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First Aid Gets Wrecked

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First Aid was almost never late for work.  ‘Almost’ being the operative word.  He was usually a very meticulous mech when it came to keeping himself in check, primarily because Pharma didn’t tolerate nonsense in his facility.  The head medic was quite the fuss-budget when it came to keeping things completely in order, and that included little to no patience for tardiness.

Which was why the young medic was practically beside himself with panic when he woke up after a long night of going through witness reports of Wreckers activity over the past few meta-cycles.  It was increasingly easy over time to sort out what was a legitimate account and those that were just seeking attention from the community of fans gathered across the cyber-net.  Most people thought of the Wreckers as a reckless force of violent sociopaths, but those like First Aid knew better.  They were doing the hard jobs, the ones no one else wanted to do.

At any rate, he had stayed up a lot later than he’d intended and ended up crashing hard.  He awoke to find himself a full cycle late.  He had to get to Delphi medical clinic quickly, preferably before Pharma realized he wasn’t already there.  It didn’t take long to get to the facility, as the living quarters were relatively nearby, but First Aid still hurried as fast as his wheels could carry him.

Ambulon was waiting for him inside the front office of the clinic.  He wasn’t looking at the younger mech, but upon hearing his arrival decided to inform him, “You’re late.”

“I know!  I’m so sorry, I stayed up far too late last night,” the red and white medic vented, regulating his systems after the quick drive.  “Does Pharma…?”

“If he knows you weren’t already here, I wasn’t the one who told him.  He’s been holed up in his office for the last few cycles.”

“Thank you, Ambulon,” First Aid ex-vented in relief, walking over and leaning over the desk.  “Any new patients I need to look at?”

“Actually, yes.  There’s a patient in room A-21.  Just arrived last night when you were off.  He’s not in too bad of shape, but had a bit of a crash-land by the mines.  The miners brought him in and Pharma insisted we should at least keep him for the day to make sure he didn’t sustain anything that wouldn’t show up immediately.  He’s not a happy camper in there, so be careful.”  Ambulon held a file out to First Aid.

“Alright, I’ll check on him to make sure he’s comfortable,” the younger mech nodded to the former Decepticon, taking the file and hurrying off.  He would usually look at it before going to see a patient, but he wanted to look like he’d been busy all day there in case Pharma was out of his office.  He didn’t like lying to his boss, but he was also already skating on thin ice ever since his evaluation which deemed him ‘obsessive compulsive.’

First Aid reached the necessary room and vented in, opening the door.  The unhappy patients were the ones no one wanted to deal with.  They were impatient and always blamed the medics for any little thing that was going wrong, no matter how little control they had over it.

“Hello,” he greeted in his friendliest voice, finally glancing at the chart he’d been given so he’d be able to address the patient by name.  “How are you feeling today, Impac…”  The young medic didn’t even finish the name before his optics widened, shooting up to the disgruntled mech sitting on the repair berth.

Sure enough, the much larger and incredibly intimidating form of Impactor was before him.  More specifically, was glaring at him.

First Aid made what was probably the most undignified sound he’d ever managed before covering his faceplate with the file he was carrying.  “E-excuse me for a moment!” he squeaked, exiting the room as quickly as he’d arrived and sliding the door shut behind him.

‘Oh, Primus…’ he thought desperately, opening the chart back up as if he could have somehow mistaken the incredibly distinct and recognizable form of the leader of the Wreckers.  Of all of the ruthless warriors and soldiers in their faction, Impactor was the one he’d always looked up to the most.  He was unwaveringly strong in his convictions and judgement.  It helped that he had a ruggedly handsome charm to him, despite the intensity of his glare.  ‘Impactor is in my clinic.  In that room, right in front of me.  Primus, Primus, Primus…’  He shook his helm quickly, trying to dispel his excitement.  ‘No, I’m a medic, and he’s my patient.  Get ahold of yourself, First Aid!  Be professional.  He’s no different from all the other patients I have to take care of.’  He vented in deeply and pushed the button to reopen the door.

He could do this.

 

-

 

Impactor couldn’t believe his rotten luck.  First he apparently flew too close to Decepticon territory, which was an embarrassingly rookie mistake resulting him getting shot out of the sky over this backwater mining planet. Worse - Messatine of all places. He would have been happier to never have been there again.   Then, despite the fact that he was just fine no matter what the medics at this insane clinic thought, they wouldn’t let him leave.  And now the new medic, who was far too friendly when he opened that door for his taste anyway, was a fanbot.

Oh, he could have easily mistaken those signs of how he reacted for fear.  But he’d met enough Wreckers fans to know one when he saw it.  That wasn’t fear, it was excitement.  Or maybe a bit of both, that happened a lot as well.

Impactor hated Wreckers fanbots.  The last thing the universe needed was people idolizing his group of suicidal psychopaths.  They weren’t heroes, just a bunch of mechs who liked killing things and got the dirty jobs done.  No one should look up to them.

Least of all Impactor himself.

The door reopened and the smaller red and white mech came back, looking a bit calmer than when he left.  “Sorry about that,” he apologized pleasantly.  He was trying valiantly to come off as if that had never happened, and mostly succeeding except for the practically vibrating servos clutching the chart in his hands.  “I got a call from the front desk I had to take.  Now, let me take a look at you to make sure you’re right as rain.”

“I’m fine,” Impactor growled back for what felt like the millionth time since he crashed.  He wasn’t just trying to escape, though it would be nice.  He didn’t like or trust either of the other medics here.  They both stank of ‘Con in different ways.  The fact that there only seemed to be the three medics working this entire facility didn’t help.

“I’m sure, but as the medic assigned to you I still need to check you over.  You were in quite the crash, it’s a miracle nothing awful happened to you.”  He approached the berth, putting the chart on the table next to it.  He grew tenser the closer he was, which only frustrated Impactor more.  He didn’t have time for this.

“If I let you look me over one more time, can I go when you find out nothing is wrong with me?” the Wrecker asked as calmly as possible.  Unlike the other two, this medic looked and felt genuine.  Despite his bad taste in heroes, he deserved at least a small chance.

“Yes!”  The amount of enthusiasm in that one word almost made Impactor regret even asking.  The medic caught himself, though, and quickly reeled himself back in.  “I mean, of course.  If you’re completely healthy there’s no reason we can keep you here.  However, I’ll have to draw some energon and run a test on it to make sure everything’s clean.”

Impactor grunted but didn’t deny him, leaning against the back of the berth and offering an arm.  He didn’t look at the younger mech as he pulled out and prepped a needle, looking for an open energon line.  The Wrecker didn’t even react to the feeling of being pricked with it, huffing in annoyance again.  This was ridiculous, but there was no reason to cause undue trouble if he could avoid it.  Especially if he didn’t want an audial-full from Springer about how they’re only supposed to be hostile towards enemies.

After a few kliks, Impactor decided to at least ask, “You gonna tell me your name if you’re gonna work on me?”

The younger mech seemed startled, looking up at him from where he was now bending over the berth to check over Impactor’s elbow joints.  He’d been making sure they weren’t stiff or limited in their range of motion after the crash.  “Oh, First Aid.  I’m sorry, it completely slipped my processor.”  He returned to his work, nimble servos working into seams and gaps in the armor and deftly checking for inconsistencies.

“You know who I am, obviously,” Impactor stated, watching him now.  The much smaller mech was showing a good amount of professionalism despite his obvious giddiness at who he was working on.

“I… yes.  You’re Impactor, leader of the Wreckers.  You have the highest fatality rate, are notoriously opposed to other ‘bots getting too close to you, and coined the phrase Wreck and Rule.  You don’t like cameras or the media in general, have destroyed more copies of Megatron’s manifesto than anyone else on record, and despite rumors the harpoon we confiscated from you isn’t the original but has been replaced three times.”  First Aid glanced back up at him again, looking embarrassed.  “You already guessed I have a fascination with your team before this, I assume.  Also, I’m sorry we had to confiscate and disarm your weapons.  We really can’t have someone so heavily armed inside of our facility.”

Impactor stared at him for a moment longer before his helm hit the wall behind him.  Great, he was one of those fans.  The ones who defined the word ‘obsession.’  At least he seemed to be aware of how weird he sounded.  “S’fine, First Aid,” he replied.  He really did understand the confiscation, just didn’t mean he had to like it.

There was a sudden change in First Aid’s EM field, as if a switch was flipped.  His entire body went rigid, servos halting on Impactor’s midsection.  The digits felt hot against his plating, a tremor running through him as the entire chassis leaning over the repair berth shivered.

It happened so quickly Impactor barely registered what exactly it was.  But all of the sudden the medic before him wasn’t just small and pure.  The servos, the wide blue visor, his thin frame… even his scent was becoming swiftly irresistible.

Oh.

Oh.

It was around the time that all of these sensations leaked across his own frame and settled in his interface array, spike pressurizing inside its protective shell and demanding release, that he realized what exactly was happening.  Now the question was becoming what to do about it.  Though his own body was answering the question, as resisting the tiny, suddenly delicious red and white frame before him was eliminating itself as an option.

 

-

 

‘Oh, no…’ First Aid’s processor was reeling as he felt the rush of need hit him absurdly quickly.  ‘Not now… why now?!  My heat cycle isn’t due for another deca-cycle at the soonest!  Why is it kicking in now?!’

He didn’t even look at Impactor, who he was close to the point of actually touching, thus undoubtedly could feel the heat cycle’s powerful aura in his EM field.  This was humiliating.  Impactor was one of his heroes and here he was having a spontaneous heat reaction to him simply saying the medic’s name.

‘I shouldn’t just be standing here like an idiot, I need to leave before my heat makes me do something even worst!’

First Aid finally managed to push himself off of the Wrecker.  His systems seemed to scream at him not to run, to turn back around to Impactor and let him relieve his now aching valve.  “I… I’m so sorry!” he quickly apologized, though he knew it was ridiculous at this point.  “I don’t know… this isn’t…”  He couldn’t seem to think of something that could accurately vocalize how horrified he was at himself at the moment, so he finally settled on, “I have to go!”

The red and white medic retreated quickly, wanting nothing more than to be able to find an empty room to relieve himself in.  He could feel his leaking valve leaving a pool of lubricant inside of his valve panel, and the feeling was only exacerbating his heat.  Before he could get more than a few steps away from the berth, though, he was halted by large servos grabbing onto his upper arm.  He made a surprised noise, turning quickly to find Impactor looming over him.  It should have been frightening, but instead the intimidating sight was… exciting.  He was exerting a field of dominant heat that meshed perfectly with his.

‘No way…’

Impactor was responding to his heat.  He was asserting his authority as a dominant mech with interest in satisfying First Aid’s currently out of control mating protocols.

First Aid was torn.  On one hand, he was Impactor’s current practicing medic.  He had a duty of professionality to uphold, a trust that would be completely breached and destroyed if he went through with his urges.  On the other hand, it was Impactor, the leader of the Wreckers.  Large and handsome in such a rough, dangerous sort of way.  Even with his missing hand it was clear that he was a force to be reckoned with, capable without his weapons of still wreaking havoc on mechs twice his size.

But First Aid wasn’t twice his size.  It was generous to say he was two-thirds.  And he’d never felt more helpless yet safe than standing there in front of the much more powerful mech who hadn’t said a word, but his EM field and optics were speaking volumes.

And then Impactor spoke, and First Aid knew that his conscience as a medic stood no chance against the mating protocols his heat cycle had activated in full force.  “Where do you think you’re going?”

“N… nowhere,” the medic finally gave in, turning once more to face the Wrecker and raising the hand that was free of the arm he held to rest on Impactor’s chestplate.  “I’m… I’m exactly where I want to be.”

Impactor’s lip curled upwards in what was likely the closest thing to a grin he would ever manage, and he pulled the much smaller medic fully against him.  “That’s what I thought,” he said as he leaned down, dentae nibbling on an energon line in First Aid’s neck.

“Oh…!” was all First Aid could manage as he all but melted into the powerful arms that forcibly pulled him back to the berth.  The sensation of the gentle yet stinging bite on his line travelled down his spine, down to his valve.

Impactor pulled him back towards the berth until he nearly bumped it.  He then surprised First Aid by grabbing him by the wrist and twisting him around.  He shoved the young medic onto the berth front-first, chuckling darkly at the yelp he received.  “Come on, doctor.  You’re a fan, right?  You didn’t think I was gonna be gentle, did you?” he teased, climbing on behind him.

“I… I don’t know…” First Aid admitted, not daring to move from the spot.  His mating protocols were completely in control at this point, identifying Impactor as the one who was in control of him now.  It was scary and exciting all at once.

Impactor pressed his chassis against First Aid’s back, the heat radiating from both of them mixing and intensifying each other.  “You sound nervous.  Almost like this is your first time,” he muttered into First Aid’s audial receptor.  He nipped down his helm and neck, biting into the plating of the red and white medic’s shoulder.

The sensation sent another wave of pleasure through the younger mech, who whined loudly.  “It is…” he managed, trying not to sound embarrassed.  He’d never had time for physical relations, between his obsessive hobbies and his job.  This was something completely new to him.

Impactor only paused for a moment.  He then continued to nip and bite down the back of First Aid’s shoulders, to his spine.  “That right?  Better make this something you’ll remember, then.  I want you to think of it whenever you touch yourself.”

“I can already guarantee… ah… that I couldn’t forget this if I wanted…” First Aid vented heavily as Impactor continued his trail.

 

-

 

The Wrecker lifted First Aid’s hips with his left hand, elevating them to present the cute little red aft to himself.  He then pushed down on the space between the medic’s shoulders with his right arm, forcing him to lay with his hips being the only thing not touching the cold berth.  “Stay.”  The one barked word was answered with a light whimper and a tremble.  He ran his hand across the smooth metal of the medic’s aft, appreciating the dips and curves hidden there.  Another tremble.

After a few more moments of this, Impactor dipped his servos lower to the panel still covering First Aid’s valve.  As to be expected, it was the most effected by his heat.  He radiated like a furnace, begging for attention.  He was only too happy to oblige it, demanding, “Open your panel, First Aid.”

The medic didn’t hesitate for even a moment, the sound of his name being used by the Wrecker likely spurring his need even further.  His valve panel clicked open, revealing a swollen, pure white valve.  The older mech himself could feel the uncomfortable tightness of his spike pressurizing against its casing, but he ignored it for now.  He wanted to make sure First Aid’s first time interfacing made him never want anyone else.  “Impactor…” the red and white mech whined, hand covering his faceplate in embarrassment.  He at least was in control enough to realize how far this was going.

“You’ve got a pretty little valve, doctor,” Impactor said, running two servos across the soft lips appreciatively.  Lubricant was already running liberally from them, coating his fingers and running down First Aid’s thighs.  The younger mech moaned and whined at the treatment, aft swaying minutely as he tried to hold still.  This was quite the heat cycle.  “I’ve barely touched it and you’re ready to go already.  You sure you’ve never been fragged before?”

First Aid shook his helm quickly, looking even more self-conscious.  “N-never…” he vented out, the servos that weren’t covering his face gripping the edge of the berth.

“I’m a little torn,” Impactor grunted.  He moved his servos up to First Aid’s exterior node, giving it a pinch.  He felt satisfaction at the yelp of pain and pleasure he received.  “On one hand, that seems like a waste.  This isn’t something that should be hidden from the universe.  You’re a treasure that should be appreciated.”  He rubbed the nub roughly, drinking in the cries of ecstasy he elicited.  More lubricant dripped into the open palm of his hand.  “On the other…” he lifted his handless arm, glancing at it and shrugging.  “In a manner of speaking.”  He returned it to First Aid’s backstrut, holding him in place while he tortured the medic with pleasure.  “It’s probably just your heat cycle, but I feel like I’d kill anyone who so much as looked like they wanted to touch you.”

“Ah… ah…!” First Aid couldn’t seem to articulate a response, pressing his hips down so he could feel more from the hand mech-handling his exterior node.

After a bit more of the rough treatment, Impactor relinquished his hold on it.  First Aid responded with a particularly loud whine, reaching between his legs with his own hand.  “No!” Impactor chastised, grabbing the hand and forcing it back up next to the medic’s faceplate.  “Did I say you could touch yourself now?”

“But…”

“No,” he repeated, sounding like a sire scolding his youngling.  “You will do as I say.  You are mine, and you’ll behave accordingly.  Understood?”

“Y… yes, Impactor,” the medic whimpered.  It wasn’t a fearful one, but rather filled with need.  He was getting off on being ordered by the Wrecker.

“Good.”  Impactor rewarded the smaller mech by leaning down and biting into his aft, just hard enough to leave dentae-marks.  He heard First Aid vent loudly at the feeling, squirming under his handless arm’s hold.  “I told you to keep still,” he growled, slapping the aft.

“I-I’m trying!” First Aid replied urgently.  “I just… I need you to frag me right now!”

“Well, how do I say no when you say it so… desperately?” Impactor teased, moving himself up so he was once again looming over the prone mech.  He kept him in the position he’d put him in, faceplate down and aft up, while he released his own spike with a light groan.  It felt like torture, not being able to pressurize it fully.  Now that it was out, every thought and focus was on fragging that hot little valve as hard as he could.

 

-

 

First Aid’s visor was huge as he looked over his shoulderplate at the proportionately large cabled spike behind him.  He knew Impactor was going to be big, but… Primus.  Fear was now welling up a bit looking at it, wondering if something like that could really fit inside of him.  He wouldn’t deny him, as even without his mating protocols screaming at him that he needed this, he wanted to be fragged by Impactor more than anything.

“Please…” he managed, shaking his aft as temptingly as he could manage at the older mech.

“You couldn’t be more revved up if you tried, could you?” Impactor said, putting his hand back on First Aid’s hip to hold it still.  He shifted himself so his spike moved between the medic’s red legs, causing the younger to shiver in anticipation.  Instead of shoving it inside the aching valve, though, he sandwiched it between the soft, swollen lips.  It ran across his exterior node and stuck out between the front of First Aid’s legs as if it were the medic’s instead.  “Not yet, though.  I wanna make sure you’re ready for this.”

“Stop teasing me…” First Aid begged, rubbing his valve back and forth on the huge appendage.

Impactor let out a groan and stopped the hips again.  He then started thrusting his own hips as if he were fragging the medic, humping his spike across the overstimulated valve.  He thrust hard, jarring the smaller mech with a loud clank every time their hips connected.

First Aid cried out, clawing at the berth as his exterior node was once again roughly handled, the cords of Impactor’s spike grinding against it with each thrust.  “Oh!  Oh!  Ah!  Unh!”  He couldn’t even think through the haze he was being put into as his faceplate was ground into the berth.  If there was nothing else he was learning from this experience, it was that he definitely loved it rough.

Impactor relieved his face of the metal berth, though, as he reached down with his good hand and grabbed First Aid’s chestplate, hauling him up so he was practically sitting in the Wrecker’s lap while the spike continued to grind along his aching valve.  It was covering the breeding organ in a thick coat of lubricant as he was bounced by the hard thrusts behind him.  Impactor vented heavily into his audial receptor.

The red and white mech was about to complain that this was going to make him overload without even getting fragged when Impactor looped his hand and the stub where his harpoon usually was under his knees.  He lifted the much smaller mech until the tip of his spike was at his valve entrance.  First Aid barely had time to register what that meant before he was brought down on it, feeling the huge organ finally not only penetrate but completely fill him in one thrust of Impactor’s hips.

“Oh, Primus!” the medic couldn’t stop himself from shouting as desire filled every node of his valve, and every part of his being.  He was more than sure if he wasn’t currently deliriously deep in a heat cycle at the moment, having his virgin valve completely stuffed with such a large spike would have hurt like the Pit.  But all he felt at that moment was ecstasy.

 

-

 

Impactor paused after having shoved his whole spike inside the hot, wet, virgin confines of First Aid’s valve.  It wasn’t really for the medic’s benefit, as the younger mech was currently making sounds that indicated he felt nothing but pure, unadulterated joy from the feeling of finally having his mating protocol acknowledged.  It was more for himself, as it’d been an extremely long time since he last fragged anyone this tight.  It was nothing but wonderful heat and pressure on his spike, making it ache in more ways than one.  He knew how he wanted to do this.  And judging by First Aid’s responses to his treatment, he wanted it this way as well.

“Hands,” he managed to grunt out, leaning forward.  It shifted their balance, causing the unprepared medic to yelp again.

“H… huh…?” the medic asked in dazed confusion.

Hands.  Wall.  Now.”

After a moment First Aid seemed to catch onto what he was saying.  He leaned his whole chassis forward, placing his hands on the wall at the head of the berth.  One of his knees returned to resting on the berth, with Impactor holding the other leg in his good hand as he pulled back.  He slid his spike out until just the tip remained, eliciting a groan from the red and white medic.  He placed the stub of his other arm on First Aid’s hip and braced himself.  He then thrust hard back into the medic’s hot valve.

“Ooooh!” First Aid cried out, bracing his arms so his faceplate wouldn’t meet the wall from the hard rut.  “Do that again!”

Impactor’s lip component quirked up and he got to work pistoning his spike repeatedly into the wet confines of the sweet medic he took the virginity from.  He thrust wildly, venting heavily and grunting with every impact of their hips.  The Wrecker watched in satisfaction as his spike disappeared over and over inside of the young medic, driving him completely mad with pleasure.  He probably wouldn’t even tell if Impactor was grinding his ceiling node, his heat cycle was overwhelming him so.

“Oh!  Oh!  Yes!  Yes!  Please!  Harder!  Harder!  Frag, yes!  Impactor, hardeeeer!” First Aid wasn’t a quiet lover.  He cried, screamed, pleaded, and vented heavily.  If anyone passed the room there was no doubt they’d figure out what was going on in seconds.  Not that either cared much at the moment.

The medic’s elbows finally buckled, and quick reflexes gained from countless battles saved him from face-planting the wall.  Impactor’s hand let go of his leg, catching his shoulderplate and pulling him back.  It had the added bonus that it managed to find the ‘harder’ that First Aid had been begging for, as he let out a particularly joyful scream at the sensation.

That drove Impactor towards the brink, holding him like that and rutting into the medic in short, uncontrolled thrusts.  His logic told him to pull out as he reached the edge of his overload.  The heat radiating from the sweet medic objected to the idea.

“Please, Impactor!” First Aid cried desperately.  One of his hands, now free from the wall, was covering the one gripping his shoulder.  The other had found its way to his exterior node, rubbing it in time with the thrusting spike inside his valve.  “Overload… overload inside of me!  I want… I need it!”

That was the sound that broke the last of Impactor’s self-control.  He growled loudly as he pulled First Aid back against him, burying his spike completely inside.  He bit into the medic’s shoulderplate once more, harder than ever as he felt his overload crash into him.  Transfluid rushed from the tip of his spike, shooting a hot, sticky load into the red and white medic’s gestation chamber.  He felt more than heard First Aid’s own overload, lubricant spilling out of his valve and around Impactor’s spike.

Impactor caught himself from slumping over, coming down from the high of their frag.  He was still holding First Aid, who was venting heavily.  “You alright?” he asked.

The medic nodded lightly.  “I’m… I’m okay…” he said weakly.  “Just… tired…”

“I don’t doubt it.  That wasn’t something most ‘bots do in their first time.”

“Can I… is it okay to just… recharge…?” First Aid asked, leaning back against him.  “I think I need to…”

“Yeah, go ahead.  You’ll be fine,” Impactor answered, depressurizing his spike and replacing the panel.  The smaller mech didn’t even have the energy to follow suit before he was deep in recharge.  That must’ve been completely exhausting for him.

The Wrecker laid First Aid down on the berth, searching the tables nearby for something to at least clean all the fluid off of it and him.  He found a few rags and got to work, wiping down the berth, then First Aid, and finally himself.  He couldn’t close up the medic’s modesty, but he’d do what he could.

After all, as much as he felt like an afthole for it, he couldn’t stay.  Not only because this was his chance to escape this Pit-hole they called a medical facility, but also because he’d just literally fragged up.  He should have pulled out.  On a heat cycle there was nothing less than a 100% chance of knocking the ‘bot in question up if the one doing the knocking overloaded in their gestation chamber.  He felt like slag leaving him here knowing that without any talk about what to do about it, but this wasn’t something he could deal with.

Wreckers didn’t make very good sires.

 

---

 

Ambulon was starting to get worried.  First Aid had gone to check up on that Wrecker they’d taken in after his crash a while ago.  It didn’t take this long to do a quick check-up on someone they were mostly holding until they could get in contact with the Autobots and let them decide what to do with.

He reached Room A-21 and knocked on the door.  He didn’t receive a response, and that was even more worrying.  If the patient was at least there he should have responded.  “Impactor?  Are you alright?” he called.  “Is First Aid with you?”

Again, no response.  Ambulon felt a shock of dread and pressed the button to slide the door open.

First Aid lying on the bed, with Impactor nowhere to be found, caused his spark to nearly shut down on its own.  He rushed over.  “First Aid!  Are you okay?  What happened?!” he called, putting a hand on the younger medic’s arm.  He was hit immediately with two lingering after-effects in his EM field.  The hot remains of a heat cycle, and the fuzzy tingle of a fully-realized interface.

Oh, no.

While he was lying on his side, Ambulon wasn’t able to see in passing the state of First Aid’s panels.  The former Decepticon wasn’t going to check on it while he was recharging, and especially not with the door wide open.  The first order of business was closing it.  When Ambulon returned to the berth he pulled up a chair and waited.

Almost a cycle later, First Aid finally started waking up.  His visor lit up and he sat up, groggy.  “Ow…” he moaned, putting a hand to his helm.  “Oh… everything hurts…”

“Considering what I think happened, that doesn’t give me confidence,” Ambulon replied.  He didn’t mean to sound condescending, but sometimes the Decepticon in him liked to remind him it existed.

First Aid’s helm whipped around to stare at him in shock.  He then yelped, looking down between his legs and closing them tight.  There was a click of his valve panel closing, though the evidence of what happened was already dripped onto the berth.  “I… I…” he stuttered, unable to look back at Ambulon now.

“I didn’t look, I promise.  But I guess that settles it,” the older mech ex-vented, leaning forward.  He looked at First Aid grimly.  “You interfaced with a patient, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t… I mean, it just suddenly happened,” the red and white medic struggled to explain himself.  He looked so embarrassed and ashamed that it was hard to stay cross at him.  “I was checking up on Impactor, and then my heat cycle just suddenly… happened!”  He repeated the last word as if it explained anything.

“Your heat cycle isn’t due for…”

“Another deca-cycle!  I know!  I don’t know what happened.  We were talking, and he said my name, and…”  First Aid trailed off as a dawning realization hit him.  “Wait… where did he…?”

“Not here,” Ambulon answered.  “My guess is when he was done taking advantage of you he cut and ran.”  He didn’t even hide how angry he was at Impactor for this.  It wasn’t any of his business, fragging an innocent mech when he was hit with an unexpected ill-timed heat cycle.

“That’s not what happened!” First Aid surprised him by insisting.  “He didn’t take advantage of me, he… he responded!  His protocols responded to my heat!”

“Whatever happened, it’s done.  He isn’t here.  Shows how much he cared.”

“That’s not… it’s not it…”  First Aid trailed off, looking at the floor.  Obviously he was having a hard time convincing himself of it.  “Why would he just… go?”

“Did he overload inside you?” Ambulon asked bluntly.

First Aid’s visor widened and he looked away, embarrassed.  At first he wasn’t sure the younger medic was going to answer.  Finally, though, he nodded lightly.  “Yeah…”  The way he said it, with uncertainty and maybe a little fear, told Ambulon that he knew the implications.

“You’re with spark,” the painted mech said.  He didn’t want to confirm that fact, it was irrefutable.  Unless First Aid or Impactor were incapable (both of which he knew wasn’t true, as he had both their medical records now), it was a complete certainty on a heat cycle.  He wanted to make sure First Aid truly knew what this meant.

“…Yes…”  First Aid covered his faceplate with a hand, bringing his knees to his chestplate and wrapping the other arm around them.

Ambulon softened.  First Aid was obviously extremely upset.  He didn’t blame him.  So he stood up and sat on the berth next to him.  “It’s going to be okay,” he assured the younger mech, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“What’s Pharma going to say?” First Aid asked, whimpering.

Ambulon hadn’t thought of that.  Nothing good, he knew.  “We’ll… just have to cross that bridge when we reach it.  He’ll understand when we tell him it wasn’t your fault.”

“What… what if he orders me to terminate it?”

That was certainly within the realm of possibilities.  They were the only three medics in Delphi.  Losing only one to Creator Leave would be a huge blow.  “He can’t make you do it,” Ambulon reminded him.  “Unless you want to?”

First Aid thought for a moment, staring into space.  Finally, he answered, “No.  I want to keep it.  It’s not just my sparkling, it’s Impactor’s.”

“He left while you were recharging,” Ambulon reminded him testily.  “Fragged you and ran.”

“He’ll be back,” First Aid told him without hesitation.

“And if he isn’t?”

“He will.  You’ll see.”

Chapter Text

Delphi had been messy business.

Okay, that was putting it lightly.  Drift cut someone in half, Ratchet lost his hands, and Pharma… lost everything but his hands.  It worked out, though.  There were several new additions to the crew, two being medics which were greatly needed.  Fortress Maximus wasn’t unwelcome, either, being as he was a great warrior and highly respected warden.

It was the last addition to the crew that surprised everyone.

Another mech was with them.  He hadn’t been at the facility during their struggles against the Red Rust.  He was tall, lightly armored as was to be expected from someone who was at a medical facility.  It meant he wasn’t a miner.  He was painted red and black, with a gold helm and details that looked vaguely familiar.  His optics were covered by a blue visor, much like First Aid.

“So, we know First Aid, Ambulon, and Fort Max.  Who’re you?” Rodimus asked as he and a small portion of the crew welcomed its new members.

“Appulse,” the mech answered, smiling.  There was something unnerving about that grin.

Rodimus suppressed the shiver of dread that went down his spinal strut at the slightly gravelly voice.  Really, where had he heard that before?  “Great.  So… what did you do on Delphi?” he asked conversationally.

“Mostly helped my creator out,” Appulse shrugged, nodding over to First Aid.  The smaller medic was speaking with Ultra Magnus and Red Alert, likely going through some drilling about the paperwork that he would have to fill out now that he was joining.

Rodimus’s jaw dropped, looking from him to First Aid.  “First Aid has a sparkling?!” he yelped, far more loudly than was probably necessary.

The entire room seemed to stop, helms turning.  After a long, awkward silence that followed the outburst, Ultra Magnus pointed at the datapad First Aid was holding.  “That will need to be recorded on here as well.”

“Yes, of course,” First Aid said lightly, visor flashing in embarrassment.

“Would you like to fill out his paperwork as well?  Or is he old enough to do it himself?” the Duly Appointed Enforcer asked.

“He can do it himself, it’s alright,” the medic confirmed.  “I’ll make sure we get this done.  If you’ll excuse me…”  He quickly made his way over to Rodimus and Appulse.

Looking at the two of them standing next to each other made the entire thing even more perplexing.  Appulse was so much taller than First Aid.  Rodimus couldn’t help but simply stare, looking between them repeatedly.

After a few moments of this, First Aid reset his vocals awkwardly.  As if reading the captain’s processor, he said, “Appulse gets his height from his sire.”

“Who the pit is his sire?!” Rodimus once again couldn’t contain his voice.

Ultra Magnus, leaving Red Alert to process Ambulon, joined them and reset his vocals as well.  “Rodimus, you’re causing a scene,” he informed him sternly.

“Tell me you’re not curious!  And make sure you’re honest!” Rodimus demanded, gesturing between the two.

“It’s none of either of our-”

“It’s Impactor,” Appulse cut Magnus off, folding his arms in front of his chestplate.  He looked challenging, menacing for his light armor.  And hearing who the other contributor in his spark-line was made it very clear why.

The Impactor?  Wrecker Impactor?  ‘Shoot first, ask questions never’ Impactor?” Rodimus couldn’t seem to wrap his processor around this information.

“That’s the one,” First Aid confirmed, covering his faceplate as crew members started inching closer.  This was likely the most interesting thing to happen on this ship for a while, the Delphi incident that brought them there notwithstanding.

“Got a problem with it?” Appulse threatened.

“No, I’m good,” the red and orange captain said quickly, shaking his helm.  “Just… uh… I have one question for you, First Aid.”

“Yes?” the medic inquired, lowering his hand enough to look at him.

“How did you not get split in half by his- MMPH!”

Ultra Magnus quickly covered Rodimus’s mouth with a large hand, dragging him away from the conversation.  “I apologize, First Aid.  Sometimes our captain has even less control of his mouth than he does his own crew,” the second in command apologized as he pulled his struggling captain away.

Appulse and First Aid looked at each other, then the group of fascinated mechs that drew closer.  “What?!” Appulse finally snapped, glaring at them.

“Do none of you have anything better to do?” Ratchet’s voice pierced the whispers and murmurs, making several ‘bots jump.  His return to form was apparently filled with more fear than joy, as the crowd parted for him.  He walked up to First Aid and Appulse, nodding to the door behind him.  “My office.  Now.”  He pointed at the other new medical officer as well.  “You, too!”

Ambulon didn’t waste any time, though whether it was from fearing Ratchet’s suddenly negative mood or simply wanting to get away from Red Alert who was playing a very not-fun game of 20 questions with him, it was hard to tell.

Arriving in the medical ward, First Aid, Ambulon, and Appulse took seats while Ratchet closed the door.  He then turned back to them.  “When were you going to tell me about him?” he demanded, pointing at the youngling.

“It… it didn’t exactly seem important when we were fighting Decepticons and trying to cure the Red Rust,” First Aid replied.  He looked at Ambulon, but the other medic didn’t help him in his defense.  He was instead staring at the ground.

“What’s the big deal?” Appulse asked defensively.

Ratchet looked from him, to First Aid, Ambulon, and then back to First Aid.  “Neither of you have told him, have you?” he asked.

“Told me what?” the young red and black mech persisted.

First Aid looked at him and finally replied, “You’re not supposed to exist.”

Appulse stared back at him in shock and confusion over the words that just left his vocals.  “WHAT?!” he finally managed.

“Natural sparkbirth is… it’s highly regulated by the Cybertronian government,” First Aid explained, covering his youngling’s hand with his own.  “Forging has always been seen as the best, most natural way to create Cybertronian life.  Sparkbirth can be… dangerous, to both the creator and the sparkling.”

“There’s a number of things that can go wrong,” Ratchet said.  “It could have killed either or both of you.”

“That’s not true,” Ambulon cut in.  “I encouraged First Aid, and I told him not to mention any of this, because there’s nothing actually dangerous about sparkbirth.  Most Decepticons stayed away from it because they didn’t want to have to pause their work in the ‘Cons for something like Creator Leave, let alone bring that kind of life into a universe where everyone was trying to kill each other.  But it happened, and the amount of times it went wrong was… Primus, it wasn’t even five or six times.  Sparkbirth regulation was just another form of oppression that was started because the government wanted only naturally occurring forges to happen.  It’s been so long since they put it forward, though, that everyone forgot it was just propaganda.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about this,” Ratchet pointed out.  “You’re trying to tell me, as medics, we’ve been mistaken about all the sparklings and creators we’ve lost to sparkbirth?”

“Propaganda is a strong thing,” Ambulon replied.  “The Decepticons would’ve been a distant memory if theirs wasn’t so resilient.”

“Guys!  This isn’t the point!” First Aid stepped into the argument, looking between them.  “The point Ratchet is trying to make is that we’re going to be in trouble when they find out about this.”  He turned back to his stunned youngling.  “We never registered you with the government.  Any natural sparkbirth has to be reported.”

“I thought so,” Ratchet ex-vented, leaning on the wall.  “Pharma didn’t want to give anyone a reason to come check on Delphi, so he wouldn’t have called it in.”

“I don’t get it, why is this such a big deal?” Appulse asked, trying to wrap his processor around everything that was being said.  “So I’m not in whatever database is out there, so what?”

“So First Aid can get his aft thrown in jail for this,” the lead medical officer snapped at him, throwing his newly acquired hands in the air.  “The second we touch down on Cybertron again, they’re going to start asking questions.  One spark test between the two of you and they’ll know.  Why…?”  He trailed off, looking at Appulse.  He then turned his optics to Ambulon.  “Look, why don’t you go… introduce yourselves to the ‘bots at Swerve’s?  I need to have this next part of the discussion alone with First Aid.”

“But…!” Appulse tried to object, still confused.

“No, he’s right,” Ambulon said, catching on.  This was definitely not something Appulse needed to hear.  He walked to the door and gestured for the youngling to follow him.

“Go on,” First Aid nodded, bringing Appulse’s helm down and giving it an affectionate nuzzle.  “I’ll join you when I can.  We just need to work some things out.  Everything is going to be fine, I promise.”

Appulse looked worried, but finally conceded, following Ambulon.

As soon as they were gone and the door was closed, Ratchet finally finished his sentence.  Not beating around the bush, he asked, “Why didn’t you terminate when you found out you were with spark?”

First Aid didn’t back down, didn’t even flinch.  He looked Ratchet in the optics and answered, “Because Impactor and I created him.  He’s my sparkling, and I love him.”

Ratchet stared back at him before ex-venting again, rubbing his faceplate tiredly.  “That’s the creator protocols talking.  How did you even manage to get knocked up by Impactor in the middle of nowhere, anyway?”

First Aid finally looked away, playing with his servos.  After a moment of hesitation he told the whole story, minus the kinky details.

When he was finished Ratchet nodded.  “I figured a heat cycle was involved in this.  Figures Impactor’s the type to take advantage of that.”

“He didn’t!” First Aid defended.  It was bad enough hearing it from both Ambulon and Pharma.  “His systems responded!  He didn’t take advantage of me, he was just as effected by it as I was!”

“Even if that’s true,” Ratchet said, holding up a hand, “From what you said Ambulon is right.  He left, without any indication he intended to come back.  Did he ever?”

First Aid paused again before giving a light, “…No…”

Ratchet deflated at how dejected First Aid sounded.  Because of the regulations on it, most ‘bots didn’t know what it felt like to have their creator protocols activated by sparkbirth.  Everything they’d been told and studied as medics about how their systems reacted to it couldn’t prepare them to go through it themselves.

“But he will.  Even if he goes back there and finds I’m not there, he’ll find a way to come back,” First Aid continued to insist.  Before Ratchet could respond he added, “He… he has to…”

 

-

 

“So!”

Appulse found his space suddenly invaded by an empurada’d mech as he sat in the bar they’d been directed to.  Ambulon was talking to some mechs at the bar, having been pulled over there.  It left the youngling to sit at one of the tables and dare anyone to approach if they were going to talk about his heritage.

“I hear you’re Impactor’s little pitspawn!” the clawed mech said.

“And you’re Whirl,” the red and black youngling answered.  “I read creator’s posts and sites he visited about the Wreckers.  You were kicked out for trying to euthanize Springer.”

“I was doing the guy a favor!” Whirl declared, sitting next to him.  “But noooo, even though I thought it would have been the descent thing to do, putting him out of his misery, everyone went all up in arms about it!  Literally!”

“Is there something you wanted?” Appulse growled.

“Whoa, you are definitely Impactor’s kid.  You glare just like him!  I can even tell behind the visor!” Whirl persisted, throwing an arm around his shoulderplates and gesturing across the bar to a red and black mech with a microscope on his shoulder.  “Just think, with you, me, and Perceptor, that makes two and a half Wreckers on the ship!  If we can get at least another half of one we can make our own team!”

“How many drinks have you had so far?” Appulse asked in fascination.

“Not enough.  Swerve!  Something strong!  What was it called?  A Brawn!  Get me a fragging Brawn!” Whirl waved at the bar.  “Get one for the new guy, too!”

“You’re gonna buy me a drink?” Appulse’s optic ridges shot up.

“Did I say that?  Cause I didn’t hear me say that,” Whirl scoffed.  “You’re payin’ for your own drinks.  I’m just ordering for you.  Hope you like them strong.”

“I’ve never drank Engex before,” the youngling admitted.

“Seriously?!” the former Wrecker asked incredulously.

“Creator, Pharma, and Ambulon never kept it around.  Just the normal fuel.”

“Now that I know is a lie you were told,” Whirl scoffed.  “Medics always keep some Engex around for a quick pick-me-up.”

A red and gold mech appeared with two glasses, putting them down for the customers.  “Two Brawns, one extra strong for our resident psycho,” he said.

“Whoa, Atomizer, when’d you start working for Swerve?” Whirl asked.

“Since I needed something to do.  Ultra Magnus has been getting on my aft about the crossbow.  I figured if I helped out in the one place he doesn’t know about I can avoid him,” the mech answered.  “You must be Appulse,” he said to the youngling.

“S’up?” Appulse replied, raising the glass he was just handed.

Even though he didn’t have a visible faceplate, something in his demeanor changed enough to tell Appulse that Atomizer was smirking at him.  “Careful.  We don’t know what kind of drinker you are yet, and Swerve doesn’t like surprises.  You sure you want to start with the good stuff?”

“Think I can’t handle it?” Appulse challenged.

“You want to make a bet on it?” Whirl asked, sounding hopeful.

“Sure, why not?  You’re that little medic’s youngling, right?  I bet you’ll go down after two of those,” Atomizer said, tapping the glass in Appulse’s hand.

“And I bet you can take both like a champ, cause you’ve got some Impactor in you,” Whirl added, pushing his towards the much younger mech.  “In fact, I bet you can take that and this one.”

“What are we betting?” Appulse asked, excited.  He was only on this ship for a cycle and he was already feeling like he fit in more than he ever did in Delphi.

“How about… loser has to steal Ultra Magnus’s name placard off his desk?” Whirl suggested.

“What are you, suicidal?” Atomizer scoffed.

“Scared?” Appulse challenged.  He’d only met Magnus once at this point, and he was already pretty intimidated.  But his sire’s coding didn’t let him back down from a challenge.

The red and orange mech looked at him in surprise, then at Whirl.  After a moment he slapped a hand on the table.  “Drink.”

 

-

 

First Aid and Ratchet entered the bar to the sight of everyone gathered around one of the tables.  They were so tightly packed that the smaller mechs had to squeeze into the front to be able to see.  The easiest to see was Rewind, who was instead perched on top of Chromedome’s shoulderplates recording whatever was happening.

“What’s going on here?” Ratchet asked, not bothering to try like First Aid was.  The younger medic stood on the tips of his pedes, straining his neck.

Pipes, who had just squeezed himself out of the crowd, answered, “You’re First Aid, right?”  He was looking at the younger medic.

“Yes, and you are?” the red and white medic replied, giving up on his attempts.

“Pipes, nice to meet you,” the blue mech said.  “Already met your youngling.  That kid is crazy.  Already on Bet #4.”

“What?!” First Aid yelped, looking from him back to the crowd.  “What bet?!”

“First Aid!” Ambulon worked his way over, looking ashamed.  “I’m so sorry!  I was talking to Swerve and some of his regulars.  I didn’t think Appulse could get himself into trouble that fast!

“What trouble, Ambulon?!” First Aid demanded, grabbing him by the arms.  “What’s happening with my sparkling?!”

“Hey!” Ratchet barked at the crowd.  At the sound of his voice, the closest turned.  “Make room!”

The crowd began to part like the Rust Sea, letting the three medics through.

At the center of the commotion was Appulse, elbow on the table and hand locked with Brawn.  Jackpot had both his hands on theirs, holding them steady.

“Bet #4!  Appulse vs. Brawn!” the gambler announced.  “Everyone put their bets in?  Yes?  Good!  Then…”

“Stop!” Ratchet yelled, but this time it was to no avail.

“…GO!

Jackpot let go of the two mechs’ hands, stepping back quickly.

The match lasted all of three seconds.  It was the time it took for Appulse to be thrown out of his seat by the force of Brawn’s intense strength, letting go of the deceptively smaller Autobot’s hand and hitting the floor.  He tried to steady himself with the table as he fell and only succeeded in taking that down with himself.

The crowd of mechs broke into raucous applause, whooping and hollering.  Jackpot happily handed out winning bets, keeping part of it for himself.

“Appulse!” First Aid rushed forward, kneeling down next to his youngling.  “Are you okay?  What were you thinking?!”

“I’m fine, I’m fine!” the much younger mech laughed, pushing himself off the floor.  “Primus, no wonder almost no one bet on me!”

“This isn’t funny, Appulse!” First Aid scolded, checking him over.  “You could have been seriously hurt!  Is this what you’ve been doing in here without me?  Drinking and making stupid bets?”

“Whoa, creator,” Appulse raised his hands, putting them on his shorter creator’s shoulder and pushing him back.  “I told you, I’m fine!  Don’t ruin the mood, I’m just making some friends!”

“Medical office…” First Aid said, chassis vibrating as he contained his anger.

“Creator…”

“Medical office, Appulse!  Now!” the medic demanded this time, pointing at the door.

At the tone, Appulse went silent and hung his helm.  He retreated quickly, not looking at anyone on his way out.  First Aid glared around at the others before following.

“Yeesh, what a hardaft,” Whirl said, shrugging.  “Just what we needed on this ship.”

“You willingly put his youngling in danger,” Ratchet replied, poking him in the chestplate.  “I’d ask how you’d feel if that was your youngling, but I’m not completely sure you’d care.”

Whirl huffed.  “The entire medical staff is a bunch of tightafts…” he muttered, stalking off with the shanix he won in the bets.

“I hope you know I had nothing to do with this,” Swerve pointed out, walking over and righting the table.  “I would’ve stopped them, but I’m one little non-combat-trained mech against twenty pent-up warriors.”

“I know,” Ambulon ex-vented.  “I feel bad that I wasn’t there when it happened.”

“Not your fault,” Ratchet shook his helm.  “He long since grew past his actual sparklinghood.  You and First Aid can’t look over his shoulder forever.”

“Yeah…” Ambulon rubbed his helm, paint chipping off.  “Want to sit down?  I think we could both use a drink after that.”

“Sure, we should give First Aid and Appulse their space for a little bit anyway.”

 

---

 

The time after that first day was a blur.  A lot happened in a short amount of time.  Rung had his head blown off, then recovered, during which Fortress Maximus was thrown into the brig.  Red Alert ended up being put in cold storage after trying to decapitate himself.  Appulse got to head into his first real battle on Temptoria and kill Decepticons, which was more fun than he was allowed to admit to his largely peaceful creator.  They docked on Hedonia for a while for some rest and relaxation (mostly for Ultra Magnus’s sake, with… varying levels of success).  Settling into a groove on the Lost Light was easy.  It was chaotic yet quickly becoming familiar.

“Hey, kid!” Atomizer waved Appulse over as he entered Swerve’s, putting a drink on the bar.  He then picked it up.  “Wait, am I allowed to give this to you?  Or is your creator going to start yelling at us all again?”

“Never going to let that go, are you?” Appulse asked, taking the glass out of his hand.  “Afthole.”

“It’s been half a stellar-cycle, Atomizer,” Skids pointed out, sitting next to the youngling.  “You gotta learn to let it go.”

“Yeah, but would we love him anywhere near as much if he weren’t such a petty, teasing glitch?” Appulse asked thoughtfully, taking a drink.

After a small pause, Skids finally answered, “Yeah, probably.”

“You’re right, we probably would,” Appulse agreed.

“I hope you know I hate you both and I’m doubling your tabs,” Atomizer huffed, picking up a tray of drinks and heading out onto the floor.

“So, how’re things in the medbay?” the amnesiac asked.

“Slow, boring,” Appulse answered.  “Just like on Delphi, before the Red Rust.  I’m just not cut out for the medical stuff.  I mean, I know how for the most part.  I couldn’t do surgery, but I know how to repair most kinds of damages that aren’t fatal.  But I don’t like sitting around, filling out reports, organizing medical supplies…”

Skids grinned, “Yeah, sounds real thrilling.”

“What’s thrilling?” Rewind asked, jumping onto the bar seat next to Appulse.  “Something I should be around for?”

“Only if you like recording the exciting world of medical filing,” the youngling answered.

The datastick, to his credit, tried valiantly to look interested.  “Well… I always say there’s no such thing as unimportant information…”

“Great, I’ll trade you,” Appulse teased.  “Anyway, how’s the world of Rewind and Chromedome?”

“Ugh…” the tiny bot groaned, knocking the counter.  “Swerve, can I get a drink?  I’m going to need it if I’m going to start talking about my relationship problems!”

“That bad, huh?” Appulse asked, finishing off his own.

“I just… I don’t know what to think anymore,” Rewind ex-vented, leaning on the counter with an elbow.  “I don’t want to think he’s been injecting again but… but I just know he is!  All the signs are there, but I can’t prove it.”

“Here, I made you something special,” Swerve said, coming over and putting a glass in front of the black and white mech.  “Just the thing for someone who needs to vent about their significant other driving them mad.  I call it a Peg Bundy.”

“A what?” Skids asked, raising an optic ridge.

“It’s an Earth joke,” Swerve shrugged.  “I feel like I need to stop making those until we get more people who’ve actually been to Earth.”

“So anyway…” Rewind started, taking a sip of his drink.  He swallowed it and coughed loudly, holding onto his chestplate.  “What is in this?!  Are you trying to kill me?  You do realize how small I am compared to most of your patrons, right?”

“Sorry, sometimes I forget you’re even smaller than me,” Swerve took the drink and looked into it.  “Hmm.  Maybe I should just start watering these down…” he muttered.

“I heard coughing,” Jackpot seemed to appear out of nowhere.  “Are you having another drinking contest?  Do I need to start taking bets?”  He draped an arm over Appulse’s shoulderplate.

“No, I’m not.  You know how much trouble I’m going to be in if creator finds me doing that again?” the youngling said, pushing him off.

“Aww, you’re no fun anymore,” the black mech complained, stalking off again.

“That’s not true,” Skids assured him.  “That first day was just a pit of a way to introduce yourself to everyone.”

“And yet no one will let me forget any of it happened,” Appulse rolled his optics.

“And what did you learn from it?” Rewind asked.

“Never let Whirl talk me into doing anything,” Appulse answered for what seemed to be the millionth time.  Everyone was keen on constantly reminding him of this, even though it was a mistake he only made because he was new.  “I know, I learned my lesson.”

“Hey, there’s your uncle,” Swerve said, putting the now watered down drink back in front of Rewind.

Appulse turned and saw Ambulon walking through the bar’s door.  He had to learn a lot of the Earth terms Swerve liked using, and ‘uncle’ was one of them.  From what he described, it was a very close approximation to what the former Decepticon was to him.

“Hey, Ambulon!” the red and black mech called, waving him over.

The medic noticed him and walked over, sitting on the other side of Rewind.  “Appulse.  Skids.  Rewind,” he greeted, nodding to each in turn.  “How’re things in here?”

“Not bad,” the youngling answered.

“They’re just listening to me complain about Chromedome while Swerve tries to assassinate me with high-grade fuel,” Rewind added.

“Have you two ever considered sitting down with Rung and working it out?” Ambulon asked, raising a servo at Swerve to indicate his regular drink.

“It’s not the kind of problem that can be solved like that,” Rewind replied.  He took an experimental sip.  When it didn’t burn his throat components this time, he gulped it down.  “Don’t get me wrong, I want it to work out.  I love him so much, it hurts sometimes.  And a lot of those times it’s because I’m just so afraid I’m going to lose him one day.”

Appulse watched him a moment before suddenly asking, “Ever think of having a sparkling?”

Rewind choked again, this time out of surprise.  “What?!” he managed.

“Appulse, that’s an extremely private question to be asking anyone!” Ambulon scolded him.

“I’m just thinking… maybe if they had a sparkling it would give Chromedome better reason to stop doing stupid things,” Appulse defended himself.  “Not that it stopped my sire, but I’m starting to learn that Wreckers are the exception to most situations, not the rule.”

“We… talked about it.  A long time ago,” Rewind admitted, swirling the Engex around in his glass.  “With my search for Dominus we decided against it for now.  Can you imagine trying to explain that to a youngling?”

“Yeah, that’d be kinda awkward,” Swerve agreed, taking Appulse and Skids’ glasses.  “‘Why are we always running around the universe, sire?’ ‘Nothing much, kiddo, just looking for your creator’s ex.’”

“You ever wonder why people don’t like telling you things?” Rewind muttered into his glass.  “That’s why.”

“You think anyone else onboard will have a youngling during the trip?  Ambulon already started the word about how sparkbirth isn’t as dangerous as the Autobots think it is,” Appulse pointed out.  “Though you said you’ve talked about it, so I guess you already knew that, Rewind.”

“I’m a living history documentary,” Rewind said, pushing his empty glass away.  He raised a servo for one more.  “I can tell you the exact day Nova Prime made the declaration.”

“Figures, it’s always Nova,” Ambulon said.

“Seriously, every time that guy’s name comes up it’s to talk about how messed up he was,” Appulse snorted.

“If it’s not a Nova Prime, it’s a Megatron,” the former Decepticon sighed.

Appulse looked at the grim faces of his elders, then knocked on the counter.  “Swerve, get us each a drink!” he called.

The others looked at the youngling curiously as Swerve set to work pouring Engex and putting it in front of each of them.

Appulse raised his glass.  “To no more Nova Primes.”

Ambulon smiled, which was a rare occurrence for the typically sulky medic.  He followed suit.  “To no more Megatrons.”

“No more tragedy,” Rewind added.

“No more running,” Skids put in.

Swerve held up an empty glass.  “No more stupid wars.”  When they looked at him, he shrugged.  “What?  I’m on duty.  No drinking.”

The five of them started laughing, the four with drinks downing theirs.

It didn’t matter what happened from there.  Right now, everything was perfect.

Chapter Text

And then Overlord happened.

Everyone lost something to Overlord.

Drift lost his legs.  Ultra Magnus nearly lost his life.  Several others did.

Chromedome… he lost the love of his life.

“We need anyone who knows where a fuel pump goes on hand, now!

Appulse had never seen his creator take charge of anything so quickly.  Ratchet was still down and Ambulon was helping the best he could.  Engineers, science officers, anyone who could pick up a soldering iron and seal heavy leakage was suddenly a part of the medical staff.

“Creator, I can…”

No, Appulse.  You can’t.  Stay there,” First Aid snapped, rushing from one mech to another.

Appulse vented, but didn’t argue.  He knew it wasn’t because First Aid didn’t think he could.  It was because he was one of the injured.

In retrospect, rushing a mech as large as Overlord in a desperate attempt to keep his focus off of his creator while First Aid tended to the fallen Ultra Magnus hadn’t been the smartest move.  He had been grateful at the time that the red and white medic’s attention had been so fully on Magnus that he hadn’t noticed Overlord rip Appulse’s arm off in one pull.  The second in command needed the attention much more than he did.

“First Aid, take a break,” Ambulon said to the younger medic after a few cycles of work.  “Everyone we can stabilize is taken care of.  Go tend to your youngling.”

The red and white mech was too exhausted to argue.  He had been working non-stop since Overlord went on his rampage.  He made his way over to the wall where Appulse sat, watching.  Every inch of the medical ward was being used since they cleared the bodies from in front of it.

“You gonna yell at me for going after the ginormous psychopath?” the youngling asked, smiling sheepishly.

The medic shook his helm, sitting next to him.  He instead reached up and took Appulse’s helm in his hands, bringing it down to rest on his shoulder.  “You really are your sire’s youngling,” he whispered, holding him tight.  “You’ve both rushed in to take on Overlord for the sake of your teams.”

“Yeah, but if I remember the stories, he was a bit more successful than I was.”

“A bit.”

They both started laughing.  It felt good, after everything that had happened.

Once the joy passed and they still found themselves sitting in a medical bay surrounded by the casualties of their friends, First Aid began speaking again.  “I love you so much, Appulse.  I know I can be overprotective and overbearing.  But it’s because I love you, and every day I see you turning more and more into your sire.  I’m afraid that one day you’ll do what he did.  That you’ll leave and you’ll… you’ll never come back.”

Appulse looked at him in surprise, pulling back.  “But... you’re always saying he will.  That no matter how long it takes he’ll come back.”

“I know.  But we almost died today.  We almost died, and Impactor was nowhere to be found…”  First Aid leaned back against the wall and covered his faceplate while optic fluid built up under his visor.  “He’s your sire, Appulse… he’s supposed to be here to protect you…”

Appulse felt a plethora of emotions well up at that moment, looking at his creator so… completely defeated.  At the forefront, ahead of the sadness and frustration, was anger.  Resentment.  Because First Aid was right.  Impactor should have been there to protect both of them.  But he wasn’t.

It was up to Appulse to do it.

“I’ll protect us, creator,” the youngling promised, wrapping his arms around the medic and holding him.  “I’ll take care of you, because he won’t.”

 

---

 

Appulse couldn’t protect him.

He’d been fighting off legislators all over the ship with the rest of the crew.  Rodimus had taken a team after his wayward second in command and the next thing the remaining crew knew there were legislators everywhere.  Appulse had been sent to get some supplies from one of the storage rooms, ambushed by the appearance of the huge, yellow ‘bots.  By the time he managed to fight his way to the medbay it was empty apart from the hulking creatures.  He felt panic well up.  Helplessness.

No, no, no.  This wasn’t happening.

He couldn’t search for First Aid or Ambulon while the legislators kept coming.  There seemed to be no end to the blasted things.  For all of the skill he’d inherited from his sire and trained up with the warriors on the ship, Appulse knew he couldn’t last forever against them.  He could only hope they would eventually end.

And then… it did.  All at once, suddenly, all of the legislators simply… stopped.  Rodimus and his team returned to the ship with a new addition by the name of Getaway, and it was time to clean up.  These strange diversions from their quest to find the Knights of Cybertron were becoming so commonplace that cleaning up and repairing the ship after an invasion of practically non-sentient enforcers seemed so… normal.

But there was one thing different now.  One thing missing.

“…Creator?  Where’s Ambulon?”

First Aid made a sound Appulse couldn’t identify before retreating.  Appulse made to follow him, spark sinking at the implications behind the answer he wasn’t given, but Ratchet stopped him.  “Let him go, kid,” he said so quietly the youngling almost didn’t hear him.  “He needs some time.”

 

---

 

‘Some time’ turned into something borderline ridiculous.  He closed himself in his room and refused to talk to anyone, much like Chromedome had done when Rewind died.  Appulse gave up trying to talk to his creator after a while.

“Appulse?”

The youngling looked at Rung, shaking his helm.  “Sorry, what?”

“You stopped speaking mid-sentence,” the psychiatrist replied, tilting his helm to the side.  He put the datapad he was writing on down, turning fully to face him.  “What were you thinking about so suddenly?”

“My creator,” Appulse said, leaning back against the patient’s couch in Rung’s office.  “He still won’t even let me talk to him.”

“It must be hard,” Rung said sympathetically.  “You are very close.”

“Yeah,” Appulse ex-vented.  “It just… makes me feel really alone.  Sire left back when I was conceived, so I only really ever had creator, Ambulon, and Pharma.  Then it turned out Pharma was completely nuts.  It was still going good with just Ambulon, creator, and I.  But now Ambulon’s d… dead and creator won’t come out of his room and I…”  His vocalizer cracked and he covered his faceplate with a hand in the same way First Aid did whenever he talked about Impactor.

“Appulse,” Rung stood up and approached the couch, sitting down on the edge of it.  He wasn’t usually supposed to get so close to a patient during a session, but Appulse responded best to physical comfort.  It was apparent during the few times he showed distress and First Aid would cradle his helm.  Rung, of course, wouldn’t go so far, but something as simple as placing a hand on Appulse’s arm helped.  So that was what he did.  “You know you’re not alone, right?  Many of the crewmembers care about you.  Atomizer and Skids are your friends, aren’t they?”

Appulse stared at the ceiling through his servos for a moment, relaxing a bit at the feeling of warmth Rung’s servos radiated through his light armor plating.  Why was the psychiatrist so comforting?  “It’s… not the same thing.  No one really gets it, since I’m the only naturally sparkborn ‘bot onboard.  Having a creator and sire isn’t the same as having friends.  They’re something… different.  More.  They’re supposed to be able to be there no matter what happens.  And I want to be there for my creator as well.  But I can’t if he won’t let me.”

“I know,” Rung nodded, patting his arm lightly.  “It’s hard when the people you care about won’t let you help them.”

“Doc?” Appulse asked, sitting up.  Rung’s look was unfocused.  “You alright?”

Rung reset his optics, looking to his patient.  He stood up, laughing in embarrassment.  “I’m so sorry!  I must have been thinking of something else myself,” he apologized quickly.  After a moment a light beep came from his desk.  “Oh, is it time for our session to be over already?  I’m sorry, Appulse, but we’ll have to pick up on this next time.  I need to prepare for my next appointment.”

“It’s alright, thanks, doc,” the youngling said, standing up.

“And Appulse?” Rung added before the half-Wrecker left.  When he turned the psychiatrist finished.  “Next time, talk about Ambulon, please.  I know it hurts, but I can’t help you if you don’t say anything.”

Appulse grunted non-committedly, leaving.  He didn’t like blowing Rung off, as he knew the elder orange mech was just doing his job.  But if there was anything he could understand about First Aid’s sudden need to close himself off, it was how much he didn’t want to talk about the sudden loss of the former Decepticon.

Having nowhere else he had to be, Appulse made his way to Swerve’s.  He could use a drink after talking about his creator’s sudden reclusive tendencies.  Walking in, the first thing he noticed was that it was fairly quiet.  Not a lot of bots were there yet, which meant he could at least drink in peace.

“Yo, Trailcutter, Atomizer,” the red and black mech greeted, walking up to the bar and sitting down.

“Hey, Appulse,” Atomizer pushed off from where he was leaning on the counter, talking to Swerve’s favorite customer.  “The usual?”

“Make it a double,” Appulse replied, holding up two servos.

“Ah, had an appointment,” Trailcutter grinned, turning to him.

“How’d you know?” Appulse asked, raising an optic ridge.

“You always get a double after a session with the shrink,” Atomizer answered for the force field expert as he placed the glass in front of the youngling.  “Especially these days since your creator’s decided to play hide and seek.”

“Not funny, Atom,” Trailcutter said.  “I’m blitzed and even I can tell you that.”

