven beeping up at him. Plenty of time to get Hot Rod home before curfew. “The part that feels relaxed and relieved you got all that tension out.”

“I don’t think I’d call wondering how I’m going to hide all this from my dad as relieved,” Hot Rod muttered, shoving Deadlock in the shoulder. “He’s going to kill me if he found out I was in a fight.”

“Don’t tell him,” Deadlock said, sitting up and stretching his arms over his head. He poked Hot Rod in the forehead and leaned in until their noses touched. “Unlike you, Mr. Aim-For-The-Face, I didn’t hit you anywhere that you can’t hide with your clothes.”

Hot Rod held up his bruised knuckles, refusing to admit Deadlock had a point. “And this part?”

“Tell ‘um we went to a gym and you forgot to wrap them before you started punching. You’re a stupid teenager, it happens!” Deadlock patted them and grabbed Hot Rod’s hand to drag them both up. He slapped Hot Rod on the back, grinning when the kid winced. Deadlock shrugged, “You let out all your steam from all those bottled up frustrations with Blurr out on a punching bag—which by the way, is true. They don’t need to know it was a living one.”

“You are so weird,” Hot Rod said, scrunching his nose, and refusing to admit he felt better after the fight. He shouldn’t feel this good after roughhousing like that with an older guy who had a gun on his holster. “Really, really weird.”

Hot Rod absolutely could not admit it he’d had fun, no matter how sore he was right now.

“Yeah,” Deadlock said. He wrapped an arm around Hot Rod’s shoulder and squeezed. He grinned into Hot Rod’s red hair, and resisted the urge to nuzzle his head. “But so are you.”

Springer hung his work coat in the closet, and rubbed behind his neck. He yawned into his hand before grabbing a regular coat, and picking up his keys from the basket on the door. Springer shut his door, dropping his shoulders as he looked over at his neighbor’s house. The Prime home was usually his favorite place for dinner invites, but today he wasn’t looking so forward to it.

That and he was running late.

Dinner was usually served around six thirty, but it was running close to seven ten. Springer knew in his heart of hearts no one cared what time he showed up, but it would still look bad considering he knew Magnus would be there tonight.

Springer wrapped on the door with his knuckles and was greeted by Optimus. He smiled, “Sorry I’m late.”

“It’s not a problem,” Optimus said. He patted Springer on the back and welcomed him inside. “Magnus mentioned Kup had you working late, and besides, Hot Rod isn’t even back yet. There’s still plenty on the counter that should still be warm.”

“Really?” Springer laughed. “Well, that’s not surprising. Spends a whole week cooped up inside so the first chance he gets he pushes his curfew? That’s exactly like him.”

“I was thinking the same,” Optimus said. He took Springer’s coat, and noted the low shoulders and the slight weariness on Springer’s face. “Something the matter?”

“Found out some new info today, and I can’t say it’s good,” Springer said. He nodded at Magnus as he passed by toward the kitchen to scoop up leftovers. “It’ll be in the formal report tomorrow, but the short version is we’ve found there’s a local dealer at Hot Rod’s school.”

“With the Decepticons, or an independent?”

“A student,” Springer said, scraping macaroni and cheese out of a casserole dish and onto his plate. He made sure there was enough leftover for Hot Rod when the kid came wandering in around nine. “We don’t know who he is, so we’re not sure which just yet as to where he’s getting his supplies.”

“I see,” Optimus said, sitting at the table. “It’s always a shock to find them starting out that young.”

“I’m trying not to be worried,” Springer said, “But Hot Rod’s been acting so skittish lately that I’m scared he might already know. Or has run into the guy, and hasn’t told us about it for some reason. Which is stupid, because it’s Hot Rod, but still.”

“No, I understand,” Optimus said. He sat across Springer on the bar top and held his fingers under his chin. “Elita’s worried about him as well.”

“About what?” Springer asked, shoving a mouthful of Magnus’ food in his mouth. He needed that guy around more often for baking. “He said something to her.”

“He’s been fighting with Blurr,” Optimus said. He sighed, and rubbed the side of his cheek under the bandana that covered his nose and mouth. “Neither myself nor Magnus has seen them together all week. Hot Rod’s been walking to and from school all week.”

“I see,” Springer said. He set the fork down and pushed the noodles around on the plate. “He doesn’t have very many other friends than Blurr, does he?”

“No,” Optimus sighed, “I don’t think he does.”

“i’ll keep an eye on him at school,” Springer said. He began eating with a new resolve, determined to finish every bite on the plate. “I’ll be there anyway looking for our miniature dealer, so I can at least make sure someone doesn’t pick on him while he’s down.”

“Thank you,” Optimus said, reaching over the table. He patted Springer on the back of the hand and smiled. “I appreciate that.”

Deadlock whistled as he drove Hot Rod home. The clock was reading a safe seven forty-five and he’d be there in five minutes. Plenty of time to drop the kid off before he was in trouble. He rubbed the underside of his chin where a spectacular bruise was forming, and Deadlock nearly swooned.

So much potential.

The killer grinned over at his pouty companion, glaring out the window in the side seat. Deadlock reached over and shoved the kid’s shoulder. “Oh, stop pouting. You’re not mad at me.”

“I am mad at you.”

“You loved dinner, and you let off some steam punching me in the face,” Deadlock whistled, “You had a great time.”

“Everything hurts and I just want to go to bed,” Hot Rod said, glaring over. “I can not believe you goaded me into fighting with you.”

“I didn’t goad you into anything,” Deadlock said, shrugging. He spun the wheel, taking the next corner quick enough to jostle them both around. Hot Rod glared, but crossed his arms in a huff instead. Deadlock clicked his tongue. “If you really didn’t want to hit me, you wouldn’t have. And that’s, that.”

Hot Rod opened his mouth, and shut it tightly. He sighed, slumping in his seat. “Fine, maybe I wanted to hit you.”

“Now I bet you feel much better admitting that,” Deadlock said.

“I still don’t get why you wanted to be hit so bad,” Hot Rod huffed. He rubbed the underside of his chest, feeling around for anything broken. Deadlock hadn’t hit him that hard, but he tended to favor the chest with his hits. Hot Rod winced touching over a tender area. “You a masochist or something?”

“Once in a while,” Deadlock admitted, voice a little softer. Hot Rod widened his eyes at him and Deadlock shrugged. “It can feel really good depending on who’s doing the hitting and where.”

Deadlock knew that he caused Gasket to worry, but every once in a while Deadlock got Turmoil upset on purpose. Just to get knocked around a little by someone bigger. Deadlock wanted to be on the receiving end, if only to remember what it felt like to have his face shoved in the dirt over and over by bigger, stronger bullies. It was always a wonderful reminder why he worked so hard to be the one that broke other people’s fingers.

Why he worked so hard to be the best.

To make sure others wet themselves in terror just hearing his name.

But, Deadlock paused as he looked over at Hot Rod, he wouldn’t mind having a little more fun with it if the right person were throwing the punches.

Mutual fights were so much better than one sided beat downs, no matter which side of the equation Deadlock was on.

Hot Rod hadn’t answered him, and went back to staring thoughtfully out the window. Deadlock bit his lip and pulled up to the street a block from Hot Rod’s house.

“And I’ve dropped you off on time, as promised,” Deadlock said. He drummed his fingers on the wheel and sat back in the seat.

Hot Rod gathered up his backpack from the ground, and got out of the car. He checked himself over for any lingering dirt and dust on his person before closing the door. Deadlock lowered the windows and Hot Rod threw his pack on his back.

“Thanks for getting me home on time,” Hot Rod said. He rubbed the side of his cheek and kept his gaze firmly locked on a street lamp. “And the burgers were good, so thanks for dinner.”

Deadlock leaned on his wheel and licked the side of his teeth. “Can we do this again? The dinner thing? Running around? I really like you.”

Hot Rod looked closely at the hopeful man glancing up at him with even larger, pleading eyes. Save for the whole fight mess, with the bruises that Hot Rod could still feel everywhere and was terrified to actually see in a mirror, the night hadn’t gone that bad.

And Blurr was still ignoring him.

“Sure, I guess,” Hot Rod said, shrugging. He grabbed the side of the car door and leaned in. “But next time we go to a burger joint in Iacon, and no more fighting. I’m already going to be black and blue for a week.”

“I can promise the first one,” Deadlock said, grinning. He held his hand out for a shake to seal the deal. “Compromise?”

Hot Rod slapped the side of the car and shook his head as he walked toward his house. “You’re nuts.”

Deadlock watched the kid head back to the house, his heart beating faster with the knowledge he’d just gotten a yes to a second date.

“So are you kid,” Deadlock said, biting the edge of his knuckle as red hair disappeared in the distance. “So are you.”

Chapter Text

“There’s a what?” Hot Rod asked, shoving a mouthful of re-heated macaroni and cheese in his mouth. Uncle Magnus and his father had already gone to bed, leaving Springer and Hot Rod at the kitchen counter alone. The conversation hadn’t gone where Hot Rod expected it to. Hot Rod swallowed his bite of food, hoping Springer didn’t notice his twitch. “And you’re going to patrol school?”

“One of the students at your school is dealing drugs,” Springer said, leaning on the counter as he watched Hot Rod eat. His own empty dish was long washed and back in the cupboard. “And yes, I’ll be stopping by to do some day patrols.”

“You know who it is?” Hot Rod asked, even as the name “Swindle” popped into his head. He bit the edge of his fork, Blurr’s face and blood shot eyes coming to the front of his mind.

“Not yet,” Springer said. He glanced at Hot Rod, and tapped his fingers on the edge of his arm. “Have you heard anything?”

Yes, Hot Rod thought to himself, distracting his mouth with another bite of macaroni. Blurr’s face kept him from answering honestly. Hot Rod shook his head. “No.”

Springer stared at Hot Rod for a long time, watching his shoulders and the softness of the answer. He frowned and his shoulders dropped. Springer knew that Hot Rod lied to him. Every inch of Springer’s face and eyes said he was disappointed, and it made Hot Rod’s stomach hurt in a way that the bruises forming under his ribs couldn’t.

But Springer didn’t push it.

Hot Rod turned the noodles over in his plate when Springer reached over to ruffle his hair. His surrogate big brother kissed the top of Hot Rod’s head and rounded the bar counter to grab his coat.

Springer picked it up, looking over at Hot Rod. His smile was sad, but still there. Offering a second chance. “Let me know if you do hear anything, okay?”

“Kay,” Hot Rod said, waving as Springer let himself out the front door.

Hot Rod shoved his dinner away and leaned on the counter. He held his head and sucked in a breath, ignoring the way his chest still ached after his fake fight. Lying to Springer hurt far worse than any punch from Deadlock. And Springer knew that he’d lied. Hot Rod bit his lip.

He really needed to warn Blurr before Springer found Swindle and his friend got dragged down with him.

It’d be easier to warn Blurr if he were actually at school.

Hot Rod shoved his text books in his back pack with a huff, slinging the heavy bag over his shoulder. He really hoped that Blurr was okay wherever he was, and not doing something stupid. Hot Rod had half a mind to go over to his house to check, but missing one day of school wasn’t quite serious enough.

Blurr was still mad at him.

As if Hot Rod’s day couldn’t get any better, Springer had also shown up sometime during the day in plain clothes and walked around the halls to remind himself of the High School layout. He’d caught Hot Rod and gave him a small wave before moving on. Maybe it was a good thing Blurr wasn’t there today. If Springer caught him, there’s no way he wouldn’t have been able to tell Blurr was hopped up on Speed Boosters.

Hot Rod had seen Swindle, though.

He had half a mind to stomp over there and tell him to stop selling stuff to Blurr and get his act together before he was thrown in Juvie. But Swindle also happened to have his older brother Vortex with him, who also happened to be a senior and could beat Hot Rod in a fight no problem. And there’d be a fight if Hot Rod went over there.

And there was no way Hot Rod was getting into a fight with the drug dealer he “didn’t know about” when Springer was still walking around his school.

Hot Rod stomped out of the building after the last bell, rubbing both of his palms into his eyes. This was getting way over his head.

Maybe he really should just tell Springer what was going on. The older officer was practically family. Maybe he’d help Blurr get a break or something, and focus solely on Swindle.

Or Springer would make it a big deal, because as cool as he was and as often as he pushed the rules himself, Springer could also be worse about the rules than Ultra Magnus when it suited him. But then again, maybe he’d understand that Blurr needed help more than to be punished. Springer would understand. Or he wouldn’t.

And did any of it even matter when Blurr was still so angry Hot Rod flushed his bag of pills that he wasn’t speaking to him, and was missing from school?

Hot Rod groaned, digging his palms harder into his eyes and blocking out all the light from the afternoon sun in the school yard. This was all too much.

“You look like you need a ride,” Deadlock said, flicking Hot Rod in the forehead.

Hot Rod dropped his hands, staring down at the older man. They both stared at each other for a minute, and Hot Rod shifted his feet. Deadlock looked concerned, and if that wasn’t a sign that Hot Rod was having a bad day, nothing was.

“Yeah,” Hot Rod said, rubbing his mouth. “A ride would be really good.”

“Then you’ve got one,” Deadlock said, smiling and holding up his key fob. He clicked a button, unlocking his car door and both of them slid into the seats.

Deadlock’s car shot out of the parking lot, and neither passenger noticed Springer watching from the side of his SUV a few rows down.

“So what’s eating you?” Deadlock said, shifting into another gear as his car turned up a hill. He didn’t have a destination in mind, and Hot Rod didn’t look like he wanted to be anywhere. Kid looked like someone’d suckerpunched him, and Deadlock was more than happy to break anyone’s face in who had even thought about it. He glanced at the slumped Red Head who had yet to answer and tried again. “You want to go out to that lot and hit me again?”

“I don’t think hitting things will help this time,” Hot Rod sighed. He clutched his backpack to his chest and leaned on Deadlock’s door. “I can barely think straight about it as it is.”

“Talking helps,” Deadlock said. Gasket always said talking helped, not that Deadlock ever took him up on it. When Deadlock talked about the things he really wanted to, his older friend would get pale and start shaking a little. Deadlock liked him too much to keep doing that to him. But how bad could Hot Rod’s problems be? Gasket’s advice was meant more for kids like Hot Rod anyway. “If you want to.”

Besides, there was a good chance a name might get dropped and Deadlock could just take care of the problem himself. Which could be fun depending on what was going on.

