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A Kick in the Skid

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“Well. Ain’t that a kick in the skid.”

From his tone, Ironhide might have been commenting on a game of baseball that hadn’t gone his way. Instead he was directing his disapproval at Teletraan-1’s main viewscreen, which displayed the country’s brand-new leader formally announcing the Decepticon Friendship Pact, which naturally he had written himself. It was a great deal for America. Probably the best deal of all time. Really.

As the 45th President of the United States of America glibly explained the benefits of selling America’s national parks to the Decepticons, Huffer leaned back in his chair, letting his security console run itself for a few minutes. “Aw, turn it off, ‘Hide,” he demanded. “The Idiot-in-Chief’s already kicking us off the planet for being sick birds. Why torture ourselves with all the other stupid slag he’s doing when we can’t do anything about it?”

“...sick birds?” Ironhide frowned, still too stuck on that part of Huffer’s statement to process the rest properly.

“You know. Ill-eagle?”

Groans from the other Autobots echoed through the bridge. Someone tossed a crumpled-up ball of foil at Huffer; it bounced off his console screen and he grandly ignored it. “You’ve been hanging out with Jazz too much,” Ironhide told him, and returned his attention to the screen, which had switched to the newscaster attempting to make some kind of commentary on the new treaty that wasn’t just screaming we’re all gonna die until he passed out on camera. It was clearly a struggle.

Despite Huffer’s demand, no one moved to switch the channel to something more easy-viewing. The political clusterfuck that had overtaken their adoptive planet was more than a train wreck - it was a constantly-shifting kaleidoscope of awful, almost hypnotic in its way. The Autobots had donated what they could and showed up where they could - against regulations, at times, but even Prowl had turned a blind optic to their participation at protests - but now, with Starscream’s oiliest smirk gracing every social media feed, the mood at Autobot Headquarters had turned from grim to hopeless.

“...you think you guys are really going to leave?” Quiet though his voice was, Sparkplug was easily audible to the mechs in the room. He was seated in the back, his tools and a disassembled servomotor in front of him, though he’d done precious little work on repairing it in the past half hour.

“Of course not!” Cliffjumper burst out. “Like slag we’re going to abandon this place to the ‘Cons after we fought so hard-”

His voice broke, but others took up the argument for him until Ironhide turned away from the screen to kneel by Sparkplug’s worktable. “Hate to say it,” he said, and the assembled Autobots shut up to a mech at the apology in his tone, “but Prime’s policy has always been we obey planetary authority. If the man wants us gone - we’re gone.”

“But-” This time it was Bluestreak’s voice that broke. “But if we leave, the Decepticons-!”

“Some battles you can’t win, Blue.” Ironhide stood, his optics downcast as Sparkplug shook his head in silent regret. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but we - we can’t - oh, slaggit.” One hand flew to his optics, and the Autobots took one look at the rare display of grief from their weapons master and lost all discipline.

“Then we’re not going!” Cliffjumper, unwilling to let it go even as Mirage turned on him.

“Just stop it,” he snapped, “of course we’re going, that’s what we’ve always-”

“-they voted for him!” Huffer barked.

“They did not!” Hound, whirling with his fists clenched, angrier than he’d ever let anyone see. “The majority voted for-”

“-well, who cares about the majority when the minority’s got all the votes and all the stupid-”

“Autobots.”

The single word rolled through the bridge like thunder, arresting Mirage and Cliffjumper an inch from coming to blows, unbalancing Hound and Huffer before one could get the other in a headlock. Ironhide snapped to attention as Optimus’s keen blue optics swept the room. “What,” he demanded, quiet and inorexable with a curl of frost around the edges, “is going on here?”

“My fault, sir.” Hound straightened, squaring his shoulders to align with Ironhide’s. “I got a little heated. I’m sorry.”

“Nobody’s fault,” Ironhide confided quietly, as the rest of the Autobots echoed Hound’s apology. “Current political climate’s got us all on edge.”

“Sir…” Bluestreak drew closer, and Optimus Prime relaxed his stance to ease the anxiety in his gunner's optics. “We’re not - really going to leave, are we? Earth, I mean? I know we’ve left before but the humans don’t really want us gone, I mean most of them don’t, so...”

Optimus’s gaze swept the room again, this time with more understanding. “As always,” he answered at last, “we abide by the wishes of our hosts.” He turned from Bluestreak’s mournful vocalization to address Sparkplug, all but forgotten in the altercation. “Sparkplug?” he prompted gently. “As a local, what do you think?”

Sparkplug stared up at his friend, his throat dry. He knew what his son would say, and his friends - stay and fight! Never give up! His boy had fight in him, and that was something Sparkplug admired, but - he’d watched the beginnings of this slow crumbling of the country he loved, had seen more of hatred and greed and how it ground you down. The Autobots had their own battles, their own home to reclaim from those of their own species who worshipped that same hatred and greed. How many more burdens could he ask his friends to shoulder?

“Maybe you should - go,” Sparkplug muttered, and winced at the fresh wave of pleading protests that brought on. “I know, I know, but - Huffer’s right. Whether we knew it or not, we built the road that led us here. We let that bastard in, and now we’ll never be rid of him and his kind.” Unwilling, his gaze turned to the viewscreen, frozen on an image of the new President greeting Megatron with outflung arms, his obvious comb-over streaming in the breeze from the nearby helicopter. Their new leaders. They would divide up everything exploitable about the world between them, and leave nothing but barrenness and poison in their wake.

“...so, yeah,” Sparkplug sighed. “Don’t wanna see you go, but I wouldn’t blame you if you left us to our - our fate.”

Not a sound from the Autobots, not even Bluestreak, too stricken to protest - until Optimus ex-vented, and sank to one knee, placing his fingertips ever so gently on Sparkplug’s shoulder.

His voice rumbled through them all, low as distant thunder. “I refuse.”