“Sorry,” Atomizer apologized half-aftedly.  “What I mean is that you look like scrap every time you come in here with First Aid hiding himself away.  We know losing Ambulon was hard.  He was a good mech.  But we’ve lost a lot of bots since we joined on, and 99% of us stand up and move on.  The 1% that are incapable of it so far are First Aid and Chromedome.”

“Has anyone ever told you you’re a cold, insensitive glitch lately?” Appulse asked, taking a deep gulp of Engex.  The buzz that seemed to follow it down into his tanks then spread to his processor after a few moments was welcome.

“I killed people for a living, kid.  Not a career path you take if you get attached to people.”

“Hey, what about me?” Trailcutter sounded offended.

“You’re a sweetspark,” Atomizer said, pouring a drink for the black and red force field expert.  “But you’re still ‘people.’  I enjoy being around you more than most, but if you died tomorrow I’d move on the day after.”

“You really are a glitch,” Trailcutter muttered, downing the rest of his current drink before accepting the next one.

“Here’s a tip,” the former assassin said, leaning on the counter and ticking a servo in front of the drunk mech’s faceplate.  “Don’t insult the mech serving you drinks.  It’ll either end with you drinking something nasty, or getting cut off.  Which do you hate more?”

Appulse watched the two and ex-vented.  It wasn’t fair.  It seemed like everyone was finding someone to play off of these days.  Trailcutter had found a strange rhythm with Atomizer.  Swerve and Skids spent most of their time palling around.  Word was that Cyclonus was spending whatever time he could find with the ailing Tailgate.  Rodimus and Ultra Magnus (Minimus Ambus?) played off each other whether they liked it or not.  Pit, even Perceptor couldn’t get rid of Brainstorm no matter how much he wanted to.

Rung was right on at least one front: Appulse had found plenty of friends onboard.  But there wasn’t anyone he could just… click with.  Even though the psychiatrist was oddly comforting, he didn’t seem to fall in with anyone in particular.  Besides that, he was far too old to really spend time with.  Appulse wasn’t looking for a conjux endura, but someone he could really talk to would be nice.

Especially since his creator didn’t show any signs that he would be rejoining the real world any time soon.

 

---

 

The next few weeks heralded in something new in the pattern of weird.

A call for help from Orion Pax, a portion of the crew heading into the Dead Universe, the rest staying behind and getting jumped inside of a Titan, and ultimately them fighting an Ammonite invasion that landed everyone above Cybertron where a titan and an undead one were duking it out.  From there it was chaos and war, and Appulse gave up trying to keep track of anything going on.  All he knew was to keep fighting until it was over beside the people he served with and the strangers he shared a species with.  There were things he saw that he didn’t understand, things he wished to forget, and things he would never be able to.

And then as quickly as it happened, it was over.

Megatron, the mech he’d been told was the root of all evil in the universe by about everyone who had an opinion, was now declaring himself an Autobot.  Even as he was going on trial for the seemingly infinite list of crimes he’d committed against the universe in his position as the Decepticon commander.  The Lost Light stayed on the planet for it, though why he wasn’t sure.  He knew that Ultra Magnus was playing defense attorney (something he was sure the perpetually frowning mech was thrilled about), but surely they could have found someone else for that job.  First Aid still refused to leave his habsuite throughout all of this, though Appulse was starting not to care anymore.

“Appulse.”

The youngling was relaxing outside of the Lost Light, not doing anything in particular, at this juncture.  It had been suggested to him to go enjoy the celebrations over their victory and Megatron’s surely impending execution.  He wasn’t really feeling it, though.  Something about everything that was happening was… irking him.  Like it was distracting from something he forgot he had to do.

Leave it to Ratchet to remind him in no uncertain words.

“Appulse!” the older medic approached, calling him louder this time.

“You know you get easier to understand the closer you get, right?” Appulse said, sitting up from the storage crates he’d arranged into a lounge-chair.  “Yelling louder while walking towards someone isn’t really necessary.”

“You’ve been spending too much time with Atomizer.  You’re starting to get his sarcasm,” Ratchet huffed.  “Come on, we have to go meet with His Majesty.”

“Who?” Appulse raised an optic ridge.

“Starscream, almighty leader of the planet that’s quickly realizing it doesn’t want him,” Ratchet clarified.  “Being as he is the government now, we have to tell him about you.  Also being as he’s literally the most insufferable person everyone knows, I’m sure he’ll have an opinion about your circumstances.”

“You know, with all the commotion I don’t think they noticed I’m not registered.  I don’t even think they’d care at this point,” the youngling pointed out, sliding off the crates and following the medic.  “Do we really have to do this?”

“I already went through the painful process of scheduling a meeting with him.  We’re going.  Even though your creator is holed up in his habsuite, you will be responsible and make sure you get registered.  Even if I have to drag you there.”

Ratchet didn’t have to drag him, though that didn’t mean Appulse had to like it.  The closer they got to meeting with the former Decepticon second in command, the more nervous he became.  Was this it?  Was his creator going to get in trouble for apparently having an illegal natural sparkbirth?  Was he going to be thrown in jail for something as silly as a sudden, unscheduled heat cycle?

The answer was apparently… no.

It was apparent as soon as they were standing in front of Starscream, a mostly-red Seeker with what seemed to be a terminal look of disdain for whomever he was speaking to. Ratchet said, “We’re here because we need to register Appulse.  He was sparkbirthed.”

There was a moment where the bored-looking flier simply stared at him.  His optics went between the two of them.  “And?  What do I care?” he scoffed.

“You lead Cybertron now, Starscream.  This is your job, that’s why you should care,” Ratchet answered testily.  He was very obviously not enjoying any time he had to spend in the sneering Cybertronian ruler’s presence.

Starscream raised an optic ridge and shifted his weight from one pede to another.  After a moment realization seemed to dawn in his crimson optics and a smile slowly spread across his grey faceplate.  Followed by a chuckle, and then full-blown laughter.  He nearly doubled over in his cackling, venting desperately to keep himself from overheating from it.  “W-wait…!” he gasped, holding up a hand while he tried to calm himself.  “Are you telling me… hahahahaha!  Are you telling me that Cybertron still regulates sparkbirth?!”

“You didn’t know?” Ratchet asked incredulously.  He looked at Appulse, but the youngling didn’t know how to react.  Of all the reactions he was expecting, being laughed at was probably at the bottom.

“Excuse me, but I’ve been kind of busy running a planet,” Starscream finally righted himself, chuckling a few more times while wiping some optic fluid from one of his optics.  “I haven’t exactly had time to look through every archaic, pointlessly oppressive law.  No matter, I’ll have the regulations stricken and my people can go back to repopulating at their leisure.”

“You can’t… you can’t just do that!” Ratchet objected.

“Why not?” Appulse asked, speaking for the first time since they entered the office.

“Because it’s a law!  I don’t care how important Starscream suddenly is, or thinks he is, he can’t just say something isn’t a law anymore and expect everyone to just accept it!” the medic explained, exasperated.

“It’s a ridiculous law that never should have been put forth in the first place,” Starscream scoffed.  “Besides, didn’t you hear the trial?  We’ve lost 4.6 billion Cybertronians to the Great War.  Cold construction can only get us so far in fixing that without a hotspot deciding to magically ignite under our pedes.  So the undoubtedly immense number of conjux endurae out there who’ve been wanting to have tiny little sparklings running around need to get on the repopulation.”

Ratchet made a frustrated sound, but Appulse couldn’t help but smile.  He wasn’t sure why everyone seemed to hate Starscream, other than the obvious reason of him being Megatron’s former second in command.  There was something he couldn’t completely dislike about him.  The entire thought-process behind the Seeker’s solution to the problem was straightforward, if not completely practical.  That was something he could appreciate.

“Anyway, don’t even worry about this registration nonsense.  I have to prepare for my testimony at Megatron’s trial, after all.  I’m not about to waste my time just because some overheated medic couldn’t keep his panel shut,” the flier continued.  “You’re all leaving as soon as the trial’s done anyway, right?  So I won’t have to deal with any of you for hopefully another few centuries.”

“A damn shame I won’t get to be here to watch you destroy the planet,” Ratchet shot back, turning to leave.  “Come on, Appulse.  This was apparently a waste of everyone’s time.”

The youngling looked from him to Starscream, who was ignoring them at this point.  He’d picked up a datapad on his desk and was reading it as Appulse followed the medic.  Thus, Appulse didn’t see Starscream glance at him one last time, giving him a thoughtful look before passing behind his desk to make some calls.

“I don’t get it, Ratchet,” Appulse said as they left the government building.  “Why do you hate the idea of people being able to have sparklings so much?”

“I don’t hate that, kid,” Ratchet ex-vented.  “It’s not about the sparklings.  Not completely.  Like I said, it’s a law that’s been in effect for millions of years.  There’s going to be an uproar about it, and people aren’t going to just immediately buy that it’s not actually dangerous to give sparkbirth just because some Decepticons said it’s not.  And even if everyone does start having younglings, it’s only going to cause more problems than it’ll solve.  Cybertron doesn’t have the resources for a population boom.”

“So you think we should keep being regulated,” Appulse challenged.  Being a natural sparkbirth, he felt kind of personally attacked by this line of thinking.  If it was something Impactor and First Aid had worried about through their heat-cycle-driven haze he wouldn’t have been born in the first place.

“Look, this isn’t something that simple,” Ratchet said, stopping on the street and turning to him.  “We’re talking about the wellbeing of an entire populace.  Starscream thinks he knows what that means, but he’s so busy scheming he can’t see how wrong he is.”

Appulse looked around the city they stood in, ravaged by the battle against the Necrotitan and Ammonites.  He hadn’t spent much time exploring it, mostly because it just felt so… foreign to him.  Nothing like Delphi which was pretty much isolated outside of the medics and miners.  And despite how huge the planet was, as little of it as he’d seen, it felt somehow more oppressive than the Lost Light.  He couldn’t empathize with the people here.  He didn’t know what it was like being born into so many rules.

“Look, I have to get back to the ship,” Ratchet said, putting a hand on his shoulderplate.  “You gonna be alright on your own?”

The black and red youngling smirked dryly at him.  “Not like I’m not getting used to it by now.”

“Don’t talk like that.  You’re way too young and haven’t seen enough war to think that way,” the older medic warned.  “Go meet some people.  I’ll see you after the trial.”

 

-

 

Appulse wasn’t sure why, but he found himself standing outside of the abandoned Maccadam’s.  This was where his sire and Megatron’s fates ultimately began.

“There was a bar fight,” he could hear First Aid’s vocals.  “Some unlucky mech ended up crossing some young soldiers.  Impactor was a bit… okay, completely smashed.  He decided to teach them a lesson.  That was how he ended up in jail.”

Everything was destroyed.  The city itself was devastated, but something about seeing the bar in this state was especially sad.  He wasn’t sure why, as he’d never been here before.

“Sorry, bar’s closed,” a voice behind him said. 

Appulse turned quickly, not having seen too many people out here.  He wasn’t expecting someone to actually talk to him, as most of them were concentrating on recovering what little they could from the wreckage of their city.  There was a mech in varying shades of blue standing there, details sharp and optics sharper.  “I wasn’t… I mean…” Appulse stuttered, suddenly feeling very awkward.  He wasn’t sure why, but something about the mech was doing that to him.

“Relax, kid, I was joking,” the mech laughed, passing by him.  He pushed the now deformed door, but it refused to open.  “Great… you wanna give me a hand?”

Appulse stared at him a bit longer before snapping out of it.  “Oh!  Right, sorry.  Yeah,” he said sheepishly, joining the older mech.  He leaned on the door with him and pushed.  While it slowly gave, he asked, “I’m Appulse.  Who’re you?”

“Blurr.  I own this hole-in-the-wall.  Well, did until huge, dark, and ugly decided to show up,” the mech grunted as it shifted more.  “You from off-world?”

“Yeah, how can you tell?”

“No one from Cybertron asks who I am.  Whoa!”

The door finally collapsed the rest of the way, sending the two mechs flying to the floor.  “Ow…” Appulse muttered, pushing himself up and looking around.  Chairs and tables were overturned, a whole wall had collapsed, and the Engex was unsalvageable as it was now all over the floor.

“Lovely…” Blurr muttered, standing up and brushing himself off.  “Well, this was the best bar on Cybertron.  Thank you, forces of the universe that conspire against our species.  Not like I needed a living.”

Appulse glanced at the bar owner and it started to dawn on him why he made him so nervous.  It wasn’t intimidation, at least not in the way he was used to.  It was because he was so… attractive.  It wasn’t that he’d never thought of anyone on the Lost Light as good looking.  In fact, he found they had more than a few handsome mechs onboard.  Rodimus, Drift, Atomizer… even Skids, Tailgate, and Chromedome were in their own ways.  But something about how Blurr was made him feel… different.

“So, I’m assuming you arrived with the Lost Light, then,” Blurr said conversationally as he made his way over to a banner that hung from the wall.  Large letters across it cheerfully advertised ‘Not the End of the World!’

“Yep,” Appulse replied, deciding to busy himself with something other than ogling him like a creeper.  He decided to join him at the bar, leaning against it.

“Kind of a strange bunch, aren’t they?” Blurr continued, folding up the banner and heading behind the counter.  He was looking through the damage, likely for anything that could still be salvaged.

“I don’t think so, but I haven’t known much else,” Appulse shrugged, watching him.  His sleek, aerodynamic chassis.  The unique crest adorning his helm.  He reset his optics suddenly in realization.  “Wait… Blurr, as in the racer?” he asked dumbly.

“Oh, so you have heard of me,” the bar owner chuckled, holding a glass to the light.  He ex-vented and tossed it behind himself, letting it shatter on the floor.  “If just one of these fragging glasses is intact…”

“I have a… uh… friend on the Lost Light who’s a huge fan.”

“The bartender,” Blurr said absently.

“You met him?” Appulse asked in surprise.

“I went to the bar there before Round 2 started.  The little red bartender was extremely… excitable.  Kept babbling about how much of a fan he was,” Blurr replied, giving up and leaning against the counter.

“Oh.”  Appulse didn’t know what to say to that.  He felt kind of bad for Swerve, who they couldn’t get to stop talking about how good of friends with Blurr he was.  Obviously Blurr didn’t return the sentiment, let alone remember ever meeting him before.

After a moment Blurr gave him a strange look, tilting his helm to the side.  “You know, you look a lot like…”  He reset his optics and shook his helm.  “Nevermind.”

“Like who?” the youngling asked.

“Like… well, like Impactor.”

“You knew Impactor?” Appulse asked, interested.

“Not personally, no.  I was a member of Kup’s crew on the Trion for a while.  Fought alongside a few Wreckers, but not him.  Got to hear a lot of stories, and I looked up Wreckers: Declassified out of curiosity once or twice.  It’s not that apparent, but at the right angle…”

Appulse felt his spark pick up as Blurr moved around the bar towards him.  Primus, he was seriously hot.  He swallowed hard when Blurr got closer, leaning in curiously.  His pristine white faceplate, shining blue optics, sharp crest of his helm, lightly armored frame…

The half-Wrecker didn’t know what came over him, but next thing he knew he reached up and grabbed the ex-racer by the helm, pulling him into a kiss.  Blurr made a surprised sound, balancing himself.  It was pointless, though, as Appulse turned them and pushed him against the bar, deepening it.

It was… well, honestly, sloppy and inexperienced.  But amazing at the same time.  Chassis against chassis, lips against lips.  Heat and friction.  Blurr gripped the edge of the bar with one hand, other one on the back of Appulse’s golden helm.  A push forward and Appulse was between his long legs, one of them snaking around him.  His spike began aching to be released from its panel as he ground forward against the racer.

Blurr vented heavily, but as Appulse’s glossa ran across his bottom lip component he pushed the younger mech back.  “No,” he simply said, unwinding his leg from around Appulse and pushing himself up so he sat fully on the counter.  When the red and black mech looked at him in confusion, he smirked.  “You’re cute, Appulse.  But I’m both too old and too fast for you.”  He swung his legs around and dismounted once again behind the bar counter.

“But-!” Appulse started.

“Don’t,” Blurr held up a hand, grabbing the banner with his other.  “As tempting as it can be, I don’t do frag-and-runs anymore.  Not since I quit racing.  And if there’s anything I learned from this… experience, it’s that this is your first time being intimate with someone.  You don’t want me to be your first interface, though.”  He leaned on the end of the counter opposite to where Appulse was to eliminate the temptation.  “Listen to the voice of experience, kid.  Save it for someone special.  Otherwise, you’ll end up regretting it for the rest of your lifecycle.”  Before Appulse could try objecting again, he held up a hand.  “Bye, kid.  We won’t be meeting again before you have to leave.”

And with that, true to his name, he was gone with nothing but a blue blur as evidence he’d ever been there.

Appulse stared at the spot he’d been in, processor reeling.  He couldn’t believe he just made out with Blurr.  A mech he’d just met.  A very sexy one he’d just met, but still.  What came over him?

He leaned against the counter and willed himself to cool down.  His spike ached against his panel, but it seemed like it would be at least somewhat disrespectful to relieve himself in this old, broken-down bar full of memories.  One thing stood at the forefront of his processor, though.

Appulse couldn’t tell anyone that just happened.  If Swerve found out he just made out with his hero, he’d have a conniption.

Chapter Text

Appulse honestly didn’t know what he was expecting anymore.  He felt like he shouldn’t even be surprised by anything ever again when Megatron became the co-captain of the Lost Light.  Rodimus joined the list of mechs locking themselves in their habsuite to sulk, though he insisted he wasn’t sulking.

On the upside, Tailgate was up and about, which meant they didn’t have to sit through another unfortunate tragedy on the ship right after relaunch.  Also, there was a lot of new additions.  Ones that Appulse was really coming to like.

The youngling found himself hanging out with a pair of them in Swerve’s six months after they left Cybertron again.  He was a bit disappointed that Atomizer wasn’t serving, but he didn’t blame him.  A lot of the ‘bots onboard the Lost Light were put off by the presence of the former leader of their arch enemies, and Atomizer seemed to be rebelling against it by refusing to work unless he felt like it.  To help with the sudden lack of it, Bluestreak stepped up and began assisting the minibot bar owner.  He’d already been appointed the Entertainment Director on the ship, but he didn’t seem to mind the extra work.

“So let me get this completely straight,” Appulse said, taking a drink.  “You’re a pacifist who fights wars and is adept at hand-to-hand combat?”

Streetwise snorted.  “That’s what I’ve been saying for years, but I welcome you to try and figure this out.”

“For the last time,” Groove ex-vented, “Fighting in the war was how I helped as a peace-loving ‘bot.  Sometimes you gotta fight so the fighting can stop.  And a lot of pacifists know hand-to-hand.  It’s not about hurting, it’s about defending.”

“How good at this are we talking about, here?” Appulse asked.  “Could you take on Streetwise?”

The white and red mech let out a loud, “Ha!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Groove scoffed.  “I seem to remember a match you goaded me into a couple centuries back that ended with you face-down in the mud.”

“I told you, I had a queasy fuel tank that day!”

“And I still don’t believe you.”

“Hey, hey, why don’t you two just settle this now?” Appulse suggested, grinning.  “One-on-one match, right here.  Winner gets bragging rights.”

“I don’t know,” Groove muttered.  “Swerve will probably kick us out.”

“That sounds like you’re scared,” Streetwise challenged, downing the rest of his Engex.  “Afraid you won’t get lucky a second time.”

“I’m just being cautious,” the pacifistic Autobot said.  “We just joined six months ago.  I don’t want us to get banned from the best place to relax already.”

“Fine, if it concerns you so much, I’ll go ask him,” Appulse cut in, standing up and walking over to the bar.  He waved to Swerve, calling him over.  “Hey, can I make a weird request?”

“You can’t borrow Ten,” Swerve automatically said.  “I don’t care what it’s for, I made the claim on him.”

“Wait, what?” the youngling asked, confused.

“Sorry, been getting a lot of requests like that.  What’s up?”

“I was just wondering if Streetwise and Groove can settle a-”

Before he could even finish, there was a surprised shout and Groove was on his back on the ground with Streetwise on top of him grinning.  The pacifist gave an annoyed grunt and shoved him off, wrestling the white and red mech to the ground this time.

“…Never mind, apparently Streetwise doesn’t have enough patience for permission,” Appulse ex-vented, rolling his optics.  He watched the two roll around on the floor, trading blows.

“Great,” Swerve groaned in annoyance.  “Do me a favor and let them know that if they break anything they’re paying for it.”

“I’m not risking getting too close,” Appulse said, nodding to the commotion.  ‘Bots at other tables were watching and cheering the two on.  “I’ll probably get my arm ripped off.”

“Just make sure they don’t destroy my bar,” Swerve muttered.  He then moved on to another customer.

“You shouldn’t encourage the new crewmates.”

Appulse looked at Cyclonus, not having been paying attention to his presence before.  Honestly, this was probably the first time Cyclonus ever actually said something that wasn’t in passing to him.  Something about the purple not-a-Decepticon unnerved him.  He wasn’t completely sure why.  Sure, he’d heard all the stories about him working for the forces of evil, but they also said the only reason he wasn’t dead was because he helped save the universe.  Appulse had seen that conviction in him in battle himself, though Cyclonus tried to hide it.

“They’re just having fun, and if Swerve wanted them to really stop he would have called Ten,” Tailgate said from Appulse’s other side.

Cyclonus grunted, but didn’t argue further.  Speaking of things Cyclonus hid.

“How’re you doing, Tailgate?” Appulse asked the white Minibot.  Even though everyone said he never seemed to act like his creator, instead taking after Impactor, he still felt a natural concern for certain members of the crew.  There was something about a small, vulnerable ‘bot that made him feel like he should be taking care of them.

“All fixed up!” Tailgate replied cheerfully, grabbing a drink and sipping it through the curly straw.  “Ratchet says I shouldn’t do anything strenuous for a while, but otherwise I’m ready to roll!  He says it’s probably because minus the six million year on-and-off nap I was having, I’m still so young.”

Appulse raised an optic ridge.  He’d actually never thought about it before, but...  “How old are you?” he asked.

“Well, including the time since I woke up and joined the crew?  About… two and a half years.  Give or take, because of the whole ‘coming on and off while I was stuck underground’ thing,” Tailgate replied.

Appulse stared at him.  He couldn’t believe it.  This entire time, he always thought… he assumed at least…

“You’re younger than me!” he finally managed.  “You’re…” he counted on his servos, “…you’re four meta-cycles younger than me!”

“That’s not that much,” Cyclonus muttered.

“Considering pretty much everyone here is at least a million years older than me, it’s a pretty big deal,” Appulse huffed, leaning against the counter.  “Why didn’t you ever tell me you were closer to my age?”

“Appulse, I’m only a youngling by technicality,” Tailgate pointed out.  “You were born in this era.  I’m always struggling to catch up on everything in the last six million years, but I still remember my life back then.  It’s… complicated.”

“Everything’s complicated,” the half-Wrecker snapped, crossing his arms and watching Groove get the upper-hand against Streetwise.

The pacifist pinned the interceptor down on his front, pulling his arm up and back.  He pushed Streetwise’s wrist with his other hand, twisting it at an odd angle.  Streetwise slapped the ground desperately.  “I give, I give!” he yelped, struggling.

“Alright, alright!” Appulse called, pushing off the bar and walking over.  He put a hand on Groove’s shoulder in warning.  “He’s done.”

The white and blue mech let go and stood up, reaching down to help his companion up.  “You never win, but you challenge me every time.”

Streetwise rubbed his wrist for a moment before taking the hand and letting Groove pull him to his pedes.  “I’ll beat you yet, I swear it,” he grinned.  He didn’t seem to have any hard feelings over the loss.

“Keep telling yourself that,” Groove teased as they returned to their table.  “So, what do I get for winning?”

“I’ll cover our tab for the night,” Streetwise offered.  “Pit, I’ll cover all three of us.”

“Generosity not usually found around here,” Appulse lifted the glass he’d regained when they settled back down.

They sat and chatted for a while, Appulse watching the other ‘bots in the bar while he talked.  Trailcutter, who’d been sitting with Skids and new crewmates Nautica and Riptide, had left on what looked like some kind of self-imposed mission.  The three remaining were gathered around a computer, talking amongst themselves.  Cyclonus excused himself from the bar for one reason or another, leaving Tailgate to continue chatting up their bartender.  Eventually Nautica left, looking annoyed an uncomfortable.

Undoubtedly it had something to do with Streetwise, Groove, and Appulse receiving a ping.  It was from Megatron.

“Medbay.  Now.  There’s an intruder.”

The former tyrant turned co-captain didn’t need to say anything else.  The three were up and running, picking up their weapons from Ten on their way out.  Appulse subspaced his laser-rifle but kept his pistol out like the other two.  He’d picked up both weapons before leaving Cybertron, having been working with spare weapons the ship had been carrying before.

Megatron, Ultra Magnus, and Ratchet were waiting for them outside of the medical bay.  Aquafend was coming towards them from the other direction.  The door to the medbay was wide open, allowing them to clearly see Trailcutter of all people inside, rummaging.  Megatron held up a hand, signaling for them not to make any sudden movements or sounds.  He pointed at Streetwise, Aquafend, Groove, and Appulse and waved them forward.  The four advanced, Ratchet, Megatron, and Ultra Magnus following.

Autobot!

Appulse nearly jumped out of his own paintjob at the booming sound.  In that one word Appulse could feel why everyone was so wary… so afraid of Megatron.  It projected so much power.  Even though it wasn’t directed at him, Appulse fought the urge to be the one to drop what he was doing.

“Put it down, Trailbreaker.”

“Trailcutter,” Ultra Magnus impulsively corrected the former Decepticon.

“Put it down, Trailcutter,” Megatron continued, unphased by the correction.  “I guarantee it won’t be to your taste.”

“Too late, Megsy!” Trailcutter snapped back.  This was a side of him Appulse had never seen before.  He was always so… mellow.  Sulky, sure, but he wasn’t very confrontational.  “I’m souped up!  I feel-” He suddenly gagged and dropped to his knees, grabbing his throat.  “Uh… I feel poisoned,” he groaned.

Megatron approached him.  “Trailcutter, listen to-”

“Back off!” Trailcutter cut him off, projecting a force field with such sudden ferocity that it threw the silver co-captain back.  Medical equipment and the odd coffin they’d picked up earlier all went flying, crashing.  Those who had come in with Megatron shielded themselves.  Appulse’s spark sunk as he watched Ambulon’s desk crashed into the wall, scattering papers and supplies.

Megatron ex-vented heavily.  “Leave this with me,” he ordered his backup.  “Go, this won’t take a minute.”

The mechs backed out of the room, muttering to themselves.

“What do you think was in that container?” Streetwise asked in the hall.

“Whatever it was, that was some bad juice he drank,” Groove replied.  “You think he’s gonna be alright?”

“It’s Trailcutter,” Aquafend snorted.  “That mech could probably drink radioactive waste and come out fine.”

“Whatever happens, we must stay out here,” Ultra Magnus spoke up, joining them.  “He said it will last thirty minutes.  When that force field goes down we must be prepared to act.”

“Against who?” Aquafend asked incredulously.  “What do you think is gonna happen?  That Megs is going to be so put off by Trailcutter getting his secret stash that he’ll murder him?”

“In my line of work I find it best to simply be prepared for anything,” Magnus replied.

Appulse was barely paying attention.  He leaned against the wall, squeezing his optics shut.  He couldn’t get the image of Ambulon’s desk, his things getting tossed out of his processor.  They’d never touched any of it because it made it feel… he didn’t know, really.  Like he could come back at any moment?  He knew it was stupid, but it just felt so much better than actually dealing with the idea that he wasn’t ever going to be there to use it again.

Now everything was scattered and they’d have to clean it up.

They’d have to acknowledge the things they didn’t need.  Because Ambulon was gone, and there was no changing that.

Appulse kept picturing in his helm the former Decepticon medical officer walking into the medbay and ex-venting loudly at the mess.  Picking up and putting everything back where he liked it and scolding them for letting it happen.  He wasn’t a particularly neat mech, but he liked things being in his own weird order.

“You alright, kid?” Ratchet asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“No,” the youngling answered honestly.  “Nothing’s alright.  Ambulon’s gone.  Creator closed himself off and won’t talk to me.  Trailcutter destroyed our medbay.  Nothing about any of this is okay.”

“We can’t bring back Ambulon, but we can fix the bay,” Ratchet assured him.  He gave a rare smile, trying to be reassuring.  “As for First Aid?  We’ll find a way to bring him back to the real world.  He just… doesn’t deal with this stuff well.”

“I know, but… I just…” Appulse stumbled over his words, not used to opening himself up in such a way.  He liked everyone thinking he was confident, stable and strong.  He didn’t like showing weakness.  “I just wonder if… I feel like he doesn’t even care how I deal with it.  Ambulon was the closest thing to a sire I’ve had, and he’s gone.  I couldn’t do anything about it.  I couldn’t protect them.”

Ratchet looked at him in surprise.  He then nodded, understanding.  “I know it’s not easy, kid.  You want to keep everything, everyone, you care about where you can keep them safe.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Life doesn’t.”

Appulse ex-vented, but didn’t say anything more.

Thirty minutes later, Megatron called Ultra Magnus, Ratchet, and Appulse back into the medbay.  The others who had been called down were sent back to what they were doing.  Groove and Streetwise promised to save a drink.  Everything in the medbay seemed… alright.  Well, except for the surprise waiting for them in the now open coffin.

“Is… is that Rodimus?” Appulse asked in fascination.

“It appears so,” Ultra Magnus said.  He seemed oddly unphased about the sight of his captain dead with half his head missing.

“You say that so casually,” Trailcutter pointed out, obviously thinking the same thing.

“Rodimus is in his office, where he’s mostly been for the last six months.  I have no reason to think that is truly him,” the former Duly Appointed Enforcer of the Tyrest Accord replied.

“Do we tell him?” Appulse asked.

“Not yet,” Ratchet answered before Magnus or Megatron could.  The group turned to him, awaiting an explanation.  “Appulse, get your creator.  We need to know the details before having Rodimus face his own corpse.”

Appulse hesitated for a moment.

“Go ahead,” Megatron told him.  “If Ratchet thinks First Aid can unravel this without the need to interrupt Rodimus’s sulking, then I hope to see it.”

The youngling nodded, ducking out of the medbay.  As much as he didn’t really want to do this, he couldn’t say no to the co-captain.  After seeing him dealing with Trailcutter, he didn’t think he could if he tried.

A few minutes later Appulse found himself outside of First Aid’s personal habsuite.  Ever since Ambulon died he’d found himself standing here trying to coax his creator out of hiding.  He did so less and less as time passed, though.  He hadn’t even tried in the six months since they relaunched.

The thought made him feel guilty.

“Creator?” Appulse called, knocking on the door.  The usual silence followed.  He nearly kicked it in frustration.  Instead, he relayed the message.  “The coffin in the medbay is… open.”  He decided not to share the details of how.  “Ratchet and Megatron think you should come look at the body.  I… I think you should look at it.”

Still there was no response, and Appulse almost gave up in frustration.  Was First Aid even going to ignore the co-captain’s orders?  According to Ratchet, who’d talked to him about the circumstances that led up to the change in ranks, he understood it.

After a moment there was a click on the door and it slid open, though.

And there he was.  First Aid, his creator, standing in front of him for the first time in… it had to be at least a year.  The medic didn’t look at him.  Instead he stared at the floor, though he at least spoke.  “Take me to it.”  It was at least a start.

The trip back to the medbay was silent, Appulse not knowing what to say now that First Aid was out of his room again.  Perhaps they should focus on what was wrong in the medbay for now.  They could talk about their personal problems later.

Appulse almost didn’t hear the sound First Aid made when he entered the medbay.  He knew what it was about, though.  The medic had taken one look at the mess that was made of Ambulon’s workspace and let out a light sound of distress.  Before they could dwell on it, though, Megatron called them over.

“We have a unique case for you, doctor,” the former Decepticon leader said, gesturing to the coffin.

First Aid approached and made another sound, this one actually… excited.  That was both promising and dispiriting at the same time.  After a moment, he turned to Appulse.  For the first time in a year he looked his youngling in the optics and spoke.  “My equipment.”

“Right,” Appulse nodded, heading over to First Aid’s workstation and bringing him his medical supplies.  After a moment he realized Trailcutter was no longer there.  “Hey, where’s…?”

“I sent him to settle into his new position,” Megatron simply answered.

They all watched as First Aid prepared his tools, pulling up alongside the body and getting up close to the missing part of its head.  Appulse cringed.  He’d killed more than a few ‘bots since he joined the crew, seen his fair share of bodies.  He’d never want to sidle up to one and get comfortable, though.

After a few minutes of poking around, Megatron asked, “What is your diagnosis, First Aid?”

“He’s dead.”

The co-captain botched, and looked to Ratchet.  They whispered amongst themselves while Appulse watched his creator.

First Aid was completely focused, as he’d seen him in the middle of surgery back on Delphi.  The red and white medic took his job completely seriously, which was one of the reasons Appulse had been put off that he shut himself away.  First Aid wasn’t the type of person to stop helping others, even for his own benefit.

“Cause of death: spark failure triggered by the removal of the lexiomatic portions of the brain.  The cut is clean and the circuitry is cauterized.  I’m guessing they used a hot blade.  The fracture lines around the mouth suggest they changed his expression after he died,” the young medic finally gave his full analysis as he pulled back from his work.

“They reset his face?  Why?” Ultra Magnus asked, stunned.

“Because few things in life are more discomfiting than a screaming corpse,” Megatron answered morbidly.

“Pleasant,” Appulse muttered, rubbing his faceplate.  “Thanks for that image.  I’ll be seeing it in my nightmares for weeks.”

“So we’re thinking what, a failed operation?” Ratchet guessed as the five gazed down at the body.  “Ham-fisted shadowplay?”

“Hard to say,” First Aid replied.  “I’ll know more once I’ve analyzed the innermost energon.”

Megatron backed off, deep in thought, while Ultra Magnus and Ratchet discussed finally calling their other co-captain.  Meanwhile, Appulse helped First Aid clean up his equipment.

After a few moments of silence, Appulse asked, “Are we going to talk about it?”

“Now hardly seems like the time, Appulse,” First Aid said, going back to not looking at him.

“We’ve had a year, creator,” Appulse snapped.  He didn’t mean to grow irritated so easily, but his patience had run out months ago.  “I’ve been trying to talk to you for a year, and you’ve just… all you’ve done is shut me out.  Literally.  The only person you’ve talked to is Ratchet, and I’m pretty sure that’s just because he was making sure you were energized and nourished.  Though I guess that’s a stupid assumption, considering it was me who brought you your energon rations for the first three months and you still ignored me.”

First Aid didn’t say anything at first.  Appulse thought he was going to go back to silently ignoring him, and he started to get angry again.  But then he finally quietly said, “I watched Pharma slice him in half, Appulse…”

It was all it took.  All of the anger, the bitterness, the resentment Appulse had… it all drained away.  Ratchet had told Appulse what had happened.  He hadn’t wanted to share the details, but Appulse had insisted.  The red and black half-Wrecker needed to know why First Aid had suddenly closed himself away.  He understood, listening to Ratchet’s account, that it had to have been horrifying.  But he still couldn’t understand why First Aid couldn’t simply come out and talk to him about it.

But hearing those simple words… Appulse understood all at once.  No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t imagine what it was like standing there and watching, completely helplessly, as one of First Aid’s former colleagues cleaved the other in two without a second thought.

“He laughed about it,” First Aid continued, playing with a scalpel between his servos.  “Pharma didn’t feel a single bit of remorse for what he did.  And I… I couldn’t do anything about it.  One moment Ambulon was alive, and the next he was…”  He dropped the scalpel and made a distressed sound, covering his faceplate with his hands.

“Creator…” Appulse reached out to him, ready to comfort the medic.  But he was interrupted by the sound of a roaring engine and Rodimus peeling into the medical bay with his usual flare.

The co-captain transformed into his robot mode, landing gracefully on his feet.  He looked to Ultra Magnus, clearly irritated.  “Alright, I’m here.  What’s this about?  I was busy.”

Megatron scoffed at the words, but was pointedly ignored by the red and gold sports car.

“We opened the coffin,” Ratchet said, though he didn’t divulge the details on exactly how it happened.

“It would be best if you took a look,” Ultra Magnus clarified.

“Fine, but…” Rodimus stepped towards it, shrugging.

“Wait!  Maybe you should…!” First Aid yelped, standing up and approaching.

Too late, Rodimus froze as soon as he saw the body.

His body.

Dead.

Appulse couldn’t even begin to guess what it was like.  Rodimus was staring at his own face.  Well, half of it anyway.  Completely deceased.  He got closer, shock painted over his faceplate.  He was completely silent for once in his lifecycle.

After a few awkward minutes of watching him absorb what he was looking at, Ratchet finally said, “Rodimus…?  At least say something.

Ever sensitive to the plights of others, Megatron added, “Yes.  This is becoming tiresome.  As captain of this ship, I expect-”

That was all it took.  Rodimus went from horrified to angry in less than a few seconds.  The screaming started, and Ratchet, Appulse, and First Aid looked at each other and ex-vented.  Every single time Megatron and Rodimus were in the same room ever since relaunch they’d bickered.  It was like watching old conjux endurae.  If old conjux endurae had a history of shooting at each other and despised every facet of each other’s beings.

“Come on, we should take this opportunity to do that analysis,” First Aid said.

“But what about…?” Appulse started, disappointed that they seemed to be getting somewhere but then were interrupted.

“We’ll talk later,” First Aid replied.  At the skeptical look he was given, he put a hand on Appulse’s arm comfortingly and said firmly, “I promise.  We will.”

“Alright,” Appulse conceded.  “Let’s get that innermost energon.”

In the time it took for them to gather and analyze the innermost energon, something Appulse only had  passing knowledge of like most things medical, Rodimus had gathered a team to look at his corpse-y counterpart of himself.

It was a special occasion, apparently.  Chromedome arrived with the team, meaning that all three of the ship’s recluses were not only out of their rooms but in the same room.

“Are you focusing?” First Aid asked.

“Yeah, I am,” Appulse said quickly, turning back to him.  “I don’t know why you need me, though.”

“Because I don’t want you near the body,” his creator said.

“What, do you think it’s going to infect me or something?”

“No.  I just…” First Aid trailed off, then huffed.  “You’re distracting me, I’m trying to date this innermost energon.”

“Sorry,” Appulse rolled his optics and watched Nautica kneel over the body.  “Just seems like everyone’s allowed to get up-close and personal with the dead doppelganger but me.”

“That isn’t something you should want.  Don’t get too used to…” the medic stopped mid-sentence again and vented in.  “I… I don’t believe this.”

“What?” Appulse’s focus left their suddenly dejected-looking co-captain and went back to his creator.  “What happened?”

“I didn’t think it was possible, but…” First Aid took the container from the machine he was using.  He approached the group at the coffin, cutting off Chromedome’s recitation of Rodimus’s life story.  “He’s you, Rodimus.  He’s your future self – and not just because of the memories.”

The conversation from there became a whirlwind of… Appulse didn’t even know what to call it.  Everyone started talking about the possibility of the dead Rodimus being his future, sent back in time somehow.  All Appulse could think was how ridiculous the idea was.  Time travel.

That became something Appulse wasn’t worrying about quickly as he tried to find something else to focus on.  All this talk of time travel and futures and cutting off arms was making his processor hurt.  The focus he found, though, was on what wasn’t there.

Ambulon’s desk was missing.  In fact, everything that had been in his workstation was just… gone.

“Creator?” Appulse reached behind him, grabbing First Aid’s arm.  “Something weird is…”

“We noticed,” First Aid replied, turning Appulse around.

Behind Rodimus, the entire wall had disappeared.

 

---

 

From there it was a flurry of madness and chaos across the ship.  Everyone ran to the escape pods, trying to find ones with room and good company if nothing else.

Appulse stuck close to his creator, snagging a pod with him, Bluestreak, Mainframe, and Trailcutter.  Honestly, he could find worst people to share a cramped space with.  He still felt a little awkward, being the largest member and taking up the most room.  Still, he squeezed into a corner as best he could to give the smaller mechs some space.

“Oh, frag,” Bluestreak managed as they watched the Lost Light disappear completely.  “Frag, frag, frag!  What the hell is going on around here?!”

“Nautica could answer that better than I can,” Mainframe answered, piloting the ship.  “But if I had to hazard a guess…”

“It was a rhetorical question!”

“No need to yell at him,” First Aid said, placing a hand on Bluestreak’s shoulder.

“Sorry, but I’m kind of freaking out a little!” the black and red soldier snapped at him.  “Our ship just blinked out of existence!  What the hell did I sign up for?!”

“To be fair, this is the weirdest thing that’s happened to us so far,” Trailcutter chimed in.  He was reading a datapad, seeming oddly calm about the entire affair.  He’d been acting strange ever since they encountered him in the medbay.

“Definitely the least violent thing,” Appulse joked, leaning forward.

“Not funny, Appulse,” First Aid warned.

“Actually, it was a little funny,” Bluestreak grinned, looking calmer.

“You can say that, you weren’t…” Mainframe started.  After a moment he trailed off.  “Anyone else feel a little… funny?”

The lights blinked off, then turned back on just as quickly.

“Mainframe?!” First Aid yelped, looking around.  The scientist was gone.

“What the actual hell?!” Bluestreak repeated.

“That’s not helping, Bluestreak!” First Aid scolded.

“Uh, guys?” Appulse said, standing up and picking up the datapad on the floor.  “Trailcutter’s gone, too…”

“Oh, frag, frag, frag, frag!” Bluestreak started venting heavily.

“Is he okay?” Appulse asked.

“No, he has a history of panic attacks,” First Aid explained.  “Rung says if this happens to simply give him a bit of time.  He tends to calm himself.”

“Great.  So it’s just us and a panicking ‘bot.  What the pit is happening?” Appulse threw his hands in the air, sub-spacing the datapad.

“If I knew, I’d try to stop it,” First Aid assured him, though he sounded impatient.  After a moment, he looked around.  “Wait… do things look different to you?”

“What do you-?”

Before Appulse could finish his question, he felt a jerking sensation, everything went dark, and then he was… floating?

“Oh… oh, this is…” Bluestreak’s panicking wasn’t getting any better as they found themselves floating in space.  The ship had completely disappeared.  Looking around, they weren’t the only ones.  All of the escape pods had vanished.  The black and red soldier seemed to go into some sort of shock, unable to completely process what was happening.  He at least had the capacity to realize he needed to activate his local commlink in order for them to hear each other.

“Okay, I know this is bad,” First Aid reasoned.  “But we’re okay.”

“Our ship and our friends have disappeared, First Aid!” Bluestreak shouted.  “We’re free-floating in the middle of space, who knows how far from our destination point!  What part of that says okay to you?!”

“Hey, no need to yell at him!” Appulse yelled back, pointing at him.  “This isn’t creator’s fault!  We don’t know whose fault it is!”

“Appulse, it’s okay!” First Aid assured him.  “Bluestreak is just having a hard time with this.  He hasn’t been around and seen all of the… the crazy stuff we’ve been up to onboard the ship.  Why don’t we tell him?”

“What good will that…?” Appulse started, but then quieted when the medic gestured to Bluestreak.  He was looking at the youngling expectantly.  That was when it dawned on him.  They were going to distract him.  “Okay, yeah.  Let’s talk about what’s happened since we joined the ship.  Where do we start?”

“Something… something happy,” First Aid said.  “But exciting.”

“How about the time a bunch of the mechs onboard and I snuck onto the outside of the ship to watch the star showers of Sublimus?”

“You what?!” First Aid yelped.  “You said you had some bad Engex at Swerve’s and needed to stay in your habsuite for the star shower!”

“You weren’t going to let me join the guys out there, so I had to say something,” Appulse shrugged, though he had the decency to look sheepish.

“Of course I wasn’t!  We were close enough that there was debris danger!  No one was supposed to be outside of the ship!” the medic said angrily.  “No wonder there was a sudden rash of illnesses that night!  You were all just making excuses to go break the rules, weren’t you?”

Appulse grinned, looking out at the distant stars from their free-float.  “Totally worth it.”  He looked at Bluestreak, who was completely focused on him.  “They call them star showers, but the truth is that the Sublimians launch the excess debris from one of their mining operations out into space.  The mines they dig from are filled with volatile ores that explode in some amazing colors when launched into space.  People gather from across the universe to watch it.”

Volatile being the keyword,” First Aid huffed.  “When it explodes, it launches debris everywhere.  No one is supposed to watch it from the outside of the ship.”

“You worry too much,” Appulse waved him off.  “Trailcutter was out there with us, and he kept us safe.  I gotta admit, though, I kept getting kind of jealous.  Chromedome and Rewind were out there, too.  Watching the star showers like that, while holding each other… I wonder what that’s like.”

“Appulse, you’re way too young to be thinking of something like that!” First Aid said sternly.

“I’m almost seven meta-cycles,” Appulse huffed.  “Ratchet says I’m just on time for my interfacing protocols to start activating.”

“Are you really that old?” First Aid sounded genuinely astounded.  “Goodness, time has been passing quickly.”

Appulse was going to say something teasing back, but he looked at Bluestreak.  The mech had been uncharacteristically quiet the entire time, looking between the two.  “Ah, sorry,” the red and black youngling said sheepishly.  “We’re supposed to be keeping you entertained, and here we are fighting.”

“No, it’s fine,” Bluestreak surprised them by saying.  “I just… it’s kind of nice.  Weird, but nice.”

“What do you mean, ‘weird’?” First Aid asked.

“You two.  I haven’t seen a creator and their youngling bicker like this in millions of years.”

“You knew a naturally sparkbirthed ‘bot?” Appulse asked in surprise.

“Yeah, but like I said, it was millions of years ago.  During the beginning of the war.  They went through all of the paperwork and registration and everything, but they were so… happy,” Bluestreak explained.  “I always thought… I don’t know.  Maybe it’d be nice.”

“What?” First Aid asked.

“To… have one, too.”

First Aid and Appulse looked at each other, then back to him.  Bluestreak didn’t seem like the kind of ‘bot that would want to settle down and have a family like that.  Then again, it became such a rarity over time that it was impossible to say what that type of ‘bot was.

“Do you still want to?” First Aid asked.

“I don’t know,” Bluestreak admitted.  “Maybe.  A lot has changed since then.”

“You should,” Appulse encouraged.

“Appulse!” his creator scolded.

“What?  I’m still waiting for someone else to have a sparkborn youngling!”

“You shouldn’t go around telling people to have a sparkbirth because of what you want!  That’s just selfish!”

Bluestreak laughed.  “It’s okay.  I know what it’s like to be lonely.  And, like I said, maybe.  I’m not going to commit to anything.  Hell, I don’t even know if there’s anyone onboard that I’d want to have a youngling with.”

“Well, there’s no hurry,” First Aid assured him.  “It’s a big decision.  You should think about it.  If you have any questions, I’ll be right here.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, thanks,” Bluestreak nodded.

First Aid and Appulse spent the next… they weren’t sure how long keeping Bluestreak distracted from their circumstances.  He seemed completely calm now, which was a vast improvement to the situation.  Their hope was that someone would come by and notice their predicament.

What they didn’t expect was another sudden pulling sensation as their escape ship reappeared around them.  A few moments later, Mainframe and Trailcutter materialized back into their seats as well.

“…what happened to my book?” was the first concern Trailcutter voiced.

First Aid, Bluestreak, and Appulse looked at each other and started laughing.  Not from humor, but rather relief.  Whatever had happened was undone, and they were all safe.

“I’m not sure what’s funny about any of this, but we should land on Ofsted XVII.  We’ll throw up a beacon and hope the rendezvous is still on,” Mainframe said, setting the course.  “I can’t seem to get anyone on hailing frequency.”

“Ships are probably still un-disappearing,” Bluestreak shrugged.  He seemed perfectly fine now, as if he wasn’t having a major breakdown a few minutes ago.

“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘reappearing.’  Which is what I’d like my datapad to do,” Trailcutter muttered, looking under his seat.

“Oh, sorry.  Here, I picked it up after you vanished,” Appulse remembered, pulling it out and handing it back.

“Thanks,” the newly appointed Director of Security said, taking it back and turning it on.  He went right back to reading as if nothing had happened.

 

---

 

Ofsted XVII was a mess.  First Aid had insisted on going ahead to check things out, Appulse following close behind.  He was determined now that his creator was out of his hiding place he wouldn’t let him out of his sight anymore.

“This must’ve been some fight,” Appulse whistled, making his way through the lecture theatre.  It was piled with debris, mostly destroyed furniture.  Walls had collapsed and the ceiling looked like it was barely even hanging on.  “What do you think happened?”

“The Council or the Consortia.  They talk about how little regard Cybertronians have for people outside of our own, then they do things like this,” First Aid explained.

“Good thing we missed the party.  The escape was so hectic, I don’t think anyone had time to get ready for something like this,” the youngling grunted as he pushed a broken door out of the way.

As his creator entered the room, he stopped and ex-vented.  “Looks like one Cybertronian wasn’t so lucky,” he said, pointing to a body on the stage.

“Ah, scrap,” Appulse shook his helm and followed him up onto it, bending over the black and grey chassis.  There was the odd purple and gold detail, but otherwise he was just a mess.  The entire body was burned badly.  If he wasn’t made of Cybertronian metal it would have been fatal.  “Is he still online?”

“Yes, but he’s fading,” First Aid confirmed, doing a quick check on the mech’s vitals.  “We don’t have long to help him.  I’m calling the others.”

It didn’t take long for Bluestreak and Mainframe to arrive.  Appulse went to help First Aid retrieve the medical supplies Trailcutter brought and returned to discover the pair they left with the body had moved it.

“You moved him!” First Aid chastised.  He was furious.  Appulse didn’t blame him.  Growing up in a medical facility, he knew to never move someone when they were that badly injured.

While First Aid scolded them, though he was calming, Appulse checked over the mech.  He was small and lithe, the kind of mech that Appulse would have found attractive if he wasn’t currently also crispy and dying.  There was something strange about him, though, and he couldn’t put his servo on it until Bluestreak called them.

“Er, question…?  What kind of Cybertronian has a removable face?”

Appulse did a double-take and bent down so he could see the mech’s face… or, rather, where it should have been.  That was the kind of thing he felt like he should have noticed beforehand.  There was instead simply a pair of optics, currently dimmed, and the area where his face should have been was inverted into his helm.  It was… disturbing was a good word for it.

As First Aid prepared things for an emergency energon transfusion, the other four waited around the body.  Appulse was volunteered out of the transfusion by his creator, which he found highly unfair.  With five of them they could do 1.6 drams each, which was at least better than two.  But First Aid insisted he was too young to even make a donation that large.  His body would produce the replacement energon slower, which put him at risk.  Being young was starting to really suck.

Meanwhile, the mech in the chair they’d sat him in kept making a… hissing, spitting, crackling kind of sound.

“Is he alright?” Appulse asked.  “I mean, I know he’s not.  But that sound doesn’t sound… natural.”

“Actually, it’s more natural than what we’re speaking, some would argue,” Mainframe said.  “It’s Old Cybertronian.  The Primal Vernacular.  It hasn’t been the common language for millions of years.  Not since we adopted Neocybex.”

“What’s he saying?” the youngling asked in fascination.

“I don’t know, but he keeps saying it like a chant,” Bluestreak said, fiddling with the face-mask he found.  The fact that he was playing with someone’s face creeped Appulse out a bit.

“It sounds like a prayer,” Trailcutter said.

“Do you speak…?”

“No,” the force field expert answered.  “Unless swearwords count, in which case I’m a ~*###*~ expert.”

Appulse barked out a laugh.  “Sweet, can you teach me?”

“Sure, when we get back to the ship,” Trailcutter grinned.

“No teaching my youngling how to swear in P.V.!” First Aid called from his work.

Appulse huffed.  He lowered his voice.  “I’ll meet you in your office for it.”

“Deal.”

Trailcutter turned his attention to Mainframe, Appulse leaning over Bluestreak’s shoulderplate to get a better look at the mask.

“Oh, hey, I think there’s a switch on the-”

The soldier cut himself off as the back of the mask suddenly exploded with spikes and drills across it.

Primus!” Bluestreak and Appulse yelped at the same time, the red and black youngling jumping back.

This brought the attention back to them.  “Ouch,” Mainframe winced, gingerly touching one of the spike tips.  “Nasty.”

“I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and say this does not belong to an Autobot,” Bluestreak agreed dryly.

“It really doesn’t matter,” First Aid insisted.  He was done with his setup.

Mainframe and Bluestreak decided to disagree with him and backed out of the procedure.  The medic testily told them to leave if they weren’t going to contribute, and they agreed without argument, Mainframe leaving the translation equipment with Trailcutter.

“I’m staying here,” Appulse insisted.

“No, you’re not,” First Aid replied.  “I need you to go with them.”

“But…!” Appulse tried to argue.  He didn’t want to leave his creator knowing that he was giving up a large sum of his energon to a Decepticon.  One that could potentially still be dangerous.  One that kept a mask of spikes and drills on his face for who-knew-what purpose.

“No arguments, Appulse!  Go back to the ship with Bluestreak and Mainframe!” First Aid insisted sternly.  “We’ll be fine.  Even if he wakes up ungrateful we’re saving his life, he’ll be too weak to do anything.  Go.”

Appulse made a frustrated sound, but did as he was told.  He punched the broken door on the way out.  He was getting tired of being treated like a… well, a youngling.  Tailgate was younger than him, he didn’t care what ‘technicalities’ were present.  But he was allowed to do everything Appulse was barred from.  The worst he had to worry about was a testy Cyclonus giving him a hard time afterwards.

“Guys, wait up!” Appulse called to Bluestreak and Mainframe, running after them.

“Surprised you didn’t stay behind with your creator,” Bluestreak pointed out.

“I wanted to, but he sent me away.  Again.  I feel like ever since we joined the Lost Light that’s become a trend.”

“That’s because we’re all emotionally constipated,” the Entertainment Director said.

“We’re all what?” Appulse asked incredulously.  He’d never heard that word before, but it sounded unpleasant.

“It’s an Earth term.  It means… it means unable to express ourselves properly.  I’m sure Rung has a more elegant term for it, but humans have a way of saying things I can get behind,” Bluestreak grinned.

“You and Swerve both.  I know there’s a bunch of other ‘bots onboard who have spent time on Earth, but you’re the two that picked up the most actual human jargon from it.  And every time I hear it I want to visit,” Appulse laughed.

They continued walking as they chatted, talking about the next movies Bluestreak had lined up and what Mainframe was up to with the science team.

“Mind you, Perceptor’s been less active since he started carrying,” the scientist informed them.

There was a moment of shocked silence as Bluestreak and Appulse stared at him.

“Since Perceptor started what?!” Appulse finally managed.

“Oh, frag,” Mainframe slapped his faceplate, groaning.  “I wasn’t supposed to say anything.  He and Magnus are going to kill-”

“Wait, wait, wait, Magnus?!” Bluestreak let out a loud, barking laugh.  “Are you telling me Perceptor is carrying Ultra Magnus’s sparkling?!”

“Frag, frag, frag!” Mainframe’s other hand came up and covered his face the rest of the way.  “I told him he shouldn’t tell me!”

“How long have they been… you know...?” Appulse asked, leaning in front of Mainframe’s covered faceplate so he couldn’t ignore him.

“A year!” Mainframe finally gave in, throwing his servos in the air and giving up.  “Apparently there was a room inspection, and…”

“And Magnus inspected more than Perceptor’s room,” Bluestreak said, still laughing.  “Who’d have thought, huh?  The two mechs on the ship we could’ve voted ‘Least Likely to Engage in a Physical Relationship’ and they probably would have tied.  And they’ve been playing ‘hide the spike’ behind everyone’s backs!”

“Don’t tell anyone, Bluestreak!” Mainframe warned him.

“Why are you singling me out?”

“Because you have a mouth second only to Swerve!”

“So, who else knows?” Appulse asked.

“Ratchet, of course,” Mainframe answered.  “Perceptor’s been going in for regular checkups.  He told me because he needs my help in the lab while he’s carrying.”

“Does creator know?”

“Not as far as I know.  Rung knows as well.  I don’t think Brainstorm does, because you’d all have known by now if he did.  Same deal with Rodimus.  So… yeah, I think that’s everyone who does.  You guys, me, Ratchet, and Rung.”

“Oh, man, you just made my day,” Appulse was smiling wider than he had in a long time.  “I’m not going to be the only youngling anymore!  I’m telling you, this couldn’t get any-”

The red and black youngling’s elation was cut short as his creator was driving full-speed towards them, calling in a panic.

 

---

 

It wasn’t a good day anymore when the four mechs ran back into the lecture theatre.

The mech they were helping was standing outside of Trailcutter’s panic bubble.  Inside, another mech stood holding Trailcutter’s head, his spine dangling from it.  In the mech’s other hand was Trailcutter’s CPU – his brain.

“Trailcutter…?” First Aid’s vocals snapped Appulse out of his shock.

Bluestreak aimed at the black and grey one outside of the bubble, but Appulse let out a roar of rage and charged before he could.  He tackled the surprised Decepticon to the ground.

This would be the second time in the two years since they joined the Lost Light that he charged a Decepticon he shouldn’t have.  At least this one didn’t rip his arm off.

No, instead he hissed and spat in his ancient language, kicking and clawing at the much larger mech.  He may have been small, but he was a fighter.  The strength behind him was definitely disproportionate to his tiny size.

“He was saving your life!” Appulse found himself yelling, raising a fist and bringing it down.

The smaller black mech caught the hand, not even wincing.  Appulse found himself struggling to pull it back, the clawed servos holding it clamped like a vice around his fist.  The mech’s other hand reached up and grabbed Appulse’s shoulderplate, dragging him down so their faceplates were inches from each other.

Appulse hadn’t known what true dread was until that moment.  Looking into the red optics underneath him, he saw nothing but hatred.  A foul pit of deep, red sadistic lust for pain and death.  The claws in his shoulder dug in painfully, causing him to hiss.

The pain in his shoulder and the panic running through his hydraulic lines were so prominent, he almost missed the two words of Neocybex that were hissed out from behind the detachable horror of a mask the mech under him wore.

“Kiiiiiill… yoouuuu…”

A pure shock of terror at the words, the dementedly gleeful promise, caused Appulse to pull back in panic.  The smaller mech dug his claws into his shoulder and fist one more time before pushing Appulse away, tearing gashes in the metal of his servos and shoulderplating.

After a moment of staring at the smaller Decepticon, seeing the sadistic smile in his crimson optics, a flash of light took him and his companion away.

Appulse sat there, holding his mangled servos and shaking.  He hadn’t felt this much fear even when facing Overlord.  Didn’t know that mechs like the small, black and grey terror he’d tackled existed.  On their way back to this scene of horror, First Aid had told him that they were members of a team called the DJD – the Decepticon Justice Division.  Merciless monsters that slaughtered anyone they had on their List, or simply got in their way.

The youngling was having trouble processing the idea that he’d met even one mech as sparkless and monstrous as that.  He could imagine five of them.

“Appulse!” First Aid was kneeling beside him, snapping Appulse out of his shock.  The red and white medic reached out and took his youngling’s hand, looking over the sliced-open servos.  “What were you thinking, attacking a member of the DJD like that?  You should have just let Bluestreak shoot him!”

Appulse didn’t answer, simply staring at him.  His whole chassis started shaking.

“Appulse…?” First Aid’s scolding faded as he reached up to the half-Wrecker’s faceplate in worry.  “Appulse!”

The red and black mech knocked his creator out of the way as he scrambled to the corner and started purging his tanks.

Chapter Text

Returning to the ship after everything that had happened was less eventful than it had a right to be.  Outside of the DJD blowing up their escape ship, leaving the four surviving Lost Lighters stranded with a dismembered body and a tank-sick youngling, anyway.

Everything that had happened, culminating in Trailcutter’s demise and Appulse making the stupid mistake of attacking a member of the Decepticons’ personal boogiemechs, had caused the shock-induced purge.  He wanted to be embarrassed by it, but Bluestreak, Mainframe, and First Aid had assured him that there was no shame.  If they’d been as young as him, as inexperienced in the darker things that happened in the universe, they would have been made just as ill.

They’d been picked up shortly after, though, and as always with these strange events, things continued as normal following.

This time Appulse didn’t feel normal, though.  He returned to the medbay with First Aid and Ratchet.  They looked at the reappeared mess of Ambulon’s workspace and debated with themselves if they really wanted to clean it after all that had happened.  The answer was no, but they knew they couldn’t avoid it.  The entire medbay had to be cleaned.

The coffin had vanished, along with any traces it’d ever even been there.  That was for the best, as they’d had enough dead bodies for the day.

“He never finished filing the 10-B records for when Sunstreaker brought Bob in,” First Aid mused, shuffling through datapads and files.  “I didn’t even notice they weren’t in their proper file.”

“I did,” Ratchet said, sorting through one of the drawers on the desk they’d righted and throwing a few odd things in the trash bin.  “I figured it was here somewhere, so I didn’t bother looking for it.”

Appulse and First Aid both looked at him in surprise.  Both of them were so concerned about how they felt about Ambulon’s death, about how it affected them, they didn’t even think about Ratchet.  The older medic seemed so put together all the time that they just assumed he was fine.  The fact that he hadn’t touched any of this in the year since Ambulon passed either was… telling.

“We can’t keep most of this, can we?” Appulse asked, picking up a datapad that was nothing but doodles made with a chewed on stylus.  The youngling had the same habit when he held a stylus.  He must’ve picked it up from watching Ambulon do it.

“We can put most of it in storage, but that won’t solve the problem,” Ratchet said.

“I know,” the red and black half-Wrecker ex-vented, clearing the datapad of its contents.  He put it into a small box he’d brought.  It was things he wanted to keep.

“Ambulon was probably the closest thing to a best friend I’ve ever had,” First Aid said quietly, picking up a holo-projector from the floor.  He turned it on, an image of Ambulon, First Aid, and Appulse appearing above it.  They all looked so… happy.  “It was kind of lonely on Messatine.  The miners didn’t pay us any mind unless they were injured, and Pharma… he wasn’t the warmest of mechs, even before the DJD.”

“Just the three of us most of the time,” Appulse nodded.

“Do you remember when you were a protoform?” First Aid asked.

“Not much,” the youngling admitted.