Deadlock crossed his fingers that Hot Rod was being bullied and he’d have someone to beat into a bloody pulp.

His red headed crush was having far different thoughts.

Hot Rod hugged the back pack tighter and breathed out slowly. He couldn’t talk to his dad or Springer about it because he’d half to admit that he lied, and there was the chance Blurr would get into real trouble. But Blurr was also going to get into trouble if he kept dealing with Swindle. Both were bad options, but Deadlock. Guy lived in lower Kaon. He probably saw drug dealers and worse all the time.

He might actually be the best person to get advise from.

“My friend,” Hot Rod stopped himself from dropping Blurr’s name, “He’s getting drugs from a dealer at school. The cops are planning to bust the guy soon, and I don’t want him to get caught up in it. I’m not sure what to do.”

Deadlock squinted at the road as he turned another corner. A dealer at the High School? That didn’t sound right. He didn’t know of any of Gasket’s guys that were hanging out around there.

Deadlock looked over at Hot Rod with the corner of his eyes. “There’s a dealer at your school?”

“Yeah,” Hot Rod said. He dropped his bag on the floor well, and ruffled his own hair. “I know who it is, too, but I can’t tell anybody or they’ll bust him and maybe all the people he’s selling to which includes Blu-my friend. I want him to stop buying drugs, not get arrested!”

Deadlock shook his head slowly, going over drop points in his head. “That’s not right. There shouldn’t be any dealers at a high school.”

Hot Rod dropped his hands into his lap. “Really? Wouldn’t high schoolers be a good crowd to sell drugs to?”

“They usually can’t afford it,” Deadlock said, scrunching his nose. Which was true. Even Deadlock couldn’t afford to buy most of the stuff they dealt with. Deadlock only got product at a significant discount because he was living with the guy who made the stuff. “What’s your buddy buying anyway?”

“Speed boosters,” Hot Rod said, fidgeting with the edge of his shirt. “Why?”

Deadlock laughed, hitting the steering wheel. He rubbed the back of his head, and scratched at his hair line. Deadlock snorted, “Oh, oh man. Okay. I get it now.”

“Get what?”

“Nothing, I was just trying to wrap my head around why someone would be trying to move product to a bunch of kids who were still getting their money from mommy or daddy,” Deadlock said. He clicked his tongue and snorted. “But your ‘dealer’ sounds like he’s just moving a bunch of kid stuff.”

“Speed boosters are ‘kid stuff’?” Hot Rod asked, shifting in his seat. He knew Deadlock was kinda off in the head and had a gun, and lived in lower Kaon but he somehow never considered that the guy might actually be involved with all the crime that went on down there. Hot Rod felt sort of foolish in hindsight. He swallowed, “You sound like you know a lot.”

“Ought to,” Deadlock said, smiling. He bit the edge of his lip, and idly spun the wheel to turn down another street. Deadlock wondered if Hot Rod was even paying attention to where they were. “I might be a bit involved with the business myself.”

“Oh,” Hot Rod said, swallowing.

Testing the water, Deadlock reached over to his glove compartment—his hand was so close to Hot Rod’s knee he almost grabbed it but controlled himself, do it later, Deadlock, later—and popped it open. He pulled out a small vial, and dropped it in Hot Rod’s lap.

Hot Rod picked up the tube, his eyes widening. This could absolutely not be what he thought it was.

“Now if you said your dealer was dealing with those,” Deadlock said, grinning wide as he took another turn. “I’d be a little more worried.”

And probably have some work to do.

“What is this?” Hot Rod said, his heart thumping louder in his chest. He had a feeling he knew what this was, but there was no way he should be holding it. His dad would murder him.

Assuming Springer didn’t do it first.

“Neural Booster,” Deadlock said. He laughed as Hot Rod jerked up, nearly dropping the small vial. Deadlock snorted. “Be careful with that. You’re holding about a grand’s worth of product right there, and I don’t think you’ve got that much money in your wallet to pay me back.”

But then again, Deadlock hummed, he could think of other ways—no, stop it. Deadlock was driving. He reminded himself he was driving and licked his lips. Couldn’t do that right now.

“This cost a thousand dollars?” Hot Rod choked, suddenly clutching the tiny glass vile tighter to his chest. Now he really, really knew he shouldn’t even be in the car with this thing. Hot Rod looked down at his hand, the small thing completely hidden by his fist. Deadlock said this cost a grand. He knew drugs were expensive, but it was so small. “For one dose?”

“One?” Deadlock blinked. He looked over at Hot Rod and shook his head. For the son of the police chief he really didn’t know anything about all this, did he? Deadlock licked the side of his lip. “That’s like four doses.”

For a regular person, anyway. It was one or two depending on his mood for Deadlock, but he was an admitted addict. For someone Hot Rod’s age and size, it’d be more like eight doses. There was a reason they didn’t push that stuff on kids and teenagers that had nothing to do with the law: Dead buyers didn’t come back for seconds.

Overdosing on Neural Boosters was a rough way to go.

“Doesn’t take much then, does it?” Hot Rod said. The liquid swished in the container, and Hot Rod realized for the first time that some was missing. Hot Rod found a button on the side, and clicked it. A needle popped out at the end, and Hot Rod was careful not to touch it. “You use these?”

“You probably don’t actually want to know the answer to that,” Deadlock said. His water test was failing. Hot Rod didn’t know nearly enough about this life yet for Deadlock to be figuring out if he could handle dealing or not. But that was fine, Deadlock would have other opportunities. “So let’s go back to your dealer troubles. What is it you actually want to do about it?”

“I just want my friend to stop buying his drugs so he won’t get in trouble,” Hot Rod said, leaning back in the seat. He fidgeted with the small thousand dollar tube, at least somewhat relieved that what Blurr was taking was considered a light drug. “That’s all.”

“Well, if his dealer gets arrested, I can promise you he’ll just find someone else,” Deadlock said, shrugging. “People who want their fix’ll get it.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Hot Rod said, letting the vial tilt to the side in his hand. He held it near his thigh, and shook his head. “This is over my head.”

“A little bit,” Deadlock said. He turned and ruffled Hot Rod’s hair. Deadlock loved every strand of hair that went through his fingertips. He wanted to tug it harder. Deadlock shoved it down. Later. He could do that later. Lots more later. Seeing Hot Rod holding his favorite drug was doing wonders for testing his self control today. “But you’ll figure it out.”

The car ran over a pothole in the road.

Deadlock cursed, grabbing the wheel and straightened out his car after his car’s stiff shocks sent his car up in the air about a foot. Deadlock huffed, as the road smoothed out again. Next time he went joy riding, he’d do it somewhere where the streets were nicer—

Hot Rod hissed.

Deadlock slammed on the breaks, thankful the road was empty in the suburban neighborhood he’d been circling.

Hot Rod shook, his hands around the place where the needle of Deadlock’s booster had jammed into his leg. The vial was already half empty.

“Ah, shit,” Deadlock hissed as Hot Rod’s eyes widened and his breath picked up.

Chapter Text

Gasket set the last of his beakers onto the drying rack and grabbed a towel to dry off his hands. He had help that could do the menial tasks of cleaning out his tools, but it relaxed him. There was something nice and calming about rinsing out the filth he made day in and day out with clean water and soap.

Deadlock kicking open the door to the lab with his foot, his arms full of a twitching teenager, was the opposite of this.

“What the hell?” Gasket said, taking in Deadlock’s furious expression and the rolled back eyes of the kid in his arms. A kid with red hair and flames painted on his jeans. Gasket cursed. “Is that who I think it is?”

“Accidentally overdosed on a Neural Booster, a little over half of my vial in the thigh,” Deadlock grunted, dumping Hot Rod into the nearest chair that had a back. He kept the kid from falling over, but his eyes were still rolled back into his head and his heart was beating hard enough that Deadlock could almost hear it through his ribs. Hot Rod gasping breaths pleaded desperately for more and more oxygen as the booster pumped his systems. Deadlock shouted, “Help him now, yell later.”

“Right,” Gasket said, throwing the towel on the sink edge and headed straight for the supply cabinet on the far wall. He threw open the main door, and yanked open an inner drawer. “How long since he took it?”

“Twenty minutes, give or take,” Deadlock said. He kept Hot Rod sitting up by the shoulder, and wiped off the stream of drool from his gaping mouth with the bottom of his shirt. Deadlock growled, scratching the back of his head hard. “Drove here as fast as I could.”

“Okay, so at least a third’s already worked through,” Gasket said. He grabbed a smaller vial with a green liquid and shoved into an applicator gun. “He’s not dead yet, so you better be thankful he has a good make up for this stuff. He’d been dead ten minutes ago if it reacted badly.”

Gasket slid over to the kid’s side, unbuttoning his red and orange shirt. He pulled it off the kid’s shoulder, jamming the applicator under his neck and into the artery.

Deadlock grabbed the kid when Hot Rod’s entire body seized up from the shot, the boy gulping down a large intake of air. His eyes rolled back down, bringing those bright blue eyes back into view. After a few seconds, they focused, bringing Hot Rod out of the mind haze and into awareness. Hot Rod clutched at Deadlock’s shirt, breathing heavily and eyes wildly searching the room for some sort of grounding from his head trip.

“You’re lucky it wasn’t thirty minutes or his heart might have popped,” Gasket said, tossing the gun on the side table with his other equipment. He pulled open a small drawer and grabbed a pen light. Gasket gently took the teenager’s chin with the edge of his fingers “Alright, kiddo, look this way for me.”

Hot Rod turned his head with Gasket’s help, still breathing heavily but not as bad. Gasket flicked the light on, and pointed it in his eyes watching for the pupil to contract and follow the light. Happy with that, Gasket put the light in his pocket and checked the kid’s pulse.

“Is he going to be okay or what?” Deadlock asked, biting the edge of his thumb as Gasket continued checking various vitals. Hot Rod continued looking around the room, but there wasn’t as much awareness as Deadlock first assumed. He still looked dazed. “It doesn’t look like the lights are on yet.”

“He’ll be fine,” Gasket said. He straightened up and rolled his shoulder. “I counteracted the Neutral Booster with another drug to calm his symptoms down. He’s no longer in threat of burning out, but your little friend here’s still high as a kite. With as much as you gave him, he’ll be like this for another two hours.”

“I didn’t give him anything, it was an accident,” Deadlock muttered. He rubbed the back of his neck. “That’s not too bad, though.”

“What the hell were you thinking!?” Gasket said, smacking Deadlock in the arm. The cleaner jumped, and rubbed the spot where Gasket had whacked him. That had hurt! He didn’t think Gasket could hit that hard. Deadlock yelped when Gasket hit him again, on the back of the head this time. “Just because you’re stupid enough to ignore all our good advice to stay away from the police chief’s son, doesn’t mean you also have to be stupid enough to put him anywhere near a Neural Booster!”

Deadlock winced as Hot Rod clung to his arm, still half aware of the world, on the one side, and Gasket continued whacking him on the other while yelling.

Well, he did say Gasket could yell at him later, and Hot Rod wasn’t dying.

Could be worse.

Springer kicked open the door to his house, running his hand through his hair and growling. He threw his coat on the couch and counted to ten as he stalked through the empty room. The phone on the side table tempted him to call Arcee and ask for advice, but she was out of town visiting her nephew Rattrap.

She already had a trouble kid to deal with.

He opened the fridge and pulled out a beer. He popped the cap off on the counter, and took a sip slamming the door closed. Springer collapsed on his couch, listening to the empty house. He never thought he’d miss his parents after they moved out, but now he was desperate for any sort of company to distract him.

Springer had lost sight of Hot Rod.

He’d trailed the white and red racer Hot Rod had gotten in for quite some time, but couldn’t figure out where they where headed. Somewhere around the forth turn, and Springer’s SUV hadn’t been able to keep up. Springer drove around for another thirty minutes, but never did find them again.

He had no other choice but to go home.

Part of Springer was tempted to call Kup and get permission to officially go after Hot Rod. He’d recognized that one guy from the alley way. What had his name been? Dead-something? Deadlack? No, Deadlock. Springer sipped his beer. Hot Rod was hanging out with that Deadlock guy.

That would be enough.

But Springer also had no idea what they were doing. He let his lip rest on the neck of the beer bottle. Could Springer get Hot Rod out of trouble before there was legal trouble? That was the key.

Not to mention what his Father or Uncle Magnus would do if they found out Hot Rod was getting involved with that sort of stuff.

Is that why Hot Rod lied earlier about the dealer in his school? Was it Deadlock? Springer tapped the side of the beer bottle. No, he’d seen Deadlock hanging around with Turmoil’s crew. Whoever was at Hot Rod’s school was dealing in Speed Boosters and over the counter stuff. Turmoil and his lot were moving much heavier drugs.

Which worried Springer all the more.

“Just what have you gotten yourself into, Hot Rod?” Springer said. He leaned back in the couch and made plans to talk to Hot Rod first thing in the morning.

Whether he wanted to or not.

“I hope you didn’t plan on sleeping,” Gasket said, checking Hot Rod’s eyes again. The pupils contracted and followed the light as they should. Gasket checked the pulse. A little slow, but he’d hit the kid with a rather strong downer to get rid of that upper he’d drowned in earlier. It was fine, but should be watched. Gasket frowned, “Because I think we should keep him over night.”

Hot Rod giggled, drunk on the after affects of the counter drug. He made a grab for the flashlight, but Deadlock’s nice friend held it out of reach. Hot Rod grunted, reaching up for it. “Pretty!”

“Yes, the light is very pretty,” Gasket said, shoving it in his back pocket. “He shouldn’t still be this high after two hours.”

“So something’s wrong? Why aren’t you more worried?” Deadlock asked, throwing his hands up. “Do we need to do anything else?”

“Yeah, let it work out of his system,” Gasket snorted. He ruffled Hot Rod’s hair, and shoved the kid over at Deadlock. The kid grabbed Deadlock’s waist and hugged him, nuzzling like a kitten. “He’s not in danger, he’s just high. You really want to drop him off at his parent’s place like that?”

“No,” Deadlock swallowed, trying very hard not to think about how affectionate Hot Rod got when he was high. His fingers twitched. “But he’ll be okay before his curfew, so why can’t I take him home?”

“Because when I said he’s going to be fine, I don’t know for sure,” Gasket sighed, sitting down on a stool. He tapped his fingers on the counter and shook his head. “Look, one way or another he overdosed on Neural Boosters for twenty minutes, and we have no idea what kind of an affect that’ll have until his system has completely flushed it all out. I personally, would feel much better having him under observation until the morning.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Deadlock said. Hot Rod started plucking at his jacket edge, tugging on the leather.