Not many remembered their protoform days.  Though most were born by introducing sentio metallico to a spark ignited by a hotspot, those that were sparkbirthed were born having already developed.  A carrier’s body produced the sentio metallico inside of the gestation chamber while the sparkling was developing inside, and instead of having to carefully mold it themselves, the sparkling developed on its own.  When it was finally born, it already had a mostly solid form, and simply needed to be nurtured for the next few weeks while it grew into its full size.  While a forged ‘bot was raised this way by people who were designated it as their job, a creator and sire were fully responsible for the mental and physical development of their own protoforms.

“Ambulon would go out to resupply, and come back with treats for you even though I told him you’d get spoiled,” First Aid said, staring distantly at the hologram.  “It was a rough few weeks, but he helped with everything he could.”

“I miss him,” Appulse said lightly.

“I know.  I do-”

All at once, everything suddenly went black.

 

---

 

Brainstorm had been spiking the drinks.  Megatron, Rodimus, and Ultra Magnus had revealed to the medical team when they finally awoke that the entire ship minus three mechs had been slowly poisoned over the last few months.  Even First Aid, who had been closed off, felt the effects.  It turned out someone had been leaving drinks for him outside of his habsuite door.  He’d always just assumed it was Appulse.

The three who hadn’t been affected were Ultra Magus, who didn’t like drinking in the first place.  Rung, who was a notorious lightweight and would nurse a single weak spritzer through an entire night.  And Perceptor, who being a carrier at the moment was barred by Ratchet from any Engex, as its effects could damage the sparkling.

The most insane part of the entire ordeal was the reveal that Brainstorm escaped the ship via time travel.

Time travel.

Time.

Travel.

Appulse had to keep repeating it to himself in his helm so he could fully process it.  Megatron already had a full breakdown over it.  No one blamed him, as those who weren’t used to the bizarre things that happened on the Lost Light weren’t going to take well to this particular defiance of every law of science they knew.

It turned out that not only was Brainstorm a Decepticon spy this whole time, but his briefcase was a part of a time machine.  A time machine made of dozens of other briefcases.  This would have been more surprising if this wasn’t the same mech whose major hobby was inventing brain-meltingly baffling machines that made Perceptor have to resist the urge to slap him on principle.

Rodimus was taking a team to follow him into the past so he wouldn’t break time and space.  First Aid had firmly said Appulse wasn’t going, but this wasn’t a case in which he needed to be told.  He… honestly didn’t know if he could handle it.

Initially it had been agreed that only a few members of the Lost Light would know about what happened, let alone their mission to the past.  Ratchet and First Aid were brought in because they needed to help keep the story up that it was just some bad Engex that caused everything.  Appulse was brought in on it by First Aid, though certain others didn’t like it.

“We were supposed to keep this tight,” Megatron scolded the young medic, pointing at his youngling.  “That is not tight, doctor.”

“I… kind of agree with the co-captain, creator,” Appulse said awkwardly.  “I’m not in on this operation.  Why did you tell me?”

“Because Pharma started with lies he thought would protect us,” the red and white medic said sternly, not breaking optic-contact with the large, silver mech.  “I’ll help you keep this one as long as you need me to, but I won’t keep it from Appulse.  I already spent a year not speaking to him.  A… long year that I regret.”

“Creator…” Appulse felt his spark swell at the words.  He then looked at Megatron, crossing his arms over his chestplate.  “He’s right, no more secrets between us.  If you have a problem with that, now’s the time to say something.”

Megatron actually looked surprised, looking between the two.  He then ex-vented, rubbing his faceplate with a hand tiredly.  Rodimus was almost ready to leave with his merry band of time-travelling misfits and the former tyrant was finally fully wrapping his processor around everything he’d agreed to coming onto this ship.  “If you are so adamant, very well,” he said, walking into the lab where Perceptor and Ultra Magnus were finishing their preparations.

After watching him walk away, First Aid looked to his youngling.  “You are making a terrible habit of challenging mechs you need to stay far away from,” he reproached.

“You’re the one who fragged a Wrecker.”

“Appulse!” First Aid exclaimed, shocked.  He couldn’t help but laugh, though.  “Fair enough, but watch your language, young mech!  That’s not how you speak to your elders.”

Everyone is my elder!” Appulse threw his servos into the air.

“Point well taken,” First Aid mused, turning to return to the medbay.  “Stay and make sure they don’t need anything.  I’m going to make sure everyone’s recovering well from their Engex poisoning.”

“Yes, creator,” Appulse nodded, following after Megatron.

“What are you doing?” Megatron asked incredulously.

“What creator told me?  I’m making sure you guys are good to go,” the youngling shrugged.

Megatron made to say something, but stopped himself and ex-vented again.  He seemed to be struggling to fully comprehend how he was supposed to handle a creator and his youngling.  “Very well, but don’t get in our way,” he finally ordered.

“Leave him be,” Perceptor said from the console he was typing at.  “As long as he doesn’t touch anything important, he isn’t a detriment.”

Megatron ignored him and joined Ultra Magnus where he was going over the readings.  Appulse looked from the soldier to the scientist, musing over the fact that only a small handful of people in the room at the moment knew the two had been in a relationship for the last couple of years.  That Perceptor was carrying.

There weren’t many physical changes to a carrier.  Exactly how much their mid-section expanded to adapt to the sparkling growing inside of them would depend completely on what kind of protoform it was.  The larger the protoform, the more obvious it would become.  If it took after Magnus, it was only a matter of time before the much smaller microscope started showing.

“You’re not his type.”

Appulse jumped, turning and meeting the grinning, teasing face of Rodimus.  “What?” he finally managed.

“Percy.  I know he’s got that… weird, nerdy, quiet kind of appeal to him.  But believe me, if you try you’re not getting anywhere with him.  I think he’s allergic to other people, honestly,” the red and gold captain said.

“I…?  Wait, no!  That’s not… wow, I’m not…” Appulse started to stutter, unsure of how to respond to that.  He hadn’t realized he’d been staring at Perceptor.  It was obvious Rodimus didn’t know about the relationship between his second-in-command and their science officer.

“Come now, Rodimus,” Rung chuckled, patting him on the arm.  “Don’t tease him.  Whirl is finally back from Brainstorm’s office, so I assume he found something terrifying enough to satisfy him.”

“Right,” Rodimus nodded, looking over the other waiting time travelers.  “Alright, everyone!  Time to get zapped to the past!”

“People do not ‘zap’ into the past,” Perceptor huffed, finishing his preparations.

“Don’t bother.  If you try to correct him, Rodimus will simply start saying it wrong just to be annoying,” Megatron told him.

“I know,” the scientist ex-vented.  “That doesn’t mean I must relish it.”

“Come on, Percy!” Rodimus waved at the scientist, taking his place in the middle of the group.  “Zap, zap!”

Perceptor cringed and restrained himself from slapping his own faceplate.  Instead, he fired up the time machine.  “Coordinates, both galactic and temporal, are locked and ready.  Temporal jump initiating in 10… 9… 8…”

“Everybody pose when we zap, so we all look awesome when we appear in the past!” Rodimus called, shoving the time briefcase into Rung.  “Here, hold this so I look cool.”

“Oof!”  The air rushed out of Rung, who doubled over at the impact.

“…3… 2… 1…”

FWOOSH!

In a puff of purple smoke, Rodimus’s team was gone.

“…These are the people who are going to save time and space,” Appulse said as he looked at the spot where they’d been standing – half of them striking ridiculously action-hero-esque poses – a moment ago.

“We’re all going to die,” Megatron muttered.

“Actually, we won’t die, simply be displaced from our current positions into whatever persons we stand as in the new timeline,” Perceptor corrected him.

“Unless the people we become are dead in the new timeline,” Appulse pointed out.

“Then yes, I suppose it’s an accurate summation,” the scientist agreed.

“We are not going to die,” Ultra Magnus said pointedly.  “Rodimus may be questionable at times, but he has a strange knack for overcoming all odds he’s faced with.  We will not be losing anyone.”

Perceptor glanced at him, exchanging a look.  He then smiled lightly, nodding.  “You’re right.  No one is dying.  We can do this.”  When Magnus nodded back to him, they returned their attentions to their respective consoles.

Megatron looked between the two.  “They suddenly have a lot of confidence in our overly-enthusiastic captain,” he said to Appulse.

“Whoa, you suddenly talking to me?” Appulse asked, looking around exaggeratedly.  “I don’t see anyone else here, so you must be.  Thought you didn’t want me getting in the way.”

“Talking isn’t getting in the way,” Megatron said, strangely calm for having been back-sassed by a petulant youngling.  “Everyone on this ship is used to doing whatever they want in spite of what their higher-ups tell them.  I’ve found myself needing to make sure I’m very specific about what I do and do not want anyone to do just so I can have some peace of mind that if I snap no one can say they didn’t deserve it.”

“I’m starting to see how you commanded an army of psychopaths for 4 million years.”

“It was a rebellion.  A revolution.  Not an army of ‘psychopaths.’”

“One of your ‘not psychopaths’ killed one of my friends!” Appulse snapped, poking Megatron in the chestplate.

The larger, silver mech looked from him, down his arm, to the servo on his chest.  “I suggest you remove your hand.  And never touch me again,” he said in a low voice.

There was something in the way he said that.  Something akin to when Megatron had snapped at Trailcutter in the medbay.  Just short of the hissing, dark promise the little Gunformer from the DJD had given him.  It made Appulse pull back immediately, feeling extremely… threatened.  “S… sorry,” he quickly apologized, looking at the floor.

“Appulse,” Perceptor approached, nudging his way between the youngling and the former tyrant.  “Will you pay a kindness and go to the medbay?  There’s something I need you to retrieve from there.”  He handed Appulse a note and turned him around.  “Now would be preferable.  Thank you.”

Appulse let the scientist steer him out of the room and close the door behind him.  He looked back at it for a moment, then opened the note to see what he needed to get.  Instead of any items, it contained a message.

‘Antagonizing our new co-captain is not recommended.  Return when you feel less rebellious.’

The red and black half-Wrecker made a frustrated sound, balling up the note and tossing it in a garbage shoot as he passed it.  He couldn’t bring himself to be completely angry at Perceptor, as he was being extra petulant that day.  He couldn’t help it with Megatron, though.  He saw him and thought of the datapad he’d held temporarily for Trailcutter when their escape pod disappeared.  The one the DJD took with them when they vanished after having killed the force field expert.  ‘Toward Peace.’  What a joke of a title.  If it wasn’t for Megatron forming the Decepticons, starting a war, recruiting the worst of the worst in the universe…

The thought process caused Appulse to bypass the medbay absently.  A little further down, he stopped in front of the morgue.  He knew he shouldn’t.  Pit, he might end up purging again.  But he needed to remind himself why he was so angry.

When the doors opened, Appulse was surprised to find someone else there.  They were leaning over the slab Trailcutter’s pieces were on, face in their hands.  The red and gold paintjob almost made him think it was Rodimus.  But… no, Rodimus was on his mission to the past.  That left only one person.

“Atomizer?” he called, walking in and closing the door.

The former assassin raised his head and looked at the youngling.  “Hey, kid,” he muttered before returning his chin to his servos.  He wasn’t covering his face this time, simply staring at the body before him.

“Didn’t expect to see you here,” Appulse said, walking over and standing on the other side of the slab.  It was hard to look at Trailcutter like that.  Pieces missing.  Hole in his head with his brain crushed.  His left hand had a Rodimus Star placed in it, the one he earned when he’d changed his name and saved the ship from invaders.

“Honestly?  I didn’t expect to be here,” Atomizer said humorlessly.

“I remember you saying something about you ‘being over it by the next day.’  So I guess you’ll be fine tomorrow,” Appulse said bitterly.  He knew he shouldn’t be taking it out on Atomizer, but he was close and… hurtable.  And right now Appulse wanted someone to feel as hurt over what happened as he did.

The sports car didn’t seem like he was going to respond at first.  Finally, he said, “It’s so different when it’s someone you loved, isn’t it?”

That caused Appulse to pause.  He didn’t know what to say.

“I never told him.  It’s one of my rules.  Never get close to anyone.  Not only because they’ll all die eventually, but because it’s something your enemies can use against you.  Emotional attachments become liabilities,” Atomizer said absently, reaching forward and putting a hand on Trailcutter’s broken chestplate.  Right over his Autobot badge.  “Guess it doesn’t really work when your spark won’t listen to you, does it?”

All at once, Appulse felt like the worst kind of person.  He wanted to make Atomizer hurt, but… he never considered how much he already might be.  The interior decorator-turned-assassin wasn’t the easiest mech to get along with on the best days.  He was snarky, sassy, and sarcastic wherever he could be.  Not many people liked being around him for longer than they had to be, which was usually just long enough to get a drink they ordered.

Everyone but Trailcutter.  No matter what happened, no matter what Atomizer said or did, Trailcutter was always there.  Sure, it was the drinks that brought him in and held him.  But the fact that Atomizer’s borderline-venomous personality didn’t drive him to sobriety had to mean something.

“I’ve never spent as much time just… talking to someone as I did with him.  He never asked for anything else, other than a refill,” Atomizer continued.  “Never expected anything else.  I got so used to ‘bots wanting things from me.  I forgot what it was like to just sit around and get to know someone without any strings attached.  You know how many times I flirted with him and he never even noticed?”

After a moment’s pause, Appulse said, “I’m so sorry.  I was there, but I couldn’t… there was nothing I could do about it.  I couldn’t save him.”

“They said it was the DJD, kid,” Atomizer shook his helm.  “Even I couldn’t have done anything about it if I were there, though I would have put up a fight.”  He straightened up and walked around the slab, coming to a stop in front of the youngling.  “I hear that’s just what you did.  So… thank you.  For at least trying.”

Appulse didn’t know what to say, so he just looked at the floor.  As he watched Atomizer walk out of the room, he looked to the body one more time.

The Rodimus Star was gone.

Appulse looked from Trailcutter’s empty hand to where Atomizer had left, but the assassin was gone.

“…you wouldn’t want him to get in trouble, would you?” Appulse asked the body.  He pulled out his own Rodimus Star.  He’d earned it for ‘shooting his first ‘Con in the face’ during their battle on Temptoria.  Even though the badges were so superfluous they were considered a joke, everyone seemed to still carry them around.  “Keep this safe, alright?  It’s the only award I’ve ever won.”

 

---

 

“Bad Engex?!” Swerve shouted, throwing his servos into the air.  “What do you mean, ‘bad Engex?!’  I’d never serve bad Engex at my bar!  There has to be something else!”

“Please, Swerve,” First Aid said, trying to calm him down.  He understood the frustration, but he promised to keep the charade up.  “Look, maybe whoever you bought it from just sold you a bad batch.  But that’s what it was.”

“Yeah, well,” Swerve muttered, huffing.  He seemed to find that answer a lot more acceptable, though, and sat back while Ratchet continued to scan him.

“Alright, looks like you’re clear,” the older medic finally announced.  “You can get back to serving drinks and spreading rumors.  Or whatever it is you do.”

“Thanks, docs.  I’ll… double-check the expiration on all of my Engex from now on, I guess,” the red and white minibot said, pushing himself off the table and leaving.

“I don’t like lying to him,” First Aid ex-vented.

“I know, but pretty much everyone in the higher-up ordered,” Ratchet said, filing away the datapad they used for the incident.  “I more hate the fact that we have to fake all of these medical files.”

“This is how Pharma started, you know,” the younger medic said lightly, walking over to the half-cleaned area that used to be Ambulon’s workspace.  They had to put the rest of the cleanup on hold while they cleared the time travel debacle.  “Lies.  To us, to the patients, on the paperwork… I can’t do this kind of thing.  This isn’t why I became a medic, Ratchet.”

“I know,” Ratchet assured him again, walking over and putting a hand on his shoulder.  “Sometimes you have to do things you’ll question for the rest of your lifecycle.  But this… even I’m not comfortable with the amount of lying we’re doing right now.”

First Aid didn’t reply, simply staring at the desk.  The holo-projector he’d been holding when they blacked out was sitting on it, still projecting the image.

So many memories that used to be happy were painful now.  Ambulon asking First Aid to help paint him with his new colors when it started chipping away the first time.  Drinking after work with both Pharma and Ambulon.  Hiding that away after Appulse was born because he didn’t want to encourage those kinds of habits.  Catching Appulse sneaking off to the mines outside of Delphi to help the miners.

The thought made First Aid’s spark sink more.  In the last year of closing himself off to the rest of the universe, he had to come to terms with a lot of things.

One of them was that Impactor wasn’t coming back.

First Aid had been fooling himself ever since Impactor had left him that day after fragging him.  He kept thinking that surely… surely Impactor had to feel as strongly for what they created that day as he did.  But if he did, Impactor would be here.  The Wrecker leader was one of the most resourceful mechs in the universe.  Surely if he really wanted to, he’d have found them by now.

“Creator?”

First Aid and Ratchet looked to the door, where Appulse stood.  “Oh, hello, Appulse,” First Aid greeted.  “How are things going with the time travel?”

“I don’t really know,” the youngling said sheepishly.  He rubbed his helm with a hand, looking uncomfortable.  The last time he looked this embarrassed, he’d been practicing some of the fighting moves he watched of the Wreckers on the Autopedia and accidentally knocked over an entire shelf full of vaccines.  “I kind of got heated with Captain Megatron and Perceptor sent me out until I cooled down.”

“Appulse!” First Aid cried out in exasperation.  He couldn’t help it.  He wished dearly that his youngling had less of the Wrecker impulse inside of him.

The young medic had nearly had a spark-attack when he watched Appulse charge one of the DJD.  He was concerned about Trailcutter and trying to negotiate with the other one that was in the Panic Bubble, though.  He’d failed to save Trailcutter’s life, though.  He watched another friend be killed in front of him.  This was becoming an unwelcome and morbid trend in his life.

“You can’t just fight everyone you feel threatened by, kid,” Ratchet said, pointing at Appulse like a sire to his youngling.  “You’re going to get yourself killed that way.”

“I know,” Appulse conceded.  “I just… I’m getting sick of losing people I care about.  None of this would have happened if he didn’t start that stupid war.”

“It’s a lot more complicated than that,” the older medic said, crossing his arms over his chestplate.  “Sure, in the end it’s Megatron’s responsibility that this all happened.  But even I’ll admit, as hard as it is, that he started for the right reasons.  Somewhere down the road he just… forgot them.  Let everything spiral out of control, including his own ideals and ambitions.  It’s the dangerous thing about success, kid.  It’s addicting.  When he managed to help topple the government and made the Autobots have to pick everything up, he didn’t want to stop.  He didn’t just want to reform it anymore.  He wanted to be it.  Thought no one could run Cybertron better than him.  Starscream is already proving how just because you think you could do better it doesn’t mean you can.  Who knows what would have happened if he succeeded?”

“You make it almost sound like it shouldn’t have led to a four million year war,” Appulse pointed out.

“It shouldn’t have.  But there’s a point in fighting where… where it seems like there’s no other way out.  You’re so deep in it you have to keep going forward.  Because trying to make peace any other way feels an awful lot like losing.”

 

---

 

Concentrating while carrying was becoming a chore.

Perceptor wasn’t about to let it affect his job, but he couldn’t just ignore it.  He could feel the pressure against his abdomen, subtle movements in his gestation chamber that heralded the formation of his sparkling.  Of their sparkling.

Having Ultra Magnus close helped.  Tightened his focus on what was happening on the outside.  Worry less about the fact that if everything fell apart, if the timeline was destroyed and rewritten, the odds of them finding each other in the new one was astronomically low.

The idea was terrifying.

“How are you doing?” Ultra Magnus asked quietly as Megatron stood in the corner, servos to his chin and thoughtful.  He placed a hand on the scientist’s shoulderplate.

“Acceptable,” Perceptor replied, covering it with his own.  “I simply must keep telling myself that everything will be alright.  It has to be.  I won’t allow any other outcome prevail.”

“Oi, Percy,” Rodimus’s vocals came through the Time Phone.  “You there?”

“Of course I am, Rodimus,” the scientist let go of Ultra Magnus’s hand to take the phone from him.  “Where else would I be?”

“Funny.  Is Appulse there?”

“No, but I can call him back,” Perceptor said curiously.  “Why?”

“There’s something going on here that I think he needs to hear.”

Perceptor contacted Appulse and asked him to come down on the request of their time-wayward captain.  The youngling arrived with his creator a few minutes later.

“Alright, captain, I’m here,” Appulse said, taking the Time Phone.  “What’s up?”

“We’re sitting in Maccadam’s right now, and… well, we thought you might wanna hear this.”

There was the sound of the phone on the other end shifting and being placed down.  The next part made Megatron move over to hear as well, First Aid’s hands going to his faceplate and Appulse nearly dropping the phone.

“So, what am I looking at again?  Not more poetry.”

Perceptor knew that voice anywhere.  He worked with the Wreckers long enough.  Knowing how important this was going to be, he took the phone and turned the volume up so they could all hear.

Megatron was transfixed on the sound of his own voice.  “No, it’s more of a – of a treatise on the state of Cybertronian society.  I started writing it after those protestors were shot.”

They sat listening to the conversation as if they were there for it themselves.  In one of their cases, he was.  Megatron was part of this conversation.  Publicly admitting his dissatisfaction with the state of the Cybertronian government.  This couldn’t be easy to hear all over again after millions of years.  After everything this caused.

“Oh, Impactor…” First Aid whispered, reaching towards the phone.

“‘Non-violent direct action’?  Why don’t we just round up a few hundred of our fellow miners, break out the Pathblasters, and take the senate by force?” Impactor was saying.

Appulse was just watching it, not reacting outwardly too much.  He probably didn’t know how to.  This was the closest to hearing his sire in person he’d ever been, and he was talking about toppling a government with mining equipment.  A voice four million years ago of someone he honestly didn’t even know now.

“Because the revolution will be about ideas,” the Megatron of the past said.  The present one looked at the ground darkly, listening to his idealistic younger self making him realize how far he fell.  “Taking a new step, uttering a new word… that’s what the ruling Elite fears the most.  Violence solves nothing.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll remember that the next time I’m being pistol-whipped by my supervisor.”

There was a commotion, yelling, and a crash.  Impactor announced his intention to introduce some mechs to his fist, and the Time Phone was jostled.

“Sorry, guys, Rung just got himself thrown across a bar, and I think that infamous fight just broke out!  We gotta go!”

With that announcement from Rodimus, the line cut off.

Perceptor turned and looked at the creator and youngling standing behind him as he and Ultra Magnus awaited their reaction.  This was something unexpected, especially from their captain.

“I guess I really did inherit my ‘punch first, ask questions later’ personality from him,” Appulse finally said, shrugging helplessly.  He was obviously having trouble processing what to do with what he just experienced.

“It was him,” First Aid managed, picking up the Time Phone as if it would make the voice come back.  “Brash, and rude, and… and so brilliant…”  Washer fluid began building up around his visor, and he shook his helm, handing the phone back.  He turned and retreated quickly with an, “I’m sorry, excuse me.”

“Creator!” Appulse followed after him.

 

---

 

“Creator?” Appulse didn’t have to go far to find the medic.  First Aid had stopped not far down the hall, leaning on the wall and covering his face.  “Are you okay?”

First Aid vented heavily, looking between his servos up at his youngling.  He let out a sheepish laugh, wiping the washer fluid from his faceplate.  “Ever since we joined this ship I’ve made a bad habit of breaking down in front of you,” he said.  “Just once, I want to be strong.”

“You’re one of the strongest people I know, creator,” Appulse told him, leaning on the wall next to him.  “You raised me, after all.  I’m not the easiest person to deal with on my better days.”

“You’re not so bad,” First Aid chuckled.  “When you’re not attacking Decepticons you have no business fighting.  Or making bets with your shipmates.”

“So, all the time,” Appulse nudged him with an elbow.

“Smartaft,” the medic laughed again.  At least it sounded sincere.  After a moment of simply staring at the floor, gathering his thoughts, he said, “You know how the day you were created was the only day I’ve actually met him?”

“Yeah, I’ve been told a few times,” Appulse said bitterly, all the humor draining from him.  This wasn’t something he wanted to talk about, but he supposed it was to be expected after their experience with the Time Phone.

“That doesn’t make me love him any less.  I know it’s probably just the results of my heat and creator protocols, but it doesn’t change anything.”

“Good thing I don’t have that problem,” the youngling huffed.  “I have no problem hating that afthole.”

“Don’t say that, Appulse!” First Aid yelped in surprise.  “He’s your sire!”

“Then why isn’t he here, huh?” Appulse challenged.  “Where was he when the Red Rust struck?  When Overlord rampaged through here?  Or the Legislators?  Where was he when we fought the Ammonites?”

“Appulse, that’s not-!”

“Where was he when Trailcutter died?”

There was a silence that followed that sentence, leaving it hanging in the air.  First Aid finally looked away from Appulse, looking hurt.  “I have to keep believing he’ll find us,” he said lightly.  “After Ambulon died I started having doubts, but listening to him over the Time Phone…”

“What?  What did that change, creator?  Or did it just kick in another one of your protocols that makes you just want to blindly forgive him for abandoning you?” Appulse knew he should have stopped.  He didn’t want to keep going.  He hated how much this was hurting his creator.  But he couldn’t.  These were things he’d been bottling up for years.  He couldn’t keep them inside anymore.  “I’ve been done waiting for him!  It’s about time you face the fact that he’s not coming back!  He doesn’t care, crea-”

Appulse’s rant was cut off by the sound of metal hitting metal in the nearby lab.

The two ceased their argument and ran back, finding Ultra Magnus holding back a panicking Megatron.  The officer looked as though he were restraining himself from striking the former tyrant, and one look at the mech sitting on the floor by the console made it apparent why.

Perceptor was venting heavily, holding his throat while his vents backfired a few times.  His olfactory sensor was slightly crooked, faceplate scuffed with a fresh strike.

“I said calm down!” Ultra Magnus barked at Megatron, who continued to struggle.

“You don’t understand!  Five million years ago – 1st cycle, 012 – I’m new!  I’m half-built, underpowered, and offline!  I’m vulnerable!” Megatron cried out, reaching for the scientist who was hauling himself off the floor.  First Aid hurried to help him.  It was quite apparent that First Aid and Appulse missed a major part of this conversation, as they had no idea what Megatron was yelling about.

“Are you alright, Perceptor?” the medic asked.

“Yes, quite.  Nothing we can’t fix once this nonsense is over,” the red and black scientist replied, retaining his dignity even as he checked to make sure his jaw was still intact.  “Rodimus and the others will stop Brainstorm.  I was about to send them after him when you attacked me.”

“‘Attacked’ you.  I didn’t ‘attack you’,” Megatron muttered, obviously trying to regain whatever dignity he himself had lost in that moment.  He was failing.  “That was… I was remonstrating.”

“You just remonstrated across his face,” Appulse pointed out.  When he was given a warning look by both Perceptor and First Aid, though, he backed off.  He knew he shouldn’t start antagonizing the former tyrant again.

As if to highlight how bad of an idea it was, Megatron leveled a disapproving glare at the youngling.  He then returned his attention to the scientist.  “Besides… Rodimus?  You want me to put my life in the hands of an Autobot who somersaults onto the bridge?  An Autobot who pretends to be dead if you ask him a difficult question?  An Autobot who, in response to a crisis in morale precipitated by his own woeful captaincy introduced a reward system based on his own face?”  To emphasize his point, he pulled his own Rodimus Star out, waving it around.

“You were happy to leave this to Rodimus when you thought it was Prime’s life on the line…” Ultra Magnus pointed out testily.

“What?  Don’t be clever.  It makes you look stupid,” Megatron scoffed in response.

“You do realize that sounds exactly like him, don’t you?” Appulse couldn’t help but point out smugly.

There was a moment where Megatron looked at him in surprise, then covered his faceplate with a hand.  “Primus…” he muttered.

Perceptor returned attention to himself.  “Even if we thought letting you loose in the timestream was a good idea, I can’t.  It’s too late,” he said matter-of-factly, pointing to the screen.  There was a ‘low battery’ symbol flashing across it, which was something peculiar to see on something so high-tech.  A sign this entire system was indeed of Brainstorm’s make.  “There was enough energy in the quantum engines for one more jump – and I just used it to move the others.”

“But-” Megatron made one last attempt.

Perceptor surprised them all by turning and snapping, “No, Megatron!  No!  You’re going to back off, calm down, and shut up – in that order!”

There was an uncomfortable silence that followed, in which Appulse resisted the urge to follow the directions himself.  That wasn’t something any of them were expecting.

After a moment, Megatron finally said awkwardly, “Right.  Yes.”

“Can you teach me how to be that assertive?” First Aid asked in wonder.  “I’ve never been able to be that effective when even facing down most of my patients.”

“Perhaps after this is over and you repair my face.  Right now, we have a timestream to save,” Perceptor agreed.  Despite his dismissal of it, there was a hint of pride behind his words.  No one blamed him.  He just shouted down someone who was responsible for the deaths of billions.

Ultra Magnus seemed to have calmed considerably, looking to Megatron’s Star and pulling out his own.  “Neatest handwriting.  You?” he asked, sounding legitimately proud of his ridiculous badge.

Megatron ex-vented.  “For abandoning my evil ways…” he muttered.  He looked to Appulse.

“I’ve got one, but it’s back in my habsuite,” the youngling lied.  “You… don’t wanna know what it was for.  Really.”  That part was the truth, at least.  Saying he got it for shooting some of Megatron’s followers in the face while he had just calmed didn’t seem like a good idea.

They fell silent as they watched Perceptor work, monitoring the arrival of Team Rodimus five million years in the past.  After a few minutes, Megatron reset his vocals uncomfortably.  “I’m sorry I attacked your conjux endura,” he apologized awkwardly.

“You know?” Ultra Magnus asked in surprise.

“You’ve made it quite clear,” the silver mech said.  “I’m not blind or stupid, Magnus.  I can tell when two ‘bots are in a relationship.”

“Yet you still attack a carrier,” Appulse muttered.

There was a moment of pause, in which Megatron raised an optic ridge.  “That part I did not know about,” he said.

Appulse went ridged, feeling both of them staring at him.

“And how did you know?” Magnus asked sternly.  “We made sure to keep it tight.”

“Uh…” Appulse played with his servos, not wanting to get Mainframe in trouble for having revealed the information to him and Bluestreak.

He was saved by Perceptor hurrying to the Time Case they were using to control things on their side.  He was dismantling parts, First Aid holding the Time Phone to his audial for him.  “It appears our timeline is irreversibly compromised,” Perceptor was saying as he pulled what looked like a circuit board from inside.  “That said, I might be able to set things back on track if I dismantle the paradox locks.  But it’s phenomenally risky and you need to think carefully before…”

“Sure, go ahead, whatever.”

Megatron made a frustrated sound.  “You did the last thing you want to with him,” he said.  “You told him something was risky.  That’s the most guaranteed way for him to agree to something.”

Everything on the other end escalated from there.  First it was Brainstorm, though they managed to defuse that situation thanks to Rung and some very nice use of reverse psychology.  A story from Brainstorm about how he’d originally been planning on using the Time Cases, ending with him all but collapsing from energon loss.

And then a gunshot.

Megatron jerked as if he felt it.  He probably did.

“Rodimus?” First Aid asked, watching Megatron warily.  The preliminary scanners built into his optics were probably picking up on something, as he struggled to keep his vocals even.  “What happened?  What’s going on?”

“It’s Megatron,” Rodimus said shakily.  “He’s…”

“Dead,” they heard Riptide finish in the background.  “Extremely.”

“What?” Megatron asked quietly, in complete shock.

First Aid looked from the co-captain to the others, not sure what to do.  He couldn’t heal something that happened five million years ago.

The vocals they heard next over the phone were likely the last they expected.

Rewind.

Appulse had been surprised when he heard about the experience Megatron and the small remaining group he was with during the disappearance of the Lost Light went though.  The alternate Lost Light with everyone dead.  The duplicate of Rewind that somehow managed to not disappear with it.  They all heard what he went through.  Recording everything the DJD had done to the quantum duplicate Lost Light’s crew.  The trauma he must have faced.

“All this time we’ve been desperate to protect our timeline – to protect ourselves – even if it meant saving a mass murderer,” Rewind said.  “We never stopped to think – not once – not once did we ask ourselves one simple question: What if a future without Megatron is better?  Not for us, but for everyone else… I’ve seen what happens after he dies.  It’s all in my head, now.  All of it…. Without Megatron to lead the revolt against Mode Determinism, the Senate remains in power – until it’s displaced by a resurgent Functionist Council.  Ratioism and Occupational Fundamentalism dominate.  Cybertron becomes a purely Functionist society.  And it’s awful!  For us – for the people – it’s awful!  But for everyone else – for everyone outside Cybertron – it’s fantastic.  Without Megatron, there’s no Infiltration Protocol.  No Neo-Technoism.  No rush to cyberform the galaxy.  Other worlds are left alone.  Countless billions of lives are saved.  Megatron dies and we lose.  But the rest of the universe wins.”

There was a silence that followed his speech.  First Aid, Ultra Magnus, and Perceptor determinedly looked anywhere but at their co-captain.  Appulse had no such reservations.

Megatron looked… thoughtful.  Lost.  Broken.

Appulse didn’t blame him.  He couldn’t imagine being told that if he was killed as a newborn billions of people across the universe would live longer lives.

“Wait, he’s doing what?!” First Aid yelped into the phone.

“What?  What’s happening?” Ultra Magnus asked as Perceptor busied himself with the Time Case, likely trying to find a way to stop the inevitable.

“Whirl is performing a… a spark transplant on Megatron!”

“But he… he hates me…” Megatron said in a daze, still trying to process the fact that he was just killed as a newborn – and that the reason for it he couldn’t even argue with.  “No one hates me more than he does.”

“He says it’s because he hates the Functionists more,” Rodimus said on the phone.  “Doesn’t want them to win.”

“Appulse, monitor the computer,” Perceptor instructed, continuing to fiddle with the Time Case.  “Inform me if any of the readings fluctuate while Whirl is doing the impossible.”

“Right,” Appulse nodded, doing as he was told.

After a few tense minutes, some of the numbers that were halted across the screen started changing.  “Something’s happening!” he called excitedly.

Perceptor abandoned what he was doing, joining him.  “Thank you, Appulse,” he said, typing at it.  After a moment he gave an, “Uh-oh.”

“That is not something I want to hear from you of all people, Perceptor,” First Aid said worriedly, looking over his shoulderplate.

“Wise.  Because I was checking if there was even a miniscule quantity of quantum energy remaining that would be capable of retrieving Rodimus and his team.  And there isn’t.  We’ve ran the engines dry, I’m afraid.  Recharging them will require us cutting their connection to the Time Cases altogether.”

“I don’t know how to tell someone something like that,” First Aid admitted, spark sinking.

“You won’t have to,” Ultra Magnus informed him.  “Check on Megatron to make sure he is alright after his pre-existence spark transplant.  I’ll inform Rodimus of what is happening.”

“Yes,” First Aid said gratefully, handing the phone back.  “Thank you.”

“I propose leading in with the fact that time has returned to flowing as standard,” Perceptor told his conjux.  “There’s no need to fret over the timeline anymore.  The spark transplant successfully saved us all.”

Ultra Magnus nodded and moved away from them to make his call.

“You alright?” Appulse asked Perceptor worriedly.  The scientist looked more stressed than he’d ever seen anyone in his short lifecycle.

“Yes, don’t worry about me,” Perceptor replied.

“Alright, just… don’t push yourself too hard,” the youngling said.

Perceptor stopped typing and looked at him oddly.  He then smiled, which surprised Appulse.  It was the first time he’d ever seen the scientist do so.  “You’re worried about our sparkling, aren’t you?” he guessed.

“You heard me mention it to Megatron, huh?” Appulse asked sheepishly.

“You were three feet from me, Appulse.  Impossible for me not to.”

“Right.  You mad at me?”

Perceptor actually laughed a bit at the question, something that sounded… strangely pure.  Completely different from the brooding, cold scientist they were used to seeing.  “Not at all.  Mainframe already confessed to accidentally informing you and Bluestreak.  It’s only a matter of time before our second most gossipy member of the crew broadcasts it across the entire ship.”  He placed a hand on Appulse’s head, despite having to reach up for it.  “Don’t worry about our sparkling, Appulse.  I am taking the utmost care of it.  It will not be long before you have another youngling around.”

Appulse stared at him for a moment before grinning, unable to help it.  He started to feel there were members of the crew he should spend more time with.  Many of them weren’t what they seemed.

“He hung up,” Ultra Magnus said in annoyance as he came back.

“Just like that?” Perceptor asked, turning his attention back to his conjux.

“No.  He called us all a word I don’t care to repeat, and then he hung up.”

Appulse laughed out loud.  Even though they were still in a crisis, it felt good to know that Rodimus wasn’t changing anytime soon.

Perceptor himself ex-vented and started typing away at the computer again.  “Give me a few minutes, perhaps I can scour up enough residual quantum energy to transport them back.”

“Megatron insisted he was fine,” First Aid reported as he returned.  “He then left.  I… I think it would be best to leave him be for now.”

“Quite alright, his presence won’t be needed,” Perceptor replied.  He then made another frustrated sound, restraining himself from banging his fists on the computer.  It would have been very unlike him.  “There isn’t a singular molecule of quantum energy left in the engines.”

There was a silence that settled over the four at the words, considering what this meant.  Rodimus, Chromedome, Rewind, Cyclonus, Tailgate, Rung, Riptide, and Whirl were stuck five million years into the past.  Permanently.

Appulse felt regret well up that the last time he’d seen Tailgate he’d yelled at him.  That he never spent any time with Riptide, even though he seemed like a decent ‘bot.  That he wouldn’t have another session with Rung, or another drink with Rewind.

That he lost eight more crewmates as easily as that.

Before the youngling could feel sorrier for himself, First Aid’s vocals cut through his thoughts.  “Wait, what about this?” he asked, pointing at one of the readings.  “Isn’t this a spike in quantum energy?”

All at once, Ultra Magnus and Appulse were crowding behind the scientist and the medic, causing them both to grunt in annoyance.  They couldn’t help it, as both were incredibly concerned for the return of their crewmates, but neither could do anything about it.  It felt oddly comforting knowing that someone as veteran and put-together as the officer could feel as helpless in times like this as Appulse did.

“That isn’t reading from our quantum engines,” Perceptor answered, tapping the screen.  “It’s leaking in from the past, like the radiation when they met up with Orion Pax.”  There was a solemn moment while they processed that.  Until the microscope made an excited sound.  “The past!  Of course!  Ultra Magnus, give me the phone!”

After a few tries, they finally got through.  “Hey, Percy, what’s up?” Rodimus’s vocals came through.

“Rodimus, I need you to listen to me.  I know how to return you to the present, but you are required to follow my instructions exactly.  If you go astray from them for even a moment, you will all be trapped in the past.  Permanently.  We only have one chance at this.”  Perceptor spoke very precisely, making sure to avoid any previous mistakes he made while speaking to the captain.

There was a pause.  After a moment Rodimus said, “Alright, tell us what to do, Perceptor.”  Appulse couldn’t remember the last time he’d ever heard him so serious.

“This sounds like it will require all of his concentration,” First Aid said quietly to his youngling, pushing him towards the door.  “We’re done here.  Let’s go.”

Appulse didn’t argue with him.  The last thing he wanted was to impede the return of their captain and crewmates in any way.  So he allowed his much shorter creator to push him out of the room, leaving the conjux endurae inside to sort out retrieving their time-wayward friends.

As they walked back to the medbay, the silence gave Appulse a chance to remember the argument they were having before the time-crisis had interrupted it – and feel bad about it.  “I’m sorry,” the red and black youngling said, rubbing the back of his neck with a hand.  “For what I said about Impactor, I mean.  I’m still angry, and I don’t think I ever won’t be.  But that didn’t mean I had to take it out on you.”

“Thank you,” First Aid simply said, reaching over and putting a hand on his youngling’s arm.  “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.  Everyone was a youngling once.  It feels like no one understands whenever you hurt.  Like no one has ever felt like you do.”

Appulse wanted to deny that was how he felt, but it was useless.  It was exactly why he kept acting out lately.  “Why does it feel like the universe is doing its damnedest to make sure we can’t just… be happy?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t know,” the medic confessed.  “All we can do is hope for the best.  I spent a year… a long, long year… dwelling on the worst parts of life.  I can’t do that again.  I have to believe everything is going to be okay.”

They fell silent again, Appulse thinking on those words.  As they reached the medbay he stopped, not following his creator inside.  “I’m… gonna go get a drink.  I’m sure Swerve had to have scraped up some untainted Engex somewhere.”

 

---

 

Swerve hadn’t, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t drinks.  The patrons of Swerve’s brought in their own bottles and stashes, sharing and passing them.

Atomizer, looking back to his normal self as if he really was completely unaffected by Trailcutter’s death, was helping Bluestreak and Swerve come up with new combinations of the drinks.  ‘Bots were sitting around, laughing and talking and having a good time as if this wasn’t how they’d all almost been killed.  Completely unaware of Brainstorm’s betrayal.  That their captain and seven crewmates were almost permanently stuck five million years into the past.  That the entirety of their existences as they’d known it had almost been wiped out and rewritten into an oppressive, totalitarian government that would have made them all miserable.

But this was what it was like to be on the Lost Light.  Nothing stopped them.

Music played from the speakers Brainstorm, Bluestreak, and Blaster had helped install, along with the large-screen viewscreen they used to watch Earth movies.  Bluestreak sang to the music, Atomizer shaking drinks to the beat.  Swerve was concentrating more on talking to the patrons nearby to him, trying to get drinks served rather than entertain them.

“Hey, kid!” Getaway pulled Appulse over as he passed by.  He wasn’t someone the youngling had spent too much time with, but that wasn’t surprising.  The only person the escape artist seemed interested in talking to most of the time was Tailgate.  Predictably, the next question he yelled over the music was, “You seen Scout around?  I was gonna buy him a drink!”

Appulse hesitated, knowing he couldn’t tell anyone of the time travelling adventure that was happening.  “He’s… indisposed.  But he’ll be back any minute now, I’m sure!” he replied, yelling as well as the music swelled.

“And he said, I come from a land down under!  Where beer does flow and men chunder!  Can you hear, can you hear the thunder?  You better run, you better take cover!”  Bluestreak and Atomizer shook drinks and hips to the quick yet mellow beat, receiving a whistle from someone in the crowd.  The other patrons laughed.

“I’m gonna see if I can’t get a drink order in before the next song starts!  It might be even louder than this!” Appulse said to Getaway, raising a hand in apology for not being able to help him.

Appulse made his way to the bar, pushing between Blades and Fervor.  “Hey, Swerve!  What’s to drink tonight?” he called.

“Not much, even with everyone’s combined efforts,” Swerve answered, pouring up two drinks and handing them to Fervor.  The bright yellow mech took them back to where Kindle was sitting, trying to hold a discussion with Siren.  It wasn’t a terrible tactic, as the music drowned out the immense loudness of his vocals.  It was probably the only way to not get a headache having a conversation with the mech.  “I had to junk all the Engex I had,” the bar owner continued.  “You know how much shanix I blew on that?  It’s going to take half-of-forever to even break even!  Luckily nearly everyone had at least something hidden away from Ultra Magnus, so we’re making do until we can get Blaster to contact Cybertron and have them spaceport us some.  Like I said, not much still, so there’s a two-drink limit right now.”

“When do you think we’ll get more?” Appulse asked.

“By tomorrow, hopefully.  At least those two are keeping everyone entertained enough that they’re not just going to up and leave without more drinks,” Swerve replied, jabbing a fore-servo at his two servers.  “Atomizer’s even felt generous enough to not only come in, but also offer to work for free tonight.  Weird amount of good will from him, but I’ll take what I can get.”

“Hey, Appulse!” Bluestreak came over as the songs transitioned.  The next one had no words, but heavy bass and a strangely mechanical sound to it for being made by organics.  “What’s shakin’, mech?”

“You’d know better than me,” Appulse replied, holding out a fist.  Bluestreak punched it with his own, a human custom some Cybertronians had picked up he’d taught Appulse called ‘fist-bumping.’  It was odd, but weirdly satisfying.  “What’s with the music?”

“Not to your taste?  Yeah, me neither, honestly,” the entertainment director shrugged, nodding to Swerve.  The bar owner took the message and moved on to help others.  “Blaster likes it, though.  It’s called ‘dubstep.’  Way too much going on for me, personally.”

“How’ve you been doing since Ofsted?” Appulse asked.

Bluestreak stared at him a moment before leaning in so they could hear each other better over the pulsing, headache-inducing beat.  “Better, but only so much, honestly,” he admitted.  “I’m gonna sit down with Rung and talk about it.  You should, too.”

“It’s on my to-do list,” Appulse agreed.  Some of the mechs onboard felt like their sessions with Rung weren’t doing anything important, but Appulse disagreed with them.  He always felt better after talking to the psychiatrist.

“You gonna be here for movie night tomorrow?” Bluestreak changed the subject, grabbing a couple of bottles and pouring their contents into a glass.  He took a stirring stick and began mixing them.

“What do you have lined up this time?” Appulse asked curiously.  He liked the Earth movies that Bluestreak managed to get ahold of.  So far his favorites were the Star Wars movies.  It was funny seeing how humans thought space and its politics worked.  Especially since they seemed to think almost everyone else in the universe looked like them.

“Back to the Future part 2,” Bluestreak answered, putting the glass up in front of Appulse.  “I don’t think you saw the first one, but it shouldn’t be too hard to follow.  It’s about these guys who go back in time, and-”

“Wait,” the half-Wrecker held up a hand, stopping from drinking a few inches from his lips.  “It’s about time travel?”

“Yeah, it’s about them trying to fix the present by going back into the past,” Bluestreak said, confused.  “Why?”

Appulse gave a half-manic laugh, standing up without his drink.  “You know what?  I think I should just go get some recharge.  It’s been a long day.  Give the drink to someone else.”

Bluestreak watched Appulse go, resetting his optics in confusion.  He sniffed the drink, just in case that was the problem, but it smelled fine.  He then shrugged and drank it himself.

“Hey, no drinking on the job!” Swerve yelled at him.

Chapter Text

“Vos has been acting weird.  I mean, weirder.”

There was a pause as two sets of optics turned to stare at Tesarus.  Nickel and Helex didn’t say anything, simply raising optic ridges in response.  Helex had been going over battle records from some Decepticon victory millions of years previous.  Nickel was reading a medical journal.  Tesarus had walked in out of the blue and made his observation, interrupting the quiet.

It was a week since they’d rescued Vos and Kaon from Ofsted XVII.  Since they discovered that Megatron had turned his back on the Decepticon cause, and in response they went and made a deal with Deathsaurus and his colony of Decepticon traitors.  Things were quiet for now until they came up with a plan for tracking down their former illustrious leader.

“What?” Tesarus continued, sitting down at the table with them and grabbing Helex’s energon glass, drinking it himself.  “I notice things.  I’m not just some dumb muscle.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Helex muttered, grabbing the glass back and glaring.  He turned it over, but the turbine had drank the whole thing.

“I noticed, too,” Nickel said.  She put her datapad down and turned fully.  “He even seemed distracted while I was fixing him when we got back.  He’s usually really fidgety, but he sat completely still the whole time.  I think something happened on Ofsted XVII.”

“We could ask him,” Helex suggested simply.

“Can we not?” Tesarus asked testily.  “Between the three of us only Nickel is fluent in P.V. and you’re passable.  I know… like, five sentences, max.”

“I keep telling you I could teach you,” the medic offered for the millionth time.

“Nuh-uh.  You know I don’t like sitting down long enough to learn this slag,” the grinder denied her.

“So what do you propose?” Helex asked impatiently.

“Kaon,” Tesarus simply said.

“Kaon?” Nickel asked.

“He was there.  He has to know something,” the turbine expounded.  “And you know him, he loves the sound of his own vocals.”

 

-

 

“Vos?” Kaon echoed the subject of the three DJD members’ question.  He was sitting in his station, rubbing the Pet’s helm affectionately between his hands.  It was almost sickening to watch how much he adored the circuit-flea-bitten creature.

“We want to know what happened to him on Ofsted XVII that made him suddenly so… weird,” Tesarus said, using the same word he started this entire investigation with.  He simply couldn’t think of a more appropriate word for it.

“Vos has always been ‘weird’,” the blind mech scoffed, turning his attention fully to them.  The Pet followed his turning chair, curling up at his pedes and chuffing quietly.  “But I guess you want to know why he’s so preoccupied lately.”

“If you knew what we meant, you shouldn’t play dumb,” Nickel huffed.  “It doesn’t suit you, smart-aft.”

Kaon chuckled, leaning back in his seat and putting his hands together.  “Well, I couldn’t tell you everything, being as I was stuck in that force field until you guys managed to transport us out of there.  But, what I can tell you is that someone wasn’t very happy we took apart that naïve idiot who managed to put both of us back online.  I’ve seen ‘bots who transform into construction equipment that would have bulldozed Vos more subtly than that youngling did.”

“Youngling?” Nickel’s attention peaked.  “You mean… an actual youngling?”

“You heard me,” Kaon grinned.  “I can tell generally how old most ‘bots are by their energy signatures, and that bitlet couldn’t have been more than a few meta-cycles old.”

“They’re still Constructing in the Autobots?” Helex said in surprise.

“I can also tell how they were created, and it wasn’t Cold Construction,” the electric chair corrected him.

“Wait, he can’t be forged,” Tesarus scoffed.  “They haven’t had a hotspot in next to forever.”

“Nope,” Kaon shook his helm again, smile widening.  “Two down, one more guess to go.”

There was a moment of confused silence before Nickel’s jaw dropped.  “He’s sparkborn?!” she exclaimed.

“Boom,” Kaon pointed at her.

“I thought Autobots weren’t sparkborn anymore,” Helex said thoughtfully.  “If I remember my history, they haven’t been allowed to do it openly since Nova Prime.”

“Wait, what does this even have to do with Vos?” Tesarus asked in annoyance.  “So the brat who attacked him was created the really, really old fashion way.  Still just an Autobot that did something stupid.  Vos just took him out, right?”

“Oh, no, he wasn’t going to do that,” Kaon laughed loudly this time.  “Don’t you know anything?  Vos wants to make this special!”

When Tesarus and Helex both looked confused, Nickel spoke up.  “What Kaon means to say is that it’s not often anymore for sparkborn ‘bots to find others born the same way.”

“Vos is sparkborn?” Helex asked in surprise.

“You didn’t know?” Kaon laughed.  “I mean… neither of you?  He’s a Gunformer, for Primus’s sake!”

“I thought Gunformers were Constructed,” Tesarus growled in annoyance.  He hated when people laughed at him, especially when it was because they thought he was unintelligent.

“You can’t Construct a Gunformer, stupid!” the electric chair said, still laughing.

“Not helping, Kaon!” Nickel snapped.  “Not everyone knows how hard it is to Construct a weapon-based Cybertronian!”

“We know plenty of Gunformers that are Constructed, though,” Helex pointed out.  “The Decepticons have practically cornered the market on it.”

“You know Constructed ‘bots who have been modified into Gunformers,” Nickel corrected him.  “You can’t Construct a natural Gunformer.  Their anatomy is too complex.  Anyone who was created as a Gunformer was either Forged or sparkborn.  Sparkborn ones are far more common, though.”

“Besides, why did you think he never learned how to speak Neocybex?” Kaon asked, finally calming himself.  “His creator and sire were both Primalists.”

“You mean neoprimalists?” Helex guessed.

“No, I mean Primalists,” Kaon insisted.  “Neoprimalism is a religion.  Primalism is a lifestyle.  Literally sticking to the old ways.  Though the practice of Neoprimalism as a Primalist is extremely common.  You’ve been working for him for how long without questioning all the strange things about Vos?”

Before either of the larger mechs could say something nasty, Nickel spoke up.  “Speaking only in Primal Vernacular, wearing a removable mask instead of having a proper face, even if he bastardized it for his sadistic purposes, having an obsession with the dead,” she ticked off her diminutive servos.  “And, of course, being naturally sparkbirthed.  They’re all aspects of Primalism.”

“Okay, okay, so we don’t know much about Vos in the first place,” Tesarus cut in, putting them back on track.  It was an odd turn of events, as he was usually the member of the DJD who was the most easily distracted.  “So they’re both sparkbirthed, what does that have to do with why Vos didn’t just kill him?  The guy attacked him.”

“Do you know how rare sparkbirthed ‘bots are these days, even in the Decepticons?” Kaon asked.  “Most ‘Cons didn’t have them because it wasn’t a great idea in the middle of a fragging war.  And Primalism is almost dead, with its practicing members scattered across the universe.  Encountering another sparkborn ‘bot is… the odds are literally near impossible, even during a long lifecycle.”

“So, what, he feels like he can’t offline him?” Helex scoffed.  “We’re talking about the same Vos, right?  He’s not that soft.”

“No, no, you misunderstand me,” Kaon chuckled, waving a hand.  “He doesn’t want to spare the youngling who attacked him.  He wants to play with him.”

After a moment of processing that information, Helex and Tesarus both grinned.  Now they got it.  “Aww, Vos just wants him to be his playmate?” Tesarus said in mock-adoration.

Kaon nodded, turning back to his computer, careful not to accidentally kick the Pet in the process.  “Exactly.  And you know Vos,” the blind mech’s smile widened menacingly.  “He doesn’t play nicely.”

 

---

 

“Brainstorm,” Perceptor made a frustrated sound as he moved around the other scientist in the lab.  “As delighted as I am to have you back, and believe me I truly am despite every node of my being screaming that it’s a dreadful idea to let you anywhere adjacent a laboratory after what you did…”

“Come on, you’re one of the people who was most excited for me being all but acquitted!”  Brainstorm said cheerfully, reaching around the microscope’s new position to grab for the tool kit behind him.  “I just need to borrow your tools for a while, since they won’t let me near mine until the paperwork is squared away!”

“First of all, you are not acquitted.  Far from it.  Secondly-”

The bickering between the two scientists halted as Perceptor was cut-off mid-rant.  He vented in sharply, optics wide and grasping at his midsection.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Brainstorm knelt down next to him as the red and black microscope doubled over, hissing in pain.  “What’s going on?  You alright, Percy?  I didn’t do anything!”

“I know, you imbi-ah…!” the other scientist shuddered and cried out again.  When the pang of pain passed, he reached up and grabbed him.  “Call Ratchet…” he moaned.

“Right, Ratchet, I’m on it!” the teal and white flier quickly commed the medic.

“I’m a bit busy right now, Brainstorm.  What do you need?” Ratchet responded to the call.

“Uh, I’m not completely sure what’s going on here!  Perceptor looks like he’s having some tank problems or something, and…” Brainstorm said quickly.

“Oh, scrap, is that…” there was the sound of shuffling papers and Ratchet cursed.  “Brainstorm, I’m sending First Aid down there to pick him up.  Gently help Perceptor into First Aid’s ambulance mode when he gets there, and accompany him if you can.”

“Sure, but what the Pit is going on around here?” the scientist demanded.

“Perceptor’s gone into labor.”

“…wait, what?!” Brainstorm looked at the other scientist incredulously.

“I’ve been carrying, Brainstorm,” Perceptor managed through the pain, looking at him in annoyance.  “I told you this when I visited you in the brig.”

“I thought you were joking!” Brainstorm shouted.

“Not helping, Brainstorm!  You need to keep him calm!” Ratchet snapped over the comm.

“Oh, frag, uh…” Brainstorm looked around desperately for something to distract the other scientist.  “What’s your favorite principle of chaos theory?!”

Perceptor actually let out a laugh, though he cringed in the middle of it, cutting it off.  “Why is it that whenever you panic you fall back on chaos theory?”

“What can I say?  When I’ve been a Jerk, I like looking at the systems,” Brainstorm joked.

That got another laugh, which was successfully calming the microscope.  “You and your awful mathematical science puns,” he said.

“Maybe we should get you knocked up more often,” Brainstorm teased.  “That’s the first time you’ve ever actually laughed at one.”

Before Perceptor could reply, First Aid opened the door to the lab.  “Perceptor!  How are you feeling?” he asked quickly, running in.

“Not to sound crude, but like my internal components are trying to purge themselves through my valve array,” the microscope replied, standing up shakily.  His arms remained around his midsection, which surprisingly hadn’t expanded much throughout his carrying.  This was a stark contrast to First Aid, who by the time he was giving sparkbirth couldn’t have hid it if he’d tried.

“That wasn’t an image I think I needed,” Brainstorm muttered, helping Perceptor as First Aid transformed into his alt-mode.  He then climbed in behind him.  It was a tight fit, but with some careful driving First Aid wasn’t going to let anything happen.

Arriving at the medbay was a flurry of activity.  Being as they only had the two medics, they had to recruit a couple more people to help with the sparkbirth.  Nautica it had turned out had helped a neighbor of hers during a sparkbirth back on Caminus, so she was at least familiar with how it worked.  Rewind had recordings of a few sparkbirths in his database, so they recruited him to help as well.  Being as the sparkbirth wasn’t long after the word of it had spread, the only other person they could get to learn how to help with the procedure was Skids, using his super-learning.  They had him review Rewind’s recordings.  Once he was done deciding he was never going through such a thing himself, he said he was ready to put the information to use at least.

Other than the temporarily-deputized medics and Ratchet, Ultra Magnus had arrived to oversee the procedure himself.  Rodimus had come, too, because of course he did.  He wasn’t allowed in the room, despite being the co-captain, but he insisted he would stand outside the door until it was over.  They weren’t sure why exactly he was so adamant about this, but he wouldn’t budge on the matter.  Brainstorm was told to wait out there as well, with Appulse finally being ousted from the room.

“We need to be able to concentrate completely, and it will be much easier with the five of us,” First Aid explained.  “Keep Rodimus and Brainstorm company.  Get them something if they need it.”

Appulse ex-vented, but agreed.  He didn’t want to do anything to impede the sparkbirth, after all.  And so, the three mechs who were relegated to the hallway sat down in the chairs Nautica was kind enough to bring for them and waited.

“So…” Appulse said to Rodimus after the door closed, shutting them out as the five got to work.  “Why exactly are you agreeing to sit out here and wait?  You hate waiting for things.”

“Oh, come on,” Rodimus scoffed.  “Mags and Percy are having a sparkling, and you think I’m gonna miss this?  I wanna see what happens when you cross the two ‘bots on the ship with the biggest rods up their tailpipes!”

“Charming,” Appulse rolled his optics behind his visor, turning to Brainstorm.  “And you?”

“I wanna make sure Perceptor comes out alright,” the scientist admitted.  “I know you believe Starscream about it not having any actual danger, but… I can’t ignore millions of years of being told otherwise.”

“I’m sure things will be fine,” Rodimus told him, though he still sounded a bit worried.  His pede tapped a rapid rhythm on the ground, proving Appulse’s previous point about him not liking waiting.

Still, the three all fell silent, which was an odd sight for three of the mechs onboard with the fastest mouths.  They were too anxious to think of anything they could talk about.  Too nervous to distract themselves.

They could only imagine how the about-to-be creators in the room felt.

After nearly an hour of waiting, the door finally opened.

All three mechs stood up in unison, looking to First Aid expectantly.

“I’m impressed you all waited this out,” the medic said in admiration.  There was a smile behind his visor, causing the trio’s sparks to pick up in excitement.  “If you want, you can come in and see the happy creators and their sparkling.  Just try to be quiet.”

Rodimus had never been so quiet in his lifecycle as he went in first, Brainstorm and Appulse following after.  Perceptor was sitting up in the repair birth, supported by the wall.  Ultra Magnus sat next to him on it, giving one of his so-rare-it-was-almost-a-myth smiles, more warm and affectionate than they thought they could ever see on him.  It was aimed at not only his conjux, but the bundle in his arms.

The protoform was wrapped in a metal-woven blanket, as right after birth they were extremely malleable.  The blanket helped it keep its shape until it had a couple days to solidify enough.  The tiny, silver creature was recharging soundly in his creator’s arm.

Rodimus moved carefully to the berth, looking to Ultra Magnus to make sure it was okay.  Even though he was the captain, he was still following proper etiquette when it came to the extremely rare occurrence of sparkbirth.  Magnus watched but didn’t stop him as the sports car leaned on the edge of the berth, getting a closer look.

The captain felt his spark swell at the sight of it, even though the sparkling’s tiny faceplate was the only thing he could see past the blanket.  “It’s so much… tinier than I was expecting,” he whispered in wonder.

“We were thinking the same thing,” Nautica replied softly, getting another look at it from the other side of the berth and wrinkling her olfactory sensor in joy.  “With the size of its creators, we thought for sure it’d be bigger after birth.  But then Ultra Magnus reminded us of a very important factor.”

Brainstorm realized, “Magnus is a load-bearer!”

“Ssshhhh!” the other seven ‘bots in the room hissed.

“Sorry,” Brainstorm corrected his volume quickly.  In his now whisper, he continued, “Magnus isn’t anywhere near as big as he looks, so their sparkling’s size reflects that.”

“Exactly,” Nautica nodded.

“So it’s going to stay tiny, even when it gets bigger?” Rodimus asked in excitement, barely containing his vocals.

“Whether or not it’ll be a load-bearer like its sire is going to be the big question,” Ratchet interjected.  “We won’t be able to tell until its spark is more developed, though.”

Brainstorm and Appulse joined Rodimus at the berth, looking at the itty-bitty bundle.  “Did you name it yet?” Brainstorm asked.  “Cause you should name it Brainstorm.”

“We did not name it Brainstorm,” Perceptor huffed.  He was too tired to sound intimidating, though.  “Its name is Pseudo.”

“Pseudo?” Appulse echoed.  He looked back down at the little sparkling, excitement welling up inside of him.  He wasn’t the only sparkborn on the ship anymore.  Not the youngest.  “Pseudo…” he repeated.  “I like it.”

“Alright, you three,” First Aid announced quietly, ushering them to the door.  “It’s time to let Perceptor and his sparkling rest.  We will be cleaning up and leaving them until they’re recharged enough to move to their own habsuite as well.”  At the dejected faces he received, he huffed.  “It’s not that large of a ship, and we all work closely with them.  You’ll get to see Pseudo around for a long time.”