Gasket made the stuff and knew those drugs inside and out better than anyone. If he thought Deadlock should watch Hot Rod over night, he should probably listen.

“At least you’ll have plenty of time to figure out why he went missing over night,” Gasket said. He stood up from the chair and threw his towel back on the sink. “And with that, I’m going to sleep. Wake me up if you think anything is wrong.”

Deadlock pouted, but nodded. Gasket had already done enough to help, and he was sort of old. They needed sleep. Hot Rod turned and reached for a pair of pliers on the table near Gasket’s glass beakers and Deadlock pushed it out of the way. He looked around the room and winced at the amount of chemicals, glass, metal stands, and other utensils were stationed around the room.

Probably not the best place for curious, child-like hands.

“Okay, time for a change in location.” Deadlock reached down and fixed Hot Rod’s shirt before hauling the kid up by the arm. He slipped his hand around Hot Rod’s waist, and helped the kid stumble over to the side door. “Come on, Hot Rod. Let’s go to my room where you can’t grab anything that’ll hurt you.”

“What’s in your room?” Hot Rod asked, hugging Deadlock’s waist again. He grinned into the shirt. “I’ve got a bunch of second place ribbons in mine!”

“Nothing that impressive,” Deadlock said, his own breathing picking up. He opened the back door to his closet of a bedroom and leaned on the door frame. He licked his teeth and bit the side of his lip hard enough to make it bleed. “Just a bed.”

Maybe Hot Rod was safer in the lab, Deadlock considered. Hot Rod let go of him and stumbled past to fall face first onto Deadlock’s mattress. He rolled onto his back and looked at the ceiling with a drunken chuckle.

Deadlock closed the door with a whistle.

Too late now.

Chapter Text

Springer banged on the chipped door, taking a step back after the fourth hit. He scrunched his shoulders, shifting the heavy black jacket. Springer fixed the hood, making sure that it covered his green hair and shifted his feet on the crumbling concrete house porch located in the middle of Kaon’s housing complex.

“Come on,” he hissed. People gave him odd looks as they passed behind him, but Springer ignored them. Minding your own business was rule number one down here. Springer smacked the door again with the side of his fist. “Answer the damn door already.”

Hot Rod wasn’t home yet. It was nearing ten o’clock and Hot Rod had missed his curfew. Springer had woken his bed, shocked to find a phone call from Prime asking if Hot Rod had slept over. After assuring his Boss that he hadn’t seen Hot Rod, Springer immediately got up and dressed.

He had last seen Hot Rod with Deadlock leaving the school.

Part of him just knew he should have told that to Prime, but he. He couldn’t. Hot Rod was hanging out with a ‘Con. He was lying. He was twitchy and fighting with his friends. Springer needed to know what was going on before he got the kid’s dad involved. If Hot Rod really was in trouble, it’d kill him to see his Dad’s disappointed look. Let alone what Elita would do.

Springer banged on the door again. Taking things into his own hands was more his style anyway.

He reached up to hit the door again when he heard the shout of “I’m coming already!”

The door opened, and the man with the purple mohawk hissed immediately, “Oh hell no. You can’t be here!”

Springer immediately slammed his foot and arms on the door to keep it from being shut in his face. “Impactor, let me in.”

“No,” Impactor said, voice low and eyes looking to the side. “You can not be here. Do you know what kind of trouble it’d be if people knew a cop was snooping around here? Do you?”

“I need help. Off the record and personal,” Springer said through gritted teeth. He knew exactly how bad it could be for Impactor if there was a cop at his place, but this was an emergency. Springer tugged his hood farther over his face. “You can tell me through the door if you need to.”

“No. Get out of here right now,” Impactor said back. He continued to try and shut the door in his former friend’s face and asked, “What makes you think I want to help you anyway?”

“Because I can make this professional and absolutely promise an official investigation of this entire damn apartment complex,” Springer threatened. He shoved his face close to the door until he was near nose to nose with Impactor. “And if you think I’m lying, this is about Hot Rod. He’s in over his head and I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“That damn kid,” Impactor said, rolling his eyes. Springer was such a sap for that kid it killed Impactor. And his green haired buddy would most definitely do something that stupid if he thought it would help him. Impactor opened the door and yanked Springer inside before shutting it. “What the hell did he do?”

“He’s missing and the only information I have is the last person he was seen with,” Springer said, shoving his hands in his pocket.

“Oh? Then why not get your fancy little badge friends to help,” Impactor said, still whispering as he leaned against the door. Every second Springer was in his home was a second that he was in trouble. “Why me?”

“Because you’re the one with real ins, and like I said, this is personal,” Springer said. “The Autobots don’t need to get involved.”

“So the kid’s in actual trouble,” Impactor snorted. Of course Hot Rod was in trouble with the law. He was the police chief’s kid. Frankly, Impactor was shocked he hadn’t started exploring crime sooner. “Next you’ll be telling me Arcee is running a brothel. You just attract troubled folks, don’t you?”

“Shut up, Impactor,” Springer said. He rubbed the back of his head and couldn’t believe that he and Impactor used to be best friends in High School. But then again, Springer was here wasn’t he? And reluctantly or not, Impactor let him in when it mattered. A rough friendship was still friendship, right? “Look, I’m not here to get you in trouble. I just need to know where someone is and I’ll handle the rest all by myself.”

“Depends on who that someone is, but I’m listening,” Impactor said.

“Hot Rod’s been hanging out with some ‘Con named Deadlock,” Springer said. “He went off in a car with him this afternoon after school and they’re not back yet.”

Impactor froze, eyes wide.

Springer knew that wasn’t good. He pulled his hands out of his pockets and asked, “What? Why are you freezing up like that?”

“Damn,” Impactor said, holding his mouth. He shook his head and grabbed the sides of his head. His fingers nearly touched the purple hair of his mohawk. “No, no. I can’t tell you where he is.”

“How bad is this, Impactor?” Springer asked, his heart picking up the pace. Just where was Hot Rod? What sort of a guy was Deadlock to scare Impactor?

“There’s a good chance that kid of yours is dead,” Impactor said. “Let’s put it that way.”

Springer’s heart froze in his chest for all of two seconds before it melted away in a protective rage. Every inch of him was on fire.

He grabbed the front of Impactor’s shirt and dragged his underground friend over. Impactor’s eyes widened at the sheer ferocity in Springer’s eyes. “Tell me everything.”



Hot Rod was on Deadlock’s bed.

Every fantasy Deadlock had ever had that involved bending the kid over or throwing him against the nearest surface always involved concrete floors or the back of his sports car. Never in a million years did he dare to think about actually having the kid on his back in a bed. That was too good to be true, even for fantasies.

But here he was. The kid’s shoes were still on his feet, bunching up the end of his blankets as he sprawled out on Deadlock’s bed. His eyes were still half-lidded in his drunken state. Hot Rod giggled every so often, and talked nonsense to Deadlock.

Deadlock bit the site of his hand, digging his teeth in to keep from molesting the kid while he was on the bed. Hot Rod refused to get tired or go to sleep, but he was still sort of okay. Nothing to call Gasket about. Deadlock just had to watch Hot Rod and make sure he didn’t stop breathing or something. So maybe it was good he was awake.

On the bed.

The clock chimed eleven, and Deadlock thought he was doing pretty well staying in his chair on the far aside of the room. He could behave. He could. No matter how much he wanted to push Hot Rod’s shirt up and kiss the bruises he’d left. Maybe make some new ones. Deadlock bit the back of his hand harder.

“Hey Deadlock,” Hot Rod asked, his head tilted to the side. The kid’s hand hung a bit off the bed, his fingers moving. “How come you’re so far over there? Come over here.”

Screw behaving. Deadlock whined. That was an invite if he’d ever heard one. Deadlock was across the room and straddling Hot Rod on the bed before the kid could barely register that the older man had moved.

Hot Rod tasted amazing.

Deadlock’s hands buried themselves in the hair on the back of his head, the back of his neck. Any place they could hold that kept Hot Rod’s mouth on his own. The kid whined under him, his legs shifting, but nothing to throw Deadlock off. Hot Rod’s hands groped clumsily at the bed sheets and at Deadlock’s jacket.

He stuck his tongue in Hot Rod’s mouth and moaned.

The younger teen fit perfectly against him. Deadlock allowed one hand to find the small of Hot Rod’s back and pull them closer together. Their clothes rubbed against each other and Deadlock slipped his fingers under Hot Rod’s shirt to feel his back bone.

Deadlock never stopped kissing him. He’d suffocate Hot Rod before he stopped. Not when everything was going so, so right.

Hot Rod pushed at his shoulder and mumbled, “Can’t breathe.”

Deadlock pulled back, still breathing heavily. Hot Rod’s flushed face came into view and he relented that smothering Hot Rod too much meant they couldn’t do this again. Deadlock grinned and bit Hot Rod’s lip. “I want to eat you.”

“Huh?” Hot Rod said, blinking a few times. His eyebrows scrunched together as his groggy mind tried to process the sentence. “Why?”

“You taste good,” Deadlock said, laughing. Ah, he needed to figure out what Gasket gave Hot Rod. He’d need to get this kid on it again some time. He was too cute. “Really, really good.”

Deadlock kissed Hot Rod again. This time taking appropriate two second breaks every so often to let the kid breathe. He was thinking straight enough to kiss and breathe at the same time. Which was also cute.

When had Deadlock turned into such a sap?

At some point, Hot Rod’s arms had twisted around his back, clinging tightly as he pulled closer to Deadlock. It was sloppy, but Hot Rod was kissing back. Deadlock hummed into it, grinding the kid into the mattress with his hips.

“You want it, don’t you?” Deadlock whispered into Hot Rod’s lips. He rubbed Hot Rod’s waist and the kid whimpered. Deadlock kissed his neck, nipping the side. He could feel the heat through their clothes; all that want. “Finally.”

Deadlock dropped his hand to the front and his fingers found the buttons of Hot Rod’s jeans.

The door to his room slammed open. The door knob smacked so hard into the wall that the drywall cracked. The intruder roared, “Get your hands off him!”

Deadlock leaned up and pivoted on his hip to turn around.

He saw murder in blue eyes.



Hot Rod stared at the ceiling, feeling oddly light.

There had been a wonderful weight on his chest and something warm all around him. He tried to focus on the ceiling. Where did it go? And what was all that noise? Hot Rod sat up in the bed, staring at the open door where all the noise was coming from.



“I’m going to kill you,” Springer promised, throwing another punch into the side of Deadlock’s face. The satisfying crunch of cartilage breaking wasn’t enough. “Do you hear me?”

“Little hard with my ears ringing, but yeah,” Deadlock laughed, pushing himself off the floor and tackling Springer’s legs.

The other man hit the ground hard, but didn’t give up the fight. Deadlock caught the next fist that flew at him, twisting the arm back around. He had to hold Springer down or knock him out before he got too into this fight. Springer was out for blood, and that sort of lust was contagious. The cop tried to stand up, and Deadlock felt his body shift.

Deadlock hated it when he couldn’t kill his opponents.

“What’s a cop like you doing in a place like this?” Deadlock asked, twisting around until his face was near the ground so that he could kick Springer in the jaw. It knocked the man off and into the nearest table. The equipment rattled. Deadlock laughed. Couldn’t kill the guy, but roughing him up was a-okay! “Little bit out of your neck of the woods isn’t it?”

Springer grabbed a beaker heating stand off the table and made a swing for Deadlock’s face.

“Not in a talking mood,” Deadlock said, leaning back to avoid the swing. He pulled his arm up and smacked it into the side of Springer’s arm to knock the utensil out of his grip and twisted to elbow him in the gut. “I get that.”

Springer was the bigger guy of the two of them, a good head and some taller over Deadlock. And he put it to good use as he recovered from each hit and tackled Deadlock into the side table. A beaker rolled off the edge and shattered on the ground, its contents spilling across the floor in a smoking hiss.

“Be careful with that stuff,” Deadlock added, wondering if Gasket had woken up with all this racket yet. He’ll probably be pissed there was a fight with a cop in his lab. And home. Deadlock groaned. “It’s expensive.”

“Do I really look like I care?” Springer asked, taking advantage of Deadlock’s distraction to shove the smaller man against a counter.

He wrapped his hands around Deadlock’s throat and began to choke the man. Images of Hot Rod squirming under this little rat refused to leave his mind. It was on repeat: Deadlock molesting Hot Rod. Deadlock kissing Hot Rod. His baby brother Hot Rod with his pants open under a monster like this. All those thoughts mixed with the horrible nightmares he’d thought up on the drive here after the things Impactor had told him, making it all the worse.

Springer squeezed until Deadlock’s hands were banging the counter as he struggled to get free and breathe. Springer snarled, “Going to kill you.”

Deadlock grunted, squirming under Springer’s hold. He was serious about that and Deadlock had no intention of dying tonight. He groped the cabinet behind him, fingers pulling open a drawer. Gasket had a gun in here. Deadlock would get it, shoot Springer, and dump the body before Hot Rod noticed.


Springer kept squeezing, ready to watch the light disappear from Deadlock’s eyes when the small body crashed into his side and grabbed his arm.

“Hot Rod?” Springer asked, too stunned to stop the teenager from yanking his hand away from Deadlock’s throat.

“Stop it!” Hot Rod shouted, clinging desperately to Springer’s arm. He couldn’t focus where he was looking and all he saw was Springer and Deadlock and it had to stop. Hot Rod threw himself in Springer’s arms and squeezed around his waist. “Stop, stop, stop. You’re hurting him.”

Deadlock choked as he breathed again. Springer was totally off guard with Hot Rod distracting him and it wouldn't take anything to—Hot Rod was crying.

Damn, the kid was crying.

The cleaner closed the drawer, and stood up straight. He rubbed the side of his nose and huffed as he leaned against the counter, watching Springer hug Hot Rod.

“What’d you do to him?” Springer asked, venom lacing every word. Hot Rod wasn’t acting normal. His pupils were too large, his voice was slurred, and Springer could kill Deadlock later. Right now his top priority was the kid in front of him. “Did you drug him?”

Deadlock shifted, eyes on the ground. It was better not to admit to anything.