Once the three were gone, Perceptor chuckled.  He looked down at his sparkling.  At their sparkling.  It would be a week before they could determine if it was developing into a mech or femme, though the odds of a femme were 12-to-1.  It would be around the same time Pseudo’s colors would begin to come in.  “No matter what Pseudo is like, we created it,” he ex-vented contentedly, leaning into his conjux.  “My best invention yet.”

“Agreed,” Ultra Magnus chuckled lightly.  He kissed the top of Perceptor’s helm and let him drift into his post-birth recharge.

Rewind, who had been helping Skids clean everything up while Rodimus, Brainstorm, and Appulse were visiting, finally found time to climb onto the berth as well and look at Pseudo.  He was careful to be quiet and not disturb the creator or his sparkling, though it wasn’t hard for him.  Being an observer for most of his lifecycle meant that he was used to watching unnoticed.

After a few moments of looking at that tiny face inside the small blanket, the datastick vented in and nodded to himself.  He came to the decision that when his search for Dominus Ambus was over, no matter what he found, this was something he wanted.  Because even if Dominus Ambus was still alive, and even though Rewind still loved him, Chromedome was his conjux endura.  The person in the universe he loved even more than his former.  And there was nothing that would complete it more perfectly than a little sparkling of their own.

“Alright,” First Aid whispered as the sparkbirthing team finished cleaning up.  Sparkbirth wasn’t just long and painful for the creator, it was very messy as well.  “That’s everything.  We should leave these three to their rest.  Ratchet will watch them.”

“Actually,” Ratchet suddenly said, putting a hand on his shoulderplate.  “You should be the one to watch them.  As the only other person onboard who has been a creator, you know firsthand anything they may need.”

The younger medic looked surprised, but then nodded.  “Alright.”

“Let’s get out of here, then,” Skids muttered to Nautica, throwing an arm around her shoulders.  “I need a drink after that, and I’m not even the one who gave sparkbirth.”

Nautica stifled a laugh.

 

---

 

There was no such thing as super-scraplets.

Anyone who had even a passing knowledge of the medical field (which was about all Appulse had of it) knew that.

Still, there had to be a reason Ratchet made it up.  Besides, First Aid told his youngling to humor the older medic.  He wasn’t the kind of ‘bot that made up something so ridiculous for kicks and giggles.

“How’s it looking, Ratchet?” Appulse asked as Ratchet scanned his audial receptor.

“Lookin’ clean, but I want to be sure,” Ratchet said non-committedly.  After a moment he said, “It’s only been three days since Pseudo was born, but Perceptor told me you’ve insisted on helping him.”

“Well, I kind of have to, since Ultra Magnus isn’t taking a break from being himself long enough to do it,” Appulse muttered.

“He’s not Impactor, kid.”

There was a moment where Appulse simply stared at the white and red medic, not knowing how to respond.  He didn’t have to as Ratchet continued.

“Take it easy on Magnus, Appulse.  He’s dealing with a lot of things at once, and he doesn’t really know how.  There isn’t a rule book for this.  Impactor did a terrible thing by leaving you and First Aid before you were even born, but at the end of each day Ultra Magnus goes back to Perceptor and Pseudo,” the older medic said, putting a hand on Appulse’s helm.  “Don’t help them to spite Magnus.  Help them to take some of the pressure off of him.”

Appulse felt accosted, yet knew that wasn’t the intention.  Ratchet was right.  He was taking his issues with his sire out on Ultra Magnus, but that wasn’t fair.  He’d seen how the enforcer looked at his conjux endura and their sparkling, and it was one of the few times he’d ever seen the large blue and white mech look so… happy.  “Alright… I’m sorry,” he finally said.

“Don’t apologize,” Ratchet pat his head before withdrawing his arm.  “Just remember what I said.  Especially with both their jobs, they’re going to need a lot of help.  There was an Earth saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’  If all goes well, that’ll be exactly what happens here.  Pseudo will have the biggest, most dysfunctional family ever created.  But it should start with you.  After all, your excitement over this was second only to Perceptor and Magnus’s.”

“You’re right,” Appulse nodded, standing up.  “Am I clear?”  He suspected he knew the answer, now that Ratchet said what he wanted to.

“Yeah, get out of here,” the medic replied, picking up the datapad he’d been taking his notes on.  “Oh, one more thing.”

“Yeah?”

“Make sure you’re helping your creator, too.  He’s gonna need a lot of it.”

 

---

 

And then Ratchet was gone.

It felt so sudden that Appulse wasn’t completely sure how to process it.  He wasn’t the only one.  Everyone coped in different ways, since there just felt like there was a… a hole left in the ship.  Swerve buried himself in his love of Earth television, leaving Bluestreak and Atomizer to have to pick up the slack.  First Aid concentrated on all of the work he now had as the Chief Medical Officer.

Perceptor already had his own concerns, so he at least had a distraction already.

“A week old, and he’s perfectly healthy,” First Aid announced, putting down the scanner he was using to analyze the sparkling.  “Developing at the perfect rate for a mech his age.”

“Mech,” Perceptor said affectionately, watching First Aid pick up the tiny sparkling.  “Ultra Magnus will be delighted.”

“Things I can’t imagine, I’m sorry,” Appulse joked, waving his servos in front of Pseudo.  The sparkling watched them a moment before grabbing with his little hands, bringing his fore-servo up to his mouth and putting it in.  His colors had finally come in as well, a beautiful white and gold little mechling, red details gleaming around his major seams and lining his faceplate.  They offset his wide, shining blue optics.

“I certainly hope your hands are sanitary,” Perceptor returned, walking over and taking his sparkling from them.  He brought Pseudo up to his faceplate and nuzzled him lovingly, kissing him on top of his white helm.

The tiny mechling, still barely bigger than his creator’s own helm, chirped happily.  He reached up and grabbed Perceptor’s targeting monocle, putting that in his mouth this time.

“Pseudo, no!” Perceptor cried in exasperation, taking the eyepiece from him and holding it away.  “I’ve told you more often than I thought I’d have to; that is not for you!”

“He’s at that stage,” First Aid chuckled, taking the monocle from Perceptor and cleaning it for him.  “Don’t worry, it’s only a few days.  Just keep anything toxic or small enough for him to choke on away from him during that time.  He should be out of it by the time he has his full motor functions.”  He handed it back, but the scientist subspaced it instead of putting it back on.

Pseudo didn’t get upset, instead twisting and reaching for whatever he thought he could get his servos on nearby.  When that failed he reached up again, this time latching onto his creator’s microscope.  He thankfully didn’t try to put his mouth on that, simply moving it up and down for his own amusement.

“I do have to say, I’m still blown away with how small he is, though,” First Aid continued.  “No offense, it’s probably because of how big Appulse was when he was this age.  He was at least twice as big.”

“Magnus – or rather Minimus – certainly did pass on his CNA for that,” Perceptor chuckled, finally pushing his microscope up and out of reach as well.  “He’s still unfortunately uncomfortable being out of his Magnus armor when it comes to being with our sparkling and I.”  When Pseudo squirmed, having nothing else in reach, he ex-vented and held him out to Appulse.  The half-Wrecker took the sparkling without having to be asked, holding him up to his faceplate and making faces to keep him entertained.  “I think he feels… ashamed of himself.  As if his true self as Minimus Ambus isn’t the mech I fell for.  I’ve tried to inform him that it doesn’t matter, that Ultra Magnus and Minimus Ambus are simply two aspects of the same mech I bonded myself to.  But he doesn’t seem to want to hear it.”

“He’s only just now getting used to being Minimus Ambus around the crew,” First Aid put a hand on the scientist’s shoulderplate.  “Give him some time.  Once he sees that no one thinks any less of him without his armor I’m sure he’ll open up.”

There was a sound coming from Appulse’s hip compartment, and he handed Pseudo back.  Anyone who was there during the Star Wars nights Bluestreak held would have recognized the Imperial March.  “Ah, scrap,” he muttered, pulling out his handheld comm and looking at it.  He was trying to mind his language around the sparkling.  “Bluestreak just sent me a text.  Swerve’s still stuck in the sitcom-zone, and Atomizer just had a ‘moment’ with one of the patrons and walked out.  I’m not even going to start to guess what that means.  So he’s the only one trying to run drinks, and there’s a full crowd right now.”

“Go, help him,” First Aid ushered him.  “I know you want to.  Don’t think I haven’t noticed you taking lessons from Blue and Atomizer on how to.”

“Thanks, creator,” Appulse kissed the side of the medic’s faceplate as he ran out.

“Well, that was inconvenient,” Perceptor ex-vented.

“What’s wrong?” First Aid asked.

“I was going to ask him to watch Pseudo.  I have work to do in my lab, and I can’t bring a sparkling in there.  Would you mind…?”

The red and white medic shook his head, an apologetic look in his visor.  “I’m sorry, but I’m giving the engineering crew their physicals today.  I don’t feel comfortable leaving him to his own devices in here.”

“I understand.  I suppose I can ask Magnus to watch him while he’s on duty, as much as I hate to.”

It didn’t take Perceptor long to hunt down his conjux endura, who was on the bridge with Rodimus.  First thing first, he told them the news: that Pseudo was a healthy mechling.  He then explained the situation, and the second in command took a moment to think over the options before nodding in agreement.

“I suppose there isn’t any harm,” Ultra Magnus said, taking the sparkling.  Pseudo looked even tinier in the enforcer’s arms, being as he dwarfed most full-grown ‘bots.  “I am staying up here mostly.”

“Perfect,” Perceptor said in relief, leaning up on the tips of his pedes and kissing Magnus.  “Thank you for this.  I gave him his energon before his appointment, so he should be fine.  His recharge nap is in an hour, though, so please make sure you put him down somewhere quiet then.  I like to keep him on a tight schedule.”

“Which is another reason I love you so much,” Magnus muttered low enough so the bridge crew and the conspicuously not-looking Rodimus couldn’t hear.  He was still not comfortable with public displays of affection, but he endured them from his conjux as long as they were brief.  “Go, your duty calls.”

Perceptor smiled and kissed Pseudo on the helm one more time, leaving.

As soon as he was gone, Rodimus crossed his arms over his chestplate, grinning.  “Okay, that’s not fair.”

“What?” Magnus asked in confusion.

“That,” the co-captain nodded to the sparkling, who was looking around with huge optics at this new setting he hadn’t seen before.  “I can’t argue with you while you’re holding him.  He’s such a cute little bean that I feel bad.”  ‘Bean’ was the nickname he’d officially started calling Pseudo within the first few days, insisting he looked like he couldn’t transform into anything bigger than one.

Ultra Magnus looked down at his sparkling, feeling his spark swell with pride.  He was still getting used to how he was supposed to care for the little mechling, but his sire coding luckily helped with that.  It made him feel protective, putting the well-being of both Pseudo and Perceptor in front of not just his own but all else.  Pseudo turned his huge, blue optics up to his sire and chirped happily, reaching up to him.  “Well, then I suppose I should bring Pseudo to all of our meetings,” Magnus replied.  “Perhaps we’d actually get things done when Megatron isn’t around.”

“Where is he, anyway?” Rodimus asked.

“He’s been having regular appointments with Rung,” Ultra Magnus said, pulling out a datapad.  He kept all of the messages and memos he sent to Rodimus logged for times like this.  “I know I sent you a memo about it.”

“Probably got drowned out in the hundreds of other memos you’ve sent me that I ignored,” Rodimus muttered.

Pseudo grabbed the datapad as soon as it was close enough, putting the corner in his mouth and sucking on it.  “Pseudo!” Magnus cried out, pulling it away from him.  He cringed at the oral lubricant that dripped from the corner.  “That is highly inappropriate conduct,” he scolded.

Rodimus laughed, unable to stop himself.  “Looks like even the bean thinks you’ve gotta chill on the memos!”

“I don’t find this-” Magnus’s response was cut off as his comm went off.  He answered it huffily.  “What is it?” he demanded.  He paused a moment while he listened, his faceplate hardening.  “I will be there as soon as possible.”

“What’s up, Mags?” the red and orange captain asked curiously.

“That was Appulse.  Apparently Atomizer just returned to Swerve’s and started a fight with one of the patrons.  It’s escalated into a full-on brawl.  I must gather the security team and put a stop to it,” the enforcer explained hurriedly.  He all but shoved Pseudo into Rodimus’s arms.

“Whoa, whoa, what are you doing?!” Rodimus asked in surprise.

“I can’t bring a sparkling to a bar fight, that would be highly irresponsible,” Magnus said.  “You heard Perceptor’s instructions, assuming you were paying attention.  I’m leaving Pseudo in your care while I take care of this.”

“Wait… you’re trusting me to be responsible for your sparkling?” Rodimus asked in shock.

“Only until I’ve finished with this problem,” the blue and white second in command emphasized.  “I will return as soon as I can.”

“Yeah, sure…” the co-captain nodded numbly.  He had no idea Magnus thought he was anywhere near this reliable.

As soon as Ultra Magnus was gone, Rodimus was reminded swiftly that he had no idea what he was doing.  Pseudo stared at the door his sire had left through, barking orders over his comm.  After a moment his still-developing vocalizer hiccupped and then started wailing, reaching for the door.

“Primus!” Rodimus cried out, taken completely off-guard.  He had no idea what to do with a crying, squirming week-old sparkling.  He tried rocking him, bouncing him gently, shushing him.  Nothing was working.  He looked around for help, but the entire bridge crew was suddenly much more invested in their jobs than he ever remembered them being.  He paced back and forth, saying, “I will give you anything to please stop crying right now, Pseudo…”  The sparkling stubbornly continued to wail, though.

After a moment Blaster made a frustrated sound and stood up, approaching.  “Here,” he demanded, holding out his arms expectantly.

Rodimus looked at him in confusion, but handed Pseudo over.

Blaster held the sparkling close to his faceplate, despite the sounds it was making.  Pseudo seemed to get louder, now being held by someone completely foreign to him.  After a couple of minutes, though, he started calming.  The wailing quieted to just crying, and then to gentle hiccups.  Rodimus watched in fascination, unable to figure out what just happened.  When he stepped closer now that Pseudo was almost completely silent though, he heard it.  Blaster was humming.  It was a gentle tune, light and melodically pleasant.  A bit more of it and Pseudo yawned, optics dimming as he drifted off into recharge.

“Whoa…” Rodimus whispered as Blaster carefully handed the white and gold mechling back to him.  “How’d you know that’d work?”

“Music’s the universal language, mech,” the red and yellow mech replied quietly.  “I just used it to tell him that he was safe and it was nap time.”

“You’re a lifesaver,” the co-captain said gratefully.

“Remember that,” Blaster winked, grinning.  He then returned to his post.

Rodimus walked to the captain’s chair and sat down slowly, making sure not to wake the recharging mechling.  Humming, huh?  He’d have to remember that.

 

-

 

“We will sort out your release with Rodimus and Megatron when I return to the bridge.  Until then, you will have plenty of time to ask yourself if starting that fight was worth it.”

Atomizer didn’t look at Ultra Magnus through the laser bars as the enforcer left.  He simply sat back on the cot in the cell they’d thrown him in.  All the other ‘bots that took part in the fight had gotten off with a warning.  He was another story, having thrown the first punch.

Honestly, he didn’t know why he went back and did it.  Atomizer was usually completely unfazed by the stupid things overcharged mechs said.

“I don’t know why so many of you are getting so worked up.  The only thing different with Trailcutter gone is that there’s one less drunk at the bar.”

The assassin hadn’t been the only one angry at the comment.  Plenty of other mechs yelled warnings at him.  Trailcutter was someone almost everyone got along with.

“The next insult you throw out about him will be your last,” Atomizer remembered hissing at him.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was in the presence of his conjux endura,” the mech had mocked.  “No wonder he was always overcharged if you were the only thing he had to look forward to sober.”

The patrons around him had held Atomizer back, which was good.  If Atomizer had reached him at that moment he would have ripped the mech’s wires from his throat.  A chorus of ‘let it go’s and ‘he’s not worth it’s calmed his circuits, but he knew he couldn’t stay there.  So he marched out of Swerve’s over the protests of Bluestreak.

If that had been the end of it, he wouldn’t be sitting in the brig at that moment.  No, he got all the way to his habsuite and paced back and forth, stewing over it.  The more he mulled it over, the more the unfairness of it all came to the forefront of his processor.  Why was Trailcutter dead?  Why someone so... inherently good?  Someone who died because he wanted to help someone live despite knowing it was a homicidal lunatic?  Why did he have to die when aftholes like that overcharged mech, one who meant so little to Atomizer that he didn’t even know his name, survived this far?

Atomizer truly didn’t know why he did it.  He stood there in his habsuite staring at the Rodimus Star he’d taken from Trailcutter’s body, the Rodimus Star Trailcutter worked so hard to earn.  The force field expert was so pleased with it.  Everyone else mocked and laughed at their own stars, but he had showed it to Atomizer so proudly.  He earned it for doing something truly brave, truly heroic.  Saving everyone on the ship from a Decepticon invasion that came at exactly the wrong time.  The longer he stared at it, the angrier he became until he finally ran back to the bar.

The red and gold assassin had only intended to tell the mech off, inform him of exactly how important Trailcutter had been to him.  To all of them.  But once he was standing in front of him, Atomizer exploded.  He let out a scream so loud he probably scared half the bar, throwing his weight behind the first strike.  He couldn’t stop himself after that, beating the mech.  Imagining the DJD monster who had killed his Trailcutter in the place of the hapless drunk.

Atomizer hadn’t been paying attention in his rage, but he gathered that it had escalated into a full-on brawl when a couple of the other patrons tried to pull him off of the now surely unconscious mech, causing those who sympathized more with the assassin than the overcharged heckler to yank them away from him so he could continue to vent his frustrations.  Arguing over whether or not Atomizer had a right to do this over some words, hurtful ones to be sure but words nonetheless, turned to the flying of fists.

He also vaguely remembered Whirl in the background, yelling, “Fight, fight, fight!”  That was probably the least surprising part of everything that had happened.

“Atomizer?”

The assassin-turned-server finally looked up from glaring at the cell wall, seeing Appulse standing there.  The young mech didn’t look angry or disappointed, despite having been caught in the middle of the fight as he tried to calm the brawling patrons.  He was covered in scuff-marks from flying fists, pedes, elbows, and knees.  The one on his chin was probably from a head-butt as well.  For only being just short of full mech-hood, he was one of the larger and sturdier members of the crew.  It made sense, as he was a tank.

Instead, the youngling looked worried.  “You alright?” he asked uncertainly.

“Besides being thrown into the brig and having my fate left up to our co-captains, one of which has all the maturity of a youngling, no offense, and the other being someone who used to strip down organic planets and slaughter their inhabitants wholesale for laughs?  I’m doing great.”

“Look, I heard what happened,” Appulse said, leaning on the wall next to the bars.  “I’m gonna be honest, I probably would have punched him, too.  But you didn’t just do that.  You…”  He hesitated, rubbing the back of his helm awkwardly.  It was an odd habit of his, but Atomizer always found it strangely endearing.  “You could have killed him, you know.”

“Would have been fitting,” Atomizer spat bitterly.  “Killing the guy who claimed Trailcutter was nothing but a useless drunk in the bar.  He deserves to be a side note in the Lost Light Insider.  ‘Useless Drunk Dies of Irony’.”

“I don’t think that’s how you’re supposed to use ‘irony’,” Appulse pointed out.

Atomizer looked back at him in annoyance.  “You’ve only been helping Percy and Mags take care of their little Pit-spawn for a week, how have you already started picking up their habits?”

“Look, I said I understand why you attacked him,” Appulse ignored the comment, “But you went too far.  Creator’s in the medbay right now reattaching pieces of that guy’s face.  Do you know how hard you have to beat someone’s face to break pieces off like that?  Because I grew up in a medical facility outside of a mine on the edge of Decepticon territory, and I can answer that: Really fragging hard.”

“Trailcutter deserves better than to have his name even spoken by Pit-slag like him,” Atomizer muttered, pulling out the Rodimus Star and looking at it again.  “The longer he’s gone, the more I regret never telling him how hard I fell for him.”

Appulse ex-vented, obviously unsure how to respond to that.  He was the same way when Atomizer saw him in the morgue.  He didn’t blame him.  The youngling may have almost been an adult, but he was still far too young to understand any of this.

“Promise me something, kid?”

“What?” Appulse looked back up at him.

Atomizer watched him out of the corner of his visor while he spoke.  “Promise me that if you find someone you’ll hold on to them as tight as you can.  Don’t hesitate to tell them how you feel, and if they return it then you make them your universe.  Never let go of them for anything.”

Appulse stared at him for a few moments, making Atomizer unsure if he was even going to answer.  Finally, though, he nodded.  “I promise.”  He pushed off the wall and turned to go.  “Also, I’ll… I’ll put a good word in for you with the co-captains and Magnus.  It might not mean much, but maybe someone else saying the fragger deserved to have his faceplate dented will at least give you a chance.”

Atomizer’s visor lit up a bit with a smile, appreciating that Appulse was concerned about him.  Funny how it took getting thrown into the brig for nearly killing someone to realize that Trailcutter wasn’t the only person Atomizer had grown at least some modicum of affection for.

It made him feel almost… a little guilty about what he and Getaway had planned.

 

---

 

Another week passed, Pseudo growing quickly.  He still had another week before he’d reach his fully expected size, but he was running around now.  The only problem was that he should have also been speaking.

“First Aid says his vocalizer has developed acceptably,” Perceptor said worriedly as he sat on his and Magnus’s berth.  Brainstorm was standing next to it, both watching Pseudo paint broad strokes of colors on a large piece of cloth.

The paints were a gift from Ten, though they questioned where he was getting them.  Ultra Magnus decided to overlook it this once, which was in itself a momentous occasion.  He instead pointed out that there was nothing to use it on, as he refused to let Pseudo paint on the walls.  Tailgate got an idea and asked Swerve and Bluestreak if they could donate a few empty banners for the events they sometimes held in Swerve’s bar.

“He’s… well, he can vocalize.  The sounds aren’t the problem.  We’re concerned because he should be forming words by now,” the red and black scientist continued.  “But no matter what happens, no matter how much I try to encourage him, he will not speak.”

“Rough,” Brainstorm agreed.  “If you want, I can-”

“No.”

“You didn’t even let me-”

“Brainstorm, whatever it is you are about to propose doing to my sparkling, the answer is ‘no.’ End of discussion,” Perceptor snipped.

“Fine, but can I at least give him a present?” the other scientist asked, rolling his optics.

Perceptor looked at him warily.  “Well…”

Before he could answer, Pseudo padded over quickly and grabbed Perceptor’s servos, jerking him towards the mess he made.  “Ah!  Ah!”  As the older scientist had said, Pseudo’s vocalizer worked clearly.  Instead of words, though, he made sounds.

“You need to tell me what you want,” Perceptor said gently, not moving.  “I cannot understand you if you do not speak.”

The white and gold mechling looked at him in distress at the words, pulling harder.  He pointed again.  “Aaah!” was the only noise he made.

Brainstorm took pity on the tiny creature, kneeling down.  “You wanna show your creator your picture, Pseudo?” he asked.

Pseudo looked to him, optics brightening.  He pointed at Brainstorm this time, nodding and looking back at Perceptor.  He tugged again.

“Very well,” Perceptor ex-vented, glaring at Brainstorm for having encouraged him.  Still, he stood up and let Pseudo walk him over to the banner.

It was a colorful mess, with blotches of reds, blues, greens, and yellows randomly strewn about the banner, mostly towards the front.  There was a black stripe behind it all, with yellow dots covering it.

“It looks wonderful, Pseudo,” Perceptor said after a moment of looking at it.  He wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be, but he wanted to encourage his sparkling in his artistic pursuits.

“Splendid job, kiddo,” Brainstorm agreed, rubbing the white and gold mech’s helm.  Pseudo made a happy sound, looking proud of himself.  “As a reward, how about a present?”

“Brainstorm!” Perceptor said in horror, watching as he couldn’t stop Brainstorm now that he was handing the brightly-colored box to the sparkling.  He especially couldn’t take it from him looking at the excited and joyful expression on the sparkling’s faceplate.  He glared at his fellow scientist once again, mouthing ‘I shall discuss this with you later’ at him.

Pseudo wasted no time on formalities, sitting down with his gift and ripping through the paper.  He tore the top of the box off with equal enthusiasm, stopping to look at the small machine inside.  It looked like another box, this one much more ornate, in the same white, gold, and reds his paintjob was.  He looked up at Brainstorm, happy yet confused at what he received.

“Here, I’ll show you how to turn it on,” the teal and white scientist said, sitting next to him and flipping a switch on the side.

Four beams of lasers sprang to life, stretching the length of the ornate box.  Pseudo’s optics lit up, fascinated by what he was seeing.  Perceptor watched warily.  He didn’t think Brainstorm would purposefully make something that would harm his sparkling, but sometimes the other scientist got… overly enthusiastic with his inventions.

“Touch one of the lasers,” Brainstorm instructed.

“Brainstorm-!” Perceptor began, stepping forward.

“Don’t worry, I’ve tested it.  It’s perfectly safe,” Brainstorm assured him.

Pseudo wasn’t paying attention to the conversation going on above him.  He reached forward with a small servo, doing as instructed.  There was a slight tingle, but what made him jump in surprise was the lucid, pitched whining sound that came from the box when he did.  He looked up at Brainstorm in confusion, as if asking if it was supposed to do that.  Brainstorm simply nodded at him, and the sparkling’s smile returned full-force.  Pseudo played with the lasers ecstatically, each touch of them bringing forth a new pitch and timbre with each different combination of laser and location.

Perceptor was rendered speechless despite the cacophony of sound.  “Brainstorm, did… did you invent an entirely new instrument?” he asked in awe.

“Wasn’t easy,” Brainstorm said proudly, leaning back as he watched Pseudo lay his hands full-spread across all of the lasers and laugh at the loud racket the machine made in response.  “I stayed up for days with Nautica, reading up on music theory and how instruments all across the universe functioned.  Got lots of advice from Blaster, too, since he’s our resident music expert.  I wanted to make something easy for someone his age to understand.  Something easily self-taught.”

Perceptor finally sat down on the other side of his sparkling, watching him joyfully make as loud of a racket as he possibly could.  “You did this just for him?”

“Yeah, well…” Brainstorm finally looked embarrassed, looking away.  “I thought it was only right after everything I put you through while you were carrying.”

“Do you have a name for it?”

“I’ve been debating, but I think I wanna call it the P-B.”

“P-B?” Perceptor echoed incredulously.  It was such an elegant and well-crafted instrument.  That was a rather unrefined name.

“Yeah.  Pseudo’s Box.  P-B,” Brainstorm reiterated.

Perceptor stared at him a moment more before smiling.  They watched Pseudo play with the box a little longer before the older scientist said, “You would have made a magnificent creator.”

Brainstorm started, his wings shooting upwards in shock at the unexpected statement.  He looked at Perceptor, but the red and black scientist was still watching his sparkling.  He relaxed just a bit, knowing Perceptor was respecting his dignity by letting him have his moment.  He looked back down at Pseudo, imagining his crimson details as a light blue for a moment.  His wings lowered back down sadly, but still, he replied.  “Thanks…”

 

---

 

First Aid and Appulse stood, stunned.

“Okay, before you ask any questions-”

“Like ‘how’?!” Appulse cut Whirl off, staring at the mech and his completely detached arm.

Before you ask any questions,” the former Wrecker reiterated, singular optic narrowing into a glare.  “I always assumed we went by a ‘no questions asked’ policy here on the Lost Light, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

“We have never had a-”

This time First Aid cut off his youngling, holding up a hand.  “No… I think it’s for the best this time, Appulse,” he said.  “I would usually agree with you, but… honestly, I don’t want to know what happened.”

See?” Whirl gestured to First Aid with the arm he was holding in his other hand.  “He knows what I’m talking about!”

First Aid ex-vented, gesturing.  “Just lie down, please.  The sooner we get your arm reattached, the sooner you can go back to… whatever you were doing.”

Whirl shrugged (best as he could with only one arm) and did as he was told.  He handed the detached limb off to First Aid and looked at Appulse, who was helping prepare the tools for reattachment.  “So… I’ve been thinking, kid.”

“And your CPU hasn’t overheated yet?  Shocker,” Appulse muttered.  He expected his creator to get mad at his snark, so was surprised when the medic instead snorted lightly.

“Funny.  I was thinking, now that Mags and the leader of the brain trust had their own little bitlet, we can finally make that Wrecker team we were talking about.”

“We’ve literally never talked about making a Wreckers team,” Appulse said, simultaneously correcting Whirl and assuring First Aid, who looked at him sharply.

“Sure we have.  Well, I did,” Whirl continued.  “Remember, back when we first met?  I said if we got one more Wrecker on the ship we could make our own team!”

The youngling scoffed, rolling his optics.  “You said that five years ago.  Besides, I don’t want to be on a Wreckers team, Perceptor’s going to be extra-busy with both Pseudo and his work, and you can’t seriously be suggesting recruiting someone who isn’t even a month old.”

“Well, no, of course not!  We should wait until Pseudo’s at least half a year,” the former Wrecker replied.  “But once he is, I’m sure I can get you and Percy to turn around on this.  Who doesn’t want to be a Wrecker?”

“I just said I don’t,” Appulse snapped.  “Do you listen to anyone but yourself?”

“Well, yeah.  The voices in my head.”  After a moment where First Aid and Appulse looked at him incredulously, Whirl added, “Kidding!  I’m kidding.  Kind of.  …Maybe.  Anyway, that’s not the point!”

“It is the point,” First Aid huffed, approaching with Whirl’s arm.  He put it on the berth and drew a few wires from it, getting to work attaching them into the hole in Whirl’s shoulder.  “Why are you so desperate to make a Wreckers team here on the Lost Light?  You got kicked out of the old team.  I’d think you wouldn’t want to bring up those kinds of memories anymore.”

“Ah, you wouldn’t understand,” Whirl said, looking at the ceiling while First Aid worked.  “Yeah, they kicked me out.  Kind of violently, too, but that was how we do everything in the Wreckers, so whatever.  But, and if you tell anyone else I’m saying this to you I’ll glue everything in your office upside down to the ceiling… that was the only place I really felt like I belonged.”

First Aid glanced at him for a moment before returning to his work.  “I know how that feels, actually.”

“You do?” Appulse asked in surprise.

“Of course.  That’s how I feel here,” the young CMO nodded, picking up the arm and lining it up to its socket.  “Hold this, if you please will, Appulse.”

The red and black youngling moved forward and did as he was told, making sure to hold it as still as he could.  “The Lost Light is definitely where I feel most at home,” he agreed.  “Then again, outside of Delphi it’s the only home I’ve ever known.  But… what is it Rung told me once?  ‘Home isn’t a place, it’s the people you care about.’  And this is where everyone I care about is.”

“Don’t you feel like that?” First Aid asked Whirl as he pulled out a welder and started melding the arm back into the metal of its shoulder joint.

“You’ve met me before, right?” Whirl asked.  “I don’t care about anyone.  I don’t even care about myself.  I just like killing things.  That’s why I liked being in the Wreckers so much.  We get to kill things here, yeah, but not as much as I did with them.”

“You have such messed up priorities,” Appulse snorted.

“There has to be someone you care about,” First Aid said.  “No one hates everyone.  Even Megatron has people he cares about.”

“Do me a favor and don’t compare me to him,” Whirl growled.  “You done with that arm, yet?”

“Almost,” First Aid assured him.  He put a hand on Whirl’s shoulderplate and the other on his arm, moving it up and down, then rotating it.  “Do you feel that?”

“Yeah, and it’s starting to annoy me.  Can I go now?”

“Alright, go ahead,” First Aid ex-vented, letting go.  “And try not to do… whatever caused this again, alright?”

“No promises, doc!”  Whirl hopped up off the repair berth, landing on his feet and pointing at them with his claws.  “See you next time I do something stupid!”

They watched him leave, looking at each other as soon as he was gone.  They then both started laughing.

“If I ever start understanding Whirl, punch me.  As hard as you can,” Appulse requested.

“If I have your permission,” First Aid chuckled, cleaning up his station.  “And then I’ll admit you to life-sessions with Rung.”

“Fair enough,” the youngling agreed, leaning over and kissing his creator on the faceplate.  “I’m gonna go pick up Pseudo.  I promised Perce I’d take him to the observation deck and watch him while the scientists go get some work done.”

“Alright.  Just remember, he’s at a very impressionable stage right now.  Don’t say anything…” First Aid started.

Appulse finished for him as he headed out the door, “…I’ll regret him repeating when he finally starts talking.  I know, creator.”

 

---

 

Pseudo liked a lot of people in his home.

He, of course, liked his creator and sire.  Creator’s vocals were clear and precise, every sound serving a purpose.  Sire had a shortness to the way he vocalized, deep and warm yet powerful.  Both were sounds that translated as ‘safe.’

Brainstorm was the next on his list of people he liked.  Creator spent a lot of time with him, so Pseudo was able to see him often.  His vocals were funny.  They seemed to go in every direction possible, usually sounding excited and happy.  But there was an underlying sadness to them, something lonely.

The only person he saw more than Brainstorm (outside of his own creators, of course) was Rodimus.  He was the one sire spent most of his time with.  And because Pseudo could go to work with sire more often than creator, he saw Rodimus constantly.  He loved listening to the sounds Rodimus made.  They were usually loud and brash, projecting something magnetic with them.  But he was also… Pseudo didn’t know how to describe it.  Scared?  He didn’t know of what, though.

There was a knock at the door that made Pseudo stop playing with the pretty sound-box that Brainstorm had given him.  Perceptor stood up and walked over, opening it.

Pseudo knew who was there before it opened.  The knock was distinct.

“Looks like your ride’s here, kiddo,” Brainstorm said next to him.

Pseudo nodded and looked back to the door as Appulse entered.

“Heya, Pseudo!” the black and red mech grinned, waving.

Appulse was the one person Pseudo liked more than anyone, other than his creator and sire.  His vocals were always kind and excited when he saw Pseudo.  The sounds were always honest, even when he was irritated or angry.  He never made sounds he didn’t mean, even if they were sometimes tinged with regret afterwards.

Pseudo stood up and picked up his present, holding it out for Appulse to see.

“What do you have there?” Appulse asked, kneeling down next to him.  It was a bit inconvenient to be so small, but creator always assured him that he was still growing.  He said he would still be very small when he was done developing, but he never said it in a way that was worried or angry.

“It’s an instrument,” Perceptor answered, leaning over them to watch.  Always watching.

“It’s a Pseudo’s Box,” Brainstorm corrected.  His voice was pleased.  It made Pseudo feel proud of the gift as well.

“Oh, cool,” Appulse grinned.  It sounded warm and made Pseudo’s little spark swell with excitement.  Appulse would understand how wonderful this present was.  Creator and Brainstorm knew he was happy with it, but they didn’t understand why.  He held it in one hand, balancing precariously on his arm, while he put a finger to one of the lasers on it.  It emitted a high-pitched sound.  Happiness.  Delight.  “That’s really neat, Brainstorm.”

“I know,” Brainstorm said, pride bursting from the two words.

“In fact, you probably shouldn’t bring it with us,” Appulse continued, taking the box and handing it to Perceptor.  “We don’t wanna lose it somewhere on the ship.”

Pseudo didn’t fight when his Box was taken from him, but his spark sank a bit.  He was so sure Appulse would understand.  He usually understood everything.

“Alright, Pseudo,” the red and black mech said, standing up.  “You want me to carry you, or do you wanna walk?”

Pseudo didn’t like the prospect of walking all the way to the star room.  It was pretty, but it was too far away.  And until he was fully grown he couldn’t transform to make it faster.  So he raised his arms.  “Aaah!” he said.

“Now, Pseudo,” Perceptor stepped behind Appulse’s shoulderplate, stopping him before he could lift the tiny sparkling.  “You need to use your words.”

Pseudo felt his spark sink even more.  He didn’t like when creator told him that.  He didn’t know how to make words.  First Aid and creator both kept saying he was supposed to know already, but he just… didn’t.  Words were hard.  He could understand everyone else’s, but mostly because he didn’t listen to the words themselves but the sounds they made.  He was great with sounds, knew what every one of them meant.

Still, creator always sounded so worried when he told Pseudo to use his words, so he had to try.  “Aaah…” he opened his mouth and willed his vocals to form the sound into the shapes it needed.  “Uuuaaah…”

It was no use.  The sounds just wouldn’t shape themselves.  It was frustrating, especially since it made creator so sad that he couldn’t do it.  So Pseudo’s vents started hitching, washer fluid building up in his optics.  Why couldn’t he make words like everyone else could?  Why couldn’t he make people understand him?  Why couldn’t people just read the sounds like he could?

“Oh, no, Pseudo…”  Perceptor’s vocals were distressed, but loving.  He stepped forward and knelt down, picking his sparkling up and holding him to his shoulder and faceplate.  “It’s alright.  I’m sorry, my little darling.”

Pseudo clung to his shoulder, hiccupping and sobbing.  He didn’t want to cry, but he couldn’t help it.  He was so angry at himself for not being able to do what creator asked him to.  It seemed such a simple thing to ask of him as well.  Why was it so hard for him?

“Come now, that’s enough of that,” Perceptor said soothingly, running a fore-servo under Pseudo’s optics to wipe away the washer fluid.  “I know, I shouldn’t try and push you.  We’ll work on it another day.”  Despite his words, he sounded sad.  Not disappointed, but worried.

“Come on, then,” Appulse stepped forward, taking Pseudo from his creator.  He didn’t seem concerned with Pseudo’s inability to make words like everyone else.  The sparkling was grateful for it.  “Ready to go?”

Pseudo wiped the washer fluid his creator had missed from his faceplate, nodding.  He put on a smile so they wouldn’t worry about him anymore, waving to Perceptor and Brainstorm as Appulse carried him away.

Appulse walked to the star room, talking about the different things they passed.  He could have driven with Pseudo riding inside of him, but Pseudo liked taking their time.  He still had a lot to learn about, and it was a great opportunity.  Besides, they never knew who they could meet along the way, distracting themselves with the other people in their home.

Speaking of, two familiar mechs were coming down the hall opposite of them as they almost arrived.  It was Tailgate and Getaway.

“Hey, guys!” Tailgate greeted, ever friendly and perky.  Pseudo liked Tailgate.  He was bright and honest, always trying his best to look positively at everything.

“Yo, Tailgate,” Appulse greeted, shifting Pseudo to sit in the crook of his elbow as he raised a hand.  “You guys coming back from the observation deck?”

“Yeah, we were just looking at the stars,” Tailgate confirmed, nodding.  “Some of the others are out there, too.  We hit a clear patch of space where you can see them really well.”

“That’s great.  Pseudo will like that,” Appulse replied, grinning.

Pseudo nodded in agreement, smiling wide.  He loved the stars.  They were simple but pretty, and there were so many of them.  He wished he could paint them, but the tools he was using at the moment weren’t made for something so sparkly.

“I like them, too,” Tailgate said cheerfully.  He added, “Pseudo is so cute!  And so well-behaved.  I wish Perceptor would let me watch him.”

“He should,” Getaway agreed.  “You’d make an excellent sparkling-sitter.  Wouldn’t he, squirt?”  He asked the last bit to Pseudo, leaning towards him.

The sparkling responded by grabbing onto Appulse’s arm and hiding most of his face, as if it would make him disappear.  He knew it wouldn’t, but it made him feel safer at least.  Because Pseudo didn’t like Getaway.  Everything he said sounded insincere, especially when he was talking to Tailgate.  It wasn’t nice or fair, since Tailgate obviously adored him enough to believe everything he was saying.  He wished he could make his own sounds into words the most in moments like this.  He wanted to make people understand why Getaway scared him.

“You alright, Pseudo?” Appulse asked, shifting his arm so the white and gold sparkling was more comfortable.

Pseudo pulled his face out of its hiding place, looking from Appulse to Getaway and then back.

Appulse obviously noticed the distress on his face, as he said, “Ah, sorry guys.  I think Pseudo is being a bit shy today.  We better get moving anyway.”

“Oh, alright,” Tailgate replied, sounding a bit sad that they couldn’t stay and talk.  “Bye, Appulse!  Bye, Pseudo!”

“See ya, kids,” Getaway waved to them alongside his minibot companion.

Pseudo was relieved to be leaving, but he still waved back to Tailgate.

When they were out of sight of the pair, Appulse asked, “You don’t like Getaway, do you Pseudo?”

Pseudo shook his helm sharply.

“I don’t think he’s so bad,” the red and black tank shrugged, pushing the button to open the star room.  “Maybe when you’re older you’ll change your mind.”

Pseudo highly doubted that.  However, his attention was soon captured by the sight of the stars through the huge windows surrounding the room.  Appulse placed him on the floor, and the sparkling immediately ran to get the best view of them.  Thousands glittering above them and the other ‘bots who had gathered to see them together.  It wasn’t usually so crowded, but Tailgate had been right.  The area outside their home was so clear this time that there was nothing but the shining stars outside.

Pseudo traced the stars in patterns, memorizing shapes.  Even if he couldn’t copy the gorgeous sight above him on paper with his paints, he could get inspiration from it.

“Well, look who’s out!”

Pseudo turned around to see Nautica approaching.  She was another person he liked.  She was always so enthusiastic.  Everything seemed to excite her at least a little bit, even if she tried to seem so mature around everyone else.

“How’re things, sweetie?” the quantum mechanic asked, kneeling down next to the sparkling.  That was another reason Pseudo liked her.  She was one of the few people who talked to him directly and on his level even though he was so young.

“Aaah!” Pseudo answered excitedly, pointing upwards.

Nautica followed the point, smiling.  “I know, right?  The stars are so pretty, aren’t they?” she agreed.

Pseudo smiled, nodding.  Nautica was like Appulse, usually knowing what he meant without needing to hear words.  The only other person besides them who did was Ten, though he was a special case.  Ten actually outright understood Pseudo, and the sparkling understood him back.  It might have been because of both of their unique ways of communicating, but whatever the reason it was nice.

“What’re you doing out here on the deck?” Appulse asked.  “I thought all the scientists were getting together for something or another.”

“Oh, no, just Perceptor, Mainframe, and Brainstorm,” Nautica shook her helm.  “I’m a specialist, so Perceptor told me I could have they day off while they worked.”  Despite putting on a brave face, her vocals sounded disappointed that she had been excused so easily.

“In that case, you want to help me watch Pseudo to make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble?” Appulse asked.

“Pseudo?  Trouble?” Nautica laughed, sitting next to the sparkling while he turned his attention back to the stars.  “Never.  With a sire like his, I’d be surprised if he even knew what the word meant.”

“Hey, the strictest creators bare the most rebellious sparklings,” Appulse grinned, sitting next to her.

“Mm-hm,” the violet quantum mechanic didn’t sound convinced, elbowing him.  “So, what’s your excuse, Mr. Punch-First-Ask-Questions-Later?”

“I’ve been living on this ship for the last five years,” Appulse replied, laughing.  “These guys haven’t exactly been the best influences.”

“Hey, don’t go blaming us for your attitude!” Nautica teased, pushing him this time.

They both fell quiet for a while, watching Pseudo as he sat down in front of the giant viewing window and stared at the patterns in the stars.

“Hey, Nautica?  You said you helped with a sparkbirth back on Caminus.  Does that mean they’re allowed there?” Appulse asked after a while.

Pseudo listened, but wasn’t as interested.  Appulse talked about it a lot, sparkbirthing.  The sparkling didn’t understand why it was so important to him, but it was.  Everyone else sounded exasperated on varying levels when he asked about it.  Nautica didn’t seem to mind, though.  She loved explaining things, like the other scientists in his home.  Not as much as Brainstorm, but Pseudo was pretty sure no one liked explaining things more than Brainstorm.

“It’s not as strictly regulated as it is on Cybertron,” Nautica replied.  “You still have to go through all the paperwork, but the Way of Flame dictates that every ‘bot is born with a purpose.  Whether they’re forged or sparkborn, they’re a creation of Solus Prime.”

Appulse let his optics wander from Pseudo to the stars the sparkling was watching so intently.  “What do you think my purpose for being born was?” he asked absently.

Nautica looked at him in surprise.  “I… don’t know.  Honestly, you’re so young.  You have an entire lifecycle to find that out for yourself.  You may find out in a year.  Maybe in a few million.”

Appulse glanced back at her and smiled, nodding.  “Here’s hoping it’s something good, then.”

 

---

 

A few hours later, Appulse returned Pseudo to his creator at their habsuite.  “Thank you so much for everything, Appulse,” Perceptor said gratefully, taking the sparkling into his arms.  “Did you have fun?” he asked Pseudo.

The white and gold sparkling nodded, yawning loudly.

“I think we managed to tire him out,” Appulse chuckled, patting Pseudo on the helm.  After a few moments of debating whether or not it was a good idea, he finally asked, “Why didn’t you let Nautica help you guys with… whatever you were working on?”

Perceptor looked at him in surprise and ex-vented.  “I will apologize to her later, if that is how it seemed.  The truth is that Brainstorm has been cleared to use his lab once more and he, Mainframe, and I went in to assist him getting things sorted again.  The only reason we did not allow Nautica to partake is because he has many hazardous and dubious devices, as you well know.  The last thing we needed was for our most recent addition to the science team to accidentally… blast half of her face off or something.”

“In that entire sentence, I understood exactly ‘blast half her face off or something’.”

The two mechs turned to find Rodimus walking towards them, Ultra Magnus trailing just behind him.

“Captain, to what do we owe this pleasure?” Perceptor asked, shifting the undercharged sparkling in his arm.

“I lost a copy of one of the reports Mags gave me about the time travel thing because I didn’t really care.  But I promised him I’d actually make a copy of it and read it over if whatever copy of it I was copying was where I could see my favorite little bean,” Rodimus explained, walking over and holding his arms out.

Pseudo seemed to wake right up at the sight of his favorite ‘uncle’ and he all but leapt out of his creator’s arms into Rodimus’s.

“Sometimes I swear he loves you more than he does his own creators,” Appulse joked.

Rodimus held Pseudo over his helm, grinning as the sparkling laughed and squirmed.  “Well, what can I say?  The bean has excellent taste,” he said proudly.  He moved to the side as Ultra Magnus pushed past him to enter their habsuite.  “I can’t believe in a week he’ll be at his full size.  He’s still so adorable.”  ‘Adorable’ was his code-word for ‘small,’ being as Perceptor didn’t like people saying it to Pseudo’s faceplate.  He was afraid he’d develop a complex about his size, and for the sake of both his sparkling and Minimus Ambus it was something he needed them both to understand wasn’t actually important.

“I talked to First Aid today, and he said Pseudo hasn’t developed any of the signs of a load bearer.  So however… ‘adorable’ he may become, that is how he will remain,” Perceptor informed them, gesturing into the habsuite after his conjux.  It was only polite, after all, to invite guests in.

“This is gonna be the best thing ever,” Rodimus said excitedly.  “Do you think he’ll be more… ‘adorable’ than Minimus?”

Magnus reset his vocals irritably, glaring over his shoulderplate at his captain as he opened the drawer to retrieve the copy of the report.  He always kept copies in both his office and his habsuite, just in case.

“We can’t be sure until he reaches maturity,” Perceptor answered just as huffily.

“Uh-oh, awkwardness levels are rising,” Appulse said, reaching over and taking Pseudo from Rodimus.  When both made a sound of protest, he set the sparkling on the floor and asked, “Don’t you want to show Uncle Rodimus what Brainstorm gave you?”

Pseudo’s bright blue optics lit up, nodding excitedly.  He ran to the corner where his ‘creativity desk’ was.  His creator and sire both had extremely important desks to do their work at, so he decided he needed one, too.  Communicating this without words wasn’t easy, but both were perfectly happy to get him what he wanted when it finally happened.  He kept it as neat and organized as both of his creators did.

“Brainstorm made him a present?” Rodimus asked, laughing.  “I’m surprised you let him, Percy.  That seems like it should be top on the list of ‘Things You Shouldn’t Do On The Lost Light’.  Let Brainstorm make you, or especially your sparkling, a present.”

“I didn’t let him,” the scientist huffed.  “He made it without my knowledge and then gave it to him without my consent.  I checked it over, however, and it is perfectly safe.  Thank Primus, because otherwise even Ultra Magnus couldn’t stop me from shooting him out of an airlock.”

“If he harmed our sparkling, I wouldn’t stop you in the first place,” the blue and white enforcer elaborated as he approached.  He held out a datapad.  “Copy this and return it as soon as possible.  I will give you a quiz on its contents in four days to make sure you are holding up your end of our deal.”

The red and orange captain’s face fell.  “You’re going to make me take a test?  Ugh, I hate tests!” he groaned.  He watched Pseudo return, holding an ornamental box.  “You’re lucky you’re so cute, bean.  Otherwise I’d be so mad at you for making me go through this just to see you.”

Pseudo tilted his helm to the side, not seeming to understand what exactly Rodimus would be mad at him about.  He then held up his box.  “Aah!  Aah!” he vocalized.

Rodimus subspaced the datapad and took the box from him.  “Well, this is… nice looking.  What is it?” he asked.

“It’s a Pseudo’s Box,” Appulse explained.  “An instrument.”

“You have to turn it on.  Like this,” Perceptor added, reaching over and flipping the switch on the side.

The lasers activated across it, surprising the captain.  He held the box in one hand and touched a laser with a servo, a rich, low timber emitting from it.  “Oh, cool!” he enthused, touching another one.  “I’m not surprise you love this so much!”  He experimented a moment with the different lasers and locations before handing it back down to its owner.  He then patted him on the helm.  “You know, since Brainstorm got you something so neat and I don’t want to be outdone, I’m going to have to get you something even better.”

“Rodimus!” Perceptor cried out in exasperation.

“Please refrain from spoiling our sparkling,” Ultra Magnus agreed.

“Wait, you’re both getting him stuff?  Primus, I’m gonna hafta find something to get him, too,” Appulse laughed.  “I need to step up my game if I want to compete.”

“They’re not even listening to us,” Perceptor muttered, throwing his servos in the air.

“Sorry, guys, but it’s my duty as his uncle!” Rodimus grinned.  He stood back straight.  “Okay, I should get back.  I’m sure Pseudo has an early berthtime, and I don’t want to be late for my 20:00 fight with Megs.”  He turned to go, glancing at the banner Pseudo had been painting earlier, when Brainstorm gave him his gift.  Perceptor had hung it on the wall to make Pseudo feel like it was something important he made.  “Hey, nice mural of the bridge.”

Perceptor and Ultra Magnus looked at him a moment, then at each other, and finally at the banner.  “Nice… what?” the red and black scientist asked dumbly (something that was even rarer than Magnus’s smile).

“Mural of the bridge,” Rodimus echoed, moving over to it.  “See?  There’s the night sky out the front,” he pointed at the blackness dotted with yellow.  “And then there’s Hound,” his servo moved to a green blob, “Blaster,” this time a red one.  He went about naming the other members of the bridge crew until his servo finally rested on a bright red one in the middle, flanked by larger blue and silver ones.  “And all the way at the forefront, where the captain’s chair is, there’s me, with Mags and Megs.”

The other members of the room were stunned, looking from him now to the sparkling who had padded over to the captain to watch.  “Is that truly what you painted, Pseudo?” Perceptor couldn’t help but ask.

The white and gold sparkling looked at them with a bright smile, nodding.

“How the fra- uh, I mean scrap did you recognize that?” Appulse asked.

“Well, it’s kind of obvious,” Rodimus scoffed.  “I mean, I stare at this scene most days.  Magnus knew what it was, too.  Didn’t you?”

Ultra Magnus jolted at being called to the spotlight, looking from Rodimus to Pseudo again.  “Well, I…” he stuttered, which was quite unlike him.  He seemed to be stuck between telling a fib to make his sparkling happy, or admitting the truth which was something much more of his nature.  Finally, he resigned himself to, “I cannot say I recognized it as such.”

Rodimus stared at him for a moment before snickering.  “Oh, smooth.  Probably should have just agreed with me,” he teased.  While his Second-in-Command’s faceplate turned a shade they’d never seen before, he added, “Really, I do have to go.  I’ll see you guys later.”  He bent down and patted Pseudo on the helm.  When the sparkling responded by reaching up, he picked him up, not even trying to resist.  “Aw, you’ve got me trained,” he laughed, walking over to Ultra Magnus and handing him over.  Before he could get far, though, Pseudo surprised them by grabbing one of his helm-spikes and pulling him for a kiss on the cheek.  Rodimus looked at him in surprise before giving a smile, leaning in and kissing Pseudo’s cheek in return.  “Love you, too, bean,” he said affectionately before heading for the door.  “See you on the bridge tomorrow, Mags!  Night, Percy!  ‘Pulse!”

“Good night, captain,” Ultra Magnus called after him as Rodimus disappeared around the door.

“I should go, too,” Appulse said, patting Pseudo on the helm as well.  “Night, squirt.  See you guys tomorrow.”

“Recharge well, Appulse,” Perceptor replied.  Soon, he was gone as well and the family was left all alone in the room.  The scientist chuckled, reaching down and picking up the P-B.  He placed it on Pseudo’s creativity desk.  “Well, we have certainly had an interesting night already, haven’t we?”

“A little too interesting,” Ultra Magnus rumbled, placing Pseudo on the berth and walking to the opposite corner from Pseudo’s desk.  After a moment, the Magnus armor hissed and opened up, Minimus Ambus stepping out.  He stretched his backstrut, making a straining noise.  “Sometimes I think it’s getting harder to take that armor off.”

“It’s because you spend so much time in it,” Perceptor pointed out, walking over to the berth and sitting next to their sparkling.  “If you let yourself be… you more often, you wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable every time you removed it.”

Minimus didn’t reply, though he knew his conjux was right.  He couldn’t help it, especially since Pseudo was born.  He simply didn’t feel like the sparkmate Perceptor deserved, nor the sire Pseudo needed without it.  He felt like exactly what Minimus Ambus was – small and defenseless.

“Come here,” Perceptor urged him, patting the spot of the berth on the other side of himself.

The load bearer hesitated at first, but complied.  He walked to the berth, climbing up on it.  He felt… uncomfortable with how much smaller than Perceptor he was like this.  How was he supposed to protect his family when he was now half the size of his own conjux?

The red and black scientist sensed his distress, both through their bond and Minimus’s EM field.  He reached over and wrapped his arm around the smaller mech’s shoulders, pulling him in close.  “You know that I don’t care how big or small you are, right?  I love you for who you are, not whether or not you’re wearing your armor.”

“I know,” the white and gold mech ex-vented.  It was the truth, he really did.  He still couldn’t help feeling insecure.

“Pseudo doesn’t care either,” Perceptor added, looking to their sparkling watching them intently.  “Do you, darling?”

Pseudo looked up at him.  As if he had gotten a cue, he crawled over Perceptor’s legs and settled into his sire’s lap, snuggling into him.  As Minimus Ambus, Pseudo fit almost perfectly there, being at this point about two-thirds his size.  He was definitely much more the average size of a two-week old sparkling when he was put with his sire’s true form.

“I suppose he does not,” Minimus finally smiled a bit, wrapping his arms around his sparkling and holding him close.  “I’m sorry, I know I am being…” he trailed off, not sure exactly how to articulate it.

“Silly?” Perceptor guessed, vocals teasing.

Minimus looked up at him, frowning.  “I detest that word.  It is a ridiculous word.”

“Yet it is how you’re behaving, my darling,” Perceptor insisted.  He leaned down, kissing his conjux endura.  He thought sometimes that this was what it was like for him when he was in his Magnus armor.  The size difference was almost the same, Minimus being only marginally smaller than Perceptor than the scientist was compared to the Magnus armor.  “Will you retire with Pseudo and I?  Or are you going to visit Ten?”

“I think tonight I will retire,” Minimus decided, looking back down at the white and gold sparkling.  He truly inherited the Ambus colors, though missed out on the facial insignia – their mustache.  The only part of his paintjob that was Perceptor’s was the red detailing.  Pseudo had fallen into recharge in the warmth of his sire’s arms.  “Pseudo already has.  Rodimus was right in one regard, I cannot believe he will be fully matured in a week.”

“I know.  We will need to arrange for him to have his own habsuite when he does,” Perceptor pointed out.  He then yawned, stretching and rubbing his faceplate, removing the targeting monocle and placing it on a table.  “I’m sure there’s one available nearby.”

“I’ve already been looking at options,” Minimus assured him.  He carefully stretched himself out on the berth, not waking Pseudo in the process.  “For now, though, let’s recharge.”

“Agreed,” Perceptor nodded, stretching himself out next to them.  He placed an arm around his conjux and sparkling, reaching behind the berth and shutting off the lights with the other.  He then settled completely.  “Goodnight, my darlings.”

 

-----

 

The last week of Pseudo’s sparkling-hood flew by in a flash.  He shot up like an over-fertilized biomechanical plant.  He was still quite ‘adorable,’ as Rodimus called it, but much less so now.  He even managed to come up a meter taller than Minimus Ambus, something that wasn’t helping his sire’s confidence issues.  Ultra Magnus was back to showing himself instead most of the time.

Pseudo’s whole frame filled in over the course of it as well, definitely inheriting his sire’s smooth, thin chassis as well.  He developed well going into his younglinghood, but there was one distressing thing that still never developed.

His speech.

Perceptor and Ultra Magnus took Pseudo to both First Aid and Rung, but neither could find the problem.

The medic and his youngling determined it wasn’t physical.  The vocalizer and other physical components had fully developed fine.  The psychiatrist ran Pseudo through tests and exercises, but it wasn’t psychological.  Pseudo wanted to speak, but he couldn’t manage more than vague sounds.

Rung did discover one thing, though.  Pseudo could convey himself two ways: the manipulation of his own vocals, which had the obvious ring of Perceptor’s Elite accent even without words, and using the Box Brainstorm had made him.  Rodimus’s gift to Pseudo was convincing Blaster to give the youngling music lessons regularly.  Using those and his already present penchant for reading sound, Pseudo was developing a method of communication strictly through sound.

The hardest part of Pseudo growing up was giving him his own habsuite.  Perceptor knew it was ridiculous, but his creator programming objected to Pseudo suddenly living on his own, away from his creators.  It was only five doors down, but still.

Appulse rather liked Pseudo having his own room, though.  He wasn’t afraid of disturbing Perceptor and Ultra Magnus on their few moments during the day they had to themselves.  He knocked heartily on the door, knowing the younger was expecting him.

“Hey, Pseudo,” Appulse greeted as the youngling opened the door for him.  In the weeks during Pseudo’s development, the red and black half-Wrecker had officially outgrown his own younglinghood.  There were no real physical signs, but it was considered a step towards a Cybertronian’s full growth none-the-less.  “How’s the settling going?”

Pseudo smiled at the much larger mech, stepping aside.  His usually gleaming white, gold, and red chassis was splotched with many colors.  It was apparent why when Appulse saw the inside of the room.

The white and gold youngling’s walls were covered in swirls of every color he could fit.  Abstract and sweeping, as he loved to make them.

“Just fine, I see,” Appulse chuckled.  “Putting those paints Ten gave you to good use.  You know your sire is going to throw a fit when he sees the mess, right?”

Pseudo tilted his helm to the side and shrugged, still smiling.  He looked proud of himself, despite the truth behind the statement.

“Anyway, ready to head to Swerve’s?  The mech himself has been waiting for this day.”

Pseudo’s frame seemed to flutter in anticipation, pointing to the attached washroom.  He needed to clean up, not wanting to go out looking like a paint display exploded on him.

Appulse chuckled.  “Alright, but hurry.”

While Pseudo ran off to clean, Appulse looked around.  The youngling certainly had settled in nicely.  Other than the chaotic rainbow that used to be a white-washed wall, he’d moved his desk in, which was the neatest thing in there.  Everything was perfectly organized on it, from his art supplies to the papers he used to write music.  He didn’t do it as most people, but instead wrote it using different colored lines in dips, ebbs, and flows across the lined paper.  Appulse wasn’t surprised, as Pseudo saw everything a little different from most people.  It helped (or didn’t, depending on who one asked) that whatever was barring him from speaking also prevented Pseudo from understanding written language.  Unlike with verbal, though, he couldn’t write or read it.  Rung theorized that it was because Pseudo understood sounds rather than the words themselves.  He could learn to associate certain words with certain situations and contexts, but it didn’t always work.

Pseudo moved the banner that he had painted a week previous to his room as well, hanging it over his berth.  Despite its crude nature, being the drawing of a sparkling that was trying to paint a scene from memory, the youngling loved it.

The washroom door opened again, a shiny-clean Pseudo stepping out.  His gold and red details stood out against his white paintjob while he was still damp.

After a moment of wiping any excess droplets from himself, Pseudo stopped and tilted his helm.  “Aah?” his vocals came out confused.

Appulse reset his optics, realizing he was staring.  “Oh, uh… come on.  If you’re done, we should get going.”

Pseudo smiled and nodded, tossing the mesh towel on the berth for now and heading to the door.

Appulse followed, rubbing the back of his neck.  What the frag was that about?

 

-

 

Pseudo was excited.  Now that he was a youngling, developed but not yet having the responsibilities or expectations of a fully-fledged mech, he was going to experience his first drink.  Neither his creator nor sire were particularly thrilled by this, but they acknowledged he was old enough to make the decision on his own.  Appulse purposefully scheduled Pseudo’s first drink while Perceptor and Ultra Magnus were working, so he wouldn’t have to worry about them watching over his shoulder.

Whenever he interacted with anyone who had been drinking at the bar they seemed happier for some reason.  Sometimes they spoke with a myriad of other emotions as well, but they weren’t withholding anything anymore.  They spoke with honesty and earnestness, and that made Pseudo buzz.  Would he be able to hear different sounds when he drank what Swerve served, just as everyone gave them?

When Appulse and Pseudo walked into the bar it was fairly quiet, but Pseudo appreciated it.  He didn’t like too many voices speaking at once.  It gave him a headache trying to hear them all at once.  Cyclonus and Tailgate were at the bar with Skids, talking to Swerve.  He was talking animatedly, but Tailgate seemed to be the only one actually listening.  Hot Spot was sitting with Groove, speaking low among themselves.  On the other side of the bar, a small gathering of the security team was enjoying some time off.

“Ten.”