“He overdosed on a neural booster he found. Some idiot left their stash out and he got curious about what it was,” Gasket said, coming into the room. Now that the fight had stilled, there might be a chance to salvage this night. “Kid had no idea what he was holding before someone knocked into him and he jabbed himself in the thigh. If Deadlock hadn’t rushed him over here where I could give him something to counter act it, that kid would be dead.”

Springer’s arms tightened around Hot Rod, the air leaving his lungs. Hot Rod could have been dead. His worst fear. He squeezed Hot Rod even tighter as he swallowed and asked, “And right now?”

“He had a bad reaction to the counter drug, so we were keeping him overnight to make sure it went out of his system okay,” Gasket said. He walked over to the spilled chemicals and frowned before grabbing a mop. “He’s drugged up, but things are looking okay once it works its way through his system.”

Deadlock owed Gasket everything. Anything he wanted. Any time. The man and come up with the perfect lie that made Deadlock the hero and absolved him of all blame. Gasket was amazing.

“Then why was Deadlock shoving his tongue down Hot Rod’s throat? You call that observing?” Springer asked, glaring at the cleaner’s direction.

“He was doing what!” Gasket yelled. He swung the mop handle at Deadlock and smacked him in the side of the arm. “Just when I think you can’t get any stupider!”

Deadlock took back a small portion of his gratitude as Gasket proceeded to continue beating Deadlock with the broom.

“And just who are you, anyway?” Gasket asked, pointing at the green haired man. Hot Rod was clinging to him like a life line, so they had to know each other somehow.

“Big brother,” Hot Rod slurred. He leaned back and tugged on Springer’s jacket and said again. “My big brother.”

“Family, huh?” Gasket rolled his eyes, and rubbed the side of his face. This was going to be trouble later, but for right now he needed to defuse the situation, and that meant getting on the big brother’s good side. He shook Deadlock’s shoulder and admitted, “Well, that explains why you were trying to kill this idiot.”

“Kid liked it,” Deadlock huffed, thinking of the way Hot Rod had asked him over. How he’d kissed back. “So I don’t know why you’re so mad.”

“Why you.” Springer took a step forward before Hot Rod whined and squeezed his waist tighter. “Hot Rod?”

“My head hurts,” Hot Rod said. Everything was in too many colors. Hot Rod was cold and wanted Springer and Deadlock to stop fighting. “It’s too loud.”

“Look, I’m saying this for both of your sakes,” Gasket said, pointing between the two of them. “Put the kid back in bed so he can rest, and you two call it a truce. Neither of you wants the kid to be miserable, so stop thinking of yourselves for five minutes and sit quietly for his sake.”

Springer and Deadlock both looked noticeably scolded, and Gasket decided he said the right thing.

“And before you start up about taking him home, the reason he’s being observed here is because if something happens I’ve got the medicine to help,” Gasket added, pointing his finger at the big guy. “So get ready to stay the night if you’re going to watch him.”

“I’m not leaving,” Springer said. He pulled over a chair and helped Hot Rod into it. Springer sat down next to him, and let Hot Rod use his side as a pillow. He nodded his head at Deadlock before putting an arm around Hot Rod’s shoulder. “But there’s no way I’m letting him get back in that bed with that guy around.”

“Fair enough,” Gasket said. He rubbed his face and headed back to his bedroom. “Play nice, you two.”

Deadlock took a seat across from Springer, using a table as a back rest. He spread his legs and got comfortable, glaring at the two of them. Hot Rod looked too comfortable, half asleep against Springer’s side and calm now that no one was shouting. Deadlock met Springer’s gaze and bit the side of his thumb.

Springer had to go.

Chapter Text

Hot Rod knew he was screwed when he woke up to Springer and Deadlock glaring at each other.

Neither had noticed him shifting yet, and he licked his lips, slowly looking around the room to figure out where he was, what was going on, and why Deadlock’s nose was broken. Hot Rod glanced at Springer’s bruised fists, and was happy at least one mystery was solved.

The rest of his day was a blank.

He remembered spilling his guts to Deadlock about Blurr and the Swindle situation at school. And then everything went white for a while. Hot Rod closed his eyes and concentrated, but was rewarded with a headache and quick flashes. His heart pounding so loudly he could have sworn it was going to explode. A too hot body. Being weightless. Something wet. Something heavy. And just. Crying. Hot Rod rubbed the side of his cheek and winced at the dried crust on his cheek.

Mystery two; Hot Rod had been the one crying.

And Springer was here. The son of the police chief really ought to deal with that. Especially with Deadlock here and—Hot Rod glanced at the window and winced at the bright morning sunlight pouring through—he missed curfew again.

“I take it we all had a rough night?” Hot Rod said, pushing himself into a seated position. He looked down and realized he’d been sleeping on a lab table that looked liked it’d been lifted from some high school science class. “Or was it just me?”

“Rod!” Springer shouted, immediately jumping out of his seat. He latched onto his kid brother’s arms before hugging him. He then pushed him back to get a good look at Rod’s eyes. They looked clear and alert and he practically felt the relief wash over him. “I am so glad you’re okay.”

“Was I not?” Hot Rod asked, hesitantly. He glanced between Deadlock, who now couldn’t make up his mind if he wanted to look at Hot Rod or the floor, and back to Springer who looked like he’d aged ten years since the other day when Hot Rod last saw him. “What happened?”

“You had a hell of a head trip,” Gasket said, putting a beaker down from across the room. He walked over to the fabled Prime’s son and pulled out his flashlight. “Didn’t your old man teach you not to pick up neural boosters?”

“Neural boosters?” Hot Rod gaped.

“You found one and injected yourself on accident when someone knocked into you,” Deadlock said, staring hard at Springer’s back. “Overdosed. It was pretty bad, but I got you here in time for Gasket to help.”

“I don’t remember that at all,” Hot Rod said.

“Not surprised,” Gasket said. He pulled out his flashlight and checked the kid’s pupils. Looked okay, but if anything else happened, they’d take the kid to the doctor’s. Not his problem any more. He glanced at Deadlock. Gasket had enough to worry about. “Neural boosters mess with your brain, remember? I’d be more shocked if you did remember.”

“So the better question, is what on cybertron were you thinking getting into a car with this lowlife?” Springer asked, pointing behind him. “You could have died.”

Deadlock huffed. “Hey! That lowlife is right here!”

“You shut up,” Springer said. “I’m not talking to you.”

“Look, Springer,” Hot Rod said, covering his mouth. He took a breath. “You were worried. I’m really sorry, but Deadlock’s not that bad. I mean it. I’ve gone out with him a few times, and we just hung out. I mean it.”

“A few times?” Springer asked, his heart beating too fast. How many times could Hot Rod have died when he wasn’t watching?

Hot Rod had a feeling he’d said the wrong thing when Springer paled. He glanced at Deadlock and back to Springer. “What? Are you okay?”

“Not that bad,” Springer said, licking his lips. He sucked in a slow breath, and really hoped he’d get the answer he wanted. “You don’t think hanging out with a cleaner for the Decepticons isn’t that bad?”

“Cleaner?” Hot Rod asked, darting his head toward Deadlock. “Like, the kind that kill people?”

“He didn’t tell you that about himself, did he?” Springer asked, almost relieved. Hot Rod didn’t know. He didn’t know what he would have done if Hot Rod was willingly hanging out with a killer and knew about it. “Come on. We’re going home and you’re never talking to that man again.”

“Who says you get to decide that?” Deadlock said, getting out of his seat. He got in that idiot cop’s face and hissed. “Isn’t it Hot Rod’s choice who he hangs out with?”

“Not when his idea of good company is you and I’m still alive,” Springer said back.

“Then maybe we’ll have to fix that—”

“Is it true?” Hot Rod whispered, cutting Deadlock off. He looked at his friend, a strip of his white and red hair falling in his face. “Do you kill people?”

Deadlock stopped himself mid-growl and turned to Hot Rod. The kid’s eyes were wide, and something vulnerable was on his face that felt like a stab would under Deadlock’s chest. It was all the wrong sort of pain and he wished that Hot Rod would hit him instead of giving him that hurt expression. Gasket was no help, having shut up once the argument started. Deadlock looked at the floor.

“Is it?” Hot Rod asked again. He took a step toward Deadlock, stopped only by Springer’s hand on his shoulder. “Deadlock.”

Deadlock looked at Springer and slowly shook his head, but he locked eyes with Hot Rod and tried very hard to get across “I can’t answer that with a cop two feet away” instead of “No.”

“Oh,” Hot Rod said.

“Let’s get you home.” Springer tugged on Hot Rod’s arm, removing any chance he had to continue the conversation. They needed to leave as soon as possible before someone called for back up, and he couldn’t ignore his phone for much longer. Springer paused only for the few seconds to look back at the other man in the room. He swallowed, and remembered that he couldn’t get them or Impactor in trouble. The downfall of favors. “Thanks for assisting my brother. I won’t tell anyone where this place is as thanks.”

“Appreciated,” Gasket said.

“Let’s go.”

Springer dragged Hot Rod out of the room, but he could only focus on Deadlock watching them leave.

Springer had lied to Hot Rod’s dad and Uncle Magnus about where he had found Hot Rod (he made something up about a free clinic in Kaon that didn’t keep records), but that didn’t stop him about telling them who he’d been with and what happened.

Uncle Magnus hadn’t been able to say anything. He’d merely given Hot Rod a look that said enough, eyes laced with disappointment and fear mixed together under a stony expression, before excusing himself. All in all, that was probably for the best.

Springer and his dad had teamed up against Hot Rod after that. An odd mix of yelling and hugs and lectures and disappointment and explanations of who Deadlock really was that Springer had dug up and all sorts of words that were all sort of a blur in Hot Rod’s mind as he tried to process what had happened. All in all, everything they had said, sort of mixed together into white noise as he stared at the floor and took it.

Hot Rod could have died.

Hot Rod had been molested while under the influence of incredibly illegal drugs.

Hot Rod had been with a mad man that scared everyone in the underground.

And Hot Rod had gotten enough out of it to know how badly he’d screwed up, but all in all. That wasn’t the part that hurt the most. Not really. The lecture that had ended about twenty minutes ago wasn’t what had Hot Rod curled up in the corner of his bed, hugging his knees though his pajamas.

It was the look on Deadlock’s face when they had left.

He’d been so broken and Hot Rod didn’t know what to do. Hot Rod covered his head with his pillow and sighed into the bed. He wanted to talk to him, but finding out the truth had been harder than he was expecting. Hot Rod had always suspected Deadlock might be involved with the gangs with drugs and stuff, but killing people? Hot Rod both wanted to ask and forget he’d even heard it in the first place.

The door opened.

Kup stuck his head in, knocking lightly on the doorframe as he stared at the miserable lump in the corner. He pulled down his cigar and blew a puff of smoke in the air. Kup let himself in and pulled out his portable ash tray to put out the cigar before taking a seat in the chair next to Hot Rod’s bed.

“I heard you had a rough day,” Kup said. He leaned back in the seat when Hot Rod didn’t respond and laughed. “And if I know those kids, they did a lot more talking than listening, didn’t they?”

Hot Rod pulled his pillow down and hugged it. He looked up at Kup and huffed. “I’d hardly call Uncle Magnus a kid.”

“He is to me,” Kup grinned. He reached over and ruffled Hot Rod’s hair. “So as the only voice of reason in this house, and since I know you’ve gotten every lecture under the sun since you got back, I’m here to listen. I imagine you’ve got some things you want get off your chest.”

“Tell me about it,” Hot Rod said, rolling on his back. “I think I got in over my head, Kup.”

“Wouldn’t expect anything less from a future Wrecker,” Kup said, tapping his fingers on his leg. “As a professional who finds himself drowning in trouble every time I go out into the field, why don’t you tell me about it?”

“I don’t think Deadlock’s a bad guy, or I don’t want to believe he is,” Hot Rod said, keeping his voice low, as if his father could hear him through the walls. “It’s hard to believe that he kills people, but at the same time, at the same time it makes a lot of sense.”

Hot Rod paused for a long time and looked at Kup.

“You remember when I missed curfew a while back, when you and Uncle Magnus were picking my dad up from the airport?” Hot Rod asked.

“Yeah, I do,” Kup said, putting two and two together. “You were with Deadlock?”

“He’d been coming to my school for a while, wanting to talk. I kept telling him to back off, but one day he just, he snapped. He knocked me out, threw me in a trunk and took me out to an abandoned field,” Hot Rod said, sitting up. Kup didn’t answer, but rolled his finger for Hot Rod to keep going. He closed his eyes and remembered. “He apologized when I woke up, and I started to realize something was off about him. Deadlock wanted to be friends but just, didn’t know how. I tried to get away, and he shoved me on the ground and put his gun to my head.”

Hot Rod swallowed, holding his arms tighter around himself. “If dad hadn’t called and set off my phone’s ringer, I’d probably be dead.”

“Kid,” Kup said, leaning forward in his chair.

“But he backed off,” Hot Rod said quickly. He shook his head, and rubbed the back of his hair. “The phone snapped him out of it and he freaked out and threw me his car keys. Told met to go home. And I don’t know why, but he just, he looked so lonely and depressed that I couldn’t leave him like that.”

Hot Rod rubbed the side of his eyes. “And so I drove myself home and told him to stay away for a week, and then we could hang out. So he did, and then Blurr and I started fighting, and he was there, and we hung out. A few times. It was so normal, and he really wasn’t that bad and I kinda liked hanging out with him and I don’t know what to do Kup. I don’t want to give up on him, but he kills people for money and I just. What do I do?”

Kup leaned over and grabbed Hot Rod by the knee. “I think you should calm down and wait.”

“Wait?” Hot Rod asked, almost laughing. “What Wreckers wait?”

“Good ones,” Kup said, squeezing Hot Rod’s knee. “We always run in gun’s blazing and screaming and fire, but only after those brainy types down at the station get all the facts together. We don’t run into anything blind, and to do that, you need to be well rested and take care of yourself.

“Kid, you’re upset, you’re exhausted, and someone you cared about just hurt you,” Kup continued. “So take a break, get some rest and then look at the situation with fresh eyes.”

“And then?” Hot Rod asked. “What do you think about Deadlock?”

“I don’t know him, kid, I’ve never met him,” Kup said. “So what matters is what you think about him.”

Hot Rod hugged Kup, squeezing the old man as hard as he could. He buried his face in Kup’s chest and whispered, “I don’t know him as well as I thought either, but I know he’s not all bad. He can’t be.”