Pseudo smiled cheerfully to Ten, who held out a hand to Appulse.  He was asking for the rifle and pistol the half-Wrecker usually carried.

“Aa~ah!” Pseudo greeted as Appulse handed over his weapons.

“Ten,” the doorman replied, patting Pseudo on the helm.  The meaning was clear to Pseudo.  He would love to speak with him about their artistic endeavors, but he had to tend to the door.  Maybe later.

The youngling nodded, patting him on the arm in return.

Appulse looked between the two as they walked across the bar, scratching his helm.  “Someday I’ll figure out how you two know what you’re saying,” he said.

Pseudo chuckled.  Everyone was baffled by Pseudo and Ten.  He supposed it was one of the advantages of his disability.  No one else could actually understand Ten, but he didn’t have to concentrate on the shape of words.  Ten never withheld anything in what his intent.

“Hey, there’s our newest drinker!” Swerve called as the pair approached.  Pseudo cringed a bit, never ready for Swerve.  He ‘projected,’ as Pseudo deemed it.  The bar owner put so much effort into making sure everyone thought he felt something completely opposite to what he actually did that it carried over into his vocals.  Loudly.  Not just by the volume, but by the intent.  It might have masked the pain he actually was feeling most of the time if it wasn’t for how hard he was trying.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Cyclonus asked.

Cyclonus was a strange case.  When others spoke to or about him, their vocals projected something untrusting.  Unfriendly.  But Pseudo didn’t understand why.  Cyclonus’s vocals tended to remain even and low, unchanging when he spoke.  But the intent behind them was sharp and honest.  Not much emotion, but he didn’t mince words.  It reminded Pseudo of his sire, though Ultra Magnus projected plenty of emotion despite his best efforts.

“Aah,” Pseudo replied, reassurance echoing through the short sound.  He was a bit nervous now that he was sitting there, but otherwise he wanted to do this.

“Good,” Swerve grinned, pulling out a glass and moving to the Engex tap.  “I’ll admit it, I mostly just want to see how you hold your drink.  I mean, your sire is the lightweight to end all lightweights, but I’ve never seen your creator get anywhere past ‘kind of a little drunk’ no matter how much we gave him.  Let’s see where on the scale you are before I start giving you the real stuff.”

Pseudo didn’t understand everything Swerve had said, but he heard curiosity in his vocals, so he got the gist.  He watched Swerve only fill about half the glass before moving over a bit and pouring something else inside.

“What’re you doing?” Tailgate asked, standing on the barstool so he could see Swerve’s work properly.

“Watering it down,” the red and white metallurgist answered.  “Last time I gave a youngling something strong in my bar, it was when we met him.”  He pointed at Appulse, who grinned back, unashamed.  “I got in major trouble with his creator for that.  And being as I’m more afraid of both Pseudo’s parents than I am of Appulse’s mom, I’m taking no chances.”

“Not a bad idea,” Cyclonus approved.

The glass, now filled with the watered-down concoction, was placed in front of Pseudo.  “Alright, kid.  Drink up, but take it slow.  I don’t want any surprises,” Swerve instructed.

The artist took the glass and gave it an experimental sniff.  It was definitely odd-smelling.  Similar to energon, but somehow stronger.  He tilted the glass and let the first sip past his lips, holding it on his glossa curiously.  The taste was strange as well, but not unpleasantly so.  There was a bite to it, almost like a tang.  He swallowed it and felt the drink make its way down his throat and into his tank, a slight tingling sensation following it.

“Well?  What do you think?” Tailgate asked curiously.

Pseudo sat for a moment.  He then gave a small smile, shrugging.  It wasn’t bad, and it didn’t affect him much.  So he took a bigger gulp this time.  The feeling was much more prominent this time, tingling and warm as it made its way through his chassis.  He actually felt this one creep its way to the tips of his servos and his processor.

“He seems okay,” Appulse pointed out, watching intently.

“So far, so good,” Swerve agreed.  He took the now half-empty glass and filled it with more Engex.  “Let’s give the drink a little more kick.”

Pseudo watched him, but again didn’t completely understand until he saw him fill the glass with more.  This was the stuff that was making him feel slightly… tingly.  That much he could tell.  He didn’t dislike the feeling, as it made him feel a bit lighter than usual.  He could see why everyone seemed so free when they drank it.  It made him feel the same way, and he hadn’t even had much.

“Alright, experiment number two,” Swerve announced, putting the glass back in front of him.

Pseudo picked this one up as well, not bothering with the experimental sip this time.  He gulped down a good amount of it, exventing when he was done.  Two-thirds of the glass was now empty, and he felt proud of himself.  This was something older ‘bots did.  They drank and let go.

Swerve looked impressed, Cyclonus and Tailgate watching with interest.  Appulse’s previously tense posture had relaxed a lot, seeing as Pseudo seemed to be doing just fine.  The bartender took the glass again, refilling it.  He said something, but this time Pseudo really didn’t understand.  He didn’t really care much at this point, though, taking the glass as soon as it was on the counter.  This time he would really drink like a grown mech, tipping the glass and allowing its entire contents to poor down his throat, into his tanks, and spread throughout his chassis.  His helm was starting to feel both light and heavy at the same time.  His tank felt full, yet empty.

Pseudo tilted his helm at the glass in front of him, placing a servo on the rim and running it along.  It made a light, pleasant humming noise that mingled with some voices in the background.  Likely the ones at the tables where he couldn’t really hear them anyway, no concern of his.  The humming was almost entrancing, making him feel relaxed and happy.

At least, until a hand stopped him.  Pseudo jerked out of his trance, blinking up at the owner of the hand.  Swerve.  He was… saying something?  His lips were moving, and Pseudo heard sound, but he couldn’t understand it.  He reset his optics, shaking his helm lightly.  Swerve was hard to read, but not impossible.  His projection wasn’t even coming through the sound of whatever he was trying to say.

Pseudo looked to his left.  Tailgate and Cyclonus looked from him to each other.  Tailgate said something, but again Pseudo couldn’t understand.  Even though he couldn’t see Tailgate’s lips he knew it was him.  That was distinctly the sound of his vocals, but there was no emotion or intent.

Panicking, Pseudo turned to his other side.  To Appulse.  The other half-Wrecker was someone he could read no matter what.  He always knew what Appulse was saying.

Again, the red and black mech’s mouth was moving, and sound was coming out, but Pseudo couldn’t hear it.  Not properly, not the way he always had.  It was like… white noise.  Like the sound of his servo on the rim of the glass.  He could tell from Appulse’s face that he was trying to say something important, but he just couldn’t understand anymore.

Pseudo looked around desperately.  Everyone in the bar had stopped talking and were staring at him.  Ten looked around, unsure what to do, and finally approached.

“Ten.”

That was the last straw.  Pseudo finally fell to panicking, because Ten’s single word, the one he always shaped and no one else could understand… the youngling couldn’t either.  There was nothing to hear outside of the shape of a word Pseudo didn’t understand.

Why couldn’t he hear anyone?  Why was everything so confusing, so muffled?  Why was there no emotion?  No intent?

Pseudo’s vents hitched and he covered his audials, letting out a scream.  Even his own vocals sounded mute of emotion, despite the panic and fear he knew was washing over him.  So he screamed again, not knowing what else to do, and collapsed.

 

-

 

“What happened?!”

All helms in the medbay turned at the sound of Perceptor’s furious vocals.  He stood at the door, body trembling in rage at the sight of the mechs gathered there.  First Aid, Appulse, Swerve, and Hot Spot all watched him uncomfortably.

When Perceptor’s optics fell on his youngling lying on the repair berth before them, recharging, the rage melted into panic.  He rushed forward, bending over the berth and placing a hand on Pseudo’s helm.  He was venting softly, trembling every once in a while but otherwise seemed to be fine.  The scientist vented in shakily himself, looking up to the others.  They seemed to be waiting for him.

He repeated, this time calmer, “What happened to my youngling?”

“We’re not completely sure,” First Aid replied softly, stepping forward.  As he was a creator himself, he could empathize with Perceptor’s panic.  He could only imagine receiving a call that Appulse had screamed his way into stasis lock.

“Can I start by saying I didn’t do anything?” Swerve cut in, raising his hand.  “I gave him watered down Engex, that was it.  Nothing I wasn’t giving Hot Spot here at the same time.”

“I watched him pour it,” Appulse agreed, nodding.  “He didn’t drink that much.  I mean… maybe two glasses worth by the time he started… I don’t know.”  He looked ashamed and scared, likely because he had been right there when it happened.  And because he was the one who took him to drink in the first place.

“I’ve never seen anyone react like that before,” Swerve continued, rubbing an arm with one of his hands uncomfortably.  “I mean… I’ve seen them pass out, but never screaming like their insides were on fire or something.  If he was a lightweight like his sire, I was expecting him to just kind of… get drunk, you know?”

“I knew this was a bad idea,” Perceptor muttered, petting Pseudo’s still unconscious frame soothingly.  “I should never have let him do that.”

“You couldn’t have known,” First Aid said gently, putting a hand on Perceptor’s other arm.  “None of us could have.  This isn’t something that normally happens.  If it were an allergy, he would have locked up and his vents would have overheated, but he wouldn’t have gone into a panic attack like he did.  We don’t know exactly what it was.”

“We were kind of panicking ourselves by the time he locked up,” Appulse admitted, looking anywhere but at the creator and his youngling.  “If it wasn’t for Hot Spot’s quick thinking, I don’t know what we would have done.  He was the one who jumped into action and brought Pseudo here.  We just kind of… followed.”

“I just did my job,” Hot Spot said modestly, rubbing the back of his helm with a hand.  “I’m glad Pseudo is alright, though.  I was worried something bad had happened to him, so I just… jumped in.”

“Thank you,” Perceptor nodded to him.  “You’re sure he is in no danger?” he asked First Aid.

“No, all of his signs are normal,” the medic assured him.  “At least, for someone who is officially plastered.”

“I’m sorry, this is all my fault,” Appulse said.  “I wanted so bad to be able to take him to my favorite spot, I didn’t even think of what might happen.  I just… it didn’t seem so bad at first.  He took the first half-a-drink and he was fine.  The second drink he seemed kind of unfocused, but I thought he might have just inherited his sire’s lightweightedness.  If he got too drunk on the third one we were going to cut him off and I’d take him back to his habsuite to recharge it off.  But then he drank the last one and started acting… weird.  Started fingering the rim of the glass and ignoring us, no matter how much we tried to get his attention.  When Swerve finally did, he started looking around and then went into full-on panic mode.  He started screaming and locked up.”

“When Pseudo looked at me, I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what to do,” Swerve added.  “He looked so… confused.  I know he can’t understand people normally, but usually he seems to get the gist of it.  But this time, the more I talked the more confused he got.”

“He’s right,” Appulse said.  “When he finally looked at me he looked so… scared.  I tried to assure him he was okay, but that was when he started panicking.”

“That’s because he couldn’t understand you.”

All helms turned to the door once again, where Rung was standing.  He held a datapad and a serious look on his faceplate.

“What do you mean?” Perceptor asked, straightening up again.

“I’ve told you, Pseudo understands sounds, but not words.  He can hear what people mean by the sound of their voices, rather than what words they’re using,” Rung explained, walking towards them.  “Intoxication numbs a person’s cognitive abilities.  When we drink, certain functions of our CPUs are dulled, and one is our ability to recognize and rationalize sound.  Have you ever noticed that when you have been drinking heavily you have a harder time focusing on what people are saying to you, let alone processing what they meant?”

“Yes, it’s why I don’t like drinking much,” First Aid nodded.  The others agreed quietly, nodding.

“For us, when this happens we can still surmise the general idea of what people are trying to tell us because we instead concentrate on the words being spoken to us.  Pseudo doesn’t have that ability, thus when the drink numbed out his ability to focus on people’s voices, more specifically the sounds they made, it effectively rendered him deaf,” the psychiatrist said, stopping next to Perceptor.  He looked down at the youngling on the repair berth with concern.  “As soon as he sobers, he should be fine.  I would like to request another session with him, however.  I want to understand his unique ability, and help him to as well.”

“Ability?” Perceptor ex-vented the word as if it were foreign.  “You mean disability.”

“No, I assure you I do not,” Rung said firmly.  He activated the datapad he held.  “He perceives the world differently, but that doesn’t mean the way he does is wrong.  He can function just fine without being able to understand words because he’s figuring out other ways around it.”

“Fine?” the scientist echoed incredulously.  “You call this ‘fine?’  My youngling was laid out by a drink effectively deafening him!”

The others watched uncomfortably, but didn’t know what to do.  They knew Perceptor was just worried and scared, but Rung didn’t deserve to be the target of his panic.

Luckily, it looked like Rung could handle him on his own, with kindness.  He placed a hand on Perceptor’s shoulderplate.  “Engex is a recreational drink, something not natural to our systems.  Some people react badly to it, and that is not a sign of weakness.  Pseudo can live his life without it.  However, if we don’t help him understand the way his abilities work, they can become a hindrance to him.  Will you let me, Perceptor?  Can I help your youngling understand the way he sees the world?”

Perceptor stared at him a moment before deflating, knowing that Rung was right.  “Very well, Rung.  I apologize.  I did not intend to shout at you.”

“It’s alright, Perceptor,” Rung smiled softly, patting him on the shoulder before withdrawing his servos.  “You’re concerned.  We all are.  But I promise you, I will help in any way I can.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t long later that Pseudo sat in Rung’s office, Perceptor leaning on the wall behind him.  It wasn’t that Perceptor didn’t trust the psychiatrist.  Far from it, Rung was likely the only person (besides Ultra Magnus, of course) on the entire ship Perceptor truly believed harbored no ill will towards anyone.  Creator programming made him antsy, though, and he didn’t like that.  He survived the Autobot-Decepticon War through keeping himself calm and collected.  Well, mostly.  If he had been more careful towards the end he wouldn’t have ended up with a hole in his chestplate and a new position as sniper to show for it.

That was something he tried not to think about, though.

Right now he concentrated on his youngling, who sat across from Rung at a table.  Neither said anything, the white and gold mechling instead sitting with his Box before him, servos hovering over the lasers.  He wore a pair of headphones over his audials, optics offline.  Every once in a while Rung would press a button on the device attached to the headphones, pausing to take note of the tones Pseudo echoed on his Box and the subtle changes in his facial expressions.

It was fascinating to watch in itself.  Rung had told Perceptor that the sounds he was playing for Pseudo were used as sound therapy for patients who responded to audio stimulation.  Each one was intended and designed to invoke certain emotional responses.  The tones he returned for each one wasn’t necessarily the same as the ones he heard, but rather a response to them.  He wasn’t just listening to the sounds presented to him, he was having a conversation with them.

Perceptor could feel his own emotions responding to the sounds coming from Pseudo’s Box as well.  Emotions the scientist-turned-sniper had successfully kept in check for the past few years since the incident that nearly lost him his life.  He didn’t feel as if the sounds were manipulating him, but rather were… speaking to him.  Was this how Pseudo heard the world?  He couldn’t imagine it was this simple.

“That’s enough, Pseudo,” Rung said, speaking clearly and concisely as he took the headphones from the youngling’s audials.  “You did well.”

Pseudo reactivated his optics and reset them a couple of times before looking at the elderly orange and white mech.  He smiled, pressing his servo against one of the lasers on the Box.  It made a clear, cheerful sound.

Brainstorm, Nautica, Pseudo, and Blaster had sat down within the last week and completely redesigned the instrument.  They made it a bit bigger to suit Pseudo’s needs.  Gave it a ‘neck’ and a new shape that made it easier for two-handed playing.  When he played it normally, Pseudo held it along the length of his forearm, touching the lasers along the neck with his left servos.  Those three lasers ran along the length of the Box, with four more flanking them on the wide base he held closer to his body.  Those ones he played with his right servos.  Blaster’s music lessons had to be built from the ground up, such an instrument never having been seen before.  Each laser still gave a tone completely unique depending on which one was touched and where along the length of it.

“I’m starting to build an un-”

Rung was cut off by a loud GUNNG!

“Was that over the intercom?” Perceptor asked incredulously.

“I believe so.  We haven’t heard that sound since…”

“Theophany, I know,” the scientist interrupted Rung once more.

Both of their helms turned to Pseudo when they heard a sound of the exact same pitch, simply a different source.  He was staring at the intercom, servo pressed against one of the lasers on his Box.

“That’s right,” Perceptor walked over, picking up his youngling and pulling him away from the Box.  “You’ve never heard it before, have you?  No one who joined after our relaunch has.”

“Here’s hoping it’s not a false alarm,” Rung ex-vented, picking up the Box and handing it to the youngling.  “Let us see what kind of progress we’ve made.”

 

-

 

“Appulse, have you seen the files from Megatron’s last pick-up of his energon?” First Aid asked, shuffling through datapads.

“Are you sure he signed the paperwork?  Maybe he forgot this time,” the half-Wrecker replied, sitting at the desk that had formerly been Ambulon’s.  It still made him feel better to sit there, even if they’d cleaned everything out from it.  He leaned back in the chair, pedes on the desk.

“We’re talking about Megatron, not Rodimus,” First Aid huffed, walking over and pushing Appulse’s pedes down.  “And don’t put your pedes on the desk.  We raised you in a medical facility, not the mines.”

“Geez, you’re being extra naggy today, creator,” Appulse pointed out, standing up.  He leaned over his creator, tilting his helm.  “You feeling alright?”

“Sorry, I’m just stressed,” the medic admitted, leaning on the desk.  “I’m the only medic on a ship of 200 ‘bots.  Many of them restless and getting themselves hurt just trying to keep themselves entertained.  I need help.  Actual help, no offense.  I need someone who is professionally trained.”

“None taken,” the red and black mech replied honestly, shrugging.  It was fair enough.  He really wasn’t a professional.  Everything Appulse knew was from watching First Aid, Pharma, and Ambulon back on Delphi, and occasionally being bored enough to read some of the medical journals left lying around.  It wasn’t enough to do more than give him a passing knowledge of how to repair minor injuries and maybe keep someone who was bleeding energon all over the floor alive long enough for a medic to get to them.

“Maybe I should talk to Rodimus about it.”

GUNNG!  GUNNG!  GUNNG!

“Holy frag, is that what I think it is?” Appulse asked, faceplate breaking into a grin.

“If it is, I can hardly believe it,” First Aid replied, looking at his youngling.  They nodded to each other and ran out of the door, transforming and driving quickly.

 

-----

 

A ‘pre-wake’ wasn’t the most absurd thing Appulse had heard of.  Not even closest to the strangest thing on this trip.  (That honor still went to the ‘quantum duplicate Lost Light,’ and he didn’t even see that.)  It was actually refreshingly normal compared to their usually violent, life-threatening adventures.  Plus, there were new people.  That was always fun.

At least, for him.

Perceptor had declined to go, simply stating he wasn’t a ‘party person.’  Ultra Magnus, or rather Minimus Ambus, was pretty much dragged into it, though.  Megatron and Rodimus outright had refused, leaving Minimus Ambus to be the highest ranking representative on the ship.  He and First Aid had gone to see Thunderclash’s condition, though, waving Appulse and Pseudo off to go enjoy themselves.  It was just a party, after all.  Not much opportunity to get into mischief there.

Pseudo wasn’t having fun, though.

As soon as the party amped up properly, Appulse had to escort the youngling out.  Everything was too much for someone whose entire cognitive recognition was dependent on sound and color.  The people were too loud, the music louder.  The lights and movement overwhelmed his ability to process things visually.

Out in the hall, Appulse watched as Pseudo vented deeply, rubbing his audials.  “You going to be okay?” he asked, concerned.  Mechs and femmes arriving late to the party looked at them strangely, but he ignored them.

Pseudo onlined an optic giving what was likely supposed to be a reassuring smile.  It was lopsided and cute, something he inherited from his creator.  Appulse could feel his spark clench in the same way it had when he saw him gleaming.

“Come on, let’s see if there’s anything else fun to do on this ship,” the red and black half-Wrecker nodded down the hall.

Pseudo looked at him curiously, looking the way he nodded.  He then looked back to the party, obviously conflicted.

“Don’t worry about not being there,” Appulse waved it off.  “Your sire said to ‘go have ffffff- a good time.’  He didn’t necessarily say it had to be at the party.”

Pseudo still looked unsure, but nodded.  Despite the joy he felt making a mess with his paints, the youngling was still a ‘sire’s mechling.’  He inherited both his creator and sire’s love of rules and schedules.  He didn’t like getting in trouble.

Still, Appulse was right.  Even though Pseudo didn’t understand the words, he knew Appulse had read his concern for disobeying his sire.  The fact that he was still encouraging them to leave the party meant Appulse had found a way to justify their absence.  He trusted Appulse.

Besides, what kind of trouble could they get into?

 

-

 

The answer was ‘way too much.’

They’d heard the commotion coming and still went to investigate, despite knowing it was probably a bad idea.  They found people running from the party towards the docking bay, screaming, panicking.  Appulse wasted no time scooping Pseudo up to keep the minibot youngling from being trampled underfoot, pressing himself against the wall to keep out of their way.

Common sense would have told them to run as well.

The way Pseudo pressed his hands to his audials and let out distressed sounds distracted Appulse instead.  He hadn’t heard Pseudo make sounds like that since the night he drank.  He’d never wanted him to make those sounds again.

And then he saw what everyone was running from.

Appulse wasn’t sure what they were, but panic welled up in himself as well.  They were huge, as large as himself.  Black.  Covered in… he didn’t know what that was, either, but they looked like lesions of some sort.  Organic or mechanical?  It didn’t matter. The closer they got, the weaker he felt.  A couple of ‘bots from the fleeing crowd had suffered the same symptoms and were quickly overtaken by the creatures.

The half-Wrecker now had a dilemma.  On one hand, he had to get out of there with Pseudo as quickly as possible, even though he could feel the energy being sucked out of himself.  On the other, his creator was somewhere on the ship.  Somewhere in a place where, once again, Appulse couldn’t protect him.  He was useless.

Weak.

He felt so weak.

Appulse barely even felt himself slide down the wall he was leaning on, sitting on the floor.  He felt too weak to move.

The red and black mech hadn’t even realized Pseudo was no longer in his arms until he heard him.  At first Appulse thought he was screaming.

No, it was too controlled.  To intentional.

Pseudo’s vocals rang down the hall, piercing the noise around them like a knife.  The creatures around them stopped and shuddered at the sound, all attention turning to the minibot.  Pseudo stepped back from Appulse, slowly.  The creatures followed, seemingly entranced by the sound of his vocals.  He raised the pitch carefully every few seconds, backing cautiously.  It took Appulse until five had passed him, the lethargic feeling that had overwhelmed him starting to pass, to realize that Pseudo was leading them away from him.

The creatures didn’t attack.  They followed at a distance, seeming to feed on the sound of Pseudo’s voice.  One was at the front, watching him as intently as he did as well.  Whether it was a leader or simply bolder than the rest, it was hard to tell.  It seemed to be waiting for something, though.

What it was became apparent as Pseudo’s pede connected with something lying on the floor.  A fleeing femme had fallen, likely because of the same overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that had caught Appulse.  Since she’d been ahead of them the creatures hadn’t noticed, but she seemed to have been petrified to the spot in fear of them.  So much so that she didn’t even think to move when Pseudo backed into her, causing him to trip and fall backwards on top of her.

Both screamed as his song was interrupted, causing the creature at the front to finally pounce, released from the trance Pseudo’s song had put him in.

A gunshot rang this time, though, and the creature’s head exploded above them.

The femme on the ground was covered in… whatever the monster was made of, but she had mustered the courage to shield Pseudo from the assault.

The three ‘bots helms turned to the source of the gunshot.  Perceptor stood at the other end of the hall, reloading his sniper rifle quickly and taking aim once more.

“Get the frag away from my youngling!”

The creatures made an ungodly sound, finding a new target for their hunger.

It was a sight to behold, Perceptor not even budging from where he stood.  The scientist-turned-sniper fired shot after shot, laserfire tearing through the creatures as if they were targets in a shooting gallery.  A sniper rifle could only fire so quickly, though, and it wasn’t long before they were on him.

Once more, the sound of Pseudo’s vocals pierced the sounds around him.  This time, though, it was a sound Appulse had never heard in his lifecycle.  High-pitched, desperate, and painful to hear.  He and the femme Pseudo had tripped over covered their audials as the sound travelled.  It reached the creatures attacking his creator, and they writhed and fitted at the sound.  After a few moments of this, they ceased moving altogether, collapsing on the ground.

“…what the frag just happened?” Appulse muttered, forcing himself onto his pedes and looking at the pile of… whatever they’d been.

Perceptor pushed his way out of them, cringing at the gashes left in his plating from where their claws had managed to reach him before Pseudo’s verbal assault.  He ignored it in favor of stumbling his way to the youngling, who was sitting, staring blankly ahead in shock.  The femme with him had scrambled back against the opposite wall from Appulse, shaking.

“Pseudo!” Perceptor dropped to his knees and put his hands on the white and gold youngling’s shoulderplates.  He watched Pseudo’s blue optics turn upwards towards him, though they still didn’t look focused.  “It’s okay,” he said soothingly, petting the artist’s helm softly.  “You are going to be fine, my darling.”

The sound of his vocals reached Pseudo, who let out a strangled sob and threw himself into his creator’s arms.  He clung tight, not noticing the microscope cringing at the feeling of him irritating his wounds.  Perceptor ignored it, though, wrapping his arms around his youngling and whispering soft words to him.

Appulse finally pushed himself up, the effects of the energy drain he’d gone through wearing off.  While Perceptor soothed his traumatized youngling, the half-Wrecker walked over to the femme across from him.  He held out a hand.  “Hey, are you okay?” he asked.

She was about half his size.  She bore a mostly black paintjob, with white arms and legs, and red detailing, off-setting her currently huge green optics.  It was strange to see, as green wasn’t a color Appulse had ever seen in a Cybertronian’s optics before.

The femme tore her optics away from the horror she’d witnessed, attention snapping to him.  She took his hand, letting him pull her up.  As soon as she was standing, instead of being grateful she started yelling.  “Am I okay?!” she shrieked, punching him on the arm.  “No, I’m not okay!  I’m the opposite of okay!  I couldn’t be further from okay if I tried!  I almost died!”

“Still your vocals!” Perceptor snapped at her.  “You’re upsetting my youngling!”

“He should be upset!  I want to know why neither of you are!” the black and white femme continued yelling, pointing between the two.

“Look, I know this was… really, really freaky.  But this isn’t the weirdest, or even scariest, thing that’s happened to us in the last couple of years.  So if you could just calm down…” Appulse tried.

“No!  No, I’m not going to calm down, I-!”

Runescribe!

The femme shut her mouth, turning quickly.  The femme from the party whose helm was on fire was approaching.  Behind her was Nautica, Nightbeat, Minimus Ambus, First Aid, and the co-captains.  Minimus Ambus and First Aid both rushed forward when they saw their families.

“Oh!  Hey, Firestar!” Runescribe greeted back, alarm melting away into nervousness.  “What’s up?”

“We’re doing a sweep of the area for those Personality Whats-its,” Rodimus said, seeming pleased with himself for some reason.  “Making sure they’re all gone.”

“It looks like you had this well under control, though,” Nautica pointed out, looking at the fallen creatures.  “What happened here?  I thought the only way to kill them was charisma.”

“Wait, what?” Appulse asked incredulously as his creator looked him over.

“The Personality Ticks feed on charisma,” First Aid explained.  “We found out first-hand that they’re extremely hard to kill if you don’t overdose them.”

“Every time I think I’ve seen the most ridiculous thing on this journey…” Megatron muttered in the back.

Minimus Ambus ignored them, fretting over his sparkmate and youngling.  “How did you survive?” he asked, careful not to touch the gashes across Perceptor’s armor.  The chestplate he had made years previous, replacing the one he lost to Turmoil, had held true.  It had only light scratches on it, unlike the rest of his plating.

“If what First Aid is saying is true, then I think Pseudo managed to overdose them himself,” the microscope answered.  He looked at his youngling, who had finally calmed but was still clinging to him.

“I mean, no offense, but… how?” Rodimus asked, confused.  “He doesn’t even talk.”

“The two of you didn’t have to,” Nightbeat pointed out.  “I mean, you talked, Rodimus, but Megatron didn’t have to say anything.  All you had to do was show up.  Still, Pseudo does seem rather young to be able to muster the amount of charisma you two have together.”

“I think…” Perceptor said, trailing off a moment to do just that.  “I think he overloaded them on false charisma.  He communicates by using tones and pitches that reflect whatever emotion conveys what he wants to say.”

“That’s what he was doing before, wasn’t it?” Appulse realized.  “When he was singing, he wasn’t just distracting them.  He was trying to find out what they wanted from us.  Only some of us were effected by their feeding.  Her… uh… Runescribe, was it?  She and I both got hit by it, but Pseudo was fine.”

“Is that true?” Minimus asked Pseudo, moving to where the youngling could see him while buried in his creator’s arms.

Pseudo looked at him, tilting his helm to the side.  Sometimes it was hard to remember that he didn’t understand what everyone was saying.

“Pseudo, were you experimenting with what those creatures wanted?” Perceptor tried.

This time Pseudo stared a moment but then nodded.

“When I arrived, they must have found me a more enticing target,” the scientist continued.  “And when they came after me, Pseudo panicked.”

“He let out that… Primus, that sound,” Appulse rubbed the back of his helm.

“It was something out of my nightmares,” Runescribe agreed, shuddering.  “And he was right on top of me.  I got that full-blast.”

“I believe when they came after me he surmised what they wanted by listening to my voice,” Perceptor finally concluded.  “He only had one shot at saving my life, so he gave it everything he had.”  He tightened his hold on his youngling, trying not to think of what would have happened if it hadn’t worked.

Minimus put a hand on Perceptor’s arm.  “He may be more artist than scientist, but he still has your brilliant coding,” he assured him.

Pseudo looked to his sire again, and let go of his creator.  He reached out and grabbed onto the surprised Minimus Ambus, pulling him into a crushing hug of his own.  The enforcer looked surprised at first, but then relaxed and wrapped his arms around his youngling, holding him.  It was slightly awkward with Pseudo being a bit taller than him, but he didn’t care.  At that moment, Pseudo needed him.

Perceptor stood up, wincing and gently fingering one of the gashes.  “I am truly grateful for Pseudo’s quick thinking.  They did this within seconds.  I don’t wish to dwell on how little time it would have taken for them to finish the job.”

“Not to mention that when they were done with you, we would have been the next course,” Runescribe said testily.

“Scribe!” Nautica shouted in exasperation.

“What?  It’s true!” the black and white femme defended herself.

“This is why no one likes the characters you write,” Firestar pointed out, hands on her hips.  “You don’t empathize with people.”

“I do!” Runescribe argued.  “I’m just… I empathize better with people who aren’t real… or are long dead…” she trailed off, pushing her fore-servos together awkwardly.

“Wait, how did the Personality Ticks effect you if you aren’t good with people?” Nightbeat asked, raising an optic ridge.

Runescribe stood a moment, not answering.  She looked extremely embarrassed the longer they waited for an answer.

Her non-answer seemed to be the thing that clued Nightbeat in, who crossed his arms over his chestplate.  “You tripped, didn’t you?”

“No!” Runescribe insisted, turning on him.  A few moments of his suspicious gaze and she muttered, “Yes…”

“This is why you can’t dance,” Firestar rolled her optics.

“Shut up!” Runescribe snapped.  She then seemed to realize who she yelled at, quickly correcting herself.  “I mean… You’re not wrong, but I politely disagree that I’m that clumsy.”

“As delightful as this interlude is,” Megatron spoke up from the back.  “I would suggest Rodimus and I continue our sweep of the ship to make sure the Ticks are no longer a threat.”

“Good idea,” Firestar said, turning to him.  “First Aid, you coming?”

“He should stay here,” Rodimus answered for him.  “Perceptor needs medical attention.  If we need a medic in case anyone’s injured we should go back and get Velocity.”

“That… is a very good idea,” Megatron said in surprise.

“Hey, don’t have to sound like the universe just imploded,” his co-captain huffed.  “Minimus, you stay here, too.  You’ve got Perceptor and the bean to look after.”

“Yes, captain,” Minimus replied, grateful.

Firestar, Rodimus, Megatron, and Nautica all left.  First Aid moved his attention to Perceptor, making sure nothing vital was so much as nicked.

“So, why’d you stay?” Appulse asked Nightbeat.

The investigator shrugged, looking at Runescribe.  “So, what’s your story?”

“Me?” the femme looked surprised.  “Not much to tell.  I was forged on Caminus, specialized in Intergalactic Languages.  Ended up here because I decided to use my expertise in the language arts to become an author.  I’ve been looking for inspiration.  Was following Firestar because she’s huge, so I figured using her as a basis for my novel was perfect.  But then I met Thunderclash, and I’ve been trying to write something revolving around him.”

“Don’t tell Rodimus that,” Appulse grinned.  “He hates that guy.”

“Yes, well, I don’t hate him, but I didn’t find him as… interesting as I was hoping.  There’s no ‘meat’ to his character.  No conflict.  He’s boring,” Runescribe complained.

“Nevermind, you should talk to Rodimus about Thunderclash,” Nightbeat said.  “You’d get along fine if you just talked about that.”

“That’s a cruel joke to tell about someone who is dying,” Perceptor spoke up.

“I wasn’t joking, but okay,” the blue and yellow investigator shrugged.

“So what about you guys?” Runescribe asked.  “I mean, what’s a bunch of weirdos like you out this far in the universe?”

“Weirdos?” Minimus echoed in offense.

“Ill-mannered,” Perceptor muttered in agreement.

“Stand still,” First Aid complained, sealing one of the gashes with a blow torch that he carried with his emergency supplies.  “You can be offended while not moving.”

“Same as Thunderclash, truthfully,” Nightbeat answered.  “Looking for the Knights of Cybertron.”

“We keep getting sidetracked, though, so we’re not as far as we’d like,” Minimus added.

“Really?” Runescribe looked interested.  “Like… what kind of sidetracked?”

“Decepticon raids,” Appulse answered, ticking off on his servos.  “Escaped monsters, genocidal loonies, planet-wide battles, disappearing spaceships, alternate versions of ourselves, time travel.  You know, normal stuff.”

Runescribe stared at him.  “You know, it’s not nice to tease a femme with stuff like that,” she finally huffed, crossing her arms testily.

“He’s not teasing,” Nightbeat assured her.

“That’s all quite accurate, if extremely abridged,” Perceptor added.

Runescribe looked between them.  She then looked thoughtful.  “Alright, then, if that’s how it is,” she announced, raising a hand.  “I’m coming with you!”

“Why would all of that convince you to come with us?” Perceptor asked incredulously.

“Well, if I want inspiration for my novel, I need to experience everything,” the black and white femme explained.  “And if that didn’t sound like a recipe for ‘everything,’ I don’t know what does.”

 

-----

There was no stopping Runescribe once she said she was joining.  Honestly, all she had to do was tell Rodimus she wanted to base a novel on their adventures, which translated in his head as ‘I want to make you an action hero,’ and he was all for it.  She wasn’t the only one that joined, though.

A femme medic named Velocity found her way onboard, much to First Aid’s relief.  An extra hand on deck was exactly what he needed to help ease his stress, especially since he was busy packing up at that moment.  He and five other members of the crew were temporarily returning to Cybertron.

Thunderclash was also brought onboard, though he was currently being held in the medbay under observation until they were sure he was completely clear.

Right now, it was time for the after party.

Swerve made it an event, something not as grand or loud as the pre-wake, but still appreciated by the crew.  Time for them, and only them, to relax and unwind.  Pseudo was grateful for the Earthling soundtrack, as Earth music was far more fitting for the way his cognition worked.  Cybertronian music and its variants were too loud, too dependent on sounds that weren’t… well, organic.  But Earth music, proper Earth music, was about conveying the right moods and emotions.

Plus, the crowd was far smaller and more familiar in this celebration.  Pseudo could sort the voices and sounds easier if he recognized them.

“You having fun, Pseudo?” Appulse asked, dancing up to the youngling.

Said artist wasn’t dancing, but he still nodded.  He instead had brought his paints and brushes, sitting himself on one of the tables.  Ultra Magnus and Ten had helped him set up a makeshift easel and he faced the dance floor.  Listening to the music, watching people dance and the colored lights (actual lights, which was far less stressful on his optics than the lasers at the pre-wake), and running his brush across the canvas.  Appulse looked at what he was doing and smiled.  Abstract as always, with dancing sweeps of the paintbrush.  It followed the flow of the music and the movements of the dancers.  He seemed to especially be enjoying following Nautica’s movements.

“Everyone seems to be having fun.  Even your sire is… less tense than usual,” Appulse continued, sitting in the booth next to him.

Pseudo stopped painting and looked at him, shaking his helm lightly.  He pointed with his brush to the corner.  Cyclonus was standing there, watching Tailgate dance with Getaway to the violet mech’s favorite song.

The red and black tank rolled his optics.  “I wonder if he’s ever going to just go and tell him.  I don’t know who he thinks he’s fooling.”

Pseudo chuckled and washed his brush of paint in the jar of water next to him.  He then dipped it in some blue and went back to swirling it across the canvas.

Appulse watched him and smiled, entranced by the movement of the brush and the peaceful yet concentrated look on Pseudo’s faceplate.  After a moment, he asked, “Hey, are you okay?  You’ve been acting kind of… quiet since the V.V.  Quieter than usual, I mean.”

Pseudo stopped again, putting his brush down this time.  Appulse was confused, worried that he said something to upset him.  He watched the youngling hop off the table, holding a hand out to the other half-Wrecker.  Appulse looked at it, and then Pseudo’s faceplate, before taking the hand.

The artist pulled him out of his seat with a light tug, yanking him to the dance floor.  Appulse relaxed, smiling.  If he just wanted to dance, he wished Pseudo had just said so.  …so to speak.

Over at the bar, Runescribe was having an extremely heated discussion with Crosscut.

“You can’t open a scene with a mech holding two dead glitchmice and have no one say anything about it!” Runescribe said in exasperation.

“It’s art, Runescribe!” Crosscut returned, downing his Engex and scowling at her.  “I don’t expect someone whose protagonist has ‘proclivity towards slapping anyone with a yellow paint job’ as one of their strengths to understand.”

“Yellow is a hideous color for a paint job!” the femme defended herself.  “She gets very triggered by how tacky it is!”

There was a resetting of vocals behind her and she turned quickly to find Fervor standing there, glaring.  “I don’t want to hear how ‘hideous’ and ‘tacky’ yellow is from someone who customized their optics to green,” he told her, grabbing his drink and heading back to Kindle.

“The optician who made me these said I look fetching in green, you aft!” Runescribe yelled after him.

“Smooth,” Crosscut laughed.

Nightbeat slapped her shoulder, grinning as well.  “On the upside, you’ll fit right in, Scribe.”

 

--

 

Ultra Magnus returned to his habsuite as the party wound down, opening the door to darkness.  He wasn’t surprised, as Perceptor had been sent right to berth after First Aid finished patching him up.  They’d worry about fixing his paint job when he felt less like he’d been hit by a battleship.  The enforcer had been glad that Pseudo was at least feeling well enough to return to the party.  It helped him to have Appulse.  Magnus was honestly glad that Pseudo had someone like the half-Wrecker to rely on.

Magnus turned the light on and made his way over to the corner where he usually removed his armor, but stopped as he passed a mirror.  He looked at himself, this version of himself, and cringed.  There was that analysis on his HUD, always there whenever he looked at anyone.  Including himself.

Ultra Magnus

Former Duly-Appointed Enforcer of the Tyrest Accord

Insufficient Sire, Worst Conjux Endura

Magnus balled his servos into a fist, almost punching the mirror.  He didn’t lose control often, but everything just seemed to be getting worst, and worst, and he couldn’t-

He stopped when a shifting sound behind him got his attention.  Through the mirror the enforcer could see Perceptor on the berth, turning over in his recharge.

Magnus looked at himself one last time and made a disgusted sound.  He turned and walked to the berth, leaning over it to see his sparkmate.

Perceptor

Chief Science Officer

Scientist Turned Sniper, Most Brilliant Mind on Cybertron, Your World

Magnus smiled lightly.  He’d been doing that a lot since Pseudo was born.  No, since he and Perceptor entered their relationship.  Not around other people, especially the crew.  But here, alone, he wasn’t afraid to be… happy.

And he almost lost that.

Magnus kept thinking back to that moment where he – where Minimus Ambus – arrived in that hallway.  He had been keeping himself in check so well, despite his worry.  Appulse and Pseudo were clever and resourceful, he had convinced himself they would find a way to escape before the Ticks found them.  He’d never expected to find Perceptor comforting Pseudo, surrounded by the dead creatures, covered in wounds from them.  The enforcer gently fingered the welding scars across Perceptor’s midsection.

He should have been there.

Ultra Magnus should have been there.  Why did he think it was a good idea to leave without his armor?  This was the Lost Light, something wrong always happened.  And Minimus Ambus couldn’t do anything about it.  He was small, weak.

“Darling?”

Magnus turned his attention to Perceptor’s faceplate.  He was awake, watching him.  Searching.  Always observing.

Primus, Magnus loved him so much.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to wake you,” the blue and white enforcer said quietly, leaning down and kissing Perceptor on the helm.

“No, it’s alright,” the scientist sat up, grunting.  “Oh, it aches more now than it did when those blasted creatures attacked me…”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you.  How did you even know to be on the ship?  That you’d find Pseudo where you did?” Magnus asked.  “You’d stayed behind, you shouldn’t have known what was happening.”

“I knew ‘what was happening’ because Brainstorm called when the Ticks began attacking.  He informed me that he didn’t know where Pseudo was, he hadn’t seen him since the celebration started.  He would have called you, but you weren’t…” Perceptor stopped himself, trailing off and looking uncomfortable at what his next words almost were.

Magnus frowned, looking away from him.  “I wasn’t me.”

“Magnus,” Perceptor ex-vented, scooting over and placing his helm against his conjux’s arm.  His own arms wrapped around it until his hands connected with Magnus’s.  He took it between his and gave it a squeeze.  “Minimus,” he corrected himself.  “I have told you time and again, it doesn’t matter if you wear this armor.  I still love you.”

“But I can’t protect you and Pseudo without it!” Magnus snapped, turning a sharp gaze on the scientist.  Perceptor didn’t budge, didn’t even blink, but that only made him more frustrated.  “If I had taken the armor… if I had been there…!”

“You wouldn’t have made it on time,” Perceptor cut him off, putting a servo on his lips to shush him.  “You had your own worries at the time.  If Brainstorm had called you, even with your Magnus armor, you wouldn’t have known where to find Pseudo.  You would never have made it on time.  You were busy with Thunderclash and the Personality Ticks there.”

Magnus tried to think of an argument, but he deflated.  He knew Perceptor was right.  “You still haven’t told me how you found him.”

“Creator’s instinct,” Perceptor smiled.  When Magnus raised an optic ridge, he chuckled.  “And I might have sneaked a tracking device onto him in case he somehow got disoriented on the Vis Vitalis.”

Ultra Magnus finally smiled again, leaning down and kissing Perceptor on the lips this time.  When they parted, he muttered, “How do you keep that sneaky deviousness hidden so well?”

“Because I only let the people I love see it,” the scientist answered, reaching up and pushing Ultra Magnus onto his back.  He straddled the enforcer’s waist, leaning up and smiling cheekily.  “Just like I only let you see me like this, my darling.”

Magnus revved, pulling Perceptor down into a crushing kiss this time.  It was needy and hungry, with battling glossas and wandering hands.  Perceptor tugged gently at the cords in Magnus’s neck, receiving an appreciative grunt in response.  In return, the enforcer grasped the scientist by the waist, pinning him and allowing Magnus’s other hand to reach around and run across Perceptor’s aft and down to his valve cover.

“Mmm… Magnus…” the scientist moaned softly, pushing himself back against the servos pressing into the seams of his cover.

The sound of his voice, so clear and concise, made Magnus’s engine rev again.  “Beautiful,” he vented, the hand on Perceptor’s waist running up his spinal strut.

Perceptor let out a gorgeous sound, something between a whine and a moan.  His valve array clicked open, exposing it to the servos groping there.  He laid his helm down on Magnus’s chestplate, venting heavily, as he felt two of Magnus’s servos finger the soft, puffy lips of his valve.

Perceptor talked about Magnus being the only one allowed to see him like this, but it went the other way as well.  The enforcer couldn’t imagine being comfortable doing this with anyone else.  Touching them so intimately.  So… dirty.

“Put them in already…” Perceptor moaned, moving his hips to better feel the servos on his valve.

“Impatient tonight, are we?” Magnus chuckled.  He parted the lips with his fore and ring servos, teasing the hole there with his middle one.  Not quite dipping in, but massaging the ring just outside of it.

“Aaaah… you could… unh… talk… you’re n-never this teasing…”  Perceptor practically mewled, trying to push himself back on the servo.

“Perhaps I’m prioritizing,” Magnus replied, holding fast on Perceptor’s back to keep him still.  After a bit more of the tantalizing torture, he finally dipped his middle servo into the leaking, pulsating valve.  It was hot and wet, shuddering with the restraint Perceptor was using to not push himself out of his conjux’s grasp and ride those servos himself.  “My beautiful scientist,” the enforcer muttered, adding his fore-servo inside and enjoying the gasp he received.  He moved the servos slowly, lazily.  He wasn’t in a hurry.  They had all the time in the-

BEEP BEEP BEEP!

Perceptor looked at Magnus at first in horror, then annoyance.  “Don’t even think of answering that…” he growled.

Magnus looked sheepish, pulling his servos out of his conjux and receiving an angry groan in response.  “I’m sorry, but it’s my emergency number.  It’s Megatron, and you know he wouldn’t call it if it wasn’t a true emergency.”

Perceptor pushed himself off of Magnus’s lap, landing on the berth with an irritated CLANG.  He didn’t say anything, but it was a sign that Magnus could answer his call in peace.

“This is Ultra Magnus, what is it?” the blue and white enforcer answered.  After a couple minutes of talking, in which Magnus’s scowl returned and then grew, he replied, “Understood.  I will be right there.”  He then hung up.

“What was that about?” Perceptor asked, not closing himself up (he was far too heated at this point to not still do something about it, with or without his conjux), but at least sitting up and folding his hands on his lap to eliminate the distraction.

Magnus hesitated, but answered.  “There’s a planet chasing us.”

Perceptor stared at him a moment.  “What?” he asked flatly.

“Mainframe said there’s a planet chasing the ship, and Swerve has disappeared.  I suspect the two are connected.  I have to go,” the second-in-command explained.

“I would say so,” Perceptor replied, leaning up and kissing Magnus on the cheek.  “Go.  I will be fine on my own.  First Aid told me not to leave this berth tonight, anyway.”

“I’m sorry,” Magnus said, kissing him in return.  “I will make it up to you, I promise.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Perceptor winked as his conjux left.

 

---

 

“This is weird.”

Appulse looked beside himself at the dark-skinned woman.  When they’d asked for volunteers for people to go to ‘Swearth’ and find the bartender, Appulse, Pseudo, and Runescribe had jumped at the opportunity.  They wandered down the street of… ‘New York?’  Yeah, that was what it was called.  They wandered New York in their holomatter avatars.  It wasn’t the first time Appulse had tried it, that was back when they had gone to Hedonia.  But this was an entirely new experience for both the author and the artist.

“If you think this is weird, you’re going to hate our actual adventures,” Appulse said dryly.  He appeared as a tall, muscular blond male ‘teenager.’  He wore a red letterman jacket with his name on the back, black jeans, and still had his visor.  “This is nice and peaceful compared to the rest of them.”

“I didn’t mean this,” Runescribe replied, gesturing to the scene of the city around them.  “I meant this body.  Humans are… weird.”  She spread her arms, showing off herself.  An African-American woman with a tight bun, button-up shirt and black vest, matching pencil skirt, and a red scarf.  “I’m all squishy in strange places.”  To emphasize her point, she squeezed the masses of flesh where her bumper usually was.  “Why is this squishy?  What’s the point?  And why is he… she… why is Pseudo so small?”

Pseudo tilted their head to the side, looking down at themself.  Honestly, no one was completely certain what exactly Pseudo was supposed to be gender-wise in this avatar, but no one was rude enough to check.  Pseudo didn’t really care enough to ask what the equipment where their panels usually were meant.

“Pseudo’s still a youngling, so they look like a human kid,” Appulse explained, holding Pseudo’s hand.  Pseudo was indeed very small and red-haired, wearing a white t-shirt with red stars on it, and a pair of yellow shorts.  Across their face was a set of dots, which Bluestreak told them were ‘freckles.’  Tailgate had actually complained that as young into the human’s lifespan that Pseudo appeared he was still appearing older than him, who had only really progressed into being a toddler since the last time.  Rung explained it as Pseudo being slightly more mature mentally compared to Tailgate, likely due to his upbringing under Ultra Magnus and Perceptor.

“Okay, so I’m a woman, you’re a man, and Pseudo’s a… kid,” Runescribe said, looking around at the crowds of people.  There were so many of them.  Did Swerve really conjure all of them up?  How much pain did he have to be in?  All three of them felt twangs of pain in the back of their minds just from their own avatars.  “Now, how do we find one guy in a place this huge?”

“We have the picture,” Appulse pointed out.  He nodded down to Pseudo, who held up the picture of Swerve’s avatar that Rodimus had given them.  “We just need to find someone who looks like that.”

“Lovely.  This will only take the entire year,” Runescribe muttered, following as Appulse and Pseudo began moving again.

“Stop complaining and come on.  Why are you following us, anyway?  I would have thought you would have gone with Nightbeat, or Crosscut.  You seem to like them,” Appulse said.

“I don’t like Crosscut,” the woman huffed, crossing her arms.  “That hack of a writer is making a mockery of the written word.  And I didn’t go with Nightbeat because he’s with Megatron right now.  And I don’t know about you, but something about that mech scares the frag out of me.”

“Like the fact that he used to be a genocidal despot?” the blond asked.

“Besides that,” Runescribe actually smirked at that, elbowing him.  “I don’t know.  I don’t like this subject, though.  Let’s talk about something else.”

“Like what?”

“Something fun.  Something that will look good on paper,” Runescribe looked around.  She saw a family walking by, a man and woman with a little girl.  “How about your creator?  He’s going to Cybertron for some super-secret mission courtesy of the legendary Optimus Prime.  Do you know what that’s about?”

“It wouldn’t be super-secret if I did,” Appulse pointed out.  He let go of Pseudo’s hand, the child running to a shop window and looking through it.  Watching them, the blond sighed.  “Look, that’s not a good subject for me right now.”

“Why not?” the dark-haired woman asked, placing herself where he couldn’t avoid her.  “There something you’re not telling me?  Something you don’t want anyone to know?”  She leaned forward, narrowing her eyes.  “What are you hiding?”

“I’m not hiding anything,” Appulse huffed, putting a finger on her forehead and pushing her away.  “I just don’t like that creator is going all the way to Cybertron while I have to stay here.  I know Hot Spot, Blades, Streetwise, and Groove will look after him, but I don’t feel comfortable not being there.”

“Primus, you’d think you were the creator in this relationship,” Runescribe snorted.  “Isn’t he supposed to be worrying about you, not the other way around?”

Appulse sighed, looking away from her.  “Look, I just… creator is all I have anymore.  I never had a sire, Ambulon is dead… I considered Ratchet family, and he left, too.  I can’t lose creator, too.”

“What about Pseudo?  Don’t you consider them family?” Runescribe asked, tilting her head to the side.  It was only considered polite to refer to someone by the gender of their avatar, but until anyone knew what Pseudo’s was gender-neutral pronouns would have to suffice.

Appulse looked at her in surprise.  He then glanced behind her at the child, who had moved over to a nearby bench.  They stood on their tip-toes on it, looking around at the crowd, holding the photo of Swerve in front of them at the same time.  He smiled.  “Yeah.  I do.”

“So you’re worrying too much,” Runescribe punched him on the arm, turning and walking towards the child.  “Besides, you have the rest of us, too.  I mean, I’ve only known you for a day now, but I think you’re a pretty good guy.”

Appulse watched her a moment and chuckled, following.

Runescribe was right.  First Aid was only leaving for a while, he’d be back.  And until then, he had plenty of people he’d grown to care for over the last few years onboard the Lost Light.  He’d be just fine.

 

-----

 

Necroworld.

The Necrobot.

Monuments to every Cybertronian recorded, the ones offline turned off, flowers marking every life they were responsible for ending.

Every time Appulse thought he saw the strangest thing on their quest, something managed to come along to prove him wrong.

While the others were chatting with Censere – the Necrobot, Appulse wandered.  He was curious to see who he could recognize.  He’d found quite a few Lost Lighters, some of the ‘bots he’d met on Cybertron.  He’d even found Blurr, looking as sleek and gorgeous as a holographic monument as he did in real life.  There was something off-putting about how many flowers grew at the base.  At everyone’s base.

He’d even found his own monument, which was strange to come face to face with.  His full name, Appulse of Delphi, emblazoned upon it.  There was a couple dozen flowers in front of it, likely those he’d killed on Temptoria.  He felt like he should have felt uncomfortable looking at them, but he felt nothing for them.  He didn’t regret shooting someone who shot first.  Someone who was doing such terrible things.

First Aid’s was the next he sought out.  It didn’t take him long to find it, being as he would recognize him anywhere.  The statue was still alight, thank Primus.  In front of it, glowing at the base, was a single flower.

Pharma.

This one Appulse felt something for.  He’d never hated Pharma.  Even though he’d killed Ambulon, Appulse still didn’t.  Yes, he was angry that it happened.  Wished more than anything that he could go and undo it.  He would have even killed Pharma himself if it would have saved Ambulon’s life.  But he didn’t hate Pharma.

Because the monster that killed Ambulon wasn’t Pharma.  It was a broken shell of the Chief Medic of Delphi.  Pharma’s mental state had been strained long before Appulse was born, but it didn’t truly snap until the Red Rust incident.  Appulse refused to believe it.  Pharma had been cold, condescending, and annoyed by the fact that Appulse had ever been created.  At the time the youngling had thought the flier hated him.  Now that he knew the truth of what had happened, of what the DJD had done to Pharma, Appulse couldn’t help but wonder how much of that was true spite.  Did he hate Appulse, or simply the threat he posed to his insane deal he made for the sake of his clinic and the people there?  Would the Pharma that existed before the DJD have liked him?

“That one was the hardest to collect.”

Appulse glanced behind him.  The newly familiar voice wasn’t something he’d expected to hear one-on-one, honestly.  “Finally shake your fanclub?” he joked.

Censere smiled wryly at him.  “I managed to get away while Nightbeat was showing them my Monument to the Disappeared.  Enthusiastic lot, aren’t they?”

“That’s a word for them,” Appulse chuckled, standing up.  “Everyone seems to react that way seeing them.  Nice to know a legend isn’t too above it.”

“You don’t seem as dazzled by my existence.”

“Well, I didn’t really grow up with all the old stories,” Appulse admitted, scratching the back of his helm.  “The most I heard about the Necrobot was on the Lost Light, and even then I thought they were just stories.  Ratchet definitely thought so, and he was always more rational than most.”

“Fair enough,” Censere didn’t seem to take offense to it.  He moved to stand next to the half-Wrecker.  “First Aid is one of the few who only has one.  Only one monument I have erected I have none for, and only because he is so young.”

“Pseudo,” Appulse said.  It wasn’t a question, as he’d figured.  He did take offense to the implications of his wording, though.  “He won’t have any.”

“I hope you’re right,” Censere surprised him by answering.  “I don’t look forward to the day when I must mark a death.  I had high hopes for First Aid.  Even patients that had died under him were the cause of something outside of his medical care.  But then… he pulled the trigger.”

“He was upset!  Pharma killed someone he cared about, and then laughed about it!” the red and black mech snapped.  He didn’t like someone saying such things with his creator unable to be there to defend himself.

Censere held up a hand in peace.  “I’m not judging him.  As I said before, that isn’t what I am here to do.  Simply to observe and record.”

Appulse huffed, but let it go.  He wasn’t going to get anywhere standing here and arguing with the Necrobot.  He instead asked, “You know where every statue is?”

“Every single one.”

“…Could you take me to my sire?”

Censere didn’t even reply.  He simply turned and started walking.  Appulse followed quickly, passing by more recognizable statues.  He stopped cold at one of them, though.

He knew that mech.

“That’s him…” he muttered, optics wide.

Censere returned to him, gazing at the one he was looking at.  “You have interest in this one?” he asked.

Appulse looked at the mech before him, shuddering even though it was only a hologram.  He would recognize the mech he’d attacked on Ofsted XVII anywhere.  He looked down at the name emblazoned on it.

Forestock of Lucifer.

“This is the mech from Ofsted, I know it is.  But that’s not the name of any of the DJD,” Appulse said, confused.

“The Decepticon Justice Division take on the names of their predecessors,” the Necrobot explained.  “This one became ‘Vos.’  The fact that you’ve encountered him makes it a miracle you are not one of these.”  He gestured to the base of the monument.  There had to be over a hundred flowers.

“He killed all of these people as Vos…?” Appulse asked in shock.

“Oh, no.  A good number of them he killed long before then.  He hasn’t been Vos long, and he isn’t usually the one to kill their targets.”

The much younger mech swallowed, feeling that nervous, sick feeling from when he’d encountered Vos face-to-face again.  He turned quickly from the statue.  “Just… take me to Impactor’s…” he muttered.

“If you wish,” Censere answered, continuing the way he’d been going before.  “Though, I must ask, are you sure you want to see it?”

“I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t,” Appulse said stubbornly.

“Very well, then.  I just had to be sure.”

After a few more minutes of walking, Appulse found out why he’d asked.

Impactor’s monument, the hologram of the Wrecker himself standing tall before them, was surrounded by flowers.  There were more than Forestock… or rather, Vos’s.  Pit, there were more than the statues surrounding him, combined.

“…Primus…” was all Appulse could think to say.

“Wreckers have killed more than most,” Censere simply replied.  He gestured to the nearby monuments.  After a moment, Appulse realized almost all of them were Wreckers.  “Putting such a prolific team of killers together seemed fitting.”

Most of them were turned off.  Unsurprising, as Wreckers didn’t have long life expectancies.  Appulse walked over to one three away from Impactor’s.  He stared into the cold, calculating face of Perceptor.  While there weren’t near as many flowers surrounding his as Impactor’s, it was still an impressive amount of death attributed to him.

“Perceptor may have joined them late, but he was not – still is not – afraid of leaving a body count,” Censere said behind him.  “A true Wrecker, even for the short while he could claim the title.”

Appulse was starting to regret coming here.  This was the legacy Impactor and Perceptor would leave behind.  He was glad Pseudo had stayed behind on the Lost Light.  The youngling didn’t need to see any of this.  He didn’t need to see the killer at the center of his brilliant and loving creator.

It somehow made him more uncomfortable seeing how many deaths Perceptor had caused than Impactor, even if his sire had managed to outdo him by more than double.  All Appulse knew of Impactor was his Wreckers file.  He didn’t want to know anything else.  He honestly didn’t even know why he wanted to see his monument.  Maybe to know whether or not he was even still alive after all this time?

But Perceptor he knew.  He was a passionate and serious scientist, a loving and caring creator and conjux endura, and an amazingly effective sniper.  He had faced down Overlord, screamed down Megatron, and saved their lives on the Vis Vitalis.  In the last few weeks since Pseudo was born, Appulse had spent hours with Perceptor.  He considered him to be a good friend by now.

A friend who had apparently killed other ‘bots by the dozens not long before the Lost Light.

“It’s hard, isn’t it?  Facing the weight the lives someone you care for has taken.”

Censere’s vocals snapped Appulse out of his thoughts.  His comm going off then made him jump.  He picked it up quickly.

“Yo, Appulse, we’re leaving!” Rodimus’s vocals came through.  “Your creator will kill us when he gets back if you’re missing.”

“I’m on my way,” Appulse answered.  He then turned to Censere.  “Let’s head back.  I think I’m… I’m done here.”

“Very well,” Censere replied, gesturing for him to follow as he retraced their steps back.

Appulse took one last look at Perceptor’s monument, the flowers at the base, and then at his sire’s.  This was the Wreckers.  This was what they were.  Seeing all of it only cinched one thing he’d already decided on long ago.

Appulse wanted no part of it.

Chapter Text

“Hey, First Aid,” Groove put a hand on the medic’s shoulderplate.

“Hmm?” the red and white mech looked up, resetting his optics.  He wasn’t surprised, despite being snapped out of his thoughts.  The gestalt bond he was now sharing with the other ‘Protectobots’ prevented it.

It was an odd sensation, having that bond.  First Aid felt like his own thoughts were no longer simply his, no longer private.  Yet, it didn’t feel invasive.  When they needed to, when they wanted to, the five could resonate in their thoughts and emotions.  They weren’t five separate mechs anymore, they were one.  Even when apart, they could feel each other.

Which was why Groove didn’t have to elaborate when he said, “You can feel him, can’t you?”

“Both of them,” First Aid nodded, looking out of the window out into Iacon.  They weren’t going to be staying long, so they were given temporary rooms in a hotel near the spaceport.  “Impactor and Appulse.  But I couldn’t feel Impactor on the Lost Light like I can here.  And Appulse feels so much… further away.”

The blue mech sat down next to him.  “What do you think it means?”

“I don’t know,” First Aid admitted.  “I suppose the logical answer is that Impactor is closer now.  I couldn’t feel him before because he was too far away.”

Groove nodded in understanding.  “Whatever you need to do, we’re here.”

“I appreciate it,” First Aid said softly, putting a hand on Groove’s arm.

 

-

 

“Are you sure?”

Impactor looked at the Earth sky, arms folded over his chestplate.  He could feel it.  That pulling sensation that plagued him for the last few meta-cycles.  Tugging, persistent.  He’d ignored it so well so far, but it was suddenly so… strong.

The Wrecker looked back to Carnivac, huffing.  “I’m sure.  Thanks for the offer, but… Mayhem will have to continue without me.  There’s somewhere I need to be.”

The Pretender shrugged, but didn’t argue.  “Well, if you change your mind, I’m sure you’ll find us.  I don’t doubt you’re the kinda guy who could track down anyone you wanted.”  He waved the black and gold ‘bot off, heading back to join his group of trouble-makers.

Impactor would have loved to join them.  Helped them take down anyone who used other ‘bots like he’d been.  But he couldn’t.  That pulling sensation, like his spark wanted to fly off elsewhere, he couldn’t ignore it anymore.  He knew what it was about, dreading what he knew was on the other side of it.  Seven and a half meta-cycles.  That was how long he’d felt it now.

That was how long it had been since he left First Aid on Messatine after knocking him up.

The fact that it was so prominent now meant First Aid was closer than he’d been in the seven and a half meta-cycles since Impactor cut and ran.  Not Earth close, but within the same galaxy now.  And there was only one place he could think of that the medic would be at a time like this.

Cybertron.

So that was where Impactor had to be.  He had to finally face the mech he wronged all those meta-cycles ago.  The mech that his sire programming kept punishing him for ignoring for so long.

Sire programming was nothing to laugh at.  Before he was knocked into his stasis lock for who knew how long, he could constantly feel his spark flaring in objection to the distance between himself and the medic.  Himself and the sparkling they’d created.

It was time to close that gap between them.  No more running.

 

-----

 

“I can’t believe he turned on us,” Atomizer scoffed.

Getaway snorted in return.  “Eh, who needs Whirl?  Not like he could do anything about it now, anyway.”

The red and gold assassin rolled his optics, picking up a glass and swirling the contents.  He released the opening on his mask, downing the contents quickly.  Getaway was right.  Tailgate was already on his way to do what he was told, the naïve little idiot.  They made sure Whirl was safe and sound in his room, dazed and confused from his date with the nudge gun, then came back to what remained of “Visages.”  With Mirage gone, it was the perfect place to conduct their business in peace.

“You’re awful quiet, Atom,” Getaway pointed out, raising an optic ridge.  “Something on your mind?”

“Nah,” Atomizer shook his helm, wiping some excess Engex from his faceplate and closing the mask back up.  After a moment he admitted, “Maybe.  What if this doesn’t work?”

“Doesn’t work?” Getaway laughed.  “You think Tailgate is going to decide against going through with it?  That some miracle will stop Megatron from attacking or, Primus forgive me if it happens but, killing him?  Security won’t have a choice but to take him down.”

“But what if something happens,” Atomizer persisted, staring at his empty glass.  “This is the Lost Light.  Things never go as planned.”

If,” Getaway stretched out the word, “something goes wrong and Megatron is neither killed nor incarcerated, then we go to Plan B.  You know this already.  What’re you even asking for?”

The assassin-turned-server ex-vented, putting the glass down.  “I know.  I’m starting to wonder, though…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” the escapologist straightened up from where he’d been leaning on one of the booth tables.  He walked over to where Atomizer sat at the bar, leaning over him.  The red and gold assassin avoided his optics, looking anywhere but at him.  “Atom.  Atomizer.  You’re… you’re not having second thoughts, are you?”

“No, I just…”

“Hey.  Hey.”  Getaway put his servos on the side of Atomizer’s faceplate, turning his helm so he couldn’t avoid him anymore.  “You know why we have to do this.  You’ve been all for it ever since I joined.  I feel bad for manipulating Tailgate, I really do.  But this is all for the greater good.  Whose fault is it that our quest keeps getting ridiculously sidetracked?”

“Rodimus.”

“And who do we need to get rid of so we can keep a tight leash on him?”

“Megatron.”

“If we can’t eliminate Megatron from the equation, we won’t have a choice but to chuck them all off the ship.  You know who has to go.  I don’t like it any more than you do, but if we don’t get rid of them all I won’t be able to put us back on course.”

“I know that, but…”

Atomizer.”  Getaway sat next to him, turning the assassin so they were facing each other completely.  He brought his other hand up so he was holding Atomizer’s helm still, unable to look away from him.  “Whose fault is it that Trailcutter is dead?”  He was the only other mech besides Appulse that Atomizer had told about his feelings for the force field expert.

The red and gold mech hesitated this time, wanting to turn away from him.  But Getaway’s optics held him tighter than his hands did.  After a moment he whispered, “Mine…”

No, Atomizer,” Getaway said sternly.  “Not yours.  There was nothing you could have done about it.  Whose fault is it that the DJD, the monsters who killed poor Trailcutter, exists?”

“Megatron.”

“And whose fault is it that Trailcutter was put in the position to be on that planet?”

“Rodimus.”

“So who needs to pay for what happened?” Getaway encouraged.

“…Megatron and Rodimus…”

“See?” Getaway smiled through his optics, releasing his hold on Atomizer’s faceplate.  “You know I just want to help you, right?  You deserve to see the people who were responsible for losing Trailcutter come to justice.  We can’t go after the DJD, that would be suicide.  But we can punish the people who caused it.”

Atomizer sat a moment, staring at the floor.  “But the others…”

“Would try to stop us,” Getaway finished for him.  “We’re not going to hurt them.  We’ll just leave them somewhere that they can be picked up by the Council.  They haven’t done anything illegal, so they’ll be taken where they can hitch a ride home while Megatron gets hauled off to finally face justice.  No one gets hurt.”

Atomizer tried to think of another argument, but fell short.  He was mostly thinking of Appulse and Pseudo, which was something he didn’t expect himself to ever do.  But they were so young, they didn’t even get a say.  Mostly because as soon as their creators had declined to join the mutiny, Getaway and Atomizer knew the younglings wouldn’t agree either.  It would be just cruel to split up the families, anyway.

Getaway was right, though.  Appulse and Pseudo wouldn’t be hurt by the Council.  They never did anything wrong.  This was for the best, anyway.  A ship like this was no place for Perceptor and Ultra Magnus to be raising a youngling.

“You’re right,” Atomizer finally admitted.  “I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”

“’Atta mech, Atom,” Getaway said cheerfully, slapping the other mech’s shoulder.  “I knew I could count on you.  You’re the only person I can on this whole ship.”

Atomizer lit up, smiling back through his visor.  He didn’t know why, but Getaway did that to him.  Made him feel like he truly meant something, other than just being an assassin or a server.

All at once, though, their revelry was cut short as an alarm began to sound.  Loud, blaring, annoying.

“I have a feeling Scout just pulled off his final Act,” Getaway said.

“Would they set off the alarms if Megatron was arrested or dead, though?” Atomizer asked, watching the red lights flash on the walls.

“Probably not,” Getaway admitted.  There was a bit of a pause as they watched and listened to the alarm.  Finally he said, “Let’s go make sure things are going as planned.”

 

-----

 

“This is it, we just got the confirmation that we’re heading back in a couple days,” Hot Spot announced to his gathered Protectobots.

“Alright!” Blades whooped, raising his Engex glass.  “Finally!  With all the action done here, Cybertron is boring!”

“That ‘action’ nearly destroyed the accord between us and Caminus,” Groove said in disapproval.  “Not something you should want to happen again.”

“He doesn’t mean anything by it, Groove,” Streetwise rolled his optics, punching the pacifist on the arm.  “You know Blades, he just gets over-excited.  We’re heading back to the biggest source of excitement we’ve ever been a part of, though.  I don’t blame him for being really into it.”

“If nothing else, it certainly feels more like home than here now, doesn’t it?” Hot Spot smiled, looking to First Aid.  They knew that it was his ‘fault’ that was true.  Unlike the rest of them, First Aid only truly felt at home two places: Delphi and the Lost Light.  The gestalt bond they shared made it so they felt his love for the Lost Light even stronger.  Not only that, but his longing to return to it and his youngling.

None of them had ever had a youngling, so it was an odd sensation to suddenly feel such a protective bond with Appulse.

The medic himself wasn’t paying attention.  He kept staring out of the window of Hot Spot’s room, seeming to search for something.  Not that they needed to ask what he was looking for, as his sparkmate coding was screaming loud enough for them to feel it.

“Yo, Aid,” Blades reached over and hit him on the shoulder to get his attention.

“What?” First Aid turned his attention back to them.  Looking at their smirking faceplates, he sunk into his seat in embarrassment.  “Oh, sorry…”

“Don’t apologize,” Hot Spot chuckled.  “If you feel the need to go out there, do it.  We’re not going to stop you.”

“I don’t even know where to look,” the medic said, playing with his servos under the table.

“’Course you do,” Streetwise rolled his optics, reaching across the table and poking First Aid on the chestplate.  “You can feel it here, can’t you?  You’re bonded, like we are, but different.”

“What he means to say is that your sparks are connected,” Streetwise explained.  “You’re sparkmates, whether you’re conjux or not.”

First Aid vented in, putting a hand where Streetwise’s servo had been.  He then nodded.  “Okay.  I’ll try.”  He stood up and headed for the door.  Before opening it, he turned back, “Guys…”

“We know!” Blades called, sounding both annoyed and amused.

“Go on, get your mech,” Streetwise grinned.

First Aid smiled and opened the door, doing as he was instructed.  He began following his spark.

 

-

 

This was getting impossible.  How was Impactor supposed to find one little medic in this huge city?

Crowds parted in intimidation as the Wrecker made his way down the street, looking every which way.  He tried to concentrate on the pulling sensation he had, but everyone staring, pointing, avoiding him was distracting.  What was he even doing here?  He wasn’t conjux endura material.  There was no way First Aid would even want to see him after he was gone so long.

Impactor thought back to the last few days.  Of the memories he had relived at the claws of Tarantulas.  Of the newest life he took in the name of ‘cleaning up.’

He wasn’t a sire.  Or a sparkmate.

Impactor was a killer.  A Wrecker.

Frag, this was a bad idea.

The black and gold mech slowed to a stop, looking at the building he found on his search.

Maccadam’s.  It was a different location than when he was a miner, but it still brought back a lot of old memories.  He smirked to himself and opened the door.  He needed something to give him the courage to keep going.

Impactor almost balked when he opened the door.  Autobots.  Decepticons. Neutrals.  All sitting together, drinking, acting like friends.  Primus, the peacetime was a fragging mess.  This would take some getting used to.

The Wrecker walked to the bar, ignoring the few ‘bots that stopped drinking and talking long enough to stare.  “Hey,” he greeted the bartender.

When the blue mech turned around, Impactor was surprised to find it was Blurr.  Impactor never really met him personally, but he knew about him well enough.  Back in the day one couldn’t go five feet without everyone talking about the races, and Blurr was definitely on everyone’s lips.

Said former racer looked just as surprised to see the Wrecker, though that wasn’t a shock.  Most of the ‘bots in the bar probably thought he was dead.  The Decepticons likely hoped he was.

“Impactor!” Blurr finally greeted, remembering to put on his smile.  “What a surprise!  What can I do for you?”  Well, at least he was trying to make sure not to act like this was a huge deal.  It was mostly working, as those two sentences alone were causing the patrons to turn back to their conversations and drinks.

“Something strong.  Inhibitor breaker.”  Impactor sat down on the bar stool, putting his arm with the harpoon on it up on the counter to lean on.

“Coming right up,” Blurr chirped, getting to work pouring.  He looked from the drink he was mixing back to Impactor.  He seemed to be debating something in his processor.

“What?” Impactor finally snapped.

Blurr jumped a bit, staring at him.  He probably wasn’t expecting such an irritable response.  Impactor honestly didn’t mean to sound as angry as he did, but his doubts were making him feel antsy.  A large blue and white mech nearby stood up, looking from Blurr to Impactor unsure.  A sleek, red racing model sat next to him, looking just as startled as Blurr did at the outburst.  The bar owner raised a hand, indicating he had it under control.  The mech grunted and sat back down, watching carefully.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be staring,” Blurr finally answered, moving back over to Impactor and putting his drink down.  He then lowered his vocals so only the two of them could hear it.  “Look, I don’t know what you’re doing back in Iacon,” he muttered, friendly smile not leaving his faceplate despite the chill of his vocals, “But if you cause trouble in my bar, my friend over there won’t be who you should worry about.”

Impactor was actually surprised.  He knew Blurr had turned into a soldier over the course of the war.  He’d even heard from some of the other Wreckers that he ran with, along with a few other Autobots who were trapped with them, that he wasn’t all talk.  He never expected the charismatic mech to actually have the solid bearings to actually threaten him of all people, though.  “I’m not here for trouble,” Impactor ex-vented, taking a drink.  He let it settle into his tank for a moment before continuing.  “I’m just here to find someone.”

Blurr raised an optic ridge, but didn’t say anything.  He leaned away from Impactor, his smile still sustained.  “Well, if you’re looking for someone, you certainly came to the right place.  In all of Cybertron, there isn’t a place you’re more likely to find someone than Maccadam’s.”

“Here, here!” two femmes sitting at the bar nearby raised their glasses.  They were both clearly overcharged, but they looked like they were having a good time.

Blurr shot them a charming grin, chuckling.  “These Camiens are definitely livening up the bar ever since they arrived, too.”  When he received a giggle in return, the speedster turned his attention back to Impactor.  “Ah, but I should probably ask who you’re looking for.”

Impactor didn’t answer for a moment, not sure if he should.  He didn’t know if he could trust anyone in this bar.  He supposed he had to learn to in this new era.  “First Aid,” he finally replied.

“First Aid?” Blurr put a finger on his chin.  “Sounds familiar.  Could you describe him?”

Impactor grunted in annoyance, but still complied.  “Small, mostly red.  Medic.  White mask, blue visor.”  Gorgeous.  He wouldn’t say that part out loud, but he couldn’t stop himself from thinking it.

“Crosses on the shoulders?” the red sports car sitting at the table behind Impactor drawled with a thick, Elite accent.

“Yeah, you know him?” Impactor asked, looking behind himself.

“No,” the sleek mech smirked.  “But I see him.”  He nodded towards one of the windows.

Impactor turned quickly, expecting it to be a joke.  That the little racecar was teasing him.

But there he was.

First Aid had stopped by one of the windows of Maccadam’s, looking around the street.  He was searching for someone.

And then he looked inside.

Impactor and First Aid’s optics met and his spark nearly stopped.

It was him.

He was there.

His little medic was alive and safe.

First Aid rushed to the door, pulling it open and running into the bar.

Impactor didn’t know what to do.  He came all this way, came looking for the red and white medic standing on the other side of the bar.  But he never planned what he would do when he actually found him.

“Impactor…” First Aid saved him from having to decide, choking out his name as his hands went up to his faceplate.  Washer fluid welled up around his visor as he closed the distance between them – finally, after seven and a half meta-cycles.  “Impactor!” he cried out his name again, as if saying it over and over would make this more real.  He threw his arms around the Wrecker, burying his face in Impactor’s chestplate.  His vocals hiccupped and sobbed, unable to contain himself.

Impactor stood a moment, not sure what he should do.  Finally, he wrapped his arms around the medic, being wary of the harpoon on his right hand.  He wasn’t prepared for this.  Wasn’t even close to being ready.  But this was happening right now.  All he could think to say was, “It’s alright.  I’m right here.”

First Aid vented sharply at the words, suddenly pushing back and surprising everyone, Impactor most of all, by slapping the Wrecker sharply across the faceplate.  “Where have you been?!” he screamed, chassis trembling.  “Do you know what I… what we’ve been through?!  You left me to take care of Appulse by myself!  I’m lucky I had help, but Appulse didn’t have a sire!  I didn’t have a sparkmate!  How… how dare you run off like that!  What gave you the right?!”

The entire bar was dead silent.  Everyone was either staring or trying their hardest not to.  The femmes down the bar looked like they sobered up right quick with the drama happening right next to them.  Even Blurr couldn’t pretend out of courtesy that he wasn’t completely fascinated by what was happening.

“I’m…” Impactor tried to apologize, but realized it was completely stupid.  All of the ‘sorry’s in the universe couldn’t take back what he had done.  Couldn’t make it right.  What was he expecting to happen during this meeting, anyway?  That First Aid would magically forgive him for everything he’d done to them?  That he would let Impactor just come waltzing into their lives after a one night stand and abandoning them for nearly eight metas?  Primus, Impactor never felt as helpless in his life as he did being stared down by the livid little mech in front of him.  Still, it was all he could do.  All he could say at this point.  “I’m sorry, First Aid.”

“It’s not enough,” the medic said sternly, crossing his arms over his chestplate.

“I know,” Impactor muttered.

“You have to apologize to our youngling, too.”

Impactor’s helm snapped back to stare at the red and white mech.  “I… what?” he asked dumbly.

“You think I’m angry at you?  Wait until you meet Appulse,” First Aid’s vocals were softer now.  He reached out and took Impactor’s hand between both of his.  “He has your temper.”

“I…” Impactor reset his optics, feeling completely lost.  “I don’t understand.”

“You came looking for me, didn’t you?” First Aid asked, a smile forming behind his visor.  “After all this time, I knew you’d come looking.  I want to be so angry at you, and I am, but I can’t hate you.  I don’t know if it’s just the bonding protocols, or all the years I worshipped the Wreckers before we met.”  He brought Impactor’s hand up to his faceplate, nuzzling it gently.  “I’m just so relieved you’re finally here…”

“First Aid…” Impactor didn’t know what to say to that.  He was expecting First Aid to reject him.  To be nothing but angry.  But here he was saying… saying that he wanted to give him a chance.  “You and our youngling… Appulse,” the name sounded so strange, yet so right on his lips, “The two of you have been in my mind ever since I left.  I’m so sorry.”  Impactor released his hand from the medic’s, putting it against the side of First Aid’s faceplate.  “What I did… there’s nothing that will ever make up for that.  But I can try.  I’m not the kind of person who should be your sparkmate, or Appulse’s sire.  But I’ll give it a shot.”

“That’s all I can ask for now,” First Aid said gently.

“Aww…”

The sigh from the two femmes at the bar caused First Aid and Impactor to suddenly be very aware that they were the dead center of attention.  First Aid began heating up, embarrassment radiating through his EM field.  He obviously had been so distracted by the reunion he hadn’t even realized he was in the middle of a crowded room.

“Either say something or get back to your drinks!” Impactor snapped, raising his harpoon threateningly.

That certainly did the trick, as the patrons turned their attention back to each other frantically.

Well, except the pair at the nearby table.

“That was quite the show,” the red mech laughed, taking a drink.  “You two are cute.”

Impactor snarled at him, but was stopped by both First Aid’s hands on his chestplate and the large blue and white mech standing up.

“Enough, Knock Out,” Blurr called, rolling his optics.  “And reel your conjux in.”

“You heard the mech, darling,” Knock Out smirked, reaching out with a pede and gently nudging the other mech’s leg.  “Sit down before we lose our drinking privileges.”

“Yeah, yeah,” his conjux huffed, doing as he was told.  “I don’t like him threatening you like that.”

“You’re such a sweetspark,” the racer cooed.

Blurr shook his helm and ignored them.  “And you,” he pointed a stirrer at Impactor.  “I told you not to make trouble.  Your youngling was much more polite than you.”

Both Impactor and First Aid were surprised at his words.  “Our sparkling?” First Aid echoed, leaning on the counter.  “You’ve met Appulse?”

“Yep, back when the Lost Light last touched down,” Blurr nodded, putting the stirrer down and picking up a glass.  He began pouring.  “He was wandering around, found him outside the old location.  He helped me get in, and we talked.”  He put the drink in front of First Aid.  “Looks just like Impactor here, you know.”

“I know,” the medic smiled, taking the drink gratefully.

“Got a bit of you in there, too, now that I’m face to face with you.  Didn’t seem that temperamental to me, but maybe because I didn’t give him a reason to be.  Cute kid, though.  You two should be proud of him.”

“I am,” the medic assured him.  “And I’m sure Impactor will be when he meets him, too.”

Impactor looked from Blurr to his sparkmate – he couldn’t believe he could actually refer to him as such after all this time.  “I’m sure I will.”

 

-----

 

The red lights were on again.

Pseudo didn’t like the red lights.  The last time they went off they came with an alarm.  It was loud, and jarring, and made his head hurt.  This time it was silent, but that wasn’t much better.  The red lights meant danger, he knew that much.

“When do you think it’ll be over?” Nautica asked, watching the lights.  She was nervous.  Tense.  No wonder why, though.

“Soon, probably,” Brainstorm replied.  Pseudo could hear the lie in his vocals.  False assurance.  Fake cheer.  He was scared, too.

They were locked in Brainstorm’s lab.  Brainstorm and Nautica were trying to keep Pseudo calm, while Mainframe and Perceptor guarded the door.  They’d been invited to see something Brainstorm had been working on (what it was, Pseudo didn’t know, as he didn’t recognize the shapes of the words) when they all received a transmission from Megatron to hide away.  So they locked the door and kept as quiet as possible.  For Nautica and Brainstorm, who were both natural chatters, it was hard.  But they still kept their voices down, making it harder for Pseudo to recognize what they were saying.

For that he was actually a bit grateful, as it kept his attention concentrating on them instead of the situation.

“I don’t like that something like this is happening so soon after the Getaway thing,” Nautica ex-vented, her vocals sad.

Pseudo cringed.  He didn’t like them saying that name.  He’d known Getaway was hiding something, lying about something.  But he could never tell what, so he didn’t know how to communicate it to the others.  He wished he could have found a way before it’d happened.

It didn’t help that ever since it happened, the rest of the crew sounded strange.  Except for a select few, including most of the ones in the room with him.  Mainframe was among those who sounded different, though.  Especially since Velocity joined the crew, everything he said carried a tinge of… anxiety?  Almost all of them did.  There were other things in the back of almost everyone’s vocals.  Anger.  Guilt.  Sadness.  Whenever Blaster was giving him his music lessons, there was something that sounded an awful lot like regret.

They all had one thing in common, though.  Everything they said, no matter what… there was a lie behind it.  Not a big one.  The tiniest sound of one, resonating in the back so softly that Pseudo had to strain to hear it.  He wished he knew why.  He wanted to know before something happened this time.

“You’re being quieter than usual,” Brainstorm said to Pseudo.  “What’s on your mind, short stack?”

Pseudo didn’t know how to answer that question.  He was getting better at letting his sounds speak for him without the words.  Rung said he had a talent for knowing what sounds connected to what feelings and emotions.  As long as he could answer the question without needing a shape to his sounds, he did fine.  Most sparks resonated naturally with those sounds.  There were no sounds without shapes for that question, though.

Nautica seemed to catch on to the difficulty, and changed the question.  “He means ‘what are you feeling’?” she asked.

That Pseudo could answer.  “Aa~aah…” he let out, low and wavering.

“Yeah, I’m nervous, too,” Nautica smiled, putting a hand on his helm.

“I’m not,” Brainstorm lied again.  “We survived worse than this.  …Whatever it is.”

Pseudo looked at him indignantly, but then softened.  He knew Brainstorm had only good intentions.  He could not just hear it, but see it in the scientist’s optics.  That was something else Pseudo was learning to read.  Body language, optics, EM fields.  Rung was helping him study everything that could help him understand people.  So the youngling pushed himself under Brainstorm’s arm, snuggling up to his chestplate.

The weapon specialist was surprised at first, but then wrapped his arm around the white and gold mech’s shoulders.  The hold was tight but comforting.  This wasn’t something Brainstorm was good at, Pseudo knew, but he was learning.  “You’re a good kid, Pseudo,” Brainstorm muttered, petting his helm.

Another ten minutes, spent in silence this time.

Pseudo could feel the tension in the air.  Most of it was nervous.  Except his creator.

Perceptor was primed.  Ready.  Nothing scared him, that was what Pseudo was completely sure of.  Neither of his creators.  His sire could face down anything and go down fighting.  According to most of the crew, he already did.  A monster named Overlord had rampaged across the ship a few years back.  Ultra Magnus went down fighting.  He was lucky to have not lost his life.

The red lights shut off all at once.  The normal ones activated seconds later.

“Attention, crew.  This is Captain Megatron speaking.”

Perceptor and Mainframe both stood up, lowering their weapons.  Pseudo untangled himself from Brainstorm.

“The crisis is over.  You may come out of hiding.  If you see a sphere of cables and wires sitting anywhere in the halls, do not touch them.  Those are your crewmates, and they are still very much alive.  They are likely in excruciating pain, however.”

There was a pause, in which Megatron’s silence somehow felt uncomfortable.

“One of them is Rodimus, who… bravely decided to take on the perpetrator of this heinous act on his own.  We will be returning everyone to their original forms as quickly as possible.  Please have patience until then.”

The intercom turned off, the occupants of the lab looking at each other.

“Pseudo, come,” Perceptor said, shouldering his rifle.  He held his arms out, and his youngling obediently ran into them.  The scientist picked the youngling up, looking to the others.  “If you will excuse us…”

“Go find your sparkmate, Percy,” Brainstorm grinned behind his mask.  “We need to continue work on that little… time-crack project.  Shouldn’t be long before it’s done.”

“Nautica, Mainframe,” Perceptor said sternly.  “Watch Brainstorm carefully.  I don’t want any surprises.”

“Geez, you’d think you’d trust me since all the work I did not doing crazy stuff to Pseudo’s Box!” the teal and white scientist threw his hands into the air.

“You want me to tell him some of the stuff I had to stop you from?” Nautica teased.

“No, no!  I’m…” Brainstorm looked back at Perceptor, who didn’t look amused.  He reset his vocals.  “Alright, you two can… help.”

“Can you tell me what you almost put in it?” Mainframe asked, joining Nautica and Brainstorm at the desk.

“After Percy leaves,” Brainstorm muttered.

Perceptor ex-vented in exasperation, shaking his helm as he and Pseudo left.

They made their way quickly to the medbay, where they knew Ultra Magnus would be monitoring Rodimus’s… well, it was hard to tell what to call it.  Recovery seemed too weak.

“Okay, I know this is your field, and I’m the only one with enough experience to help you with this,” Appulse said, holding some cables on the ball of metal they could only assume was Rodimus apart.  “But are you absolutely sure this is where the t-cog is?”

“Just as sure as the last five times you asked,” Velocity said in frustration.  “Now stop asking, you’re making me nervous.”

Pseudo hopped out of his creator’s arms, running over to the table and leaning close to the ball.  It was definitely Rodimus.  The youngling could feel the pulse of his spark, the hum of his EM field, the whirring of machinery still working in it.  It all sounded distinctly like Rodimus.

“Whoa, Pseudo,” Appulse warned, nodding to him.  “Don’t get too close.”

“He’s right,” Magnus said, approaching and picking the youngling up.  He settled Pseudo into the crook of his elbow, where the youngling could sit comfortably.  “I don’t know if you should be here, anyway.”  The firm sound of his vocals made Pseudo look sheepish.

“Honestly?  Neither of you should,” Velocity pointed out, reaching through the gap Appulse held open and carefully working.  “This isn’t going to be a quick process.  ‘Bots aren’t meant to be able to transform inside-out.  I’ll have to deactivate his t-cog, and we’re going to untangle him and very slowly and carefully put him back together.  This isn’t going to be pretty.  I don’t think a youngling needs to see it.”

“Would you like me to assist?” Perceptor offered, putting his rifle in the corner.  “I am extremely well versed in the inner machinations of Cybertronian biology.”

“Yes, please,” Velocity said gratefully.

Perceptor moved over to Magnus and Pseudo, kissing them both.  “Go ahead.  You can report to me what happened later.”

“Of course,” Magnus nodded, turning to go.  “I must report to Megatron now, anyway.”

Pseudo looked at him at the words.  The idea of being around Megatron made him nervous.  Runescribe had said it before, and she wasn’t wrong.  There was something unnerving about him, even though lately he and Ultra Magnus seemed to be getting along incredibly.  Still, he always felt more secure after the seemingly constant crises on the Lost Light if he stuck with his creators.

Thus, a few minutes later he found himself standing with Ultra Magnus in Megatron’s office.  “What are we doing with what remains of Sunder’s body?” the enforcer asked.

The silver former Decepticon folded his servos together, thinking.  “I think the best course of action would be to lock it away.  We shouldn’t take any chances.  Also, when Froid is… put back to normal, we shall throw him in the holding cells.  I’m half tempted to give him the same treatment as Getaway.”

“We contained Getaway as we have so he has no chance of escape,” Ultra Magnus pointed out sternly.  “He is, after all, an escapologist.  We have no such threat with Froid.”

Megatron made a frustrated sound in the back of his vocals.  They were… angry wasn’t even the word.  Not even ‘murderous’ seemed to do it justice.  Pseudo was afraid of it, though.  He was frightened of what someone like Megatron was capable of when made angry enough.  “I understand that.  We will simply throw him down there until we can turn him into the proper authorities,” the co-captain said.  “I cannot imagine how many laws he’s probably broken on this ship alone.”

“Seventeen,” the blue and white enforcer provided helpfully.

“Well, then,” Megatron didn’t seem to know how to respond to that.  He didn’t sound exasperated as most people did when Magnus decided to inform them of things they likely didn’t actually want to know, though.  He cleared his vocals.  “Do you know the status on Rodimus?”  Pseudo was surprised to find that he actually sounded… genuinely concerned.  He knew the two co-captains didn’t hate each other as much as they let on, but they didn’t have too much affection for each other, either.

“Velocity, Appulse, and Perceptor are working on him,” Ultra Magnus answered.  “They said it will be slow-going, but hopefully not too much so.  We have a lot of people we need to return to normal.”  He paused.  “How is Rung doing?”

Megatron actually stiffened a bit at the question.  He hesitated.  “He is… doing better.  There is something I must discuss with him, but it is a private matter.  I don’t wish to elaborate on it without his permission.”  There was a plethora of emotions behind his vocals that Pseudo was having trouble putting together.  Megatron was better at controlling his vocals than anyone he knew.

“Of course,” Ultra Magnus nodded.  After a moment, he looked back at his youngling, who tilted his helm to the side.

Pseudo had been standing in the corner, watching quietly.  He was behaving quite well, if he did say so himself.  He couldn’t think of anything he could have done to bring his sire’s attention to himself.

“May I ask an odd, and perhaps slightly personal, question?” Magnus finally asked, turning his attention back to the co-captain.

“If you feel you must,” Megatron answered, raising an optic ridge curiously.

“Why do you never speak to Pseudo?”

Megatron and Pseudo both reacted in surprise.  The former tyrant looked to the youngling for the first time since they entered the office.  He then looked away.  “I don’t know what you mean.”  That was a lie.  A big one.  It burned in the back of the words like a brand.

Magnus walked over to the white and gold artist, picking him up again.  He then approached Megatron’s desk, who went stiff.  “Ever since Pseudo was born, every time you’re in a room with him, even if Perceptor or I am holding him, you… pretend he doesn’t exist.”

Megatron winced, unable to deny the truth behind it.  He seemed to be struggling with what to say.

“Megatron,” Ultra Magnus called to him.  “Captain.  Please, if you don’t mind.  Say something to him.”

Pseudo looked to his sire, unsure why he was so adamant about this.  It was true Megatron had never spoken to him over the months since he was born.  But he didn’t mind.  Not everyone had to like him.

The silver mech finally looked at the white and gold one, and Pseudo suddenly began understanding.  There was pain there.  It hurt him to look at Pseudo.  “I don’t deserve to speak to your youngling,” Megatron finally admitted, placing his helm in his hands.

“What do you mean?” Magnus asked in confusion.  “You’re our captain, of course you deserve to.”

“Don’t you understand?” Megatron snapped in frustration.  It made Pseudo flinch, and he vented in slowly.  “That is what I mean.  If it had been up to me…”

Magnus waited patiently.

The co-captain looked back at the youngling and spoke directly to him.  “You would never have been born if I had my way.”

The enforcer took a step back in surprise, free hand reflexively going to his youngling.

Pseudo didn’t flinch this time, though.  He stared at Megatron with dawning realization.  He sounded so… hurt.  Guilty.  Not in the same way everyone else did.  His was a guilt that was so… old.  Aged.

“If I had my way, before I took this badge,” Megatron elaborated, putting a hand to his Autobot badge.  “I took it from one of the best.  Someone I had been trying to kill not a week before.  I don’t even deserve this.  I don’t deserve any of this.  This ship, the people on it.  Rodimus.  R…”  He caught himself, resetting his vocals.  “I don’t deserve you, either.  And I especially don’t deserve him.”  He gestured to the youngling.  “He was born into an era, the first one to be born into it.  An era where he will never have known me as the tyrant who killed so many people.  To him, I am someone who chose to be an Autobot.  To you... you and your conjux endura?  I am the monster who killed those you fought next to.  I am the cause of everything that went wrong in the last four million years.”  He ex-vented.  “I am the reason Perceptor nearly died at the hands of Turmoil.  Why you nearly died against Overlord.  If I had my way, the way I wished for long before this journey, he… Pseudo would never have been born.  Because you would have both died long ago.”

Ultra Magnus stood for a moment, mulling over everything he had just heard.  Pseudo didn’t understand all of the words, but he heard the regret.  The sadness.  The guilt.  The overwhelming feeling that he truly believed he wasn’t worthy of this ship and everyone on it.

So Pseudo pushed his way out of his sire’s arms, landing on the floor.  It was true, he didn’t know the Megatron from before he was the co-captain on the ship.  Everything he knew of him was from the emotions – the extreme, incredible negative emotions – that were expressed when Megatron’s name was spoken by most of the crew.  But if he had stopped and listened, he would have heard the mech that was at the center of it all.

He was hurt.  Broken.  Lost.  Old.  Afraid.

The youngling walked around the desk.  He stopped by Megatron’s chair.  The silver co-captain was stiff, unsure.  He looked… terrified of Pseudo.  But the artist simply raised his arms.  It was a simple request.  One that he hoped would help, even if on the smallest scale.

“It appears Pseudo disagrees with you,” Magnus said, watching carefully.  “He doesn’t think you’re unworthy of him at all.”

Megatron stared at the youngling for a moment before slowly, tentatively, reaching back to him.  As soon as he was close enough, Pseudo pushed himself forward, hugging the former tyrant around the neck.  The co-captain was at a complete loss of what to do.

Ultra Magnus reset his vocals, looking like he was actually fighting a smile.  “He wishes you to reciprocate.  I know, it took some time for me to get used to how… physically affectionate Pseudo is as well.  I think he learned it from Rodimus.”

Megatron huffed.  “Of course he did…” he muttered, seeming to be able to get ahold of himself by concentrating on the frustration he constantly felt for his red and orange co-captain.  Still, he put his arms around the much smaller youngling, carefully.  This was definitely something he wasn’t accustomed to doing.  He closed them around him, though, managing a stiff but at least honest hug.

Satisfied, Pseudo waited until it was clear Megatron was no longer comfortable with the notion, pulling back.  He smiled at the co-captain.

“Er… yes.  Thank you,” Megatron muttered in embarrassment.

“Alright, Pseudo, let us leave the captain to ponder your… rebuttal,” Ultra Magnus called to the white and gold mechling.  “Come along.”

Pseudo nodded and pushed himself off of Megatron’s lap, running back to his sire.  Comfortable in his arm once more, he waved to the co-captain.

As Ultra Magnus made to leave, he was stopped by Megatron.  “One last thing.”

“Yes, captain?”

“I’m thinking of saying something… witty to Rodimus when he returns.  I’m considering, ‘It’s good to see you in better shape.’  Does that seem like too much?” Megatron asked.

Ultra Magnus stopped to seriously consider it.  After a moment, he suggested, “May I suggest a pause?  From what I’ve gathered observing the banter between the crew members, a well-placed pause seems to make a witticism more effective.”

“A pause, hm?” Megatron leaned back in his seat.  “That’s good.  I’ll keep it in mind.  Thank you, Magnus.”

 

-----

 

Appulse was nervous but excited.  The science team managed to get their big project working.  It was a device for using the time-crack to ‘visit’ points of the past that happened there in Swerve’s bar.  Everyone was busy discussing and deciding when they wanted to visit.

Even Ten and Pseudo, who were having a very… heated… conversation?  It was hard to tell what exactly it was, as Ten simply repeated his name and Pseudo spoke strictly in dipping lilts of his voice.  But they understood each other just fine, and that was all that was important.

“Do you know where you’re going?” Swerve asked.

“Yeah,” Appulse nodded.  “You?”

“Definitely.  I think most of us are fulfilling some… last goodbyes.  You?” the bartender persisted.

“Nah, just… there’s something I want to see for myself.  I feel like… I need to understand something better,” Appulse fumbled on his words.  He didn’t want to give too much away about it.  He didn’t think it was his place.

“Oh… alright.”  Swerve shrugged, moving to someone more interesting to talk to.

Appulse waited his turn, then approached Perceptor at his console.

“Do you know when you wish to go?” Perceptor asked.

“Yes.”

Appulse gave him the date and time he wanted to see, and the next thing he knew the bar was… changing.  It was dark.  The tables were cleaned, seats were turned onto them to indicate the bar was closed.

“I’m closing, Trailcutter.”

Appulse looked to the main bar.  There they were.  The only two people.

“Aww, come on, Atom…” Trailcutter slurred.  “One mooooore…”  He sounded even more slammed than he usually did.  In his hand he clutched a Rodimus Star.  The one he’d just earned that day.  “I’m celebratin’.”

“No, you’re getting so hammered I’m pretty sure you’re about to purge all over the floor I just mopped while you were finishing that last drink,” Atomizer said sternly.  “Come on, you big lug.  I’ll help you back to your habsuite.”

“Yer so nice, Atom,” Trailcutter said as the server lifted him to his pedes, allowing the drunk to lean on him.

The former interior decorator snorted.  “Nice isn’t the first word most people think of when they’re talking about me.”

Trailcutter stumbled, making this a very slow trek across the bar to the door.  “But’choo are, Atom.  You act all mean and glitchy, but yer prob’ly the nicest person on this ship.  You dun hafta help Swerve run the bar, or me get home right now.  But’choo do.  An’ that’s just so… it’s so nice, Atom.  Yer so nice.”  He repeated the word like it was the only one he could think of.

Atomizer actually looked more self-conscious the more Trailcutter talked.  Appulse had never seen him look like that, as the assassin usually carried an air of over-confidence wherever he went.  He sometimes rivaled Rodimus on how much he thought of himself.  “Yeah, well…” was all he could seem to think of saying.  He actually looked… kind of shy.  Finally, he said with a bit of his usual snark, “Tell anyone and I’ll kill you.  I have a reputation as a nasty piece of work to keep up on this ship.”

“I won’t tell a spark, Atom,” Trailcutter promised as they stumbled through the door, closing it behind them.

Appulse felt himself get dragged back to the present, looking around.  Everything was back to normal.  Bright and cheerful, with Perceptor to the side.

“Enjoy your visit?” the scientist asked.

“Yeah,” Appulse nodded, looking at the ground.  “It was very… informative.  Thanks, Perceptor.”

“Of course.  Tell my youngling it’s his turn.”

“Alright.”

Appulse left, thinking of what he’d seen.  That was the most affectionate he’d ever seen Atomizer.  He didn’t know why he needed to see it for himself.  Perhaps it made it feel more… real that Atomizer was that desperate to avenge Trailcutter’s death.

Of all things about the Getaway and Tailgate incident, the thing that baffled Appulse the most was that Atomizer had agreed to such a horrible plan.  The former assassin knew, first hand, what it was like to lose someone he loved.  Someone who he’d never told.  Why would he willingly put Cyclonus and Tailgate through that as well?

The half-Wrecker wasn’t allowed to see Atomizer down in the brig this time, but he didn’t know if he cared.  The Atomizer who was down there, the one who willingly allowed an innocent young mech to be manipulated and almost sacrificed for their twisted revenge scheme, wasn’t the one Appulse had befriended when he joined the crew.  He wasn’t the one that had loved Trailcutter.  Appulse had just seen that one.  The Atomizer who had loved Trailcutter was cynical but kind.  He never would have agreed to something so… heinous.

 

-

 

“Alright, Pseudo, do you know when you want to go?”

Pseudo nodded.  He knew.  While he had only been with the crew a short time, he had a good idea of what he wanted to see.  There wasn’t anyone he lost, so no one he needed to pay respects to like the others.

He knew that was what they were doing.  Everyone was solemn.  Even the ones trying to hold up cheerful attitudes.  It wasn’t in the back, like when they were hiding things.  It was at the forefront, shown as a sign of respect.  But Pseudo didn’t want to see someone who had passed.  Simply someone who had gone away.

The youngling handed up the slip of paper.  He couldn’t write down what he wanted himself, so he had Rodimus translate it.  The red and orange captain couldn’t understand his sounds like Ten, but somehow he always had a knack with his paintings.  All he had to do was paint exactly what he wanted to convey, and even if it took a few tries Rodimus would figure out what he wanted.  He didn’t use this method often, as it was more time consuming than trying to simply show people through his body language and vocals.  He couldn’t do that for this, though.  When he finally got what he wanted to see across, Rodimus had been surprised, but he didn’t object.

Perceptor entered the date and time, and away Pseudo went.

The bar changed quite a bit.  It was far back enough that it was readily apparent.  Not as fully furnished and stocked as it was now.  Still getting its footing.

 “Are you sure we should be in here?”

“Relax, I’m the captain, what’s Swerve going to say?  ‘You’re not allowed to use the only bar on the ship you own for your own purposes?’”

Pseudo looked to the two mechs entering the bar.  Rodimus was one.  The other was white, red, and black.  He had a sword on each hip.  “I just don’t understand why we aren’t going to the rec-deck.  Or the oil reservoir.”  His vocals were measured, practiced.  He was someone practiced in the skills Pseudo had been working on.  Reading vocals and body language.  He made sure to keep his own tight.

“Because, Drift,” Rodimus said the name with purpose, looking to make sure the door was shut and locked before heading over to the bar and taking bottles off the wall.  “None of them have privacy or a bar.”

“This is stealing,” Drift pointed out flatly, though he still walked over and sat on one of the bar stools.

“Not if you pay for them,” the captain grinned, mixing two of the bottles together.

“I paid for the trip to Hedonia they’re on, and I have to pay for you to raid the bar?” Drift ex-vented.  Still, he didn’t say no.  After a moment, he smiled.  “You’re going to be the death of me, captain.”

“Not captain right now,” Rodimus said, putting the drink on the counter.  He leaned forward, faceplate inches from the other.  “Now, I’m Rodimus the sexy bartender.”

“Primus, Rodimus,” Drift laughed, covering his faceplate with a hand.

Pseudo moved closer to the scene.  He hopped on the bar counter, a few seats down.  Even though he wasn’t really there, he felt like he would be invading their space otherwise.  He needed to hear the sound of their voices, properly see their body language, though.

“What?” Rodimus’s grin only widened.  He bent so his face was still right across from Drift’s downcast one.  “Are you trying to say I’m not sexy?”

Drift moved his hand and this time the smile was different.  Charming.  Disarming.  He leaned just enough forward so his and Rodimus’s lip components almost brushed.  “You’re more than sexy, bartender.  You’re gorgeous.”

Rodimus leaned back, tapping the counter where the drink was.  “Drink your drink, sir.”

“Yes, cap- I mean, bartender,” Drift took the glass and tipped it back.  His optics widened, having to stop himself from spitting it back out.  “Oh, Primus!” Drift coughed out.  “Rodimus, do you even know what you poured?”

The captain actually looked offended.  “Hey, it can’t be that hard to mix drinks.  I mean… Swerve does it.”

“Fine then, taste it,” Drift challenged, holding the drink up for Rodimus.

The red and orange Autobot looked at the glass, then at him.  He reached for the glass, then bypassed it.  He grabbed a startled Drift by the back of his helm and kissed him on the lips.  After a moment, Drift began to kiss him back.  Mouths opened and glossas intertwined.  What felt like an eternity passed before they parted, Rodimus laughing as he made a face.  “Okay, you were right.  That drink tasted like slag.”

Pseudo watched the scene melt away.  His creator stood at his machine, looking at him funny.  “Is there a reason you decided what you saw required you to be seated upon the counter?” he asked.

Pseudo tilted his helm and shrugged, jumping off.  He waved to Perceptor as he left, nodding to the next person whose turn it was.

The artist found the answers to most of his questions in that part of the past.  Many of them about their co-captain himself.  When he watched them, the way their bodies seemed to gravitate towards each other even with a bar counter between them.  The way they spoke to each other, the sounds their vocals made.  As restrained as Drift was, as soon as he knew they were alone his vocals dropped all pretense.  He didn’t just love Rodimus.  He practically worshipped him.  Rodimus’s vocals had so much passion behind the way he responded, even when he was teasing.

Something happened, something to do with the monster called Overlord.  Drift didn’t die.  But for some reason he left – was driven away - and Rodimus was left feeling empty and alone, even surrounded by his crew.  It was no wonder why he always sounded sad.  Scared.  It started with the person he cared about the most.  And then people started dying, or leaving, and…

Pseudo spotted Rodimus standing down the hall, away from the other members of the crew.  He’d already had his turn.  He was waiting for the grand finale they’d all agreed on.  As soon as he saw the youngling running for him, though, he turned and opened his arms, bending down so he could accept what he was about to be smothered with.

“You get it now, don’t you, bean?” the co-captain muttered, holding him tight.  “I’d give anything to have him back.  But he won’t, he can’t want me back.  Because I’m the idiot who let the person I love, who ordered the person I love to take the fall for something unforgivable.”  The amount of regret, of self-loathing coming from his vocals was overwhelming.  “People like me don’t get happy endings.  We don’t deserve happy endings.”

Rodimus was a person Pseudo could hear loud and clear.  He may not understand all of the words, but he didn’t hide anything in how he spoke for the youngling.  For that, Pseudo was grateful.  He didn’t believe Rodimus deserved any of the hatred he held for himself, though.  He didn’t know the full story, but whatever it was weighed heavily on the co-captain.  He could feel the impact of everyone he’d lost deep in the way he spoke.

“Ultra Magnus was right.”

Rodimus and Pseudo both looked to the vocals.  Megatron stood behind his co-captain, look disapproving.  “You really are the one spoiling him with physical affection, aren’t you?”

As the former Decepticon tyrant passed by them, Rodimus looked at Pseudo then back at Megatron.  The teasing smile he usually had when talking to people with more authority in their vocals than him returned.  “I’ll take it Pseudo finally got around to giving your grumpy aft a hug, then,” he called after the silver mech.

Megatron stopped and turned sharply, glaring at him.

“And from the looks of it, you didn’t appreciate the wonder that is Pseudo’s hugs.  Geez, mech, I’d think even you couldn’t be so cold-sparked that a hug from an adorable youngling wouldn’t penetrate that thick casing around it,” Rodimus continued, looking down at Pseudo and smiling.

Pseudo looked back at him, then at Megatron.  Indeed, despite how much it had been nice at the time, it looked like his efforts to cheer the co-captain at least a bit had been in vain.  Feeling rebellious, as he usually did when spending time with Rodimus, he stuck his glossa out at the former Decepticon.

Megatron looked even more taken aback, optics narrowing.  “That, I believe, is insubordination,” the co-captain announced, turning again to continue down the hall.  “I believe your sire should be informed of this.”

Pseudo instantly regretted his decision, withdrawing his glossa and covering his mouth with his hands.  He looked up at Rodimus, optics wide.

“Aah, don’t worry, he’s not going to tell Minimus,” Rodimus grinned.  “He’s just teasing back.  He’s been experimenting with banter lately.”

Pseudo nodded, withdrawing his hands.  He was glad to see Rodimus back to normal now that they weren’t talking about his missing sparkmate.  Still, he wanted time to actually sit and properly hear him talk about it.  From how badly it was still affecting him, it was obvious Rodimus wasn’t seeing Rung about the affair.

Not that he could now, as Rung had resigned as ship’s psychiatrist.  Pseudo didn’t understand why, but he was sad that he wouldn’t be helping him explore his abilities anymore.  Pseudo understood them enough to begin figuring them out on his own thanks to their sessions, but it was much easier with the steady, gentle hand of Rung to guide him.

Pseudo!

The youngling and the co-captain jumped, watching Minimus Ambus march down the hall towards them.  “What was this I heard about you disrespecting one of the co-captains of this ship?!” he was shouting.

“Ah, slag, I guess Megs wasn’t bluffing,” Rodimus yelped, pushing Pseudo down the hall the opposite way from his storming sire.  “Run, bean!  I’ll try to hold him off!”

Pseudo didn’t have to be told twice.  He dashed down the hall, transforming into his small transport vehicle mode, hoping to avoid his sire long enough for him to cool down.

 

-----

 

Impactor didn’t think meeting First Aid’s team was going to be so… welcoming.  They all stood in First Aid and Groove’s room at the hotel, the Protectobots looking at him expectantly.

The first one to finally break the ice was Hot Spot.  “So, you’re Impactor, huh?” he asked amicably.  “I’m Hot Spot, the… uh, ‘leader’ of this team, I guess.  They seem to have voted me to be.”

“Hey, you have the most experience,” Streetwise pointed out.  He looked at Impactor and grinned.  “Call me Streetwise.  So, you’re Appulse’s sire?  Yeah, I see it.  Definitely got your build.  Man, you’re a big guy, aren’t you?” he said, putting up his hands and seeming to measure the Wreckers’ width with it.  “Ooh, that scowl is definitely him, too.  I mean, he’s more cheerful than you, but when he’s mad… he gets exactly that look you’re giving me.”

“Impactor, be nice,” First Aid said lightly.

“I am being nice,” the black and gold mech growled.

“It’s okay, ‘Wise tends to make that impression on people,” Groove chuckled.  “I’m Groove.  Sorry for any bad impressions Streetwise or Blades might make on you.  They’re not easy to keep reeled in.”

“Hey!  Why am I getting included in that?” Blades huffed.

“Because you don’t have a filter, mech,” Streetwise answered, looking like he dared him to deny it.

Instead, Blades thought for a moment, then shrugged.  “Fair enough.  I’m Blades.  Big fan of your work, by the way,” he said.  “Well, not as much of one as First Aid is, obviously.  Nice job knocking him up, though.”

“Blades!” First Aid, Groove, and Hot Spot all chorused.

The medic covered his face with his hands, completely mortified.  “I’m so sorry…” he muttered to his sparkmate.

“You weren’t kidding about that filter,” Impactor said, glaring at the ‘copter.

“Whoa, Appulse definitely didn’t get his sense of humor either,” Streetwise laughed.

“Alright, maybe that’s enough meeting for tonight,” Hot Spot announced, ushering them towards the door.  “Come on, let’s let First Aid and Impactor have some privacy.”

“Aww, I wanted to ask him some questions about his battles!” Blades complained, though he complied in heading past the couple to the door.

“You’ll have all the time you want to ask him questions when we’re heading back to the Lost Light,” Hot Spot said sternly, putting a hand on his shoulder and guiding him out.  “He’s coming with us.”

“Sweet!” Streetwise threw his hands in the air.  “We’ll have to think of some really good questions.  Come on, Groove, you’re getting kicked out of here, anyway.  You can bunk with me and I’ll kick Blades out to stay with Hot Spot.”

“I’m the leader, how am I not making this decision?” the almost completely white leader asked.

“Because I’d rather share the room with Groove.  Blades doesn’t vent properly in his sleep, and he sounds like a diesel engine.”

“I do not!”

“I’ll have Rewind record you when we get back to the ship, and you can listen to yourself.”

“Guys, guys, it’s fine,” Groove followed quickly, waving to First Aid on his way out.  “I don’t mind staying with ‘Wise.  He can’t complain if you’re not there.”

Hot Spot ex-vented, letting the others go out in front of himself.  He practically herded them, waving them by.  “Alright, alright.  Blades can stay with me tonight.  Have a good night, First Aid.  Impactor.”

“Night, guys!” First Aid waved to them as they left.  When Hot Spot closed the door after he was gone, the medic looked at the Wrecker.  “That… wasn’t the impression of my team I wanted you to have.”

“They’re… not too bad,” Impactor replied, sounding quite reasonable if he did say so himself.  “I mean, they’re no Wreckers, but…”

“There’s no one like the Wreckers, Impactor,” the red and white mech laughed. 

When he was done, there was an uncomfortable silence that followed.  Neither seemed to know what to say to the other.  Seven and a half meta-cycles passed since the only other time they’d seen each other.

“I’ve waited so long to see you again,” First Aid finally said, playing with his servos.  “I never thought of what to do when I did.”

“Honestly?  Neither did I,” Impactor admitted.  “Then again, I didn’t think we ever would meet again.”

First Aid flinched at how straightforward that was.  “You… didn’t want to see me again?” he asked, disheartened.

“That wasn’t it,” Impactor said quickly, feeling like punching himself.  With his harpoon, preferably.  “I didn’t deserve to see you again after what I did to you.  But I...” he vented slowly, thinking of how to word it.  “I’m not sparkmate material.  Even less sire material.  I’m a Wrecker.  A killer.  I don’t know how to do… this.”  He gestured between them with his good hand.

“Does anyone?” First Aid smiled, taking the hand again.  He pulled Impactor to the berth, sitting down on it.

Seeing him like that, looking up at him, sitting on a berth… Impactor couldn’t help but think of when they’d seen each other last.  When they’d first met.  First Aid had been so sweet, so inviting.  No, he still was.  Something felt different about him, though.

“First Aid,” Impactor said, as gently as his gruff vocals could.  He sat down next to him, still towering even like that.  “What happened to you while I was gone?  You seem… different.”

The medic stiffened at the words, looking at the floor.  “I am.  So much happened, I don’t even know where to start.”  He vented in deeply, looking back up at Impactor.  Something was there, deep in his optics.  His spark didn’t have the same flicker of innocence he had when they’d met.  It was replaced with something new.

Impactor knew that new flicker.  “You killed someone, didn’t you?” he asked, petting First Aid’s faceplate with his good hand.

First Aid’s vocals cracked, reaching out to him.  “I don’t want to talk about that right now,” he said shakily.  His servos dipped, grasping his other arm.  They travelled, deftly, expertly, down until they came in contact with Impactor’s harpoon.

The Wrecker stiffened, not used to others touching his weapon.  It was a tool of murder.  First Aid’s hands were tools of healing.  He shouldn’t be anywhere near something like that.  He was so gentle with it, though.  Servos wrapping around the harpoon, the other hand deftly moving in the gap between it and his arm plating.  He found the manual release easily, the harpoon popping out of its socket and into his servos.

“Be careful with that,” Impactor felt the need to say, watching First Aid turn it over in his servos.  “What are you doing?”

“It doesn’t seem very safe to keep this on while recharging,” the medic reasoned, placing the harpoon on the table next to the berth.  “Especially since we’ll be sharing a berth.”

Impactor stared at him a moment.  This was really happening.  He was really in a room, about to share a berth with the mech he…

Did he love First Aid?  Was it what truly felt?  Or was it simply the bonding and sire protocols screaming at him again?  How much of this was real, and how much was his programming?

It didn’t matter right now.  Because all that was real in this moment, in that berth, was him, and First Aid, and the growing heat they were feeling between them.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea,” First Aid admitted, seeming to read his mind.  He still leaned forward, placing his hands on Impactor’s chestplate.  “After everything that’s happened… after all the time you’ve been gone… after what you did, no matter your reasons…”

“I know,” Impactor replied, leaning down and nuzzling his face into the crook connecting First Aid’s neck and shoulder.  He nibbled on the cables there, eliciting a sharp vent from the medic.

Even with the innocence that whatever had happened had robbed from him, the red and white medic was still very sweet.  Just as delicious as he remembered after all this time.

“We really shouldn’t,” First Aid repeated his doubts, placing his servos on his chestplate and pushing back.  “It’s not that I don’t want to.  I really do.  But…” he looked at his servos resting on his sparkmate then back up at him.  “I don’t want that to be what this is about.  What we’re about.”

“What do you mean?” Impactor asked, confused.

“When you get to the core of why we’re here, like this, right now?  This was all it was about.  The physical,” the medic explained, shifting closer.  He moved his hands up to Impactor’s shoulders and leaned against him.  His helm rested on his chestplate.  “We’re here, we feel what we feel mostly just because of an ill-timed heat cycle.  But I don’t want that to be why we’re here.  I know I feel more than just that for you.  I want… I suppose, I want to prove that.  That without the physical, we can still be together.”

“I…” the Wrecker looked unsure.  “I don’t know how to do that.”

“You don’t have to,” First Aid chuckled.  “It’s not about knowing how.  If you really want to close the gap between us, not just physically, then you already do know what to do.  Just let it happen naturally.  Don’t think.”

Don’t think.  That was easy.  Impactor was smart, but he got through most of his life on impulse.  Doing what felt natural was the easiest thing to ask from him.  So he wrapped his arms around the red and white medic and simply… held him.

It was still a bit awkward, but it felt right.

Alright.  He could do this.  He could be a sparkmate.  And he could be a sire.

It wouldn’t be long before he finally had the opportunity to prove it.

Chapter Text

“Did you stop it?”

“Of course I stopped it.  It was a signal.  There isn’t a single one in the universe I can’t control.”

Tarn glanced at Kaon, not amused by his sarcasm.  He let it go, however.

“Still can’t believe we let that guy get by us,” the blind mech jabbed a fore-servo over his shoulder in the general direction of the now very deceased ‘Necrobot’ lying on the floor.

“Who would’ve thought he actually knew the ship we’re luring in?” Helex grunted, looking down to where Vos sat on top of the body.  He was busily opening and closing Censere’s jaw, a fascinated look in his crimson optics.  “What the frag are you doing?” he asked, raising an optic ridge.

Vos stopped and looked up at him.  He then hissed and spat his answer, pointing at the face.  Helex ex-vented.  He should have known not to ask.  He had a fleeting knowledge of the Primal Vernacular, but not enough to understand whatever that had been.

“He says he hasn’t seen a jaw-joint like that often.  This is the most intact one we’ve left for him to actually observe,” Kaon spoke up.  He was using the computer to monitor their target and make sure the signal Censere had sent didn’t actually scare them away.

“We could just take it with us,” Helex pointed out.  “I’m sure you’ve still got room somewhere in your lab for another body part.”

Vos gave him a pointed look, spat something else, and bent back over the body to continue his… whatever exactly he was doing.  Helex didn’t pursue the subject, recognizing the negative if nothing else.

At least the Gunformer was back to normal.  They knew he wasn’t over his fascination with the youngling he’d encountered, as once he latched onto something he pursued it obsessively.  But behaviorally he was back to his regularly scheduled brand of strange.

“I must make sure Deathsaurus is prepared for our ambush,” Tarn announced, moving to leave the room.  Unlike Kaon, he was confident the members of the ship Megatron had joined would come to investigate despite Censere’s efforts.  He had a good optic for behavior, and Megatron wasn’t the type to simply let something like this stand.  Then again, he thought he knew Megatron very well before he defected – he betrayed them – for the Autobots.  “Come, Vos.  We can come back for the body after we’ve killed Megatron and those who are now loyal to him.”

The Primalist looked up from his work again, annoyed that he was continually interrupted.  He couldn’t deny his leader, though, so he pushed himself off of the dead body and followed until he was close enough to grasp onto the much larger mech’s armor.  He hauled and climbed up Tarn’s hulking form until he half-clung and half-hung off his shoulder.

Tarn gave him an amused look.  “Perhaps we should find you a cleaning rack first.  Nickel will give you a piece of her mind if she sees how much of the Necrobot you’ve gotten on yourself.”

Vos looked at himself in a window they passed.  He was indeed quite filthy blue and pink with energon from both Censere and the flowers they’d stuffed into him.  That part had been Tesarus’s idea.  Some kind of sick, twisted flower arranging.  No one could ever accuse the DJD of not having a sense of humor.

“I will wash when we return to Deathsaurus’s ship,” he hissed in his ancient language.  Tarn was one of the few on the ship who was fluent in his language, so he felt no need to speak in anything but it.

“Very well.  If Nickel sees you before you find one there, I will not stop her, however,” the DJD leader chuckled, reaching up and patting him on the helm.

Vos let out a purring sound, swinging his pedes contentedly.  Tarn was much better than his previous masters.  Megatron notwithstanding, that was.  Both the Decepticon and DJD leaders were the only two masters he ever had that appreciated how rare and valuable Vos was.  Being a sparkborn Gunformer meant that he was seen as a commodity rather than a person, even in the progressive modern Cybertronian society.  Gunformers led comfortable lives in the hands of collectors, though.  Vos, or rather back then ‘Forestock,’ never appreciated that life.  He’d been passed through the servos of more than a few collectors, where he sat securely in luxury.  Something to be looked at, fawned over for the pretty lines of both his robot and rifle form.

But the life of a collectable was boring.  What was the point of being born a deadly weapon if no one was going to use him?

And then Megatron found him.  Megatron had had multiple altmodes by that point, and one of them had been a handgun.  He knew what it meant to transform into something that could kill and then put himself into the servos of someone else and trust that they would use him for both of their benefit.  He came to visit the collector with the intention of freeing all of his weapons and allow them to either join him or find their own way through life without someone else’s judgement.  Forestock jumped at the chance, and when battle between the Decepticons and the collector’s forces arose he showed his new loyalties by personally jumping into the fray.  Most of the other weapons stayed out of it, perfectly content to be commodities.  But Forestock’s willingness to be freed from his silk prison and deadly precision both in his robot and rifle modes earned him time as Megatron’s favored weapon.  It was only for a while, but the feeling of finally being able to fulfill his purpose in life was euphoric.

After a while Megatron became occupied with other parts of the war, leaving Forestock in the servos of other commanders.  They saw him as an object as much as the collectors he’d called masters before, but he didn’t care.  As long as he was handled by ‘bots who knew how to use him.  None of them did as well as Megatron had, but that didn’t matter after he was called in to take the place of the spy that had worn the name Vos before him, desecrating it.  He was all Tarn’s now.  Occasionally Helex was allowed to use him, but almost never Tesarus.  The brute of a grinder didn’t have the patience to use a precision weapon.  Helex did, but he didn’t train in the use of sniper rifles, so needed Vos to give him help.  But Tarn?  Their black and purple leader handled him almost as well as Megatron had.  He gave both Vos and Kaon favor, and Vos didn’t mind sharing as long as he continued to be of use to the masked leader.

“What are you thinking about, Vos?” Tarn asked, gently fingering underneath the Gunformer’s chin.

“You have not invited me to berth in a long time,” Vos answered.

“This is hardly the time to be thinking of such things.”

“I know.  But you asked what I was thinking.”

Tarn chuckled again, withdrawing his servo and reaching up as they entered the small ship they were taking to Deathsaurus’s.  He picked Vos off of his shoulder and placed him on the ground, kneeling next to him for a moment.  “When this is over.  You may retrieve the Necrobot’s body, and we will celebrate in my berth.  Is that what you wish to hear?”