“Okay then. That’s what Deadlock is,” Kup said, squeezing back. “Get some sleep, Hot Rod. It’s a new day tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Kup.”

Deadlock packed Gasket’s equipment silently, moving slowly but methodically. That Springer guy said he wasn’t going to rat them out, but it wouldn’t hurt to take precautions. The fact the place hadn’t been stormed right after he left meant he probably kept his word, but Gasket didn’t want to risk it.

So they’d put in word to Turmoil that they were moving shop, Deadlock hadn’t paid attention to the reason Gasket had made up, and that was that.

“This is probably a good thing, you know,” Gasket said, storing the drugs one at a time in the bigger box. “Things were never going to work out between you and that kid. You didn’t honestly think you could hide being a Cleaner forever, did you?”

“I was going to tell him,” Deadlock said. He closed a box and dropped his head on the side. The horror on Hot Rod’s face still stabbed at him. Hot Rod probably didn’t want anything to do with Deadlock any more and that. That ruined everything! “After I got him to join the group and had him get his hands dirty with some low, beat-their-teeth-in jobs.”

“Like I said, kid,” Gasket continued. “This was a blessing in disguise.”

“I want to see him.”

“You really can’t.”

Deadlock looked up. “I’m going to see him.”

Gasket stopped packing and rubbed his face. He looked over at the stupid kid he’d picked up off the street; his addict whose only skill was killing people. Deadlock didn’t make friends easy, and Gasket knew he’d regret it as he said, “You’re going to go see him.”

Deadlock fidgeted with the side of his box and looked at Gasket. The old guy knew what he was doing. He was smart. If anyone could fix this, it’d be Gasket. “Any advice?”

“Meet him somewhere public,” Gasket said, leaning on the side of his box. “And if he tells you to leave, do it. Don’t argue, don’t put up a fight, just walk away.”


“Do you really like this kid, Deadlock?” Gasket asked.

“Yes,” Deadlock returned. Bight blue eyes, alive whether Hot Rod was smiling or throwing a punch at his face that he loved so much. His warm body locked with Deadlock’s. The taste of his skin, the fire of his laugh, the heat. All of him. All of it Hot Rod. “I really do.”

“Then if he tells you to get lost, do it,” Gasket said. “Or you might do something you regret.”

Deadlock pulled at a piece of tape, flinching when Gasket hugged him from the side.

“Listen, kid,” Gasket said, tugging Deadlock into a proper hug. “You’re my family, and I love you, but you’re not stable. You haven’t been for a long time. So please, please, just walk away. Because I think this might be the one time, where if something happens to that kid, you won’t recover from it. And then I’ll lose you, too.”

“Gasket,” Deadlock said, arms still hanging at his side. “I’m sorry I cause so much trouble.”

“You do, but it’s worth it,” Gasket said. He leaned back and smacked Deadlock on the arm. “Now help me pack up. You can go see that kid after school tomorrow. Make sure he’s okay after a day or so after that neural booster overdose.”

“Okay,” Deadlock said. He grabbed the nearest box and carried it out to the van in the back of the warehouse.

He set the box on the back of the truck bed and sucked in a breath. He sucked in a breath and counted. He would.

Deadlock would do what Gasket said.

If Hot Rod really didn’t want him there, he’d leave. No matter how much it hurt; he’d leave.

“The drug dealer at school is a kid named Swindle,” Hot Rod said at breakfast, sitting down across from Springer. Uncle Magnus was still avoiding the house, and his Dad had gone into work early. So now was as good a time as any for Hot Rod to have a word alone with Springer. “I didn’t want to tell you before because Blurr’s buying speed boosters from him.”

Springer put down his bowl of cereal in the sink and looked at Hot Rod. His chest ached from the misery on his little brother’s face, but considering the alternative, it had to be worth it. He’d feel better in time. “Thank you for telling me, but why bring it up now?”

“You knew I was lying the other day, and I figured I might as well just get that out in the open too,” Hot Rod said. He fidgeted on the stool and lowered his shoulders. “I don’t like lying to you Springer, but I just didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want anyone to get in trouble.”

“I know you didn’t buddy,” Springer said. He walked around the kitchen island and tugged Hot Rod into a hug. He squeezed the kid until he grunted. “I’m sorry I was so rough, Hot Rod. But when I heard who you were with, and seeing what he was doing to you in that room, I just lost it.”

Hot Rod swallowed, leaning into Springer’s hug. He kept forgetting about that part; Springer had said he’d walked in on Deadlock kissing Hot Rod, but he didn’t remember any of that. That was just another level of complication Hot Rod didn’t need right now, so he shoved it down and hugged Springer instead.

“I’m okay.”

“I know, but you almost weren’t,” Springer said. He held Hot Rod back by the arms and shook his head. “Please, please promise me you won’t meet with that man any more. He’s dangerous, and if I lost you, I don’t know what I’d do. You’re my little brother, blood or not.”

“I don’t know if I can promise that, Springer,” Hot Rod whispered, thinking of his conversation with Kup from last night. “I really don’t want to lie to you any more.”

“Then at least promise, that you will tell me if you see him again,” Springer said. He knelt until he was eye to eye with Hot Rod. “Promise me at least that.”

“Okay,” Hot Rod said. “I can do that.”

“Good, good,” Springer said. He hugged Hot Rod quickly, and grabbed his cap from the table. “I’ll let the boys know about your information, and we’ll look into that Swindle kid. Hopefully we can get him without getting Blurr in too much trouble.”

“Thanks,” Hot Rod said, waving.

“Stay safe, Hot Rod,” Springer said, heading out the door. He looked to the sky as he jogged back next door to get his jeep.

Deadlock sat on the hood of his car in the high school parking lot, his knees up and his arms draped over them. He watched the door as the school bell let out, and counted to ten over and over in his head. He’d listen to Gasket’s advise. It would work. They’d talked one more time, and he had said:

“If that kid wants to see you, then he’ll come talk to you.”

So Deadlock was going to wait, in plain sight, and pray and hope that Hot Rod came over to talk to him.

Students began filing out of the building, in their little cliques and masses. Most of them ignored Deadlock, already used to seeing his white convertible near the school. Deadlock tightened his grip on his knees and waited.

The familiar flash of red hair came out of the building and time stopped when their eyes met.

Hot Rod jerked to a stop, and froze on the sidewalk. He tightened his grip on his backpack, staring at Deadlock on his car.

The older man didn’t move, not even a flinch, and Hot Rod realized he was waiting. This was Hot Rod’s choice.

And that, well, that pretty much didn’t give Hot Rod any choice in the matter did it?

Hot Rod trotted over to the car, and stopped by the hood. He tossed his backpack in the front seat of Deadlock’s car and huffed. “We need to talk.”

Deadlock launched himself from the hood of the car at Hot Rod and clung to the kid, hugging him to his chest. He wanted to laugh and cry and kidnap him but he didn’t. Gasket had been right. He’d been RIGHT!

“Yeah,” Deadlock grinned into Hot Rod’s hair. “We do.”

“Just let me text Springer and let him know where we’re going,” Hot Rod said. He tugged out his phone and huffed. “I promised I’d let him know if I was going to see you.”

“Oh, okay. How about that burger place in Iacon?” Deadlock asked, gritting his teeth together. “That’s nice and public, right? Should make him happy?”

Hot Rod snorted. “Somehow I doubt it, but yeah. Let’s get burgers.”

Deadlock let go of Hot Rod and glared at the phone. Okay, this was still okay. Deadlock leaned on his car as Hot Rod typed on his phone’s keyboard. But in all seriousness: Springer had to go.

Chapter Text

“That is not what I meant, Hot Rod,” Springer said to himself, staring at the text on his phone. He noted the location of the diner where Hot Rod was going to with Deadlock and shoved his phone in his back pocket. He was going to head over there and give Hot Rod a piece of his mind and explain more clearly about what it meant to stay away from hired killers. Then he’d punch Deadlock in the nose and make sure it stayed broken. Springer shook his head. “That boy.”

“What has you looking like Megatron wished you good morning?” Kup asked, looking over his paper from the desk. The open police room buzzed with Wreckers heading in and out, laughing and joking with each other as they waited for their next assignment. He waved his finger to call Springer over and pulled up his cigar from it’s resting place on the ash tray. “You look angry.”

“Nothing I want to talk about, but I’m taking my lunch break early,” Springer said. He grabbed his coat and shrugged it on. “I’ll be back in an hour.”

“You going to see Hot Rod?” Kup asked.

Springer stopped and looked over his shoulder with a raised brow.

“You only get this worked up when it’s about Hot Rod,” Kup said. He pointed his finger at the chair across from his desk and said, “Sit down.”

“Look, Kup. I don’t have time for this.” Springer glanced at the people who had paused to stare at their conversation. He glared right back and they all whipped their heads to the side, going back to their own business. “I need to leave.”

“Sit down before I make it an order,” Kup said.

Springer sat.

Kup leaned forward and shoved his cigar into the ashtray. “What happened?”

“I got a text from Hot Rod saying he was meeting up with Deadlock again in Iacon,” Springer said.

“Tell him to text you in an hour, and if he doesn’t, then you can go.” Kup kicked his feet up under his desk. “In the meantime, cool your head.”

Springer leaned forward, hissing under his breath. “I can’t leave Hot Rod alone with a killer, Kup!”

“He’s been alone with that killer a whole lot before now,” Kup said. He rubbed the side of his head and rubbed his thumb against his wrinkles. He felt too old to be dealing with all these kids. “Hot Rod has his own issues he needs to work out with that man, and you need to learn to trust him. He’s a good kid, Springer.”

“But he’s still a kid,” Springer said. “He’s only seventeen!”

“And in a year he’ll be eighteen,” Kup said. He sighed heavily and shook his head. “I know you’re worried, I get it. But you have to let Hot Rod start making some of his own decisions, even if they’re wrong.”

“A wrong decision in this case will get him killed, Kup.”

“I don’t think it will,” Kup said. He sat back in his chair, staring hard at Springer. “Call it Wrecker instinct, but I did have a talk with Hot Rod about this, and I want to trust his instincts.”

“This is a mistake,” Springer said.

“Trust your brother,” Kup said. He pulled out a second cigar and lit it. “And if he doesn’t call back in an hour, then I’ll go down there with you and knock that Deadlock’s head in for you.”

Springer took out his phone and sent the text, his fingers hitting the phone pad harder than he should have. “I’m holding you to that.”

“We’ve got an hour before Springer decides I’ve been kidnapped,” Hot Rod said, putting his phone face down on the table. Deadlock circled a straw around in his cup, swirling the leftovers of a softly melting milkshake. “So, we should probably talk while we can.”

Deadlock still hummed inside, glad that Hot Rod still wanted to see him. Things couldn’t be better! Deadlock stole a fry from Hot Rod’s plate. “What do you want to know?”

“Do you kill people?” Hot Rod asked, rubbing the inside of his palm under the table with his thumb. His head was still a mess with what he should do, but there was a large part of him that knew the answer (even if Hot Rod didn’t like it). So he asked, already knowing the answer. “Is what Springer said true?”

“Yes,” Deadlock said. There wasn’t much point in lying about it now. That certainly wouldn’t win over any favors with the kid, and he didn’t want to ruin this moment with lies. Not when Hot Rod might actually accept him. He got up from his side of the bench and scooted in on Hot Rod’s side so he could lower his voice. He threw an arm around Hot Rod’s shoulder and leaned in. “I’m a cleaner. Which means I ‘clean up’ loose ends that threaten the group, in addition to literally cleaning the scenes.”

Hot Rod flinched under Deadlock’s hold. The man was so nonchalant about it; like he didn’t even care he was talking about ending lives. The contrast with how emotional he could get over little things like whether or not Hot Rod liked him was surreal. Hot Rod shrunk under the man’s weight. “And you do that a lot?”

“More than the others,” Deadlock said. He slumped in the chair, weighing how he said it. Hot Rod had gone very quiet, and he had a feeling the boy wasn’t quite on board with Deadlock’s favorite pastime just yet. His good feeling started to slip away, leaving Deadlock feeling empty. “I’m good at it, so I get more work.”

Hod Rod pushed his basket of food away, not sure he could eat any more. He pressed his lips together and breathed in through his nose. “How did you get that job?”

“I told you,” Deadlock said, shifting. He tapped his fingers on the table, licking the edge of his lip. This wasn’t going quite where he wanted it to. He was hoping for a good conversation, but Hot Rod was still so quiet and Deadlock stopped. He had to remember what Gasket said. He had to be good. “People would make me angry, and I’d kill them, and someone noticed how good I was at it, and decided to pay me for it.”

“Have you killed people since we met?” Hot Rod asked, something stuck in his throat.

“I don’t think you’re going to like my answer,” Deadlock said, pulling his arm back. He slid down in his seat and put his hands in his lap. “But yes.”

Hot Rod swallowed and picked up his tray. “We should probably say the rest outside.”

That was not what Deadlock wanted to hear, but he followed Hot Rod outside of the restaurant with a stone dropping in his gut. Going outside meant words were going to be said that would make a scene if someone lost their temper (read: if Deadlock lost his temper). He repeated what Gasket said, over and over and over in his head.

He had to be good.

Hot Rod sat on the edge of the curb near Deadlock’s car, his backpack leaning on his side and his phone in his hand. The wind blew through his hair and the other man remained standing, his hand flexing in and out of a fist in an agitated tick.

“I like you, Deadlock,” Hot Rod started. He had to do this. Hot Rod breathed out with a shuttered breath, looking up to meet his gaze. “But if you’re killing people, I can’t be around you.”

Deadlock’s heart fell to his knees.

“I’m sorry,” Hot Rod said. He crossed his arms, grabbing his elbows. He didn’t look away from Deadlock’s widening eyes; he couldn’t. Hot Rod couldn’t be a coward and run away. “What you’re doing is wrong, and sooner or later, I’m going to be around when you do it and I’ll have to turn you in, and I don’t want to do that either.”

“You’ve been looking the other way for a while now for the drug stuff,” Deadlock tried, voice weak. “Can’t it be the same?”

Hot Rod shook his head, heart heavy. “No, not for this.”

Deadlock sat on the sidewalk next to Hot Rod and dropped his arms between his legs as he spread them out. He leaned back and ignored how his heart was pounding. “So we can’t see each other any more.”

It sounded so final when he said it.

“I’m sorry,” Hot Rod said. “But I can’t be friends with you as long as you keep doing that job.”

Deadlock dropped his head down, loose bangs falling in his face. He didn’t have anything else. That job was all he had and he couldn’t give it up, not even for Hot Rod. What choice did he even have? As long as he was alive, Deadlock was only good for one thing. He laughed into his chest. “We can’t see each other any more.”

“Are you going to be okay?” Hot Rod asked, unable to help himself. Deadlock had gone very still, and even though this had to happen, he still felt bad. Part of him wanted to take it all back, but Hot Rod had to see this through. He couldn’t be around someone who killed people. “I mean, you’re obviously not right now, but do you think you’ll be okay later?”

“Don’t argue, don’t put up a fight, just walk away,” Deadlock whispered. Hot Rod tilted his head in confusion and Deadlock laughed louder. He smiled, staring at those big blue eyes, and that too young face and it sunk into his chest how wrong he’d been. Hot Rod was never going to kill people with him. They were never going to work together. This, this wasn’t going to work. “I’ll be okay.”

Hot Rod’s phone beeped, and he checked it. “Springer’ll be here in about ten minutes.”

“Then I should leave,” Deadlock said. He got up from the curb and looked over his shoulder. He reached down and ruffled Hot Rod’s hair, biting the edge of his lip hard until it bled. Deadlock licked away the drip of it and shoved his hands in his pockets as he stood up. “Goodbye, Hot Rod. I’m, I’m really glad you were my friend.”

“Take care of yourself, Deadlock,” Hot Rod said, standing up to meet him. He waited a beat before hugging Deadlock. The man flinched, but hugged him back a second later. Hot Rod stepped back when it was finished and tried to smile. “Don’t get into trouble.”

“If I could promise that, we could stay friends,” Deadlock said. He chuckled under his breath, yanking his keys out of his pocket. He looked at the ground, and back at Hot Rod. He wanted another hug. He wanted to stay. He wanted, he wanted. He had to walk away before he did something stupid. Deadlock licked his lip and turned his back to Hot Rod. “Goodbye.”

“Bye,” Hot Rod said.

He watched Deadlock wander off and get into his car, the engine roaring as the white and black convertible peeled out of the parking lot. Hot Rod dropped his head into his knees and breathed out.

Springer pulled up ten minutes later, finding Hot Rod in the same place.

He hopped out of the car and walked over to sit next to his honorary baby brother and put an arm around his shoulder. “You okay?”

“No,” Hot Rod said. He looked up and leaned into Springer. He closed his eyes and sighed. “I will be though.”

“I know you will,” Springer said. He hugged Hot Rod closer, and tugged him up. “Come on, let’s get you home.”

“Thanks, Springer,” Hot Rod said. He hopped up into the side of Springer’s passenger seat, the green SUV a welcoming sight. He leaned his head back against the top of the seat back and exhaled, holding his bag on his lap. “I appreciate the ride home.”

“I’m here any time you need me, Hot Rod,” Springer said, vowing to make sure that was always true. Somewhere he’d dropped the ball if Hot Rod didn’t think he could talk to him before about Deadlock, and now more than ever, Springer was going to fix that. Springer asked, “Did you settle things with Deadlock?”

“I won’t be seeing him again,” Hot Rod said, voice tight. “He agreed.”

Springer let out the breath he was holding and relaxed his shoulders. “I’m glad he took it well.”

“Hey Springer,” Hot Rod said, clutching his bag. “How mad do you think dad and Uncle Magnus would be if I said I didn’t want to join the force after I graduated any more?”

“What makes you ask that?”

Hot Rod shifted in his seat, thinking of Deadlock’s face and the thought of running into him again as a member of the Autobots. He already knew he’d never be able to arrest him. “I’m having second thoughts about it, that’s all.”

“Hot Rod, Optimus and Uncle Magnus are going to be proud of you no matter what you do,” Springer said. He started his SUV and looked at his brother, who’d grown up far too much in the past month. “And so will I. So do what you think is right.”

“Thanks, Springer,” Hot Rod said.

“Any time, buddy.”

“He said goodbye?” Gasket asked, looking up from his beakers. He turned off the flame and turned to face his charge. Deadlock looked like someone had jammed a knife under his ribs and left it there.

It broke Gasket’s heart.

“He said goodbye,” Deadlock confirmed. He sat next to Gasket and sucked in a heavy breath, eyes wet. “I didn’t argue and I walked away.”

“I’m so proud of you,” Gasket said. He tugged Deadlock over and hugged him tight to his chest. He put the kid’s head in his neck and squeezed him until he felt the boy’s ribs compress. “This was for the best, even if it hurts right now.”

Deadlock listened to Gasket’s heartbeat; he couldn’t really hear his own any more. “I know.”

“You’re going to be okay,” Gasket said, rubbing Deadlock’s back. “Not now, but soon.”


“Come on,” Gasket said. He pulled away, and tugged on Deadlock’s arm. “I made dinner. Let’s get something to eat and a drink, and you can sleep this off. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

“Okay, Gasket,” Deadlock said, not believing him. But the man was trying; he was the only one who cared no matter what Deadlock said or did. Gasket was family. Deadlock still had this at least. “Let’s get something to eat.”

Deadlock followed Gasket into the small kitchen, and pulled down the cracked plates from the cabinet over the sink. He set them on the able, counting to ten over and over in his head. It was all that could keep him from thinking about sad blue eyes and how much he wanted to go right back and shake Hot Rod until he changed his mind.

But that would just make it worse (like Gasket said, he should listen to Gasket more).

“Almost done,” Gasket said, pulling out a pan from the oven. “I just need to add some sauce to the top.”

Deadlock sat at the table while Gasket finished, and flinched when his phone rang. He pulled the small portable out of his pocket and flipped it open. “Deadlock.”

“How’s my favorite killer?” Turmoil said over the line. Deadlock flinched at the nickname. “Hope he’s in top shape because I’ve got a job for you.”

“Job,” Deadlock said. He saw Hot Rod when he closed his eyes, accusing and hurt. Deadlock was good at killing. He could do that job. Hot Rod already left. What was there to lose? “Yeah, job.”

“You high?” Turmoil asked.

“No,” Deadlock gritted. “Distracted. Gasket’s making dinner.”

“Cute,” Turmoil said. He huffed on the other end of the line and growled. “Eat quick and get your ass over here so I can give you the portfolio. Boss wants this done tonight.”

“Okay,” Deadlock said. “I’ll be there.”

Gasket set the food down when Deadlock flipped his phone closed. “Work?”

“I need to go.” Deadlock stood up, squeezing Gasket’s shoulder. “Thanks for dinner, Gasket.”

“Any time, kid,” Gasket said.

Deadlock left without eating anything.

Chapter Text

“About time you got here,” Turmoil said, looking down his nose. Deadlock wandered into the warehouse, hands in his pockets and eyes puffy. The man looked like he’d been crying for Primus’ sake. Killers weren’t supposed to feel things. Turmoil slapped Deadlock upside the head when he got close. “What took you?”

“I came as soon as I got the phone call,” Deadlock said. The back of his head stung and he embraced the physical pain. It was distracting. It felt good. Deadlock wanted more. He looked up at Turmoil, all meat and muscle. He was good for that. “What’s the job?”

“Kill this guy,” Turmoil said, nodding over his shoulder to the man tied up in the chair next to him. The thief who’d beat up one of their sellers shivered in his seat. “Then I got a list for you of his buddies to take care of loose ends.”

Deadlock grunted and pulled out his gun. He shot the guy in the head, splattering Turmoil and himself in a spray of blood.

Turmoil jumped away, shaking off his hand from the viscera. He yelled, “What the frag, Deadlock?”

“I killed him,” Deadlock said. Turmoil looked like he was about to throw a punch. Good. Good. Turmoil was always good for this sort of thing. He was easy to rile up. Deadlock put his gun away to prevent any temptation to use it. Deadlock clicked his tongue. “Like you asked.”

“You little punk,” Turmoil said. He punched Deadlock across the face, hard enough to hit him to the ground. “What game are you playing at?”

“I’m not in the mood to draw things out,” Deadlock said, loving the way his cheek stung. More. More of that and he could forget blue eyes. Deadlock clicked his tongue again, watching Turmoil’s brow twitch. “So I got the job done fast.”

Turmoil walked around Deadlock, stretching out his fingers. Something was wrong. Deadlock always waited for Turmoil to leave before he went to work. Always. This was as close to a flat out act of rebellion that he’d ever seen out of this kid. Turmoil kicked him in the side. Turmoil needed to nip this in the bud quick. “It sounds more like you’re trying to tick me off on purpose.”

Deadlock needed more. He needed it to hurt more. Anything to ignore the ache in his chest and sad blue eyes that wouldn’t leave him alone. He kicked out and hit Turmoil in the shin. “What tipped you off?”

Turmoil hissed at the sting in his leg. He gripped his fist and yanked Deadlock up by the back of his hair. “You’re going to regret that.”

Deadlock spit in his face.

“You want to go to college instead of the Academy?” Optimus asked, staring down at this son. Hot Rod shifted on his feet and looked at the floor. His shoulders curved in on himself in a sign of nervousness he couldn’t ever remember associating with his child before. “What brought this on?”

“I’ve just been thinking things through this past couple of months, and I guess I want to explore more options,” Hot Rod said. He bit the edge of his lip, unable to look up and watch his father’s eyes over his bandana. “Is that a problem?”

“No, of course not,” Optimus said, though he could feel his disappointment and did his best to hide it. He walked over and put his hand on Hot Rod’s shoulder. “You’re young, and there’s no reason you need to plan out your entire life right now.”

“Bettering your education is admirable,” Magnus said. He nodded to himself and went back to helping with the dishes. “Your father is right. You are more than welcome to explore other options while you’re young.”

Hot Rod breathed out slowly. This was going better than he had thought it would.

“Besides, having an extra education will be a boon if you decide to enter the Academy later,” Magnus added. “So there’s no downside, and your original path is still open.”

“Right,” Hot Rod said. He rubbed the back of his head and laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind, Uncle Magnus.”

“I guess if that’s your plan, we should start looking for options,” Ultra Magnus said. He put a dish on the counter. “It’s a bit late to apply to most of the major universities, but there are plenty of local community colleges we can look into. We’ll find one that has the best options for transfer after the first semester, and then work from there.”

“I’ll leave that to you then,” Optimus said. He wanted to be involved in Hot Rod’s life, as always, but there was no stopping his brother when he got like this. And Magnus was good for this sort of thing. “And I’ll be there if you need me to keep him under control, Hot Rod.”

Hot Rod snorted and hugged his dad. “Thanks.”

“Any time, Hot Rod.” Optimus hugged him back and ruffled his hair when he leaned back. “I’m sure your mother will be happy to have some input as well when we call her at the end of the week.”

“She’ll be excited to know we’ll have a plan worked out by then.” Ultra Magnus left the clean dishes, wiping his hands off on a rag. “We can get started right now. No time like the present, don’t you think, nephew?”

“Sure,” Hot Rod said. He followed his Uncle to the living room, and sat next to him when he pulled out the computer.

Things were looking up. Hot Rod’s chest still hurt from what he had to do to Deadlock earlier, but siting here with his excited Uncle made it ache just a little bit less.

Gasket couldn’t leave it alone.

Deadlock had looked like death worn over when he left, he wasn’t in a good place, and there was no way that kid should be doing a job right now. Not when the most important person in his life had just rejected him for that exact same job.

The kid was likely to do something stupid.

Shrugging his coat closer on his shoulders, Gasket walked fast as he headed toward the normal warehouse for Turmoil’s line of work. If he hurried, he might be able to console the kid while he was cleaning up. Maybe Gasket could keep him focused on something other than the blood on the floor.

Gasket didn’t expect the blood on the floors and the walls to be Deadlock’s.

“Oh, Primus.” Gasket ran into the room, straight toward his boy on the ground and Turmoil standing over him. “Stop!”

“Gasket,” Turmoil said, stepping away. Deadlock’s arm looked bent the wrong direction, so it was safe enough for a break from the pummeling. He looked at the old chemist and snorted. “The brat needed a lesson. Why aren’t you working?”

“A lesson?” Gasket asked. He entered Turmoil’s personal space, forcing the man to back away from Deadlock further. He stood between them and held his shoulders back. “You’ve near beat him to death!”

“Gasket?” Deadlock asked, voice wheezing and wet. Was he seeing things? He had left Gasket back at home with dinner. Deadlock groaned as the world came back into focus. “Why are you here?”

“I had a bad feeling and I guess I was right,” Gasket said. He left off the “Bad feeling you were going to do something stupid” for now. He turned to Turmoil. “Whatever he did, I’m sure this is more than enough. You’re going to kill him.”

“I told him to keep his mouth shut, and he kept going,” Turmoil said. He held his hands out in a display of his innocence. He’d given the kid plenty of incentive to back down, but he didn’t take it. “Every hit is his own doing. He’s literally asking for it.”

“Deadlock’s not in a great mental place and you know it,” Gasket hissed, lowering his voice. “There’s no excuse for this.”

“I think I’m starting to see where the kid gets it,” Turmoil said. Gasket was one of his better chemists, but he was hardly the only one. Between Gasket and Deadlock, the killer kid was the more valuable one. Anyone could make drugs, but getting someone who could clean up as well as he killed was much harder to find. It seemed Deadlock needed a better lesson than a straight up beating could give, and here was a great example. “You don’t know how to hold your tongue either.”

“Turmoil,” Gasket said. He took a step back when a thick hand wrapped around his throat and lifted him off the ground.

“He gets his rebellion from you,” Turmoil said, squeezing. “You baby him too much, don’t you old man? You’re giving the brat the idea he can get away with talking back thanks to you.”

“Hey,” Deadlock said. He leaned up on his good arm, blood dripping from his mouth. Gasket shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t be in the air like that. This wasn’t about him! “Turmoil. Put him down.”

“I don’t think I will,” Turmoil said. He looked at Deadlock and tightened his grip on Gasket’s throat. “You both need to remember who’s in charge here. If you can’t do what you’re told like a good boy, you get punished. Since beating you isn’t working, I guess I’ll have to be more creative.”

“No!” Deadlock stumbled to his knees. He screamed when Turmoil stuck the knife under Gasket’s chest, before dropping him.