Vos simply nodded in satisfaction, grasping Tarn’s helm while he was still low enough and nuzzling it before turning and running to his seat.  He leapt over the back of it, crossing his legs and watching his commander move to the pilot seat and begin pushing buttons.

As a Primalist, it was his duty to one day continue the sparkline of his ancestors.  There were so few Primalists who actually followed all of the traditions that it was crucial to keep as many of them going as possible.  Vos knew such things weren’t thinkable at the moment, especially since despite them still being able to indulge in physical pleasure all members of the DJD had their heat cycles blocked.  Once everything was over and there was no more need for the DJD, when the universe fell in line with their glorious vision, he would have them returned to himself.

Vos thought that Tarn would make a fine sire for his sparklings.  Perhaps he’d ask him about it later.

 

-----

 

Blaster had been visiting with Pseudo at 31:00, watching him do what he did best.  Their lessons would start at exactly 31:20, and the red and yellow musician had learned to arrive early so they could start punctually.  If there was anything Pseudo had inherited from his creators, it was his love of schedules.  He didn’t like anything to disrupt his, keeping it tight.  The communications ‘bot never minded arriving early, though.  Pseudo always worked on his art beforehand, and it was an experience to see.

The youngling had a constantly changing wall, covered in every color on the spectrum.  When he needed a release of his creative juices he turned on some music, lined up his paints and brushes and cleaning supplies, and became a whirlwind of color.  Pedes constantly moving to the pulse of the music, brushes sweeping across the wall, a need to reach higher than his arms could stretch remedied by an arc of his arms splattering paint as high as the laws of physics would allow.  Pseudo was a creature of creative expressionism, emotional and honest in every movement and sound he made.

Blaster ex-vented, looking away from it.  Primus, this was hard.  He knew he had to keep acting like nothing was wrong.  Like everything was normal, or at least as normal as life ever had been on the Lost Light.  But it was hard with Pseudo.  This ship was the only home the white and gold youngling had ever known, and they were going to take that away from him.  Not just him, but an entire group of ‘bots he knew he was going to miss.

Swerve, who over the course of the last few years became a constant so solid that hearing he needed help had caused the entire ship to jump to attention.  Rewind and Rung, who were the kindest people on the Lost Light.  Ultra Magnus, who wanted nothing more than to keep order, no matter how much he struggled with it.  Primus, nearly the entire science team, everyone but Mainframe.  Tailgate, who only just recently recovered from… whatever it was that Getaway had caused.  They didn’t know, weren’t given the details.  But it made Blaster uncomfortable that they were still going to follow him, still going through with the mutiny.  But they didn’t have a choice at this point.

They were in too deep now to stop.

The time turned to 31:07, and Blaster’s alerts went up.  A signal, weak, but very much pointed in the direction of the Lost Light.  It wasn’t for the Lost Light, as the communication alert didn’t go off.  Rather, more like it was aimed at something around or beyond the ship.  It wouldn’t have concerned him except for one factor.

Pseudo made a strangled gasping sound, stopping in place.  He grasped his helm, brushes falling from his servos as he collapsed to his knees.  He caught himself on the wall with one hand, but vented heavily still.  His hand was coated in the fresh blue and green paint there, but he didn’t seem to care.  The signal faded, and he shook a bit, looking up with wide, blue optics.

“You okay, kiddo?” Blaster asked, hurrying over and putting a hand on his back.  Pseudo nodded, resetting his optics a few times.  He pushed himself shakily back to his pedes, looking around the room confused.  The music still played, but he wasn’t paying attention to that anymore.  “Did… did you hear that signal?” Blaster asked, surprised.

Pseudo looked back at him, nodding again.  He looked as confused as Blaster was.  He looked at his colorful chassis, but then shook his helm, dispelling whatever concern he had at the moment.  He pointed at the door.

“You’re right,” Blaster said, straightening and heading out.  “We need to tell Rodimus about this.”  He didn’t need to look to know that Pseudo was following him.  He needed to know what happened as much as anyone else.

Twenty minutes later, there was a gathering of those who had been affected by the signal on the bridge, sharing stories of their experiences with it.  Blaster explained the signal, Rodimus gave his orders (leaving Megatron to explain ‘subtle manipulation’ to a very flustered Ultra Magnus), and Team Rodimus began to gather.

“I don’t understand one thing,” Perceptor said to Rung as they waited outside of the Rodpod.  “Why did the signal affect Pseudo?  It supposedly targeted guilt.  He is nowhere near old enough to have anything to be guilt-ridden enough for it to target, if the fact that only five people were struck by it is any indication.”

“To say the least about how it works in the first place,” Rung agreed.  “The attack was verbal, for lack of a better word.  It attacked by making us hear things that would cause us the greatest amount of psychological distress.  My guess is that when the transmission reached the ship, it went unheard by those who don’t feel something that… deeply troubling.  At the risk of sounding unprofessional, though I suppose since I resigned that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, I’m honestly quite surprised that only five of us were affected.  Anyhow, because Pseudo doesn’t have anything to feel that level of guilt over, he simply picked up on the sound of the guilt that was transmitted by the signal.  It worked on him, simply in a different way.  Instead of targeting something specific for him to be guilty about, it simply transmitted the sheer, uncensored sound of guilt directly into him.”

Perceptor thought about it, then nodded.  That made sense.  He looked to his youngling, who was once again ‘speaking’ with Ten.  He was devoid of paint now, having had a talking-to by his sire about cleanliness and subsequently being sent to the wash-rack to make sure he was so clean he could pass the ‘Magnus Spotlessness Test.’  “That simply clenches it.  I am not letting you go without me.  Not only am I distinctly curious about what could cause such a signal, but it targeted my youngling.  I’m not letting anyone get away with it.”

There was a moment where Rung watched him, debating saying something.  “I know I have no right to analyze you as a psychiatrist, Perceptor.  But may I ask something as a friend?”

Perceptor looked back to him curiously.  He hadn’t realized that Rung considered him such a thing.

“Are you sure it was only five of us that were affected by the true nature of the signal?” the elder orange and white mech asked gently.

The red and black scientist tensed at the question.  He thought no one would notice.  That he could keep it hidden.  He should have known if anyone could see right through any such thing, it would be Rung.

When the signal had hit the ship, Perceptor had heard the voice of a young weaponologist who had for one fateful and terrible mission been the one thing he’d dreamed of: a Wrecker.  A weaponologist who found out that the Wreckers weren’t what he thought.  Perceptor had never had delusions of what being a Wrecker meant.  What it entailed.  But they’d pulled a bunch of young hopefuls, delusional in their dreams of glory, for the singular purpose of sacrificing them all.  Just so they could clean up someone else’s mess, because that was what Wreckers were for.  Though he only heard the one voice, it spoke for all of them.  A singular accusation that Perceptor fought from his own inner demons.

That he would sacrifice anything and anyone to the name of the Wreckers.  That if he could go back to that moment they landed on Garrus-9, do everything again knowing everything they did, everyone they would lose, that he would do it the same way again.

“You’re the very definition of a ‘cold sniper,’ aren’t you?  Remind me to ask you someday how to turn off your emotions like that.  I sometimes find myself… ‘feeling’ things, and I’d love to know how to make that stop.”

Whirl had been the one to say it, one night while they were at Swerve’s after a battle to help an innocent population against a Decepticon cell who obviously hadn’t heard that they were done with the war.  He couldn’t tell if the ‘copter knew how deeply the simple words had cut, how close to his insecurities they reached.  He wasn’t an unfeeling scientist.  He was more than just a machine.

Ever since his run-in with Turmoil that had turned him from scientist to sniper he found himself trying to convince himself of that more and more.  He’d been so naïve before that, but perhaps that had been better than the cynical shell he became after.  There were days he regretted ever deciding to pick up a rifle and join the war.

But then Ultra Magnus happened.  And after him, Pseudo.  If he hadn’t become who he was now would they have ever become a family?  The odds were astronomically low.  He couldn’t escape his painful past, but he could move forward.  Magnus and Pseudo were his present and future now.  And he would protect that no matter what.

Nightbeat looked over as Runescribe made her way, holding a bunch of datapads.  “Whoa, hey, you coming, too?” he asked.

“Of course I’m coming,” Runescribe huffed.  “Rodimus and Megatron are like magnets for material.  You know how much of it I got from that battle on Milarium alone?”  She sorted through her datapads.  “I’ve got everything I need to keep taking notes on them and their weird-aft adventures.”

“You do know this is going to be dangerous, right?” Nightbeat raised an optic ridge.

“So was Milarium,” the black and white femme pointed out testily.

“Yeah, but you stayed back with Megatron and watched that from the vidscreens,” the mystery-lover said.  “You’re going to be right in the thick of things if you come with us.”

“No one ever wrote a good novel being safe,” Runescribe challenged further.

“I don’t think you really know what ‘safe writing’ means,” Nightbeat pointed out, trying not to smirk.  “But fair enough.  If you’re sure you want to come along, I’m not going to stop you.”

“Good,” Runescribe finally smiled, punching him in the arm.  “Because you couldn’t if you tried.”

Meanwhile, Appulse helped gather medical supplies into the Rodpod.  “You sure you want to come with us?” he asked Velocity.

“You’re the second person to ask me this!” the blue femme medic replied, exasperated but still laughing.  “I’ll be fine.  This is more of an exploratory mission than anything else, and I’ll have you there to watch my back.”

“I’m just saying, you’re leaving the ship without a medic while you’re gone.”

“I know, but we’ll only be gone for a few hours at most.  Unless someone gets into Swerve’s Engex supply while I’m gone, I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” she chuckled.

“Wait, you don’t think that’s going to be a problem, do you?” Swerve asked worriedly, passing by them.  “Maybe I should check and make sure everything’s locked up before we go…”

“No time!” Rodimus announced as he approached, Megatron and Magnus flanking him.  “We’re on our way right now!  Time is shanix, everyone!  Hustle!”

“I don’t think that saying applies when we’re not getting paid,” Skids muttered to Nautica.  She giggled, shoving his arm as they boarded the Rodpod.

It was surprisingly spacious inside the Rodpod.  Appulse definitely had less trouble fitting with all of the people than he did when he was stuck with just four others in that escape pod what felt like forever ago.  The co-captains sat in the pilot and co-pilot seats.  Nautica, Skids, and Nightbeat took the passenger seats behind them.  There were places for people to sit along the sides, where the rest of the wayward crew members sat.  Well, almost all of them.  Whirl insisted on flitting about in the zero-gravity environment, sounding like an unruly youngling.  Brainstorm took advantage of it to sit on the ceiling – for really no other reason than because he could.  Pseudo sat next to him, playing his Box.  He turned it down low enough so the sound wouldn’t disturb the captains piloting.  The song coming from it, which could be heard well enough if one concentrated, was full of curiosity and mystery.  A question of what they were going to find when they arrived at their destination.

“I don’t like this.  We could be heading into a trap for all we know,” Ultra Magnus grumbled to his conjux sitting next to him.  Appulse sat on Perceptor’s other side, turning his attention away from the excitable Wrecker in the middle of the room.

“I’m almost certain that this is a trap,” Perceptor replied, arms folded over his chestplate.  His optics were dimmed.  “That is why I came as well.”

“I’m not sure it was a good idea to bring Pseudo, though,” Appulse pointed out, looking up at the white and gold youngling.  Moments like this, of danger, reminded him how small and defenseless the artist was.  He tore his optics back away from the entrancing sight of Pseudo’s servos deftly moving across the lasers on his Box.

“I agree with Appulse,” Magnus huffed warily.  “We should have left him in the care of the rest of the crew.  This is not the kind of mission a youngling, especially one with no combat capabilities, should be embarking on.”

“If you thought you could have stopped him, you would have,” Perceptor onlined an optic to give a cheeky half-smirk to his much larger conjux.  “You’ve said it before, he has my brilliance.  He would have found a way to come along.”

“That is no reason to willingly put him in danger,” the blue and white enforcer insisted.

“I would rather Pseudo be where I can see him when danger crops up than hiding somewhere that I cannot protect him.”

Magnus opened his mouth to argue further, but then closed it.  The argument was moot.  They were already on their way, and Pseudo was already with them.

“Don’t worry, guys,” Velocity spoke up from the other side of the Pod.  “If there’s danger, we’ll make sure he stays away from it.  He’s not the only non-combatant here.  Swerve, ‘Scribe, and Rung can watch him.  Heck, I can help, too.”

“I would be delighted to keep an eye on him,” Rung smiled reassuringly.

“Yeah, sure, as long as he’s pretty quiet,” Runescribe agreed, shrugging.

“We appreciate it,” Magnus nodded to them.

After a moment there was a bright light, a pulling sensation, then darkness.

For a moment, Appulse almost panicked.  It was too much like what happened when the Lost Light had vanished.  But then he started hearing people’s voices.

“Ten.”

“Aah…?”

The first two belonged to their non-conversational members.

“Okay, no one panic.  Everyone keep super-calm.”  That was Rodimus.  Check.

“No one’s panicking, Rodimus.”  Appulse nearly jumped at that voice.  Right, that was Ravage.  He’d actually forgotten the feline-mech had joined them.

“I’m panicking a little.”  Swerve was a check.

“You see, Ravage?  Swerve’s panicking.”

“Only a little bit.”

“I don’t see a problem,” Ravage huffed.  “It’s dark and I’m alive.  I mean we’re alive.”

“Well, I’m sorry if not all of us are catlike and unpanickable,” Rodimus snapped.

“Not a word,” Ultra Magnus spoke up.

“Jeez, Magnus, time and place,” Rodimus muttered.

“He’s not wrong, Magnus.  We should be focusing,” Perceptor argued in favor of the captain.

“No, no, no.  You can’t have people throwing made up words around willy-nilly.  There are impressionable ‘bots on board.”

“Magnus is right.  Making up words leads to criminanarchy and pandebordination,” Brainstorm’s voice quipped out of the darkness.

“Brainstorm!  One more and you’re on remand!

“I’m starting to regret all of my life decisions, starting with joining this insane crew,” Runescribe’s vocals pierced the darkness next.

“Can we please focus?” Megatron complained.

“Too dark, Megs,” Rodimus pointed out.  “But let me press this, this, and this and…”  A pair of headlights lit up… well, nothing outside, but at least it provided light for the inside of the Pod.  “…boom!  Lights!”

A bit more work, and the Rod Pod flashed again, this time into sunshine and… blue flowers?

“This is the Necrobot’s planet,” Rodimus said as they all filed out of the Rod Pod.  “Why are we here, of all places?”

Appulse looked around.  There were no monuments he could see.  Simply flowers, as far as the horizon.  He hadn’t been to this part of the planet when they were last here.  Looking at Megatron’s shaken reaction, though, he suspected he knew who was the cause of this much death.

It was a brilliant reminder of who Megatron was.

Pseudo was carefully looking at the flowers curiously, having not stepped foot on the planet last time they were here.  Appulse leaned down next to him.  “Pretty, aren’t they?” he asked.

Pseudo looked up at him and nodded.  He looked… sad, though.  With all of the work he put into being able to feel and hear other ‘bots sparks, could he feel the residual spark energy contained in the flowers?  With the fact that he’d picked up on the signal they were attacked with, there was obviously a lot about his strange abilities they didn’t know.  His helm then whipped up, and he let out a startled sound.

Appulse was about to ask him what was wrong, but he was interrupted by an explosion.  Debris and flora, hot with fresh laser-burn, flew everywhere as the ‘bots were thrown in every direction.  Appulse had impulsively grabbed Pseudo to shield him, feeling pain shoot through his chassis as he hit the ground several meters away.  He groaned and forced himself up, HUD screaming warning lights at him.  He knew he was damaged, and that wasn’t helping.  He activated his manual override on his HUD, shutting down the warnings.  “You alright?” he asked the artist, whose optics were the size of hubcaps.  He looked none the worse for wear, though, and nodded shakily.

Everyone ran back to the Rodpod as quickly as their legs could carry them, taking off immediately.  The Lost Light wasn’t answering their calls, the teleport drive was drained… they only had one option.  They were going to take refuge in the Necrobot’s home.

While everyone argued and panicked, Perceptor braced himself in the back silently.  He enfolded Pseudo in his arms, servos twitching.  He had the urge to open the hatch and start shooting.  He didn’t care who was attacking or why, he wanted them dead.

Wrecker impulse wasn’t pleasant.

Pseudo wasn’t the only one who heard the next attack that was going to connect before it hit.  Perceptor spent enough time being shot at with the Wreckers that he knew the sound of missiles about to hit their target.  He dived forward before they hit, just outside of the safety of Censere’s home.  Everything exploded.  No one came out undamaged.  He felt hot metal hit his back and clenched his dentae to keep from screaming.  Pseudo was knocked out of his grasp, sprawling across the floor of the Rodpod.  The scientist-turned-sniper watched in horror, unable to stop it, as Pseudo was hit by red-hot debris.  His scream mixed with everyone else’s as Magnus’s arm was blown clean off, half of Nautica’s face was burned to the endoskeleton, and everyone else was at least blown into the walls and console.

The Rod Pod crashed to the ground running distance from their goal.  Everyone took off out of it, fliers taking to the air, those who couldn’t run or were too slow being carried by those who could.  Perceptor could only see the goal in front of him, having scooped his youngling back up as soon as he could get off the floor.  He ignored the searing pain in his backstrut as he dived through the door after Megatron and Rodimus, venting desperately and holding his youngling as tight as he could.

As soon as everyone was inside, the sounds of attack stopped.  Everyone stood venting in silence.

“Where’s the Necrobot?” Nightbeat finally managed.  “Where’s Censere?”  He didn’t have far too look, his vocals lowering.  “Never mind… I’ve found him.”

The Necrobot – no, Censere – was lying on the ground before them.  Filled with holes, those holes filled with flowers.  It was a horrible sight.

Appulse couldn’t bring himself to look at it for long.  Censere had been so kind to him when they’d visited.  Humored him, even after warning the red and black mech that he wouldn’t like what he found seeking out the Wreckers.  That he would be just… dead when they next saw him seemed so wrong.  He didn’t have even the opportunity to save his life.  It seemed so pointless.

“Appulse!” Magnus’s vocals snapped his attention over.  He was leaning over his conjux endura and their youngling, both of which had been damaged in the blast.

Appulse hurried over.  He would have questioned why he was the one being called, but that question was already answered by the fact that Velocity was giving a preliminary look over Censere’s corpse.  A kind of quick, hands-free autopsy.

“I don’t know how much I can do, but…” Appulse knelt next to them, ignoring Ultra Magnus’s missing arm.  That was just his Magnus armor, it wouldn’t make much difference.  He vented in sharply when he saw the damage to the enforcer’s family, though.

Perceptor’s backstrut was intact, but still damaged.  It looked more mangled than it was, but if he tried to move too much it would cause more permanent damage.  Velocity could fix that easy, though.

Pseudo, though… the youngling had gone into stasis lock, unsurprising from the amount of damage he sustained.  Part of his chestplate and the right side of his throat was damaged.  A trickle of energon leaked from a damaged line in his throat.  It wasn’t bad enough to be immediately fatal, but if they tried to move him it could tear further and lead to his young demise.  “Frag, frag, frag,” Appulse muttered, reaching into one of his hip compartments.  Being the mechling of a medic, he always carried at least a small emergency kit with him.  It wouldn’t be able to do much, but at least it could stop the leaking energon line.  He pulled out some repair tape, gently wrapping it around Pseudo’s throat.  “Velocity!” he yelled at the only real medic they had.  “We need medical attention over here, now!

The femme heard the panic in his vocals and stood up from the body she was observing, running over.  “Oh, Primus…” she muttered, kneeling next to the two.  “Good job patching the energon line, Appulse.  Very carefully pick him up and bring him with us.  Perceptor, can you walk for now?”

“Yes, I can…” the scientist pushed himself to his pedes unsteadily.

“Easy,” Magnus said gently, steadying him with his still-present arm.  “You’re lucky that was all the damage you sustained.”

“I’m alright,” Perceptor insisted, pushing himself away from his conjux.  He wasn’t looking at him.  “Go to Rodimus and Megatron.  They’ll need their second-in-command.”

Magnus looked taken aback.  No one blamed him.  Perceptor’s vocals were so… cold when he said that.

“I’ll look after them,” Appulse told the enforcer, patting him on the good arm.  He lowered his vocals.  “I’m sure things will be fine.  Velocity and I will find wherever the medbay in this place is and patch them up good as new.  I’m sure Perce is just shaken after what happened.”

Magnus looked from him to the scientist, who was making his way slowly down the hall with Velocity’s help.  He then nodded.  “Make sure they’re taken care of.  I know you and Velocity have this under control.”  He made his way to the communication room where Rodimus had followed the others.  He couldn’t help but worry about Perceptor and Pseudo’s damage, and his conjux’s strange behavior.  But he couldn’t do anything about it at the moment.  What he could do was help Rodimus find a way off this planet with everyone still alive.

Velocity and Appulse tracked down the medical bay, bringing their patients inside.  Along the way they’d encountered Nautica and offered to patch up her face the best they could, but she waved them off pointing out that there wasn’t much they could do at the moment.  It was the kind of repair that would take time they didn’t have with enemies waiting at their door.

“Alright, Perceptor, go ahead and lay front-down on that repair berth,” Velocity instructed, letting him go.  “Appulse, put Pseudo on the other one.  I’ll need to make sure we’re well supplied for the patch-up his chestplate and neck are going to need.”

Appulse did as she said, placing the tiny mechling on the berth.  His spark clenched looking at him like that.  Pseudo was so small, so young.  He didn’t deserve any of this.

“Alright, I’ve got everything I need,” Velocity returned to him with several tools, wheeled over on a table.  “I’m going to need your help with this.  Are you ready for this?”

Appulse managed a wry smile despite how much it hurt that he had to do this with someone he cared for so much.  “I helped you put everyone back together after they were turned into tangled messes of cables and wires.  I think I can handle it.”

“That’s the spirit,” Velocity smiled back, leaning over to start her work.

 

-----

 

“Something isn’t right.”

Mirage looked back in annoyance, First Aid leaning over him as he piloted their ship on the way back to the Lost Light.

“Whaddaya mean?” Blades asked curiously, ceasing his seemingly endless questions for Impactor.  The Wrecker was being impressively patient with him, though the way he relaxed when attention was diverted off of him indicated it was taking a lot of effort.

“I don’t think we’re going the right way,” First Aid answered.

“Of course we are,” Mirage scoffed, tapping the console.  “That’s their signal.  We’re heading straight for it.”

First Aid leaned back from him, looking worriedly in a different direction.  He played with his servos, tapping his pede.

Impactor was the one who stood up, not liking how anxious his medic was.  He walked over, leaning on the wall next to him.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I don’t… I mean…” First Aid couldn’t seem to properly articulate himself.  He vented deep and tried again.  “Impactor, I don’t think Appulse is there.”

Impactor furrowed his optic ridges in confusion.  “What do you mean?  Of course he’s there.  Where else would he be?”

“I can feel him.  That was how we found each other, remember?  You knew I was on Cybertron and you came and found me because you could feel my spark,” the medic said, putting a hand on his chestplate.  “I can feel Appulse in that same way.  Maybe it’s because I actually carried him that I can and you can’t.  But he’s there, and he’s not… it doesn’t feel right.”

“Maybe they’re having some shore leave?” Hot Spot suggested.  They could feel his growing anxiety in their gestalt bond, and it was starting to bother them.  Not in an annoyance way, but out of worry.

“It’s too far away,” First Aid countered, leaning back over Mirage.  The spy grunted in annoyance, but didn’t say anything this time.  “Look, the Lost Light is moving.  They wouldn’t be doing that if some of their crew members were having shore leave.  And it’s moving away.”

That got the attention of the others, who gathered behind him.  Mirage’s optic twitched from being crowded, but he still remained silent.

“You don’t think… I don’t know, did something happen?” Groove was starting to sound worried now.

“They’d contact us if that was the case, wouldn’t they?” Streetwise reasoned.

“Not if their ship was hijacked or something,” Blades muttered.

The others looked at him, thinking that was a sick joke at first.  When they saw how grimly serious he was, they fidgeted.

“I’m hailing the Lost Light,” Hot Spot announced, moving to the communications seat.  He brought up their signal and waited.  No response.  “Alright, now I’m getting worried as well,” he admitted.

“Do we keep heading towards it?” Streetwise asked.

“You guys want me to turn this ship and go heading off in a vague direction because your medic has a ‘feeling’ that something is wrong?” Mirage finally spoke up in annoyance.

Impactor growled, not liking how he said that.  First Aid put a hand on his chestplate, though.  “No, he has a point.  It would be unreasonable to ask you all to come with us,” the red and white medic said.

“So… what?  You want us to split up?” Groove asked in surprise.  “I mean… it’ll be dangerous for you to go on your own.  You won’t have Defensor if you need help.”

“Who says he’ll be alone?” Impactor pointed out, crossing his arms over his chestplate.  “I’m worth at least one combiner.”

“He has a point,” Blades grinned.

“And if something is wrong on the Lost Light, you’ll have everyone but me there,” First Aid pointed out as well.  “You can form Defensor without me, you’ll only be down an arm.  And unless they somehow have a combiner, you shouldn’t have any trouble.”

“Yeah, well, it feels like everyone’s got a combiner these days,” Streetwise muttered.

“I want to object, but… we can’t stop you from doing this, can we?” Hot Spot asked wisely.

“No, you can’t,” Impactor smirked.  “We’re gonna take the escape pod and head towards Appulse, then?”

“Exactly,” First Aid nodded, smiling back through his visor.  “I’m glad you want to do this, Impactor.”

“Hey, I’ve got a lot of siring to catch up on,” the Wrecker huffed a phantom of a chuckle out.  “Can’t say I’m trying if I don’t catch up with him now, right?”

“Thank you,” First Aid said gently.  He put a hand on Impactor’s arm, then turned to the others.  “We’ll head out immediately.  If Appulse is in danger, we’re not waiting on anything.”

“Good luck,” Hot Spot nodded, putting a hand on his shoulder.  “You can call us on our bond anytime you need us.  It may take us time to catch up, but we’ll be there.”

“Yeah, count on it,” Streetwise grinned, giving him a thumbs-up.

“Good luck to you guys, too,” First Aid replied, looking at them.  They were a bond for such a short time, but he felt like they were just as much family as Impactor and Appulse.  “Same goes for me.  If you need me, call.  I’ll come as quickly as possible.”

“You bet, ‘Aid,” Blades affirmed, slapping him on the back.

“Get out there and find your youngling,” Groove encouraged.

 

-----

 

So much happened after they crash-landed it was hard to keep up.  There was a successful communication with the Lost Light, which only resulted in the reveal that they’d all been betrayed by the whole crew.  They found out that the DJD had come for them, and left a promise to return at sunset.  In that time, Velocity repaired Perceptor’s back as best she could for now, assuring that it would be a bit uncomfortable but no longer a danger.  They also repaired and stabilized Pseudo, but there was no word on exactly how he was going to do for now.  She insistently dragged Perceptor away from his youngling, leaving Appulse to watch him.  There was nothing to do but let him rest now.

The discovery of a teleport chamber and several dozen beings locked underneath the compound.  A vote for anyone to leave who wanted to.

No one left.  No one could bring themselves to abandon either the people being held underneath the Necrobot’s fortress or those who stayed for that reason.

A new plan was formulated to find the DJD’s ship and steal it.  Ravage left for that, and the others stayed behind to wait.

“You alright?” Nightbeat asked Runescribe.

The femme was sitting against the wall, chin resting on her knees.  “Do I look alright to you?” she asked, glaring.

“No, you look miserable,” Nightbeat said honestly.  He sat down next to her.  “Miserable, angry, and injured.  Seriously, why haven’t you gotten yourself checked out by Velocity yet?”

Runescribe scoffed.  “Nautica got half her face blown off.  Pseudo is recovering from having his chest blasted open.  Magnus is down an arm.  Perceptor’s back is jacked up.  What do I have to complain about how I’m doing physically?  I’m more worried about the fact that I only have seven hours to live.”

“I know it looks like we’re all going to die, but…”

“Nightbeat, we’re all insane!” the black and white femme blurted out, throwing her hands in the air.  “We had a chance to leave, no questions asked, no judgement!  And we all stayed!  I stayed!  I could have walked through that quantum door and been out of here and safe, and instead I stayed here!  Why did I do that?!”

Nightbeat watched her for a moment.  “You want me to answer that honestly?  Cause I’m not Rung.  I don’t sound as nice when I tell people what I think.”

“I don’t want nice right now!” Runescribe said desperately.  “Give me honest!  Give me brutal!  You can’t possibly make me feel more like something’s wrong with me than I feel right now!”

“Alright, then,” Nightbeat straightened and held up a hand, ticking things off on his servos.  “I think you’re stubborn.  You’re impossible.  You don’t get along well with others, because you don’t empathize with people.  You have a nasty disposition and opinions that no one wants to hear because you don’t sugar-coat your feelings.”  He put a hand on her shoulder.  “And I don’t think anything’s wrong with any of that, because that’s how I am, too.  We both managed to somehow make friends despite all of it, and we’re sticking by them.  That’s what people do when they find people they like.  We stay by them, even when we don’t understand them.”

Runescribe stared at him a moment before washer fluid began welling up in her green optics.  She threw herself at him, sobbing.  “Primus, Nightbeat!  You said you were going to be mean, not make me sound so… so normal!” she laughed.

“Uh…” Nightbeat went completely ridged, unsure how to react.  Okay, maybe there was a slight emotional difference between them, too.  He didn’t know what to do in this situation.  He finally awkwardly patted her on the back.  “Yeah… uh, totally my plan.”  That wasn’t true.  He was just doing what he did best: say things bluntly.

 

-

 

“Hey, how’s the bean doing?” Rodimus asked, walking into the medbay.

Appulse looked up from where he was reading some of the medical datapads that were left there.  There wasn’t much else to do, and he wanted to make sure he learned as much as possible in the short time they had.  If Velocity needed more help, he needed to be there for it.  “Stable and resting, still.”

Rodimus nodded, walking over and leaning over the repair berth.  Pseudo’s neck and chestplate were patched with fresh repair-metal, which was still blending into his colors.  “Primus, why is it every time I drag people out on one of my stupid ideas someone I love gets hurt?” the co-captain muttered, leaning on the berth.

Appulse looked away.  He wanted to deny it, but he found he couldn’t.  A lot of the things they got into that caused them trouble did indeed seem to revolve around their two co-captains.  “I still can’t believe Getaway did this to us,” he instead huffed.

The red and orange mech tensed at the name, dentae clenching.  “That fragger…” he muttered, pushing himself away from Pseudo before he could disturb him with his oncoming rant.  “I can’t… look, I understand him being pissed at me.  Pit, I understand him being pissed at Megatron a thousand times more.  But look at us!  Look at my team!  What did any of them do to deserve this?  Decide they were open-minded enough to accept a decision made by Optimus and Starscream?  None of us had control over this!”  He clenched his hands into fists and punched the nearby counter.  “What did Tailgate do to deserve what he did to him?  What did you do to deserve being left here?  What did Pseudo do to him?!”  He gestured to the recovering mechling, trembling.  He finally deflated, sitting down in a nearby chair.  “This is all so fragged up…” he muttered, putting his faceplate in his servos.

Appulse looked at him and ex-vented.  He couldn’t be mad at Rodimus for this.  Sure, the decision to go chasing after a weaponized signal wasn’t a great one.  But they all volunteered to come because they were loyal.  Not just to him, but each other.  There was no way to know that the rest of the Lost Light wouldn’t have their backs.

Primus, Getaway even sent Skids, who was supposed to be his friend, away.  He couldn’t imagine even doing that to Atomizer after everything that happened.  At least before this.  It’d been a good idea to cut off his contact with the assassin-turned-server after the Getaway incident.  He thought Atomizer was his friend.  But friends don’t throw friends to the turbowolves.

Rodimus let out a bit of a manic laugh, drawing Appulse’s attention back to him.  “And now Megs is going to go talk to Tarn.  Like he can reason with a complete psychopath.”

“He what?!” Appulse yelped, nearly dropping the datapad he held.

The co-captain looked at him through his servos.  “Why are you so surprised?  I apparently couldn’t even control my own crew.  What chance did I have against the force of nature that is Megatron?  Ten’s disappeared, too, but not before finally telling us what he’s been trying to tell me the whole time.  We’re using the flowers to power the storm shield to buy us time.  I fragged up on that, too.  I should have listened to him, but…”  He looked back at Pseudo.  “Figures the only person who knew what Ten was saying was out of commission.”

“Look,” Appulse finally spoke up, walking over.  “I’m just a kid compared to the rest of you.  I only just got out of my younglinghood when he was born.  But I feel like… you need someone who isn’t so worn out with war that they’re nothing but cynical to tell you this.”  He put a hand on Rodimus’s shoulder.  “You’re not a bad person, Rodimus.  You’re not even a bad captain, no matter what people like Getaway says.  Everyone makes mistakes.  The important part is that you know you made them, and you want to make it right.  Sometimes you just need a chance to come along.”

Rodimus stared at him a moment.  “Wow, Appulse, I…”

“Captain!”

They were interrupted by the medbay’s comm going off.  “Not the best time,” he answered.  “What is it, though?”

“You need to come see this,” Rewind answered excitedly.  “Ratchet and Drift are back!”

Rodimus stood numbly for a moment at the words.  He didn’t even give Appulse and Pseudo a second glance before bolting out of the door.

 

-

 

Ultra Magnus found Perceptor at one of the windows, looking at their surroundings through the scope of his rifle.  It was a miracle that it had survived everything they’d been through.  “Brainstorm is looking for you,” Magnus simply said, not sure if Perceptor was still in the cold mood he had been last they spoke.

“I know.  And I’m avoiding him,” the scientist simply said.

Magnus ex-vented.  He was indeed still in that mood.  “Perceptor, we need to talk,” he said, putting a hand on the rifle and lowering it himself.

Perceptor gave him a perturbed look, not liking when people touched his weapon.  However, he stood up to face his conjux endura.  It was a bit slow and stiff, but at least it didn’t hurt anymore.  “I don’t know what there is to talk about.  We’re in a life or death situation at the moment.  We need to focus on getting out of here alive.”

“I know that,” Magnus said as patiently as possible.  “But… are you sure you’re okay?  I’ve been to see Pseudo, and Appulse has assured me he’ll be fine after some rest.  But I’m worried about both of you.”

Perceptor lowered his optics, favoring looking at the floor rather than the large enforcer before him.  “You don’t have to worry about me,” he assured him.  His voice was low and still as cold as before.  “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

The wording disturbed Magnus, who vented in slowly.  Finally, he asked bluntly, “Are you punishing me?”

That got Perceptor’s attention, who looked back up at him.  “I beg your pardon?”

“This.  You’re distancing yourself.  Keeping me at arm’s length, as it were,” Magnus persisted.  “You’ve been this way since we took refuge.  Are you punishing me for being unable to protect you and Pseudo?”

Perceptor’s optics widened in genuine surprise.  “Why would I do that?” he finally asked, emotion creeping back into his vocals.  “It isn’t your fault that this happened.  That either of us got hurt.”  He ex-vented, finally looking defeated.  “If anyone is to be blamed, it’s me.”

It was Magnus’s turn to be surprised, kneeling down before his conjux.  “You?  Why would I blame you?” he asked in return.

“You told me it was a terrible idea, bringing Pseudo.  You warned me, and I didn’t listen,” Perceptor said lightly, face finally twisting into a pained expression.  “I was so sure I could protect him… and I failed.  I was right there, he was in my arms… and I couldn’t keep him safe…”  He leaned forward, placing his helm on the kneeling enforcer’s intact shoulder.  “What kind of creator am I, that I put my youngling in danger and then couldn’t protect him?”

“Perceptor…” Magnus rumbled, wrapping his arm around the microscope and holding him tight.  “It’s not your fault… you are a wonderful creator, and an amazing conjux endura.  And more importantly, you’re a brilliant mech in your own right.  I love you so much.”

The red and black scientist suddenly pushed himself away from his conjux, wiping washer fluid from his optics.  He looked at him with determination.  Not cold this time, but passionate and full of fury.  “You’re right.  It’s not my fault.  Or yours.”  He shouldered his rifle, venting in deeply.  “This is their fault.  The Decepticons that dared attack us and harm our youngling.  But I’m going to make it right.”

Magnus stared at him a moment before nodding, a ghost of a smile on his lips.  “We both are.  Now, come.  Brainstorm is looking for you because of a project I think you will love.”

 

-

 

“I don’t know how I feel about having him in here right now,” Appulse admitted, sitting on the edge of Pseudo’s berth.  He felt the need to put himself between the youngling and the former tyrant being repaired on the next one.

“Everything we’ve been through, I don’t blame you,” Ratchet admitted.  The reunion between the two of them hadn’t been as heartwarming as most of the others, but no one could blame them.  Ratchet wasn’t the type for emotional reunions, and Appulse’s mind was elsewhere.  “But unless you want him to die, I need to do these repairs right now.”

“Maybe if he does they’ll let us go,” Appulse suggested.

“Appulse!” Velocity yelped in surprise.  There was disappointment that he’d even say such a thing behind her vocals as well.

“Besides, they’re definitely not going to after we messed up their troops and stole their Pet,” Ratchet took the suggestion a lot less badly, jabbing a fore-servo at the turbofox lying two berths away.

“This room’s filling up fast,” Appulse said, worried.  He looked at Chromedome and the still torn-up Ten.

“It is,” Ratchet agreed solemnly.  “Velocity told me you’ve been a big help, though.”

“I’ve been trying,” Appulse said modestly.  “I’m probably not going to be passing any exams, but I know enough from all the time I spent in Delphi and on the Lost Light.  Especially after you left, creator needed a lot of help.”

“I bet,” the old medic replied.  After a moment he said, “I’m glad he’s not here for this.  As long as he’s with the team you said he went to Cybertron with, he’s safe.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” the half-Wrecker nodded.  He vented deeply.  “Hey, I don’t want to sound like I don’t want to help anymore, but… now that there’s the two of you, do you mind if I step out?”

“Go ahead, Appulse,” Velocity nodded, smiling.  “We’ve got this.”  They watched him go, waving at them as he left.  “He’s a good kid,” she complimented, returning her attention to their repair work on Megatron.

“Yeah, he is,” Ratchet agreed, smiling a bit.  He was glad Appulse was doing alright.  Well, the current situation notwithstanding.  He didn’t want to admit it out loud, but he missed First Aid and Appulse while he was gone.  The rest of the Lost Light as well, to be sure.  But he spent more time with the two of them.  They felt more like family.

Appulse walked down the hall, turning a corner.  He then stopped.  He tried not to say anything, to make a sound.  But he couldn’t resist the awkward shuffle he did when he saw Drift and Rodimus together there.  Pressed together, lips locked.  At the sound of his pedes shuffling, though, the two of them jerked and blinked at him.  “Ah, Appulse!” Rodimus greeted, ducking out of Drift’s hold and walking over.  His faceplate tinted pink, rubbing his helm awkwardly.  “We were just… uh… we were on our way to the medbay.  We got a little…”  He reset his vocals.

“Distracted,” Drift finished for him, walking over as well.  He looked less abashed from being caught.

“I could see that,” Appulse chuckled, holding a hand out to Drift.  “Good to see you back, Drift.  I know we didn’t spend much time together before, but… well, obviously some of us needed you here more than others.”

Rodimus looked away, hand on his helm moving to rub the back of his neck now.  “Yeah, well…”

“Don’t know how he survived this long without me,” Drift joked, taking his hand and shaking it.  He would have preferred a bowing greeting, but Appulse wasn’t used to his traditions.  “Hopefully it’ll be longer than the next seven hours.”

“We can only hope,” Appulse agreed, pulling back.  “I’m taking a walk, since I’ve been cooped up in the medbay since I got here.  I’ll see you guys around.”

“Yeah, see ya,” Rodimus said, raising a hand and moving along quickly.  Drift chuckled and followed.

Appulse continued down the hall, looking into rooms.  Curious.  He didn’t know what he was looking for, if anything.  He just wanted to get his mind off the fact that after a very short 8 meta-cycles of life, it was about to be all over.

Eventually, the red and black mech came across the room the scientists had commandeered.  Perceptor and Brainstorm were looking over some plans they’d drawn out quickly, Minimus Ambus out of his armor and watching.  “Hey,” Appulse greeted the former Duly Appointed Enforcer of the Tyrest Accord.

“Appulse,” Minimus greeted.  “How are things in the medbay?  Is Megatron doing well?”

“As well as you’d expect for a guy who had a hole blown in his chest.  Sure as pit was a bigger one than Pseudo had.”  After saying it, Appulse realized who he was talking to.  “Uh… sorry.”

“It’s quite alright.  We know Pseudo will be okay, and that’s the important part.  I wish we could be there to stand by him during his recovery, but the best thing we can do for him right now is make sure we all get out of this alive.  Luckily, Brainstorm and Perceptor are putting their helms together for this,” the diminutive second-in-command assured him.

Appulse nodded and looked back to the scientists.  They spoke animatedly among themselves, hands gesturing wildly in that way that all of the scientists Appulse had spent time around tended to do.  This was probably the best he’d ever seen the two of them work together.  They weren’t arguing, that much was obvious.  He’d seen Brainstorm and Perceptor argue, and it usually was louder and involved more colorful words.

“How are you holding up?” Minimus suddenly asked.  When Appulse looked back to him, keen aqua optics were watching him shrewdly.

“Me?  I mean… as fine as you could expect from this situation, I guess,” the red and black mech shrugged.  “I feel like we’ve spent my entire life getting ourselves into situations like this.  Everyone else is trying to cope, and I feel like I’m the only one who isn’t panicking in some way.”

“I’m sorry you’ve had to be raised in such an environment,” the load-bearer ex-vented.  “Both you and Pseudo.  I wish we could do better by both of you.”

Appulse looked at him in surprise.  “Are you kidding me?  I can’t even imagine living any other way.  I mean, sure it’s dangerous.  But we get through it.  We’ll do it this time, too.  You’ll see.”

“We’ve never had the DJD breathing down our necks before,” Minimus reminded him.

Appulse didn’t have a reply for that one.  He’d actually not had time to process that the DJD were on their doorstep with all the excitement going on.  “That means Vos is out there, doesn’t it?” he finally asked.

Minimus looked back to the scientists and nodded.  “There are only a few actual members of the DJD.  I don’t know where they got the army they’ve brought with them, but I guarantee that if there’s one of them, the others aren’t far behind.  Tarn would not have left them.”

Appulse felt that queasy feeling in his tank he always did when he remembered Vos was out there somewhere.  He subconsciously rubbed the servos that had been mangled when they met face to face, even though they were long since repaired good-as-new.

“If you wish to stay in here when we have to fight them, we will all understand,” the enforcer continued.  “You may not be a youngling anymore, but you’re still young.  There’s no reason for you to throw away your life out there against them.”

The half-Wrecker considered it.  He wanted to live.  He wanted to be able to get back to the Lost Light, where his creator was returning.  He wanted to grow as a ‘bot, find his purpose, help people.  Maybe one day find a conjux endura and start a family of his own.  “If I wanted to stay safe, I would have left when I had the chance,” Appulse finally answered.  “I’m still here because you guys are my family.  I’m going to do whatever I can to protect it.  Even if it means having to fight the DJD.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Minimus nodded.  “I’m proud of you, though.”

Appulse felt his faceplate heat up.  Those weren’t words he was expecting.

“Alright, we’re finished with the planning,” Perceptor announced, walking over.  “Brainstorm is calling Tailgate to acquire more materials.  I would usually spend much further time conceptualizing and finalizing any invention, but we don’t have it.  So we’ll be constructing your new armor as we go.”

“I trust you both,” Minimus affirmed.

“I know you do,” Perceptor nodded back.  “We’re going to do everything we can to make it out of here.  I may well have failed to safeguard Pseudo from the initial attack, but this time we know its coming.  We’ll be prepared.”

Minimus reached up and drew his conjux down.  Appulse was actually surprised by the kiss that followed, as the second-in-command didn’t usually initialize any shows of affection in front of others.  Perhaps the situation was causing him to reprioritize.

Appulse decided to excuse himself at that, backing out and making his way down the hall once again.  It felt awkward to linger when the two were having such an intimate moment.

Pit, it seemed like everyone was getting intimate the closer they got to endgame.  It actually made Appulse a little jealous that he didn’t have anyone for it.

“You sure you don’t wanna come?”

“No, no.  I’ve already had enough excitement for right now.”

Appulse entered the main hall of the building to find the remaining crew members there.  Nightbeat was talking to Runescribe, though he looked about ready to leave.

“It’ll be less exciting than the battle, I guarantee,” Nightbeat persisted.

“I don’t doubt it, but I think I’ll stay in here.  I’m going to watch through the monitors and write down what I see.  I’m already working on recording everything I can remember that led up to this,” the black and white femme assured him, waving her hand.

“After everything that’s happened you’re still concentrating on your novel?  That’s dedication,” the investigator pointed out.

“It’s not going to be a novel,” Runescribe said, shaking her helm.  “It’s going to be a record.  I want everyone to know what’s happened here today, even if we all die.  The universe needs to know the truth, not just about our getting in it with the DJD, but also what happened with Getaway.  Not just the where and who, but the why and how.  If I’m going to die here, I want that spawn of a glitch to go down, too.  It may be centuries from now, maybe even millennia.  Pit, even if he dies before anyone finds my record of it, I still want everyone to know.  If he actually succeeds in finding the Knights of Cybertron and Cyberutopia and becomes a huge hero, I want the universe to know what he did to be able to get there.”

“Wow, that’s… intense,” Appulse said, walking over.  “And weirdly noble of you.”

“Yeah, well,” Runescribe huffed.  “If I die here I’ll never get to write my Great Cybertronian Novel.  And I want everyone to know whose fault it is.  Rewind’s going to help me with it, too.  It’ll keep him distracted from the psychopaths who killed his version of the crew right outside, and Chromedome being laid up.”

“Alright, well, I’m going to go get permission from Ambus to go exploring, then,” Nightbeat said, heading off.  “If you’re not up to it with me I’ll have to find someone who is.  I’m meeting with Nautica, Skids, Brainstorm, Velocity, and Rung afterwards.  Maybe one of them will go.”

“Have fun being amica’d!” Runescribe called after him teasingly.

“You sound like you don’t have an amica endura,” Appulse said.

“I don’t,” the femme shrugged.

“But… Nautica said you have to have one on Caminus or you’d be ostracized by society or something,” the half-Wrecker said in surprise.

“Yeah, well, no one really wanted to be my friend,” Runescribe muttered, crossing her arms over her chestplate.  “If you haven’t noticed, I’m not the easiest to get along with.  I don’t really like people.”

“You like Nightbeat,” Appulse pointed out.  “And I thought we were kind of friends, too.”

“I like you all well enough,” Runescribe shrugged.  “But… people don’t really stick around.  I’d rather not get too close to anyone who’s going to die or leave or something.  Look what keeps happening on this ship.  It feels like everyone’s lost someone.”

“Sure, but that doesn’t mean we push everyone else away,” Appulse said.  “You’re the one who pointed out to me when we were looking for Swerve that I had you and Pseudo and the rest of the crew.  You made me realize that my family was a lot bigger than just my creator and Ratchet.”

Runescribe reset her optics, looking legitimately surprised.  “Did… did I really?”  She looked out into the hall to the others.  Skids and Nautica were heading through the door, probably to meet up with the others for their amica endura ceremony.  Whirl and Cyclonus were talking, which was another odd pair to see before everything was over.  “I meant it.  You have a good family.  Well, the ones who didn’t decide to throw us to the turbowolves,” she said wryly.  “But… it’s not really my family.  I’ve only been here a few months.  Sure, I like Nightbeat, and you and Pseudo.  But… I mean, no offense, but I wouldn’t take the amica rites with you guys.  I’m glad you feel that kind of connection with the crew, but I… I just can’t.”

Appulse ex-vented but nodded.  He couldn’t force her to feel the same way that he did about everyone.  Honestly, he didn’t want to.  He just found the idea sad.  Sure, he didn’t have an amica endura, but he was young enough that he had plenty of time.  Well, current circumstances notwithstanding.  Perhaps he’d even amica with Pseudo when the youngling was old enough.  They might die soon, though, and she would die virtually friendless.  He heard she even turned down recording any final requests for if she did. 

Appulse was going to request if they found his body that it would be left up to his creator.  He knew that would be cruel to First Aid, but he didn’t know enough about final rites and those kinds of traditions to make any of those kinds of decisions.  Perceptor was going to ask to be buried with his conjux endura should they both lose their lives.  The same with Pseudo.  If Pseudo was somehow left alive, though, the scientist requested that he be sent to Iacon to be taken in by someone who would love him despite his eccentricities.

The thought that they were likely all about to get slaughtered started making its way through Appulse’s processor over and over again.  He thought to everything that had happened in his short eight meta-cycles of life.  Of Messatine and Delphi, being raised around the medics and miners.  Being taking onboard the Lost Light, getting drunk, and trying to arm wrestle Brawn as his first impression.  Sitting around in Swerve’s bar, hanging out with Skids, Trailcutter, and Atomizer.  Helping First Aid, Ratchet, and Ambulon in the medbay.  Overlord tearing his arm off.  Ambulon dying.  His heated meeting with Blurr on Cybertron in the ruins of Maccadam’s.  Losing Trailcutter on Ofsted.  Feeling true terror for the first time with Vos.  Helping with the time travel episode.  Pseudo being born.

Appulse’s mind slowed there.  It was as if his life itself slowed down the moment he remembered looking at that tiny, metallic bundle in Perceptor’s arms for the first time.  Helping take care of him through his sparklinghood.  Watching Pseudo grow into a youngling and all of the worry over his communication problems.  That panic-inducing moment in the bar when the white and gold youngling drank for the first time and it caused him to lose it.  Being helpless at the hands of the personality ticks and being rescued by Pseudo’s careful training of his vocals.

More importantly, Appulse started to think of every time Pseudo and himself were together and he found himself simply… watching.  Watching Pseudo paint either on canvas or his walls, covering his usually pristine chassis in bright colors.  Watching the movement of his thin, graceful servos across the lasers of his Box when he played his music.  Watching his chassis twist and bend to the sound of the music Blaster played when they danced together.

In those short few months that Pseudo had been alive, Appulse already knew he’d grown attached to him.  That his life had changed so dramatically, but not for the worst, and he wouldn’t take a moment of it back.  He thought he simply cared for him as family, but he was starting to realize that he felt much more than that.

Cybertronian life was an odd thing, as a few months wasn’t considered too young despite their lifespans in themselves being millions of years.  But Cybertronians matured quickly, and the younglinghood was a period of emotional growth that only differed by when a bot’s heat protocols activated.  Pit, he only needed to look to Cyclonus and Tailgate to prove that, as Tailgate was technically younger than Appulse yet…

Well, he couldn’t say Tailgate and Cyclonus were fully in a relationship yet.  The two of them hadn’t spent much time together since this all started.  But that wasn’t right.  They should have been.  They loved each other so much.  If only Cyclonus could understand that his stubbornness was only going to lead to another Atomizer.

Wait.

“Hey, I’ve gotta do something,” Appulse told Runescribe, who had been watching his quiet contemplation.  “I’ll see you later, okay?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Runescribe joked dryly, nodding.

Appulse made his way over to Cyclonus and Whirl, raising his hand in greeting.  “Hey, guys.  What’s going on?” he asked conversationally.

“Heeey, it’s one of the halves of my team!” Whirl greeted back.

“I told you, I’m not joining a Wreckers team,” Appulse insisted.  “I don’t want anything to do with any of that.”

“You’ll change your mind,” Whirl said with certainty.  “Just you wait.”

“Whirl,” Cyclonus warned.  “Drop it.”

Whirl rolled his mono-eye, huffing.  “You’re both no fun.  I’m gonna go see if we got the shield working so we can go out and fix the turrets.  I wanna shoot at baddies.”

Cyclonus and Appulse watched him go, then looked at each other.  “What do you need?” the elder mech asked.  He always was a bit too sharp.

“Just seeing if everything was alright between you and Tailgate,” Appulse answered.

Cyclonus raised an optic ridge.  “You’re not serious, I hope.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

That actually caught the not-a-Decepticon a bit off-guard.  He recovered quickly.  “For one, it’s none of your business.  We’re doing just fine, though, in case that’s enough for people to stop pestering me about it.”

“Look,” Appulse cut across his crap.  “I know we haven’t spent a lot of time around each other.  We’ve probably had maybe three conversations in all over the years we’ve spent on that ship.  But we’re about to all die, and if we do I don’t think you want Tailgate to go into the afterlife unsure of what he meant to you.”

Cyclonus was once again surprised, and his expression darkened threateningly.  “I don’t know what you think you’re saying, but-”

“Cyclonus, you’re the kind of guy who’s happy to keep everything inside, even the good stuff, until it’s too late.  You’re stubborn when it comes to not talking about your feelings.  I know this because my sire was the same way.  I can feel that in my coding, and I fight it constantly.  Because I don’t want to be my sire, I want to be someone who’s open and honest and tells people how I feel because that’s what the people I love deserve.  Sometimes I accidentally hurt people when I say things, and sometimes I regret it.  But I won’t hide any of it.”

Cyclonus didn’t have a response this time, simply watching him now.  He likely never thought he’d get chastised by someone just out of their younglinghood.

So Appulse continued, feeling that he was on a roll.  “A few months back I made a promise to someone who lost the only person they loved.  They told me, ‘Promise me that if you find someone you’ll hold onto them as tight as you can.  Don’t hesitate to tell them how you feel, and if they return it then you make them your universe.  Never let them go for anything.’  I’m planning on doing exactly that when I get the chance, but I think you need to take it as advice right now.  I know Tailgate is already your universe.  I can tell in everything you do whenever he’s there.  But if you don’t tell him that, if you don’t let him know, then you’re going to lose him.  Maybe not now, but eventually.  That was how Getaway got between you, and I know you don’t want something like that to ever happen again.”

Cyclonus’s face hardened at the sound of his former rival-for-Tailgate’s name.  He clenched his servos into fists, but maintained control of himself.  “You have no right to butt into our personal business,” he growled.  “I would thank you to leave before I do something we will both regret.”

Appulse, finished saying what he wanted to, did as he was asked.  “Alright, I’m done anyway.  I’ve said my piece, it’s up to you whether or not you want to listen.  I’ll see you around, Cyclonus,” he said, backing off and turning.  He half expected Cyclonus to strike him while he was leaving, but he knew that wasn’t the kind of person Cyclonus was.  He could feel the glare on his back as he left, but it didn’t matter now.  In seven hours they were all going to face judgement.  He needed to make peace with what he could for now.

 

-----

 

There was nothing to Vos quite as shocking as finding out what Tarn had done to Kaon.  It made him feel… fear.  Because Tarn favored both Vos and Kaon in equal amounts, so the idea that their leader had killed the blind communications expert so easily was unsettling.  Tarn cared for his crew.  He would never harm them for any reason short of treason.

This wasn’t the Tarn Vos had come to feel so much affection for.  Something was happening.  Something was changing him.

The Gunformer knew what was causing it, but he didn’t know why.  Or rather, he knew who was causing it.  Everything was going normal, going well before Overlord came on the ship.

“Why, Tarn,” the giant Phase Sixer said smoothly, looming over Vos with a smirk.  “You didn’t tell me you had two pets.”

Vos spat at him in the Primal Vernacular, foul things that if Overlord had understood he would likely have killed him on the spot.  His confidence that this overly large monstrosity didn’t understand paid off, as the smirk simply widened.

“He’s not a pet,” Tarn said sharply, throwing a warning glare at Vos from behind Overlord’s back.  It was a silent order to behave.

“Of course not,” the blue and white mech said tauntingly.  “Don’t be ashamed, Tarn.  I’ve known – and killed – plenty of mechs who kept Gunformers.  This is a pretty one, though, isn’t he?”

Vos endured only as much as his patience would allow as Overlord’s massive hand came down and pet across his helm and to his chestplate.  When it was too close to his spark for his own comfort, the much tinier mech spat out another curse, ducking and clawing at the servos.  He managed to leave slashes across Overlord’s fore and middle servos, though they were dwarfed and came down to mere scratches when honesty was given.  Tarn tensed behind the tyrant, watching warily.

Overlord straightened and observed the scratches on his servos, huffing in amusement.  “A feisty pet, at that,” he chuckled.  “You would do well to keep such a cute little pet well leashed.”  He licked the small lines of energon that beaded up on the minor line that had been nicked by Vos’s claws.  “You already lost one Pet, apparently.  And this one is so small, it wouldn’t be hard to accidentally step on him.”  To emphasize his point, Overlord made sure to stomp on the ground next to Vos as he moved past, still smiling unnervingly at him.

Vos bristled and started one last parting hiss, but Tarn stopped him with a sharp, “Enough, Vos!”

The Gunformer jumped and stopped, turning to his master and curling his back in submission to him.  He wasn’t used to Tarn snapping at him like that, and it scared him considering what had happened to Kaon.

“Overlord is taking rank next to Deathsaurus and I,” the black and purple leader continued.  He walked over and stood over the much smaller mech.  Even though he wasn’t as large as Overlord, it was still intimidating.  “You will treat him with the same amount of respect as you would me, do you understand?”

Vos nodded, daring to look up.  Closer, he was starting to get an idea of why Tarn was so insistent on kowtowing to that creature.  He was covered in battle damage, and it most certainly wasn’t from Megatron.  “I don’t like him,” he hissed honestly.

“I know.  But you will behave yourself,” Tarn warned.  He knelt down and reached out.  When Vos flinched he simply pet him across the helm, much like Overlord had done.  This was much gentler, though.  Despite that, his next words sent cold dread down Vos’s spinal strut.  “I do not wish to have to punish you as I did Kaon.”

Vos looked up sharply, optics wide.  He said it so casually.  As if he’d never cared for the red and orange mech.  But everyone knew it wasn’t true.  Before Forestock became Vos, Kaon had no rivals for Tarn’s affection, and it showed.  He, in turn, had grown very close to the former Vos before it turned out he’d been a spy, hence why he kept the Pet so affectionately.  But once the other Vos was gone, he was no one’s but Tarn’s.  It still showed even as Tarn grew closer to this Vos.  So to hear him speak of his murdering of Kaon so casually was… terrifying.

When he didn’t receive a response, Tarn seemed to take it as an agreement and straightened once again.  He moved on without another word, and Vos simply stared after him.

What was happening to his team?  What was going to happen to him?  He’d followed Tarn so loyally ever since he became a member of the team that he was torn by the thoughts of doubt that he wanted to continue following him.

The rifle had to dispel these thoughts.  He silently slunk his way back to his room to pursue something that could distract him.  Perhaps his anatomy projects would sooth his confusion for now.  He couldn’t allow himself to become so distracted before battle.

 

-----

 

“We’re not moving fast enough.”

Impactor glanced at his sparkmate.  The medic was antsy, and he didn’t blame him.  He needed to learn the same kind of patience the Wrecker had built up over time, though.  “We’ll get there, don’t worry,” he grunted.  “I’m pushing this thing as fast as it can go.”

First Aid didn’t say anything else, but he was still fidgety.  The escape ship they took was small and cramped, but that wasn’t a problem.  It wasn’t made for speed, and that was what made the red and white medic restless.  “I can’t let anything happen to Appulse, Impactor,” he finally said, pede tapping out a quick rhythm.  “I shouldn’t have left him behind.  I should have taken him with me.  If anything happens, if he’s gotten hurt, it’ll all be my-”

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Impactor snapped.  He didn’t mean to sound angry, but First Aid’s restlessness was starting to wear on him.  “If something happened it’s not your fault.  You couldn’t have known it wasn’t safe.”

“I’m sorry,” First Aid said lightly.  “I know, it’s just… what could have happened?  Is the rest of the crew in danger?  Oh, Primus, is Magnus, Perceptor, and Pseudo alright?  After what happened with the Personality Ticks…”

“I still think you made that up.”

The medic looked at him in annoyance.  “Why would I make something like that up?  Everything that’s happened to us… I couldn’t make any of it up, honestly.  It’s all been so… so strange and bizarre.  I can barely believe most of it happened myself, and I was actually there.”

“You said you heard me in Maccadam’s back when I was a miner.  All because your captain went back in time and took a two-way radio that actually worked across the time streams.”

“Believe me or not, it’s what happened,” First Aid insisted.  “It was… odd.  But wonderful.  I got to hear you charge in and attack those soldiers right there.”  He chuckled.  “Is it true that Megatron hid under the table?”

Impactor looked at him again and barked out a short laugh.  “Well, someone really was there, at least.  I thought that was a secret Megs and I were gonna take to the scrapheap.”

First Aid laughed as well, the sound ringing through the escape ship and into Impactor’s spark.  At least he’d succeeded in his intention.  The medic was now distracted enough that he wasn’t thinking of his missing youngling.

“And you’ve also told me that Perceptor of all people had a sparkling while he was onboard,” Impactor continued.  “If the others hadn’t backed it up I’d have never believed you.”

“Why not?” First Aid asked curiously.

“I guess you’d have to know him as a Wrecker.  We were all crazy, all violent.  But he was… different.  Most of us enjoyed what we did, that was why we were there.  We’re not good at anything else.  But Percy?  He was… cold.  Methodical.  He was there because Kup brought him in, not because he particularly wanted to be.  Sometimes it felt like he thought he had to be there.  Like there was nowhere else for him to go.  Maybe there wasn’t.  As different as he was, he never hesitated.  No matter who we told him to point that rifle at, he killed them.  No questions asked.”  Impactor paused, then ex-vented.  “From what I heard from those who knew him before he was a Wrecker, he didn’t always used to be like that.  He was a lot friendlier.  Kinder and more open.  He was a lot…” he hesitated a moment before looking at First Aid directly.  “From what I understand, he was a lot like you.”

The medic looked taken aback.  He’d never known Perceptor before the Lost Light.  As hard as it was to imagine the scientist being the cold killer Impactor described, he also couldn’t imagine him being warm and open to people.  As friendly as he was to First Aid and Appulse, he shut himself out to everyone around him.  Didn’t allow people to see him as anything but the Chief Science Officer.