Turmoil turned to the brat and hissed, “This is what happens when you—”

“I’ll kill you,” Deadlock said, all thoughts of pain of any sort gone as he twisted the same knife that has just stabbed Gasket into Turmoil’s gut. He felt nothing but rage and his body moved on its own, fighting through every physical pain. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“How’d you?” Turmoil gaped, staring at his own weapon used against him. He had barely seen the kid move, let alone when he’d stolen the knife and repurposed it. Turmoil laughed, hissing inward. It wasn’t the first time he’d been stabbed, and it wouldn’t be the last. “I forget how good you are sometimes.”

Turmoil answered Deadlock’s move by bringing his elbow down hard onto the kid’s back. He dropped an inch but growled back in retaliation.

Deadlock dropped hold of his knife and reached for his gun. Turmoil made to stop him, but the brute specialized in force, not speed. It was like taking candy from a baby when Deadlock shoved the gun up against his thigh and fired twice in quick succession. Turmoil cried out and fell to his knees. Deadlock shoved the gun into his shoulder and fired the last three shots.

He reloaded the gun with a shaking hand, kicking Turmoil on his side. His broken arm made it hard to move, but Deadlock was nothing but persistent when he was properly motivated.

“You shouldn’t have touched Gasket,” Deadlock said. He unloaded the entire clip into Turmoil’s ribs and waited for his wet coughs to stop before he put his gun in its holster and turned back to what was important: “Gasket.”

Gasket’s chest heaved up and down, his hands over his bleeding side. He winced as Deadlock pulled him up off the ground, holding him near his chest. “Hey, kid.”

“Gasket,” Deadlock repeated. He trembled, his vision blurring through tears that wouldn’t stop and too much blood on his face. “Don’t. Don’t die. I’ll take you to a hospital. It’ll be okay. It’ll be fine.You’ll be fine.”

“Kid,” Gasket said. He reached up and grabbed Deadlock’s cheek, wheezing hard. Poor kid looked frantic, with wide eyes and messy hair. Gasket was so lucky to be so loved. He laughed through the blood in his mouth and rubbed his thumb on the side of Deadlock’s nose. “Calm down. It’s okay. The hospital can’t help me right now.”

“No,” Deadlock said. It was just a stab wound. Gasket would be fine. The puddle of blood gathered around them could be replaced. “Hold in there.”

“Deadlock, son,” Gasket said again. He may have been a chemist first, but he was also old, and he knew when something irreparable had been stabbed. Turmoil wasn’t a fool and he was as experienced as Deadlock. This was the end, but he was glad his boy was here. “What were you doing? Don’t tell me you were just going to let Turmoil keep hitting you.”

“That’s not impor—”

“It is!” Gasket yelled, cutting him off. He coughed afterwards and lowered his hand to grab the front of Deadlock’s coat. “It is. You’re better than that. You’re my boy and I will not let you roll over and let someone hurt you like that. Don’t you ever sit there and take that again.”

“But,” Deadlock said. He sniffed and squeezed Gasket closer. How could he tell him that the pain made everything else easier? How could he tell him this was normal. Gasket looked so angry. The man was bleeding out and he was yelling at Deadlock and he couldn’t take this. “Gasket.”

“Promise me you won’t do it again,” Gasket said. He pulled himself up, hissing through the pain and tugged on Deadlock’s jacket. He could see the unspoken brokenness. If he wasn’t long for this world, there was only one thing he could do for his boy. “Promise me you will live. No matter what, promise me that you will take care of yourself.”

“I will,” Deadlock said, hugging Gasket to himself. He buried his face in the old man’s hair, feeling the warm blood pooling on his waist. “I’ll be good.”

“That’s my boy,” Gasket said, breathing out. He dropped his head on Deadlock’s shoulder and closed his eyes. “You’ve always been my boy, you know that, right?”

“Yeah,” Deadlock said, voice hoarse. He didn’t want it to stop here. It couldn’t stop here. “Of course.”

“I’m so proud of you, Deadlock,” Gasket said. His hand fell agains his side. There was no strength left there. It wasn’t long now. It was warm here, though. It was easy to drift away. “No matter what you do. You’re my boy. I love you so much, son.”

“I love you, too,” Deadlock whispered. Gasket’s heart stopped under his hold; the man turned limp. Deadlock sobbed. It was too much. He rocked back and forth, hugging the old man closer. “I love you, too.”

The room smelled like rotting copper, and it grew cold the longer Deadlock sat there. He didn’t know what to do.

Hot Rod yawned into his hand as he trudged up the stairs. It was well after eleven, and his Uncle Magnus had finally left the house. His dad went to bed an hour before, already tired of Uncle Magnus comparing the pros and cons of every community college in the area.

It wasn’t until Hot Rod pointed out the time and that they still had a week to make plans that the man relented on putting their search for the perfect university on pause.

He opened his door and came to a dead halt when the light from the hallway touched his bed, revealing the figure sitting on the edge of his mattress.

Deadlock looked up, eyes glazed and wet. Blood clotted his hair and Hot Rod swallowed as he remained frozen in the doorway. The older man didn’t move, and it was easy to see that every inch of him was splattered with red, and it soaked into Hot Rod’s sheets.

“Sorry,” Deadlock said, and Hot Rod flinched. He looked at the floor, where small drops of Gasket’s still wet blood collected. He shouldn’t have come here. But where else? Deadlock dropped his head again and held his head. “Sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Are you okay?” Hot Rod asked. He closed the door behind him, leaving the lights off as he tread forward. “What happened?”

“Gasket’s dead,” Deadlock said. He had left the body outside a hospital near the warehouse and ran. He ran until his lungs burned and then he got into his car and drove on Autopilot. There was only one place he wanted to be. A place he wasn’t wanted but Deadlock had no where else to go. Home wasn’t home any more. “I’m sorry.”

Hot Rod had a thousand questions running through his head. He’d just left Deadlock at lunch and things were fine, not great, but fine. He closed his eyes trying to think of the old man who’d helped him during the overdose. Gasket must have meant more to Deadlock than Hot Rod originally thought.

“Can I stay?” Deadlock whispered. He focused on the floor, listening to the quiet room and Hot Rod breathing. “I’ll leave in the morning, but I can’t. I can’t be alone right now. I promised. I promised.”

Deadlock continued to mumble under his breath and Hot Rod fell forward. He hugged Deadlock and rubbed his back, moving before his thoughts could catch up with him. Killer or not, how could Hot Rod turn the man away now? “Yeah, of course you can stay.”

“Thank you,” Deadlock whispered. He wrapped his good arm around Hot Rod and dragged him closer so he could bury his face in the other man’s chest. He smelled good. Deadlock breathed Hot Rod in. Good. Good. He whispered, “I’ll be good.”

Hot Rod glanced at Deadlock’s limp arm, wincing at the makeshift splint keeping it straight. Something bad happened, but he’d ask later. He rubbed Deadlock’s back. “You need sleep.”

Deadlock grunted, but didn’t move.

“I’ll help,” Hot Rod said. He maneuvered the clingy man until they were both on the bed, facing each other, or as much as the could with Deadlock refusing to take his face out of Hot Rod’s chest. They clung to each other, and Hot Rod wondered how things could come to this. All he could do was offer the most basic of comforts to Deadlock: “You’re going to be okay.”

“That’s what Gasket said,” Deadlock said. He made it through two shaky breaths before the tears came again. He soaked Hot Rod’s shirt through, muffling his sobbing moans.

Hot Rod squeezed Deadlock, attempting to keep his heartbeat calm and his breathing even. He was freaking out but Deadlock didn’t need that right now. Hot Rod had no idea what to do with this, but he knew he was needed.

So he let Deadlock cry.

Ten minutes later, the man had cried himself to sleep and Hot Rod felt safe enough to close his own eyes. Cuddled together, his chest wet with blood and tears, Hot Rod fell asleep.

When he woke up in the morning, his sheets had been replaced with the spare set from his closet and Deadlock was nowhere to be found. He’d left without so much as a goodbye and cleaned every trace of his presence away.

Hot Rod knew that he was never going to see Deadlock again, but he could hope wherever he was that he would be okay.

Chapter Text

 (3 Years Later)

“Homework is the worst,” Rodimus groaned, collapsing into the table’s bench seat at the edge of the quad. He dropped his forehead onto the picnic tabletop and groaned. “This was supposed to end in high school, wasn’t it? Or at least back in Freshman year! Juniors don’t have time for this. We’re busy and homework is the worst on top of all the regular studying we have to do.”

“It could be worse, sir,” Garnak said, looking over the top of his lunch. “At least you got the final project for our Finance class done early and don’t have to work on it this weekend.”

“I’m not your TA any more,” Rodimus said, turning his head to the side so he could get a better look at the football player. “You don’t have to keep calling me ‘Sir’ all the time.”

“Habits,” Garnak said, with a light shrug. Sir was sir and that was that. After he’d literally saved Garnak and Wheelie from failing a class last semester thanks to a solid month of extra study sessions, it felt rude to call him anything else. Garnak munched on his sandwich. “What homework has you groaning, sir?”

Rodimus snorted (Garnak had to be doing it on purpose) and kicked his backpack with the side of his foot. “Criminal law wants us to research at least five cases where a punishment was more severe than it was deserved, and then be prepared to argue it when someone disagrees. It’s practically a project in and of itself but it’s due by next class.”

It figured the one class Uncle Magnus talked Rodimus into taking over the phone would be the one to bite him (and yet again Rodimus wondered how Uncle Magnus managed to convince him that class would benefit his business major).

“Do you need help, sir?” Garnak offered. “I can at least help keep you focused if you start to get distracted.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I got it,” Rodimus said. He pushed up on his elbows and licked his teeth. “I’m just whining to whine. I’ve got a couple cases on my mind already, and I’m pretty good at BSing my way through debates, so I’m not worried about it.”

“It’s also not one of your major classes either, right?” Garnak asked. “So your final grade isn’t that important.”

“To the school,” Rodimus said. “To my Uncle? Not so much. He’ll be devastated if I flunk.”

“Isn’t he the one that called and gave you a twenty minute lecture when you got a B in Statistics?”

“The one and only,” Rodimus said. “He’s a bit of a perfectionist, but he means well.”

Garnak knew that feeling. He had his own relatives that expected too much. “I wish you luck, sir.”

“Thanks,” Rodimus said. He crossed his legs under the table and leaned back. “I won’t need it, but thanks.”

Deadlock was finally keeping his promise to Gasket.

He thought as much as he looked at his reflection in the glass, standing alone in the communal shower at the shelter. Deadlock looked healthy for once in his entire life. Skin a healthy tan, extra weight on his bones, and the bags under his eyes had vanished.

Even his scars stood out less with time to fade and no new additions.

Deadlock had thought the Circle of Light was a bunch of shit when they’d first picked him up, but they’d kept their word: They got him off the boosters, they didn’t ask questions, and they didn’t kick him out.

Though that last part had more to do with the annoying head deacon Wing playing favorites.

Gasket would have liked Wing.

“Hey, Deadlock,” Axe said, sticking his head into the shower room. He grunted and flicked the wall. “Hurry up. You’re helping Wing set up for the service tonight, right? Don’t forget we had a wedding yesterday, so you need to put the stage back together. That’ll take you two all day.”

“You and Outrigger could help,” Deadlock said back, drying his hair out with the towel. “Then we’d be done before the afternoon.”

“You wish,” Axe said. “We’re delivering food bags all day, so enjoy your time setting up chairs!”

Deadlock huffed and grabbed his small toiletry basket. He passed Axe without another word and headed to the living quarters of the shelter. He had his own bunk in the corner, with a locked set of drawers and a few more knickknacks than most of the other tenants. Most people stayed at the shelter for a few months before they were relocated or found better accommodations, but Deadlock had been there two years and no one seemed to mind.

He had nowhere else to go.

“I heard Axe was giving you a hard time,” Wing said as Deadlock pulled his shirt over his head. “I hope you know he means well.”

“You say that every time,” Deadlock said.

“I mean it every time,” Wing said. He came up and clapped Deadlock on the shoulder, pushing a loose strand of long white hair over his shoulder. “Are you ready to set up?”

“Yeah,” Deadlock said.

He followed Wing through the hallways, hands in his pockets. Wing was a good guy. Too good.

He was the sort of guy to find a man drugged out of his mind near to the point of overdosing on neural boosters in the back of a warehouse and decide right away that he “meant no harm” when Deadlock took a swing at him.

The kind of guy to offer Deadlock a place to stay no questions asked and gave him things to do to keep busy and his mind off the nightmares he had every night of Gasket dying and Hot Rod turning away.

The sort of guy that could lay Deadlock flat on his back in a friendly sparring match in the gym (“A church in the middle of Kaon has to be prepared for violent types, you know, even when they need help, too!”).

Gasket really would have liked Wing.

“We really should stop having weddings,” Deadlock said as they entered the main sanctuary of the church. “This is too much work every time for a place that has such a tiny staff.”

“Which is why you’re helping,” Wing said. He rolled up his sleeves, showing off toned arms from his own work out sessions and tied his hair back. “It always makes the work go faster.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Deadlock said, though he grabbed the other side of the stage block when prompted and lifted.

Wing laughed and grinned brightly. “If you want to believe that, that’s fine by me.”

Deadlock shook his head and helped the man out. This sort of life wasn’t so bad (and he was taking care of himself). Maybe one day, he’d be able to do it without Wing and the others keeping watch.

“You finish the homework yet?” Bumblebee asked, looking up from his laptop. He looked at his roommate, lounging on his bunk with a book and breathed out slowly. There were days Bumblebee couldn’t believe that Rodimus was his top competition for highest grade in the class. “Because that was a lot of work.”

“Yup,” Rodimus said, flipping the next page in his book. “Worked on it earlier.”

“Okay,” Bumblebee said, turning back to his own project. “What cases did you end up picking?”

“One shoplifting case where the judge was having a bad day and took it out on some poor sap, two vandalism cases, and two cases revolving around booster usage.”

“Mostly small crimes stuff, then?” Bumblebee asked.

“Easier to argue that someone got a bum rap than if I was trying to explain why some dude who committed multiple homicides shouldn’t get life in jail,” Rodimus said, flipping another page.

He didn’t mention he had once known a guy who was guilty of the boosters and homicide, but Deadlock came to mind anyway.

Rodimus slammed his book closed and got up. He yanked out his phone and dialed. “Good luck with your project. I’m going to go see if Garnak and Wheelie want to hang out.”

“Don’t come wandering in after midnight,” Bumblebee said. “It’s annoying.”

Rodimus winked. “You say that like you’ll actually be asleep.”

Bumblebee tapped harder on his keyboard than was necessary. “I will lock you out.”

“I have a key,” Rodimus said, shutting the door behind him before Bumblebee could say another word.

He didn’t dislike his roommate, exactly, but the guy rubbed him the wrong way from time to time (and Rodimus’ dad adored him for some reason—he was always asking how Bumblebee was doing).

Rodimus tapped down the street, hoping to get his mind off of his case load, and memories creeping up in the back of his mind about whether or not some people deserved to have the book thrown at them in court.

“Will you be attending the service tonight?” Wing asked, wiping the sweat off his face. They had just placed the last of the equipment down, and put all the chairs back where they belonged. Deadlock sat on the edge of the platform, multicolored hair in his face. “Dai Atlas has a wonderful sermon planned.”

“I’ll pass,” Deadlock said. He fidgeted and rubbed the back of his thumb. He wasn’t sure how much he believed in Primus and all of that, but felt a little weird staying in a Circle of Light church without actually going to any of the sermons. “I think I’m going to take a walk.”

“That’ll be nice,” Wing said, without judgement. “You should get out more.”

Deadlock grunted.

At first, he was a little worried that someone from the old Decepticon gang would come for him after that stunt he pulled with Turmoil and dropping off the map, but either Megatron didn’t care or he was still considered too scary to mess with, because no one ever came knocking or for his head.

“Have you been to the park yet?” Wing asked. “There’s one just down the way that’s really nice in the evening this time of year.”

“No,” Deadlock said. “I might try that.”

“Then I hope you have a good evening and I’ll see you tomorrow,” Wing said. He patted Deadlock on the back and smiled. “We should have tea.”

“Yeah, we can do that.”

“Have a good evening, Deadlock,” Wing said. He waved as Deadlock walked down the sanctuary aisle and headed out onto the street.

The setting sun washed over the streets of Kaon with an orange glow, and he turned the opposite direction he usually went, headed for the park.

Gasket would have liked Wing (and Deadlock kinda liked him, too).

Rodimus wished he was drunk or something, but he was just tired and rambling. It was 1:00am, he was on Garnak’s couch, and had no intention of going to back to his room tonight.

“I almost died from a neural booster overdose once,” Rodimus said, his head near the floor as he draped himself over a couch. “You know that?”

“Roddy doesn’t seem the type, but I could believe that gripe,” Wheelie said, not pausing to look up from his video game. “Where you like Blurr in high school buying boosters like a fool?”

“No, I wasn’t as bad as Blurr with his speed boosters. I didn’t even do it on purpose,” Rodimus said, covering his eyes with his hands.

He’d tried to get Deadlock out of his mind all afternoon, but every court case he had researched for that project brought those desperate red eyes and their last night together to the front of his mind. He sat up from the couch and joined Wheelie on the floor.

“Then how did it happen, sir?” Garnak asked, setting down a bowl of chips. “I assume you want to tell us since you brought it up.”

“My latest project had me thinking about an old friend, who happened to be related to the incident,” Rodimus admitted.

“Old friend?”

“Yeah, from back in High School when I still used my nickname ‘Hot Rod’ instead of my given one,” Rodimus said, chuckling a bit. College was a time for reinvention, so he decided to try it out. It’d been working well for him so far. “Didn’t know him long, though.”

“He must have been a good friend, sir,” Garnak said. “You sound very fond.”

“He was trouble,” Rodimus said. He put his hands over his mouth and listened to the sounds of Wheelie’s game. “Guy was an enforcer for the mob and kept neural boosters in his car because he was a user or something. I found one and like an idiot accidentally injected myself when we hit a road bump.

“I got a triple dose and let me tell you, it was so bad I don’t even remember it save for a flash of everything going white and suffocating. But instead of going to a hospital, he rushed us to none other than the guy who made the boosters in the first place, who pumped me full of some counteragent to keep my heart from exploding. I was high for the rest of the night on it,” Rodimus said. “My bro Springer searched for me all night and finally found me in the guy’s chem lab. I’d never seen Spinger so livid and he dragged me home where I was grounded until I left for college.”

Wheelie paused his game and glared at Rodimus from under his bright orange hat. “That story sounds fake, are you sure you don’t wanna try a retake?”

“No lie,” Rodimus said, his mouth twitching in a smile. It did sound fake when he put it that way, but the look of horror on Springer’s face when he was terrified his baby brother could have died, and the casual way Deadlock admitted to killing people were all too real. “It’s why I’m not saying his name, and why I decided not to go to the police academy. I liked the guy too much to rat him out.”

“Sounds like a tough choice,” Garnak said. He patted Rodimus’ shoulder from the couch and squeezed. “I’m honored you could trust us with the story, sir.”

“Don’t get sappy, Garnak,” Rodimus said. “Enough of that. Wheelie, scoot over. I want to play.”

“You can play as second user if you promise to be a good loser,” Wheelie said, handing over a controller.

“Oh, it is on!” Rodimus said.

Garnak cheered in the background as the game played. Chest lighter, Rodimus decided that having more than one or two friends was much better for his health.

Deadlock didn’t kill people any more.

It’d be rude to the church. Plus Gasket didn’t like it when Deadlock killed people. He smiled and pretended it was okay but Deadlock always knew he didn’t like it. He accepted it even when he hated it. Hot Rod definitely didn’t like it. Turmoil loved it. But Turmoil was dead. So his opinion stopped mattering. Hot Rod lived, but wasn’t there. So his didn’t count either. Gasket technically could no longer care, but it still twisted Deadlock’s gut to think of doing bad things he wouldn’t like now that he was dead.

The Church though, they were there. They were alive. They didn’t like it.

It was a good enough reason to talk himself out of it whenever the urge struck. When his fingers twitched. When he emptied entire cases of led into the openness of his empty lot the few days he took his car for a drive.

But that didn’t stop him from beating people near to death.

Especially when they deserved it.

“You should be thanking Primus you’re alive,” Deadlock said, digging the back of his heel into the shoulder blades of his downed opponent. “If it wasn’t against his church to kill indiscriminately, I’d have gutted you by now and painted the walls pretty with your red.”

Deadlock missed red. Red like blood. Red like fire. Red like Hot Rod. Red like death. Like.

Deadlock was having a bad night (bad nights and twitching fingers were the worst).

The man groaned under him, squirming as he tried to get away. Deadlock looked at the night sky. The park was pretty. “Might have even strung you up with your own innards.”

“Let me,” the man sobbed, “let me go.”

“Are you going to sell neural boosters to kids again?” Deadlock asked. He knew that business. You didn’t sell to kids. It’d kill them. That was the rule. Every Decepticon knew it. It wasn’t about morals. It was about business. Dead clients didn’t buy more. What was this idiot thinking? “I might granted mercy if your answer is right.”

“Never! Deadlock, I swear!” He yelled. “Never again!”

“Good,” Deadlock said. He took his foot off the man’s back and huffed. “I catch you again, and you’ll be wishing I was less inclined to follow Primus’ rules. Death would be the easy way out.”

The man yelled and scrambled away, running into the darkness with his tail between his legs.

Deadlock shoved his hands back in his pockets and walked back to the church.

His good night had turned into a bad one and his brain ran in circles. Gasket. Turmoil. Hot Rod. Goodnight. Boosters. All of them in a jumbled mess. He didn’t like it. Deadlock wanted it to stop.

Maybe he’d actually talk to Wing about it (Wing made a lot of things better).

The project went off without a hitch. Rodimus managed to snag an A, though it was on the lower end after losing a few points thanks to a question he couldn’t answer prompted by Bumblebee.

Which was fine because Bumblebee had the same grade, losing the same amount to a spiteful return question by Rodimus.

Rodimus planned on celebrating by calling for pizza and doing absolutely nothing for the rest of the weekend.

“Hey, hey, hey, Rod,” Blurr said, walking up to Rodimus’ side. He had bags under his eyes, but there was a smile on his face. “Are you coming to the track meet this weekend?”

“I forgot all about it,” Rodimus said, rubbing between his eyes. He’d dropped out of track in his second year, but still liked to support Blurr and the others when he could. It was the least he could do to help mend their patchy relationship after the disaster that was their senior year of high school between Swindle and the speed boosters. “Thanks for reminding me. Of course I’ll be there.”

“I had a feeling you’d forgotten,” Blurr said, shaking his head. “So don’t, don’t, don’t be late.”

“Putting a reminder in my phone right now,” Rodimus said, holding up his phone as proof. “How’s the team looking?”

“I win, win, win everything,” Blurr said. “But that’s normal.”

“So modest,” Rodimus said.

“Truth is truth,” Blurr returned.

Rodimus chuckled and for a few minutes, it felt like all the awkwardness of getting Blurr in trouble over the boosters had disappeared. He was more glad than ever he’d made the effort to try and make peace when he saw Blurr’s robin blue race car in the parking lot at his university.

“I’m glad we’re friends again,” Rodimus blurted. The pair of them stopped walking and Blurr tilted his head with a suspicious look. Rodimus rubbed the back of his neck and shrugged. “Sorry, been thinking about the past a lot this week and well, I remembered our bad times, too. I’m glad that we’ve got another chance.”

“Me, me, me, too,” Blurr said. He rubbed his arm and twitched. “I know I was mad, but I should have said thank you, too.”

“For what?” Rodimus asked. As far as he knew, he only managed to get Blurr into trouble with his folks when Springer made Blurr testify that he’d been getting his drugs from Swindle.

“Reporting me,” Blurr said. He pressed his lips together. “Swindle had upped all his prices for the drugs, and I almost stole from my parents to pay for them. You, you, you, told on me before I could make up my mind. So, so, so, I didn’t get the chance.”

“I’m glad, then,” Rodimus said.

“Let’s put it behind us,” Blurr said. “Come on, on, on. Let’s get dinner.”

“Right behind you, buddy,” Rodimus said. The two of them headed to the quad together, and Rodimus counted his blessings.

He may have lost one friend, but he had four new ones and one renewed friendship. It helped keep the pain of loss at bay (at least for now).

“I’m very glad you’ve decided to talk to me,” Wing said. He squeezed Deadlock’s hand firmly before letting it go. He sat on the bench in the small courtyard and patted the seat next to him. “Keeping things bottled up inside isn’t good for you. But before we start, would you like to talk to me as your Deacon or as your friend?”

Deadlock sat, rattling the bench with his weight. “Are they different?”

“One suggests this conversation will be about your faith in Primus, while if you are more interested in the other, I’ll do my best to keep faith talk to a minimum,” Wing said. “Though I’m always open to the first.”

“Friend,” Deadlock said. “Friend is good.”

Wing laughed and leaned back on the bench, spreading his legs out more casually. “Friend then. What’s on your mind, Deadlock?”

“I’ve done a lot of bad things,” Deadlock admitted. “Really, really bad things.”

Wing nodded for Deadlock to continue.

“I don’t want to do them any more, but I,” Deadlock said. He thought back to the dealer he beat up. The dealer that recognized him on sight. Deadlock hunched his shoulders together. “Certain people. They know me. They know who I was. They’re scared of me, and should be, but when I hear them say my name and look at me the way they do, it’s easy. Really easy to be the old me.”

“And you want to change,” Wing said.

“I have though,” Deadlock said, swallowing thickly. “Since I came here. I want to do things. But I haven’t. The old me wouldn’t have ever been able to do that. It was like breathing. Now it hurts not to do it, but I don’t do it.”

Deadlock felt like he wasn’t make much sense. His words blurred together as they poured out like mush.

“I’m different,” Deadlock said. He didn’t know if it was Wing or Primus or Guilt but Deadlock had changed since coming to this church. “I’m different here and I want to stay that way.”

“Did you know that there are apostles and prophets in the scriptures of Primus who received new names when they made large life changes?” Wing asked. He spoke slowly, trying to find the right way to help his friend. Rebirth was not a totally unusual concept to the followers of Primus. Deadlock may not be a follower, exactly, but similar advice might aid him. “Maybe to help separate the the changed you from the old you, you could adopt a new name to help keep your lives different in your head?”

“But ‘Deadlock’ is a new name!” Deadlock stopped, eyes wide. He looked at the ground, the breath leaving his body. He whispered. “Deadlock was a new name for a new life. That’s what they told me.”

“Are you alright?” Wing asked.

“My name,” Deadlock said, the memories coming back like a wave. Deadlock had forgotten. Between the blood and the boosters he had forgotten. “It was given to me. My old name sounded too flighty and too nice, so Meg—my old boss gave me a new one. A scarier one. I’ve been using it so long, I forgot I had to make it mine.”

Wing ignored Deadlock’s slip of the tongue. The man wanted to hide his past with the Decepticons, and Wing would respect that (no matter how obvious who it was the man used to run with). Wing took Deadlock’s hand. “May I ask what your old name was?”

Bringing the name to his tongue was like dragging a drowned body to the surface; bloated and thick but somehow freeing: “Drift.”

“That’s a wonderful name,” Wing said. He squeezed the other man’s hand tightly, hoping to control the small tremors. “It really suits you. Like a drifting car, you look like you’re about to loose all control at the cornerstone points of life, but you catch yourself at the last moment to head straight again.”

Deadlock pressed his lips together tightly. “You think I can right myself?”

“I always have,” Wing said. He took both of Deadlock’s hands and held them tightly. A ground and a focus. “That doesn’t mean you won’t slip up now and again, or ever lose the part of you that is Deadlock, but I do think it’s time for a change because you want it. You’re living your change, Deadlock and maybe a new name will help let everyone know it.

“You are a valued member of this church and we are grateful for your service and your company. You’ve entirely turned yourself around from the red-eyed, screaming man that I met in that warehouse into someone hard working and aware of himself,” Wing said. “But ultimately, this decision is up to you, and you can always go back if it doesn’t work. What do you say?”

“I want to be Drift again,” Deadlock said. He sucked in a breath. Deadlock was stuck in the past. Drift could move forward. It made the decision easy. “My name is Drift.”

“In that case, I have a few name tags and data entries to remake,” Wing said. He let go of Drift’s hands and smiled warmly. “This is a big step, and I’m very proud of you.”

“We’re the same age,” Drift said. He shook his head. “You sound like my old man when you talk like that.”

“Fine then,” Wing said, shoving Drift’s shoulder. “As your friend of the same age, I’m happy you look a little bit happier.”

“Better,” Drift said.

His heart still hurt. The urges were still there. But somehow, just somehow, everything felt like it could be better with this one big change.