“Something happened to him.  No one asked, and he never told, because in the Wreckers we don’t care what your past looks like as long as you can take orders and fight.  But whatever happened changed him.  He’ll never go back to being the mech he was before it.”  After another pause, he asked for the first time since the night in the hotel room, “What happened to you while I was gone, First Aid?  You’ve told me about all of the weird slag the Lost Light got into.  Even about the thing with your friend Trailcutter getting killed by a member of the DJD.  But you haven’t told me what happened to you.”

First Aid looked from him to the stars in front of their ship.  “Do you really want to know, Impactor?” he muttered.  “Because I’ll tell you.  I don’t want to hide anything from you.  Everything you thought of me, everything you feel about me, is going to change when you hear it, though.”

“If it does, then we’ll deal with it,” Impactor replied honestly.  “I wouldn’t be asking you what happened if I didn’t want to know, though.”

First Aid vented in deeply and offlined his optics.  “…It all started when Ultra Magnus disappeared after Overlord’s defeat…”

 

-----

 

“You’re staring.”

Perceptor couldn’t help but smile at the words.  The hours were ticking away, but with both him and Brainstorm working together they’d be able to get the Maximus armor finished with time to spare.  After they got the master functions, primarily motor-based, online Minimus was instructed to climb inside so they could test it.  The ‘accessories,’ as Brainstorm called them, they’d build into it after they were sure he could at least use the armor.

“I can’t help it,” the red and black scientist replied, chuckling.  “There is so much of you to stare at.”

Maximus almost scoffed.  “This seems hardly the time to take a jab at me.”

“It’s no jab,” Perceptor assured him, stepping forward.  He placed a hand on one of Maximus’s giant servos, smiling.  “I’ve told you, I love you no matter your size.  Whether you’re half my size, twice it, or…”

The enforcer noticed the look his conjux was giving him as he trailed off.  It was… Primus, sensual barely felt like the proper word for it.  It made Maximus extremely grateful that Brainstorm had left the two alone for a while, since they were already ahead of their construction schedule anyway.  He’d repaired Pseudo’s Box when they were between stages of the Maximus armor’s construction.  He used delivering it to their ailing youngling as an excuse to give the conjux endurae some space.  They were only a few hours away from possibly all dying, after all.  They deserved some alone time.

“Perceptor, this is hardly the time to be thinking of such things,” the now huge mech scolded.

“I know, but I cannot help myself,” the scientist said, leaning forward and nuzzling his faceplate against the servos.  He was rarely this physically affectionate.  He must’ve really been getting revved up by the sight of his conjux in his new armor.  “We won’t get many opportunities after this.  I wish to simply… touch you.”

Maximus ex-vented, giving into his beautiful scientist’s words.  He moved his hand behind Perceptor, surprising him by scooping him up easily.  He didn’t mind how much smaller the red and black scientist was than himself like this, either, if he was to be honest with himself.  He brought Perceptor up to his faceplate, the fore-servo of his other hand coming up as well to caress him gently.  “I know you detest when I acknowledge that without my armor I’m helpless,” he rumbled lightly.  “But with this armor, the one you two are pouring your genius into, I promise that I truly will protect you both.  I will give up my own life before I let you and Pseudo come to any more harm.”

“Don’t you dare,” Perceptor muttered, reaching out and taking Maximus’s faceplate into his hands.  He leaned forward until he was half sitting in his blue and white conjux’s hand and half leaning on his shoulderplate.  “You’re not the only one out to protect his family.  We’ll all get out of this.  Together.  I’m going to protect you as well, whether you like it or not.”

Maximus smiled.  “You’re as stubborn as you are magnificent.”

“You know it,” Perceptor grinned back.  He kissed Maximus on the corner of his mouth, moaning lightly at the feeling of being surrounded by the enforcer in such a new way.  When he pulled away, he chuckled again.  “Tasty,” he teased.

“Guys!”

They were interrupted by Brainstorm bursting back in.  Perceptor had to fight the urge to groan in annoyance.  Sometimes it felt like he and Maximus couldn’t get intimate at all without being interrupted.

“What’s the matter?” Maximus had the restraint to be able to ask, placing Perceptor back on the ground.  He noticed how urgent whatever it was looked.

“Pseudo’s awake,” the teal and white scientist said breathlessly.  “But… you need to come see it yourself.  I’m afraid it’s not all good news.”

Perceptor looked at his conjux in alarm.  Minimus quickly exited the Maximus armor, hopping down and following as the three rushed to the infirmary.

In the medbay Ten was up and about, though he was still ordered to stay.  He’d been repaired for the most part, but they couldn’t get him battle-ready for a while.  He didn’t want to leave yet, anyway.  Megatron was still in his repair berth, recharging after his confrontation with Tarn and Overlord.  They’d moved the Pet – no, Dominus Ambus.  He was standing next to the repair berth Pseudo was sitting on, distressed that the youngling was upset but unsure what to do about it.

Ten liked Pseudo.  The youngling was extremely kind to him, and unlike everyone else understood what he said.  The legislator could understand Pseudo in return, though even if he could communicate with the others he wasn’t sure he could explain why.  Perhaps because of his own difficulties he was more sensitive to the sounds Pseudo made and the meaning behind each.

But that wasn’t going to happen anymore.

“What’s going on?” Perceptor demanded, storming into the medbay.  Brainstorm and Minimus followed, the former staying at the door and looking uncomfortable yet worried.  He looked from his youngling, sitting cross-legged and hugging his Box with a lost expression on his faceplate, to Ratchet who stood next to him grimly, and finally to Ten, who simply stared back helplessly.  He rushed to the berth, taking Pseudo’s faceplate into his hands.  “What’s wrong, my darling?”

Pseudo looked up to him and opened his mouth.  But no sound came out.  His usual lilting tones he communicated in were reduced to a muted, almost inaudible static.  He immediately closed it again, washer fluid welling up in his optics in grief.

Ratchet waited for Minimus to join them.  “I’m afraid the debris that damaged him all but mangled his voice box,” he clarified to them.  “Even if we had the proper tools for repairing a component as sensitive as that, there’s nothing I can do about it.  He’d have to get an entirely new one.”

Perceptor and Minimus looked at each other in distress, the scientist taking his youngling into his arms and hugging him tightly.  “He already had enough trouble communicating with his vocals working properly,” Minimus ex-vented, pulling himself onto the berth on Pseudo’s other side and rubbing his back soothingly.

“I know,” Ratchet nodded, looking at the floor.  “Velocity and Appulse have caught me up on his medical status.”

Ten watched them, clutching his hands together.  He wasn’t sure what to do.  He wanted to help Pseudo and Minimus, both of whom he considered close friends.  But all he knew how to do was paint and fight.  Sure, he figured out how to get power to the storm shield using the flowers, but given time they would have figured that out on their own.  He felt useless.

“If it’s any consolation, I’ve cleared him to leave the medbay,” Ratchet continued.  “Other than his vocals he’s no worse for wear than the rest of the crew.  I’d suggest spending some time with him before everything goes downhill.”

“Thank you, Ratchet,” Minimus muttered.  He placed a hand on Pseudo’s helm and leaned forward, kissing the top of it.  “We should return to the laboratory and try to finish the armor as soon as possible.  Pseudo can join us.  It’s best if we…” he trailed off, not wanting to say the words.

Perceptor had no reservations, though.  “It would be best to spend what may be our last hours together, as a family.”  He stood up, holding his arms out to the youngling.  “Come, darling,” he said gently.

Pseudo looked up at him and nodded sadly.  He held out his free arm, still clutching his repaired instrument with the other.  Perceptor scooped him up into his arms once more, turning to the door.  Before he got far, though, Pseudo looked to Ten.

Wanting to say something encouraging, Ten spoke.  “Ten.”  Everything’s going to be okay.

Pseudo managed a small smile, opening his mouth once again.  In the moment, he forgot he couldn’t speak, and his face became crestfallen again when no noise came out.  He buried his faceplate in his creator’s shoulder.

“Thank you, Ten,” Minimus nodded to the legislator, patting his massive arm with a diminutive hand.  “We appreciate you trying.  And thank you for being here with Pseudo while we were busy.  Even if things aren’t well, I’m sure just having you here was comforting to him.”

Ten was surprised at the words, but nodded.  He couldn’t leave the repair bay, but he was glad he could help, even on a minuscule level.  He still didn’t feel like it was enough, but he supposed he’d have to make it up to them when battle came.

Brainstorm hadn’t said anything the whole time, which was incredibly unusual for him.  He looked uncomfortable, worried, and thoughtful all at once.

“Brainstorm,” Perceptor got his attention as he passed.  He placed a hand on the teal and white scientist’s arm.  “Come on.  We should return together.”

“Yeah, can’t really finish the armor without me,” Brainstorm grinned behind his facemask.

“Yes, that, too,” Perceptor smiled back dryly.  “But also because we just said we should be together as a family.”

“I… what?” Brainstorm was rendered speechless by the words.  “I’m… you think I’m family?”

“Of course you are,” Minimus assured him, walking over as well.  “There are few people more important to Perceptor and Pseudo than you are.”

Brainstorm stared at them for a moment in disbelief before his smile returned, modest yet beaming.  “Geez, guys, you’re going to make me feel all tingly with emotion and nonsense,” he teased, though he looked pleased with himself.  “Alright, then.  Let’s go.”  He waited for the others to go ahead of him, following.  “…I’m the genius of this family, right?”

“Don’t push it,” Perceptor replied.

 

-----

 

Chromedome and Rewind sat at one of the fortress’s massive windows, looking over the dimmed flowers.  They purposefully didn’t position themselves where they could see the massive army waiting for them.  Rewind’s tiny hand was clutched in the reattached one of Chromedome’s.  Neither spoke for what seemed like ages.

Finally, Chromedome said, “Why did you do that?  You could have finally had Dominus Ambus back, after searching for so long.”

“I wasn’t going to sacrifice you if it meant saving him, Domey,” Rewind answered shortly.  He reached out with his other hand, covering the mnemosurgeon’s.  “Why did you agree to inject again?  I… I have no words for how angry I am.  Angry and scared.  This was almost the moment I lost you.”

“It was the last time, I promise,” Chromedome replied almost automatically.

Rewind shuttered his optics at the words.  “That doesn’t even mean anything anymore, does it?  You say it every time.  Every time is ‘the last time.’  Until someone says something, gives you an opportunity.  And then that’s the new ‘last time.’  You can’t keep doing this.”

Chromedome cringed at the words, worry welling up in his optics.  This was it.  This was how Rewind would leave him.  Chromedome finally pushed it too far.  Even though Rewind saved him in sacrifice of Dominus, he was going to end it right here.  Hours away from being memories, he was going to leave him.

Rewind saw the look and pushed himself forward, letting go of Chromedome’s hand.  “Don’t look like that, Domey,” he said, all but throwing himself into the orange and red mnemosurgeon’s arms and lap.  “I’m not going to leave.  I don’t want to leave.  You’re everything to me, and I love you so much.”  He snuggled in as Chromedome’s arms closed in protectively around him, dimming his visor contentedly.  “I want to survive this night.  I want to stay with you as long as time will let us.  I want to start a family, and live somewhere quiet and peaceful.  I want you to be happy with me, Domey.”

Chromedome felt his spark swell at the words, petting Rewind’s helm affectionately.  “I am, Rewind,” he replied softly.  “I’m sorry if I ever made you think otherwise, but I’m never happier than when you are here.  We’ll survive, I promise.  We’ll grow old and rusty together.  We’ll have that family.  A big one, with lots of sparklings.  And I promise, I really promise, I’ll never inject again.”

Rewind held up a hand, holding his pinky-servo out.  “Pinky swear?”

“What?” Chromedome actually laughed at that.

“It’s something they do on Earth.  It’s the most binding contract you can do, completely unbreakable.”

“What happens if I do?” the mnemosurgeon asked curiously, humoring him.

“Does it matter?  Once you pinky swear you can’t take it back,” Rewind insisted.

Chromedome vented in, smiling warmly behind his visor even though Rewind wasn’t looking at him.  He held out his own pinky-servo, linking it with Rewind’s.  “Then I pinky swear.  No more injecting.  Ever.”

 

-----

 

“I can’t believe we’re almost there.  Time’s up in just a couple hours,” Swerve said, sitting dejectedly in the main room.  Skids, Nautica, Appulse, Velocity, and Runescribe were with him.

“Hey, don’t talk like that,” Nautica said.  She leaned over and put a hand on his helm.  “We’re going to get through this.”

“No, he’s right,” Runescribe muttered, leaning on the wall behind her with her arms crossed over her chestplate.  “We’re all dead.  The DJD and an entire army are waiting for us out there, and we’re just a bunch of dysfunctional degenerates.  What chance do we have?”

“No helping, Scribe,” Appulse snapped at her.

“We can’t just give up!” Velocity agreed.  “We’ll get through this, you’ll see!”

“How can you be so positive?” the author scoffed.  “It’s so… disgusting.  Especially at a time like this.”

“There’s those universally infamous people skills,” Skids smirked.

“Besides, we’re being positive because being a Negative Nancy isn’t helping anything,” Nautica added.  “What else can we do other than hope for the best?  We’ll all be out there fighting in a few hours.”

“Yeah, if we just roll over our deaths are a sure thing,” Appulse agreed.  “If we fight, then a 1% chance of survival is still a chance.”

“Ugh, I can’t believe I spend time with all of you,” Runescribe scoffed.  “But… I guess you’re not wrong.  I’ll have to remember that, too.  Cause if I survive this I’m going to write the greatest novel of all time, and base it off of everything we’ve gone through here.”

“Want help naming it?” Swerve asked hopefully.

“I haven’t even written it yet, why would I need a name?” Runescribe made a face at him.

“Because thinking of a name for a book will help keep my mind off how royally fragged we all are,” the bartender shot back at her.  “Come on, maybe it’ll be fun.”

“Fine,” the black and white femme huffed.  “What would you call a novel about a bunch of ‘bots caught in a deathtrap with little hope and the only way out being to fight impossible odds?”

“Never Yield?” Nautica suggested.

“Not bad,” Runescribe admitted.  “A little basic, though.  Anyone else?”

“Oh, how about The Odds?” Swerve put in.  “You know, like, ‘Never tell me the odds’?”

“Ooh, I like that one,” Runescribe grinned.  “Okay, this is actually kind of fun.”

“Ex Machina!” Appulse threw out.

“Eh, a little meta,” Runescribe gave him a ‘meh’ wiggle of her hand.

Skids, who had looked quite thoughtful, suddenly said, “Dying of the Light.”

“Whoa, isn’t that a little morbid?” Velocity asked.

“No, no, I like it,” Runescribe said, pointing at him.  “Morbid is good.  You can’t make it sound too hopeful.”

“True, most great stories have titles that don’t ring optimistic,” Swerve agreed.  “And ‘Dying of the Light’ rolls off the tongue.”

“Where’d you come up with that?” Appulse asked.

“Something I said once,” Skids shrugged, looking around at them.  “I said I wanted to live through ‘the dying of the light.’  I didn’t think it’d be this literal, I was kind of being pretentiously poetic at the time, but here I am.”

“If that’s you being pretentious, then maybe you can challenge Megatron as the ship’s poet,” Nautica teased.

“I don’t think I want to try taking that title from him,” the theoretician laughed.

They all laughed, for a minute forgetting that they were close to the end.  That in just a couple of hours not all of them might survive, as Skids had put it, the ‘dying of the light.’  For this one moment, everything was normal.

 

-----

 

“Hey!”

Cyclonus turned as he and Whirl walked back to the outside.  Tailgate was running up with his usual enthusiastic bounce.  It was amazing he could stay so positive even during this situation.

Amazing, but not surprising.

“Tailgate!” Whirl greeted, holding out a claw.  “Servo to claw!”

Tailgate gave him the closest thing to a fist-bump they could manage with the empurada in effect.  Whirl stumbled backwards a few feet from the impact, but then laughed.  Tailgate returned the sound, looking up at Cyclonus.  “What’re you doing inside, guys?  I thought you were fixing the turrets,” he asked.

“And I thought you were gathering materials for Brainstorm and Perceptor,” Cyclonus pointed out.

“Oh, they have plenty of material now,” the minibot said, rocking back on his pedes, clasping his servos behind him.  Despite his newly found strength, he was so pure.  So innocent.

Something worth protecting.

“Well, we were simply retrieving a few more tools.  These turrets haven’t been used in so long that they’re completely in disrepair,” Cyclonus answered in return.

“Can’t go shooting baddies without working turrets!” Whirl enthused, making a gun out of his claws.  “Zap, bang, squish!”

“I don’t think bad guys ‘squish’ when you shoot them,” Tailgate pointed out.

“They do if you do it right,” Whirl told him, leaning down as if he were telling him a life secret.

“Do you want any help?” Tailgate asked.

“Nah, we don’t need muscles right now,” Whirl waved him off.

Cyclonus nodded.  “As he says, we have it well under control,” he elaborated.

“Oh… okay,” Tailgate actually sounded a little disappointed, playing with his servos.  He glanced up at Cyclonus, then turned.  “Well, I guess I’ll go find something else to do, then…”

Cyclonus felt his spark clench, reaching out to him briefly.  He almost pulled back, reconsidered.  But then he heard a voice he didn’t think would actually change his mind: Appulse’s.  ‘If you don’t let him know, then you’re going to lose him.’  He clenched his servos into fists and made a frustrated sound.  “Whirl,” he said, turning to the dark blue mech.  “Can you get started without me?”

Whirl’s singular optic flickered between the purple mech and the white and blue minibot walking away.  It then narrowed in delight.  “Oh, yeah, sure.  I’ve got it, don’t worry.  You go do what you gotta do,” he said, backing away and heading out in a dramatic stride that was all for show.

Cyclonus rolled his optics at him and turned the opposite way, following after the object of his affections.  “Tailgate!”

The waste disposal ‘bot stopped, looking back at his approach.  “Yeah?” he asked hopefully.

Cyclonus caught up and hesitated.  He didn’t know how exactly he wanted to say what he did, but he knew he couldn’t back out now.  “Come with me,” he said, holding out his hand.  “There’s something I want to discuss with you.”

Tailgate looked from his faceplate to his hand and back.  He placed his own servos in the claws before him, letting Cyclonus lead him down the hall.  Since he was behind the purple mech, Cyclonus didn’t see Tailgate’s visor light up with a renewed smile.  The minibot had been waiting for this conversation.  There was a lot they needed to say, many questions that needed to be answered.  But no matter what happened, one thing was for certain.

Everything was going to be okay between them now.

 

-----

 

Appulse and Velocity returned to the medbay, feeling a lot better after having hung out with the others.  The red and black half-Wrecker immediately realized someone was missing as soon as he walked in.  “Hey, where’s Pseudo?” he asked.

Ratchet looked up from his checkup on Ten.  “Perceptor and Minimus Ambus picked him up,” he replied.

“Oh, good, he’s awake,” Appulse said in relief.  “I’m gonna go make sure he’s okay, then.  There’s something I need to talk to him about.”

Ratchet looked at Ten, then back at the half-Wrecker.  “Before you go doing that, there’s something you need to know.”

By the time Ratchet was done explaining the situation, he couldn’t have stopped Appulse from running out the door to find Pseudo if he tried.  The red and black mech ran down the halls back to the lab where he’d last seen Perceptor and Minimus Ambus.  He knew he’d find them there again.

Pseudo was there as well, as he thought.  He sat in the corner, not really watching his creators, but rather staring into space.  His Box was in his lap, but it wasn’t turned on.  He fingered where the lasers would usually be idly.

“Pseudo,” Appulse approached the youngling, kneeling in front of him and giving him a worried look.  Perceptor, Brainstorm, and Minimus watched him a moment, but then went back to their work.  They knew Appulse only had the best intentions for Pseudo at all times, caring for him as deeply as they did.

The white and gold youngling looked up at him, his wide, blue optics sad and lost.  He opened his mouth as he had with Perceptor when they came to him in the medbay, and once again gave a pitiful sound of muted static instead of beautiful vocals.

“Oh, Pseudo…” Appulse vented out, reaching out and hugging him.  He held the youngling tight until he felt tiny arms reach out and wrap as far around his much larger frame as they could in return.  Pseudo’s vents hitched and sobbed, dropping his Box as he finally let the grief of what he lost overcome him.

Perceptor’s hold on the soldering iron, fusing the circuits of one of the turrets in the Maximus armor’s shoulders, tightened at the sound.  As a creator, knowing that he couldn’t comfort his youngling while someone else did was sparkbreaking.  He felt Brainstorm’s hand on his shoulder and vented deeply, nodding in reassurance that he was fine and returning to work.

“I’m so sorry this happened…” Appulse muttered comfortingly, rubbing Pseudo’s back and helm soothingly.  “I promise, you’re not going to lose anything else.  I’ll protect you.  I’ll protect your creator and sire.  Pit, I’ll protect Brainstorm and Rodimus if that’s what it takes.  But I won’t let anyone take anything else from you.”

Pseudo may not have understood the words, but the sound of his comfort, his determined reassurance, and his protectiveness were exactly what he needed.  He began to calm, looking up at the other half-Wrecker again.  He couldn’t convey himself through his vocals anymore, so he did his best to let him know how much he appreciated that Appulse was there for him through his optics, his EM field, his body language.  Anything he could manage.

The artist must have succeeded, because Appulse smiled.  “You’re welcome,” he whispered, leaning down and kissing the top of Pseudo’s helm.

Pseudo leaned forward again, content to stay like that for as long as he was allowed in his arms.

 

-----

 

Drift looked out the window, past the storm shield, at the army waiting for them outside their doorstep.  He could barely even believe how deep Rodimus and his loyal crewmembers managed to get themselves this time.  The co-captain had told him all about all of their tales, sparkbreakingly self-deprecating and self-blaming for all of them.  No matter how many of them he heard, there was little that could qualify more as a worst case scenario than this.

The spiritualist felt Rodimus’s arms wrap around him from behind before the red and orange mech pressed himself flush against Drift’s back.  “Rodimus…” he ex-vented in exasperation, though there was no malice behind it.

“I know…” Rodimus murmured into his shoulderplate.  “I can’t help it.  You’re here, and you’re real.  It’s been hours, and I still can’t believe it.”  He ex-vented in turn, this one contentedly.  “I missed you so much…”

Drift smiled, not stopping him despite his own objection.  “We need to concentrate on the battle coming up,” he still said.

“That battle is the reason I want to stay like this a little longer,” Rodimus argued.  “I know I said we’ll all get out of this, but… just in case, I want to have this.  If I die in that battle, I want my last memory of being with you.”

“You’re not going to die,” Drift insisted, reaching back and grasping Rodimus’s upper arm.  He pulled until Rodimus was standing in front of him and pressed their mouths together in a passionate, open-mouthed kiss before the co-captain could register it.  They stood like that for longer than he even had intended it, one kiss turning to two.  Then three.

When they were on the Lost Light, moments like this would have been with the full intention of leading to a hot night of interfacing.  Falling into recharge in the warm glow of each other’s EM fields tingling with fresh overloads.  But there was none of that in these kisses.  These were about nothing more than being here, being together.  Reunited after a series of bad decisions that almost led to them never seeing each other again.

Drift wouldn’t let that happen again.  When they finally parted, he nudged their olfactory sensors together and looked into his co-captain’s – no, his sparkmate’s optics.  “You’re not the only one determined to protect the people you love, captain.  I’m going to protect you, too.  Even if I have to fight you to keep you from doing something stupid like sacrificing yourself for me.”

“You know me too well,” Rodimus teased, though there was a twinge of sheepishness in his optics.  He had fully intended for that to happen if it came down to it.  “I missed that.”

“What?” Drift asked.

“Everything,” Rodimus laughed.  “But mostly, I missed having someone who knew me like you do.  I think Megatron and Magnus were pretty good at getting a bead on me sometimes, but you… you just get me.  I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true.”

“I don’t just ‘get’ you,” Drift smiled, tilting his helm up and kissing Rodimus’s forehead.  “I love you.  I adore you.  I almost feel bad for making you have to practically beg me to take you back.  I couldn’t hate you if I wanted to.”

Rodimus stared at him a moment before color crept into his faceplate as it had when they were caught being ‘diverted’ in the hallway by Appulse.  He looked away, embarrassed.  “Geez, Drift, you can’t just do that…”

“What?” Drift teased, leaning forward and nuzzling his faceplate into Rodimus’s neck.  “Tell the truth?”

“Get all… romantic on me,” the red and orange hotshot muttered, wrapping an arm around Drift’s shoulders, bringing the other hand up to rest on the white and red spiritualist’s helm.  He actually loved it, but Rodimus was surprisingly shy when it came to romance.  He didn’t know how to react to Drift’s extremely honest romantic tendencies, getting flustered and pouty.  “You have to warn me before you start spouting that kind of slag at me.”

“I’m sorry,” Drift murmured into his neck, arms securely locked around Rodimus’s waist.

“Pfft, don’t apologize for it, you dork,” Rodimus huffed.  He looked out the window at the scene Drift had been pondering on, seeing the forces waiting for them.  He was scared.  He didn’t remember being this frightened in his life, honestly.  But he wouldn’t let them have his Drift.  He tightened his hold on his sparkmate, shuttering his optics as he leaned his helm on the spiritualist’s.  “I love you, too…”

 

-----

 

Twenty minutes before battle time, there was a gathering.  They discussed what they were going to do when the storm shield was destroyed.  Megatron reappeared, now completely healed after what happened.  He stuck around long enough to let them know that he wasn’t going to be joining them, much to everyone’s disappointment and Rodimus’s anger.  But they let him go, not having time to deal with him.

Well, all of them but one.  Appulse couldn’t help himself.  He couldn’t take it anymore.  He was told to stop, to restrain himself around Megatron whenever he was there.  But he wasn’t letting this one slide.  He ran out after the former tyrant, catching him in the hall.

“Hey!  Hey!” the half-Wrecker called after him, grabbing Megatron’s arm.

“What do you want?” Megatron growled at him, though his former venom was all but gone.

“I want to know what happened to the Megatron everyone talks about,” Appulse challenged.  “You’re supposed to be the Boogiemech of the Cybertronian race.  The one person no one wants to fight because they’re not sure they’d come out alive.  Where’s that fight?”

“I told you, I’m not fighting anymore!” Megatron shot back, tossing his arm off.  “I don’t have to justify myself to a… a punk!”

“Punk?  That the best you got?” Appulse persisted.  “Man, I can’t believe I was told to be afraid of you!  You’re not a tyrant, you’re not even a fighter.  You’re a coward!  And it has nothing to do with how afraid you are, because I’m terrified!  I know what’s waiting for me out there because one of them has already promised to my face that he’s gonna kill me!  But you know what?  I’m going out there anyway, because I want to see my creator again one day!  I’m going out there because I want to protect everything I love!  Don’t you have something you want to protect?”

Megatron looked away from him.  He didn’t look like he was going to answer, but finally he said, “I don’t have to worry about him.  He’s safe for now.  And if I’m lucky he won’t come back until the battle is over and the DJD have left.”

Appulse was a bit taken aback by those words, puzzled at first about what he could be talking about.  He thought hard about who he could mean, and then he remembered those who were missing because they were on a mission to the center of the planet.  “You’re talking about Rung, aren’t you?” he guessed.

“He’s better than any of us,” Megatron answered, still not looking at him.  “And if all goes as planned, he will survive where we won’t.”

“Your plan is to have the person you love… come back from his mission to find all us, including you, dead?” Appulse could barely believe he was saying those words.

“It’s better than him dying himself.”

Appulse stared at him, then began shaking with rage.  “You… you fragging idiot!” he yelled once again.  “All you’re doing is abandoning him!  Just like Impactor did!”  He paused a moment, venting in rage.  He then growled, “No, you’re worse than Impactor.  Because at least if my afthole of a sire was faced with a choice to fight or hide, he would choose to go down protecting as many of his team as he could.  Because he may have been a jerk, but at least Impactor wasn’t a coward!”  He made a frustrated sound at the lack of reaction Megatron gave him.  The former Decepticon leader wasn’t giving him the satisfaction of getting angry.  “Fine then, run away.  Hide.”  He turned on his heelstrut and marched back towards the others.

 

-----

 

Appulse had arrived back in the room in time to take part in the insane plan Velocity had come up with to use a traumatic trigger from Skids to imbue them all with powers like Tailgate had.  It would be temporary, but any edge they could get was worth a shot.

And then they were in the middle of battle.

“Come on, aftholes!” Appulse yelled at the oncoming hoard of enemies.  He stomped on the ground, his temporary Outlier power causing the ground around him to shake.  It caused the Decepticons charging at him to be thrown off balance enough for him to manage some good shots with his rifle, taking out a few.  The seemingly endless army of Decepticons were only mildly inconvenienced by the new powers he and the others had, though, and soon they were fighting them off by the dozens.

Chromedome took on Overlord, finally giving him the beating he deserved for having separated him from the original Rewind.  The battle was interrupted by sniper fire, though.  On both sides.  While Nickel and Vos pulled off a good shot to Chromedome’s arm, off-balancing him for a moment, another shot rang from above the fortress’s turrets.

The laser-fire tore through Overlord’s arm plating, causing him to roar with rage and turn, looking for the source.

“Frag, what was that?!” Nickel hissed, using Vos’s scope to look around the battlefield.

Vos was about to tell her where the shot came from, being as he could track the trajectory, but something caught his optics.  One mech on the field looked… excitingly familiar.  It was the youngling from Ofsted XVII.  He was here.  What were the odds?  How lucky was he?

“Whoa, hey!  What’re you doing?!” Nickel shouted as Vos jumped out of her arms, transforming into his robot mode.

The Gunformer pointed to the battlefield excitedly.  “It’s him!” he hissed out in P.V.  “The youngling!  I found him!”

“Vos!” Tarn snapped, glaring at him.  It caused the much smaller mech to stop, staring at him.  “You are assigned here!  You are not to abandon this post!  If you don’t cover Overlord, whoever is firing at him could put him out of commission!”

Vos searched Tarn’s masked faceplate with his own crimson optics, then narrowed them.  “Good.”  With that single word, he took off.  He didn’t need much more incentive to abandon what he was doing, even at the risk of Tarn’s wrath, than the idea that Overlord may be killed in the process.

Besides, Vos had a toy to play with.

Perceptor lined up another shot, venting evenly as he scoped Overlord’s leg.  Overlord was distracted trying to find the source of the laser shot that put a hole in his arm.  Chromedome was shaking off the shot he took to the arm as well.  “That was for Rotorstorm…” the scientist-turned-sniper hissed, squeezing the trigger.  There was a satisfying roar of rage as the next shot tore through Overlord’s knee, causing it to buckle.  The Outlier power he was granted hadn’t just upgraded the targeting protocols he installed for use with his monocle, but also effectively upgraded the power of his sniper rifle.  Even the Phase Sixer’s armor was helpless against it now.  “That one was for Topspin and Twintwist…”  The next one was a lot easier since Overlord couldn’t move one of his legs.  He aimed for the arm opposite from the one he’d hit.  A shot and that arm was gone from the elbow.  “That was for Pyro.”

That was when Overlord figured out where the shots were coming from.  He looked up towards Perceptor, perched in his sniping point.  The look of utter malice, of rage that he dared succeed where only Impactor had before, was worth locking optics with him.  The massive Phase Sixer made to stand up, but Perceptor’s next shot went clean into his chestplate.  Whether it actually penetrated his spark chamber or not was hard to tell, but it did what the red and black scientist set out to do.  It knocked him completely backwards.  “And that was for Ironfist, you sick spawn of a glitch!” he shouted.

Overlord’s spark chamber had been pierced, but it had stopped the laser shot right before it reached the spark itself.  Before he could sit up, though, Chromedome reappeared.  His arm still had a hole in it, but he seemed to be ignoring the pain in favor of putting a pede on Overlord’s smoking chestplate.  He aimed the Outlier-gained short laser cannon on his arm at Overlord’s helm.

“You think you’re mech enough to do it, Domey?” Overlord mocked.  “You failed at killing me once already.  Let me see you do it again.  And this time I’ll make sure your new little Rewind suffers the same-”

Chromedome screamed in rage once more, firing.  Again.  And again.  And again.

The mnemosurgeon kept firing until he had reduced Overlord’s head to smoking slag, the Phase Sixer ceasing to move.  When he was done unleashing the rage he had, the Decepticons around him still keeping a wide berth after watching Chromedome and the unseen sniper take down the infamous mech, Chromedome vented heavily.  “That?  That was for Rewind.  Rot in the Pit for both of us…”

Appulse was having a grand time, though he didn’t want to admit it to anyone.  Despite not wanting anything to do with the Wreckers, his coding gave him the thrilling rush with every Decepticon he put down for good.  Using tremors to incapacitate them, his laser rifle to give them new ventilation holes, and if any got close enough simply punching them clean away.  He liked these new powers, even if he didn’t get to keep them.  Nothing could stop him.

At least… not until he heard a familiar hiss that caused his spark to freeze.

“Plaaaayyy…”

Appulse whipped around to the source of the hiss, surprised he even heard it over the chaos going on around him.  The sight of the DJD’s tiny yet horrifying Gunformer caused not only himself but the rest of the Decepticons around him to back away.  Obviously they didn’t want to get involved in a fight a member of the Decepticon Justice Division was going to be in.

Vos was crouched on a nearby rock formation, his stance reminding Appulse of Ravage, who was fighting on the other side of the battlefield.  His crimson optics flashed with sadistic glee at the sight of his new playmate.

“You wanna play?” Appulse finally managed, buckling himself down despite the sheer dread running through his hydraulic lines.  “Let’s play, you sick little slagger!”  He raised his leg and slammed it back down as hard as he could, causing a tremor that made even his own dentae chatter.  The rock formation Vos was on shook and crumbled, but the Gunformer nimbly jumped from it before it could throw him off.

The moment Vos’s pedes touched the ground he pounced before Appulse could wind up for another shot.  His pedes barely touched the ground as he charged towards the half-Wrecker, claws bared.  He spat out a series of hisses and screeches in his native tongue that Appulse couldn’t understand.  Appulse didn’t have to have Pseudo’s abilities to hear the maliciousness behind them, though.

“You want me?!” Appulse yelled at him boldly, bracing himself for the attack he knew was coming.  He threw his rifle to the side.  It would be useless in a fight against such a small, quick target.  Besides that, this was going to be close-quarters, that much was obvious.  “Come get me!”

Vos gladly complied, pouncing on Appulse and knocking him off-balance.  The red and black mech used his newly acquired strength to keep himself upright, though.  He tossed Vos off of himself as hard as he could.  The Gunformer bounced and skid off the ground, digging his claws and pedes into the dirt to stop himself.  That didn’t discourage him, though.  If anything, he looked even more excited at the prospect of fighting this suddenly super-strong Autobot.

From there it became a dance of speed versus power.  Each dipping and weaving, attacking when they had a chance.  They easily deflected each other, but neither came out undamaged.  Appulse was gaining a good amount of claw gashes across his chassis, though he managed to avoid anything too deep.  Vos now had a few dents to show for his own efforts, one arm even having been partly caved from a good grab Appulse managed to get in.  Still, he ignored it, not showing even the slightest hint of pain.

“Come on, scumbag,” Appulse mocked, bracing himself for the next attack.  “I can do this all…!”  He was cut off as all of the strength suddenly seemed to drain from himself.  “What the…?” he muttered.  It felt like when he encountered the Personality Ticks.  But this was even worst timing than then.

Vos stopped his assault in confusion, narrowing his optics.  He seemed to be gauging if this was a trick of some sort.  He charged, pouncing on Appulse again.

This time, though, Appulse didn’t have the strength to throw him off.  He was knocked clear on his back, panic running through his systems.  The blast of energy from Skids was wearing off.  ‘Oh, frag…’ he thought as Vos’s claws descended towards him.  He caught the Gunformer’s wrists to keep them away, but that was all he could manage.  And even then he wasn’t sure how long it would last.  ‘I’m fragging dead…’

 

-----

 

Pseudo had stayed behind with Ratchet, Megatron, and Runescribe.  Being not only a youngling and a non-combatant, but also too young to be permitted to take the chance with the Outlier blast, he was as far from the battlefield as he could be.

Which meant all he could do was watch helplessly as everything fell apart.

Runescribe was typing desperately at the one datapad she managed to save through gritted dentae as she watched the others get overwhelmed.  Ratchet was arguing with Megatron.  Appulse was on the screen about to get torn to shreds by one of the DJD.

And through all this, Skids’ vocals reached him, filled with the pain of a guilty conscience and self-loathing he hadn’t even heard from Rodimus during his lowest points.

Pseudo couldn’t do anything about any of it.

Except for Skids.  He could do something about that.  If nothing else, he had to try.  Because the sound of Skids’ vocals was sparkbreaking.  Desperate and guilty and filled with the greatest pain Pseudo had ever felt in someone.

While Ratchet and Megatron continued arguing, Pseudo sat next to Skids, no matter how much it hurt to be near a voice filled with so much pain.  He pulled his Box up to himself, laying it across his left forearm and activating it.

And then Pseudo began to play.

The melody that left his Box was soft, low, and soothing.  Reassuring and comforting.  He filled it with every bit of love he had, thinking of all of the people he cared for out there on the battlefield who were risking their lives so they could all get home together.

Together.

He couldn’t let Skids die.  Not when they were all fighting so hard to make sure they would all survive.

“Pseudo?” Ratchet’s vocals found him through the song, confusion and fascination lining it.  Then surprise.  “Skids… you… you stabilized Skids.  But how?”

Pseudo wouldn’t have answered if he could.  He had to keep playing.

He had to keep Skids safe.  From the demons inside of him.  From his own mind that was trying to reject him.  Safe, so they could all go home.

 

-----

 

As everyone depowered, struggling to stay alive themselves, there was no one to rescue Appulse.  He was helpless against the DJD Gunformer who managed to overpower his grasp and tore through his plating with his claws gleefully.

Appulse screamed in pain as his chestplate was torn open, though Vos made carefully sure not to damage his spark or expose his chamber.  He didn’t want to make this quick.  That wouldn’t be fun with his new playmate.  Appulse’s hands were already shredded from where Vos made sure he wouldn’t be able to grab him anymore.  He was too tired to shove the tiny Gunformer off, too weak to even move.

“Fffuuuuun…” Vos hissed delightedly, digging his claws into Appulse’s shoulders and dragging them across, tearing him open.  He relished in the sounds that were coming from him.  Only one thing could make this better.  He pulled the mask off of his face, pressing the button to activate the spikes and drills in it.  “Weeeeeaaaarrrrr… myyyyyy… faaaaaace….” he demanded, lowering it towards Appulse’s helpless form.

Appulse couldn’t even turn his helm away from the impending torture device.  What was the point now, anyway?  He was going to die.  They were all going to die.  He failed to protect everyone he said he would.  Frag, why was he such a screw-up?  He might as well accept his fate at this point.  He deserved it.

There was a roar just then, something familiar yet completely foreign to him, and Appulse’s optics onlined in time to see Vos be bowled over off of him by a massive black and gold mech.

No.

No.

It couldn’t be.

Appulse had to be hallucinating it.  But… no, there he was.  Towering and menacing, snarling and baring his dentae like a mad turbowolf.  In one hand a massive automatic rifle, and in place of the other… there it was.  The harpoon.

It was him.

Impactor roared again at the little DJD Gunformer he’d barreled over, standing protectively over his youngling.  “You want him?!” he snarled at Vos as the surprised mech regained his bearings.  “Come through me, you little freak!”

Vos narrowed his optics.  He knew who that was.  Impactor, leader of the Wreckers.  No matter, though.  The huge mech was standing between him and his plaything.  That meant he was now a target.

Impactor didn’t wait for Vos to make his move, unlike Appulse.  He raised his automatic rifle and fired wildly, forcing Vos on the move if he wanted to survive.  The Gunformer dodged and weaved desperately, the automatic a lot harder to dodge than Appulse’s normal one due to its rapid rate of fire.  He took a laser to the side and hissed, stumbling and taking cover behind one of the nearby rock formations.

Impactor took the moment to glance down at Appulse.  “Hey, kid,” he grunted.

“Where the frag did you come from…?” Appulse managed weakly.

The Wrecker leader barked out a short laugh.  “Yeah, you’re definitely my kid.”  He focused back on his fight as Vos came charging out of his cover straight for him.

The tiny DJD member pounced as he did with Appulse, but this time it was a mistake.  Impactor didn’t just toss him, he swung his massive gun around and smacked Vos out of the air like he was no more than a pest.  Vos rolled across the ground and shook his helm to clear it.  That was a lot harder than even Appulse’s super-powered strength had hit.

Before Vos had a chance to recover from the impact of being smacked away like he was nothing, Impactor was on top of him, massive pede pinning him down by the chest.  Vos hissed and screeched at him, clawing at the leg, but it didn’t relent.

“So, little freak,” Impactor growled, kneeling down while putting weight on that pede.  “I hear you like putting spikes in peoples’ faces.  Was gonna do it to my kid.”

Vos felt his chassis strain, delicate parts inside his Gunformer frame snapping and bending unnaturally under the pressure.  He howled in pain and clawed harder, but no matter how hard he dug his claws into the leg and pede it wouldn’t budge.

“I have an idea, then,” Impactor raised his right arm, baring his harpoon.  “Let’s see how you like having something sharp shoved through your face.”

Vos barely registered the threat before he was screaming louder.  Impactor drove the harpoon straight through Vos’s left optic with a satisfying CRUNCH.  Energon and fluids splattered everywhere as Vos struggled under him, screeching and howling.  He desperately clawed at the harpoon and the arm attached, but it was to no avail.

“Not so fun now, is it?” Impactor growled low.  He yanked the harpoon out of Vos’s optic.  The Gunformer continued to screech in pain until Impactor straightened back up.  He lifted his huge pede and brought it down on Vos’s head this time, caving it underneath.  He repeated the process twice more until Vos’s body stopped twitching underfoot.

Meanwhile, Appulse wasn’t really focusing on the fight between his worst nightmare and unwanted sire as he felt himself fading from both his injuries and the shock of everything that was happening sinking in.  The only thing that brought him back to reality was a familiar red and white helm with a large blue visor coming into his vision.  “…creator…?”

“Appulse,” First Aid vented deeply, trying not to let his emotions take over.  “My darling Appulse… what did that monster do to you?”

“To be fair…” Appulse managed a small smile, “…I’m pretty sure… it’s partly the fault of… Skids’ spark spasm… wearing off…”

First Aid looked at him confused, but decided this wasn’t when he should ask.  He pulled out his portable blowtorch and began sealing any gash that still had enough metal to be put together.

“How’s he looking?” Impactor asked, coming back over after he made sure Vos was good and dead for what he did to their youngling.

“That should be fairly obvious looking at him,” First Aid muttered.

Impactor snorted.  “Did you know you become a master of dry sarcasm when you’re stressed?”

“You could be doing about twelve different things than talk back to me right now, and they’d all be helping,” the medic retorted.

“Impactor helping… that’d be a first…” Appulse couldn’t help but put out there weakly.  He could feel himself starting to black out now that had a chance to relax.

“You shush, too,” First Aid said more gently to him.  “We’re here, and we’re going to take care of things.”

“Something must’ve gotten everyone’s attention, too,” Impactor said.  “Everyone’s heading towards the middle of the battlefield.”

Appulse heard a ping in his comm and grinned weakly.  “Something… someone… Megs finally came out to help… calling… retreat…”

Impactor looked sharply back at him.  “Megatron’s here?”

“Be nice to him,” First Aid ordered.  “He’s our co-captain, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Impactor muttered.  He looked from them to where the army was swarming.

“Don’t even think of it,” First Aid warned him.  “I need your help getting Appulse to the building.  He can’t move on his own.”

“Actually, I’ll help with that.”

First Aid and Impactor both looked to where the voice came from.  Tailgate was making his way over the bodies, stopping in front of them.

“Tailgate!” the red and white medic stood up and put a hand on the minibot’s shoulder.  “Are you sure?  We need a lot of muscle.  Appulse isn’t light.”

“I’ve got you covered on that,” Tailgate assured him proudly.  To emphasize his point he nudged his forearm under First Aid’s aft and easily lifted him up one-handed.  “You’ve missed some stuff since you left.”

“Whoa!” First Aid put a hand on Tailgate’s shoulder to balance and laughed in surprise.  “Obviously I have!  You seem less surprised that I’m here than I would have expected.”

Tailgate shrugged and lowered the taller medic to his pedes again.  “Well, ever since Ratchet and Drift showed back up…”

“Ratchet and Drift are here?” First Aid asked in excitement.  “Oh, that’s fantastic news.  I’ll need Ratchet to help me fix up Appulse.”  He looked to his youngling, who’d finally lost consciousness.

“No problem, let’s just get him there,” Tailgate nodded.  “Megatron ordered us all to retreat, so I came to get Appulse since no one knew where he was.  And since I’m the only one who wasn’t effected by Skids’s spark spasm, I haven’t lost my powers.”

“Thank goodness.  Come, you can tell me what you and Appulse were talking about while we take him back.”

Impactor watched the two, not sure how to behave.  He was a bit thrown off by the familiarity First Aid had with this tiny powerhouse.  He looked from them to the sounds of explosions and battle again.  “You two go ahead,” he finally spoke.  “Take Appulse back, I’m going to go help Megatron.”

“Are you sure?” Tailgate asked in surprise.  He didn’t seem to be thrown off at all by the newcomer.  “He told us to retreat.”

“He ordered you to retreat,” Impactor pointed out stubbornly.  “As his crew, you have to obey him.  But me?  I ain’t his crew.  I don’t have to follow any order he gives.”

First Aid looked at him a moment then smiled.  “That’s the Wrecker spirit,” he said softly.  “Go.  We’ll meet you there.”

“Not worried I’m gonna get my aft killed while I’m out there?” Impactor teased.

“You’re Impactor,” First Aid chuckled.  “And he’s Megatron.  If there’s any pair I’m sure can survive impossible odds, it’s you two.”

“Fraggin’ right, we can,” Impactor finally grinned back at him, punching his harpoon into his other hand.  “Now get out of here.”  With that he charged up the hill transforming into his tank mode and barreling back down towards the fight.

 

-

 

Megatron had everything planned out.  Call out Tarn, trick the remaining members of the DJD into getting close enough to activate the Panic Bubble he took from Trailcutter’s body by pretending to give up, and destroy them all with the anti-matter he’d been training himself to produce for the last two years.  The anti-matter he finally learned how to master when he experienced the utter horror of watching Ravage be torn in half by Tarn.

The one thing he didn’t count on was a black and yellow tank barreling its way through the waves of Deathsaurus’s forces surrounding him.  It transformed when it was near, turning into the extremely unexpected form of Impactor.

“Well, well,” Impactor sneered, blasting a nearby charging Decepticon with his shoulder cannon.  He tilted his helm towards the former tyrant.  “I always wanted to meet back up with you one day.  Truth be told, I was rather hoping it was so I could kill you, not save your sorry aft.”

Megatron blew up a few more of their enemies with his fusion cannon before returning the gaze.  His face turned from shock to anger, though.  This wasn’t the plan.  “What are you doing here?!” he demanded.

“What does it look like?  Wrecking things!  It’s what I do, remember?”

“Yes, well, you’re doing a fine job of that with my plan!”

“I’m a lot of things, Megatron,” the Wrecker grunted, jamming his harpoon into one Decepticon’s chestplate and throwing him into another.  “But I’m not stupid!  I know a suicide plan when I see it!  As a Wrecker it’s the largest chunk of the plans we have!”

Megatron grit his dentae and grabbed a Decepticon nearby him and threw it at Impactor.  The Wrecker responded by catching that one as well with his harpoon and tossing it away effortlessly.  “Impactor, I don’t have time for-!”  He stopped as his targets appeared before them.

Tarn, Helex, and Tesarus all stood ready to fight.  “Megatron!” the DJD leader announced, spreading his arms.  “And the Autobot nuisance Impactor.  It appears you’ve truly fallen when you must call for help from mercenaries.”

Megatron was going to reply, but Impactor beat him to it.  “This mercenary already killed one of you,” he snarled, holding up his harpoon for them to see.  “Good chunk of this energon bled from his optic.  Hopefully you guys will provide me more of a challenge.”

Tarn’s optics narrowed.  “Helex.  Tesarus.  Tear apart the Autobot.”

“Gladly!” Tesarus howled excitedly.  He charged at Impactor, Helex right behind him.  Impactor fired his shoulder cannon at them, bracing himself.  He knew enough about the DJD to know going hand-to-hand with these two particular members was a terrible idea, but he didn’t have many options.

Meanwhile, Tarn faced off against Megatron.  Despite the mask on his face, the amount of joy he would take tearing his former Decepticon Lord to pieces was prevalent in his optics.  “This is it, Megatron,” he said smoothly, baring his double-fusion cannon as he slowly paced a circle around him.  “Once you are dead I will be able to return to my purpose.  Bringing the vision you once believed in to life, one traitor’s life at a time.”

Megatron glared at him.  His gaze flickered to Impactor’s fight with Helex and Tesarus.  The Wrecker may have been large, if still smaller than his two opponents, but he was quick and that was his advantage.  As long as he could keep out of their grasps he’d be fine.  But the silver captain couldn’t activate the panic bubble and enact his plan with Impactor so close.  He had no qualms about taking his own life, but if he was willing to sacrifice a mech who had nothing to do with his atonement… he might as well have never grown.  Never learned.

“Nothing to say?” Tarn asked mockingly.  He was waiting.  Waiting for the right opportunity to strike.  “You’re not even thinking of attacking me, are you?  No, you know you stand no chance.”

Megatron looked back to him, making sure to keep himself in a defensive stance no matter what side of him Tarn was on.  He wouldn’t let him get behind, though.  The black and purple mech was the kind who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot him in the back.  “There is more to fighting than that, Tarn.  You know this,” he muttered.  “It’s not about overpowering your enemy.”  It’s about out-thinking them.

 

---

 

Inside the fortress’s medbay, Nautica ran forward to where Skids was lying on the repair berth.  She threw her arms around him, Velocity putting a hand on her shoulder.

After a moment, Skids lifted one of his arms.  He put a hand on Nautica’s helm while smiling.  “Hey, Nautica.  Lottie.”

“You dummy, you had me so worried!” Nautica huffed, punching his arm.

“Sorry about that,” the blue and red mech grinned weakly.  “Ratchet says I’m gonna be okay, though.”

“He was touch and go for a while, but Pseudo managed to keep him calm enough for me to help get him through the hardest part,” the elder medic nodded.

Pseudo was wrapped deep in his creator’s arms.  “My good little darling…” Perceptor muttered, hugging him tight.  Being as he hadn’t been in the thick of the battle, he was far less worse-for-wear than the rest of the crew whose Outlier powers wore off.

“That’s incredible,” Velocity admitted.  She looked around.  “Where’s Maximus, by the way?”

“Resting,” the scientist answered.  “Being as the spark spasm effected his load bearing, it wearing off hit him especially hard.”

“You guys should be watching this!” Runescribe called from where she, Rodimus, and Drift were watching the battle between Megatron, Impactor, and the three remaining DJD members.  “This is gold!  I have so much material for my books!  And Rewind and Swerve’s conscience attack or whatever did something, cause Deathsaurus and the rest of the army is…”  She turned to look at them and stopped.  “…oh, no…”

Those who weren’t preoccupied with the battle turned to the door, where she was staring.  Tailgate and First Aid were carrying in the largely damaged Appulse.

“Appulse!” Velocity left Skids’s berthside, running over.  She helped them guide the half-Wrecker to one of the available tables.  “What happened to him?” she asked.

“Vos happened to him,” First Aid replied grimly.

“On the upside, Impactor took care of that problem,” Tailgate added, having been updated to what had happened before he showed up as well as having explained what First Aid had missed briefly in return.

“Frag,” Ratchet muttered, leaving where he had been stabilizing Ravage.  There wasn’t anything else he could do to keep the feline alive.  It would be up to his own sheer willpower at this point for him to stay that way.  Eventually he’d die, there was nothing they could do for that.  He moved over to Appulse.  “Velocity, get the tool kit from the second shelving unit.  The big one.  First Aid, there’s still some spare transmetal in the storage room to the right.  We’ll need as much as you can get us.”  As the younger medics ran to prepare for the operation, he put a hand on First Aid’s shoulder, stopping him briefly.  “Also?  Welcome back, First Aid.”

First Aid smiled a bit back.  “You too, Ratchet,” he replied.  He then ran off to get to work.

Pseudo jumped out of his creator’s arms, running over to the repair berth and climbing on.  Runescribe joined behind him.  “Oh, frag,” the femme muttered, putting a hand on Appulse’s forehelm.  “Things were looking so good when you guys got back.  For the odds we had, one casualty wasn’t too bad.”

“Thanks a lot…” Ravage managed on the berth next to them.

“Sorry, no offense,” the black and white femme said awkwardly.  “It’s a shame you had to get… uh… torn in half and everything.”

“…Not helping…”

“Okay, no more talking to my patients,” Ratchet huffed, shooing her away.  He picked Pseudo off of the table as well.  “And you can’t be up there while we work.”

Pseudo looked at him, then back to Appulse worriedly.  He was able to help with Skids, but there was nothing he could do about this.  That hurt more than anything, especially since Appulse meant so much to him.

“We’ll get him repaired up,” Velocity assured Pseudo as she brought the tray table with their tools over, patting his helm.  “I promise, everything’s going to be okay.”

Pseudo looked at her a moment, then nodded.  Still, he chose to stay nearby.

“How are things looking out there?” Perceptor asked as he joined Rodimus and Drift at the monitor.  Runescribe had rejoined them again, since she was now barred from the actual repair area.

“I’m worried,” Rodimus admitted.  “I mean… Megatron isn’t really fighting back.”  He watched as the former tyrant dodged a blast from Tarn’s double fusion cannon, jumping back into a defensive stance.  “Was Tarn telling the truth?  Is Megatron not strong enough?”

“Guys,” Whirl entered the room, sounding puzzled.  “We’re millions of miles away from Cybertron, stuck on a hollow planet that no one’s supposed to know about.  Can someone please explain to me what my arm was doing in one of the cupboards?”

 

---

 

Impactor wasn’t having the best of times.  Well, that wasn’t completely true.  There was little in his life he found more fun than fighting two hulking Decepticons that were determined to melt him and then rip him to shreds.  Not necessarily in that order.

The Wrecker had actually managed to get some really good shots in.  One of Helex’s larger arms was a smoldering heap on the ground thanks to his shoulder cannon, but that had just infuriated the incinerator enough for him to grab Impactor’s cannon and rip it clean off.  That wasn’t particularly the worst injury, or most painful, he’d ever gotten in his career.  Probably the most poorly timed, though.  After that he’d taken out half of the X-shaped optics Tesarus bore, half-blinding him.  The swipe came with a price, though, as Tesarus managed to grab him by the arm, pulling him towards the whirling turbine of his shredder.

Impactor had caught himself by the other arm on Tesarus’s side.  He dug his servos in and pushed back.  Tesarus was pulling hard, but as long as he had his balance Impactor was fine.

So, naturally, Helex took the opportunity to grab him by the legs and push himself forward so he could try and stuff Impactor’s lower half into his incinerator.

‘Great,’ Impactor thought.  He was far less panicked than most people would be.  ‘Rock, meet hard place.’  He wrenched his left pede out of Helex’s grasp, being as that was the side where he only had one small arm.  He propped that on the side of Helex’s incinerator and held.  Both mechs were pushing themselves forward to try and half-roast and half-shred the Wrecker.

“You’re not strong enough to keep that up forever,” Tesarus mocked.  “And you’re all out of weapons that could help you.”

“Oh, you think I am?” Impactor asked casually.  He opened his chestplate where the missiles he kept there were.  They were usually a last resort, being as he could only use them once before needing to reload them.  But this qualified well as an emergency.

“What do you think you’re gonna do with those?” Helex asked.  “You can’t hit us facing the ground.”

“No, but I can hit exactly what I’m aiming for,” Impactor grunted as his arm almost buckled.  That was the sign he had to stop snarking and start firing.

Impactor wasn’t far from the ground, so he felt the impact from the explosion more than the other two did.  The scattering debris forced Tesarus to back away and let go, though.  Helex was now the only one pushing forward and stumbled, also dropping his grip on the black and yellow Wrecker.

Impactor hit the ground and rolled himself backwards, right between Helex’s legs.  He used the momentum of Tesarus catching his balance and Helex trying not to fall forward to kick the incinerator in the aft with both legs.

“Oh, fra-!”  That was all Helex could get out before the two could register what was happening.  He fell right into Tesarus’s still spinning turbines, helm-first.

“Helex!” Tesarus shouted in panic, deactivating his turbines.  It was too late, though, as the form of Helex that slumped to the ground was missing everything from his chestplate up.  The rest of him was scattered as scrap-metal on the ground behind the white and red DJD member.  All Tesarus could do was stare in shock at what they’d done.  He then clenched his dentae, roaring in rage at the Wrecker who was recovering from the impact of his point-blank missile launch.  “You’re going to pay for that!” he screamed, charging.

Impactor was still laying on the ground, so he didn’t have time to lash out himself.  Instead, he rolled back onto his back.  As Tesarus pounced for him, he pushed his legs to either side of the giant turbine, using Tesarus’s own momentum to launch him further.

Tarn had stopped his attack on Megatron upon witnessing the demise of Helex.  He did nothing but watch as Tesarus bounced off the ground near them, stopping himself from rolling too far right next to them.

Megatron realized this was his one chance and initiated the panic bubble, trapping Tarn and Tesarus inside with him.  Impactor was far enough on the outside that he was now safe.

Impactor swore loudly, pushing himself up and running over to the force field.  He pounded on it, yelling.  “You fragging idiot!  We could have beaten them without this!” he demanded.

Megatron didn’t look at him.  This wasn’t about defeating the DJD.  It wasn’t even about killing them.  It was about making a statement.  Tarn was his main target, but he’d been hoping to get more DJD members in there to put a more poignant full-stop at the end of it.  With Impactor having killed two of them, and Primus only knew what happened to Kaon, he would have to settle for Tesarus and Tarn.  Oh, but Tarn was his main target.  He needed to personally make sure that there wasn’t even a shred of chance Tarn would be able to come back from this, unlike Overlord.

And he had to make sure he was no longer there to influence another Tarn.

Impactor thought facing down his now fully-realized sparkmate for the first time in seven and a half meta-cycles had been the most helpless feeling in the universe.  He had no idea until Megatron – the mech he spent the last four million years despising, but the years before that considering his best friend – had locked him out with the intention of committing suicide.  He didn’t care about the circumstances of Megatron suddenly being an Autobot.  He didn’t care whether or not they’d be able to move past having been enemies for so long after it.  All he knew was that at that moment Megatron was his teammate, his partner, and he was about to do something epically stupid.

This wasn’t the Wreckers.  Megatron wasn’t one of them.

There was no reason he had to die for this mission.

Then Megatron started bleeding dark matter from his optics.

That couldn’t be good.

Impactor watched Tesarus – no, apparently Scissorsaw – get torn to shreds.  Watched Megatron turn his ferocity on Tarn.  The look of utter malice in his now dark matter-filled optics as the stuff filled the panic bubble.  Watched him tear the mask off, put it over his Autobot badge, and declare his intention to die right there.

Impactor backed away from the bubble.  There was nothing he could do.  He hated to admit that to himself, because Wreckers never gave up.  But he’d never faced a situation even close to this one before.  First Aid had talked so much about how the Lost Lighters always found a way to make things work out.  How could they possibly…?

The answer came in the form of Rodimus suddenly appearing inside the bubble, clutching a briefcase in one hand.  He desperately reached out to Megatron, begging him to take his hand.

In that moment Impactor understood how much the universe had changed and left him behind while he was out of commission.

There was a time when Rodimus - really where any Autobot, but especially Rodimus - would have gladly watched Megatron blow himself up with a dark matter bomb.  But here he was, trying to save him.  No, he was begging Megatron to let him save him.  In those brief seconds before Megatron allowed himself to reach back out to Rodimus and be pulled out of danger, Impactor could see something he didn’t expect.  He would have understood if Rodimus was doing this out of duty.  Out of loyalty, maybe.  But no, his optics flashed so openly, even visible through the shroud of dark matter, with care.  He didn’t just want to save Megatron because he was obligated to.  Not for the sake of his conscience, or to spare someone else mourning him.  He didn’t want to lose Megatron.

The Wrecker wondered if Rodimus even realized he felt that way.

Before they disappeared from inside the bubble, Megatron looked at Impactor and pointed at the building in the distance.  He yelled one word as he disappeared.  “RUN!”

Impactor didn’t need to be told twice.  Even contained in the force field, there was no guarantee there wouldn’t be collateral to this explosion.  He had to get as far as possible.

 

-----

 

Appulse came back online slowly.  Everything hurt.  Even parts of himself that he didn’t know existed hurt.  What had happened?

Necroworld.  Decepticon army.  The largest battle with the worst odds in history.

Vos.

Impactor?

Creator!

Despite the pain, Appulse sat up quickly.  He forced his optics through the static of rebooting them.

“Whoa, kid!” Ratchet’s vocals pierced through the fuzziness, and he felt the older medic’s hands on his chestplate.  “Calm down, take it slow.  You’re not completely well yet.”

Appulse watched Ratchet come into focus as he shook his helm.  “What… what happened?  Where’s creator?” he asked groggily.

“First Aid’s with the others,” Ratchet said softly.  “I’ll call him and…”  He trailed off.  Ratchet knew perfectly well how much Appulse despised his sire.  Maybe it would be best not to ask him to come.

“No, I’m good,” Appulse surprised him by saying.  He then swung his legs off the berth and wobbled unsteadily.  “I can go look for him myself.”

“Kid, you just got patched up from getting your sorry aft torn to shreds yesterday,” Ratchet pointed out testily.  “You’re not-”

“Wait, yesterday?” Appulse asked in shock.  “I’ve been out an entire day?  What… what happened?  The battle…?”

“Well, obviously we won,” Ratchet pointed out, trying to push him back onto the berth.

“I… I have to go make sure the others are okay!” Appulse insisted, snaking around Ratchet’s hold and leaving.  He couldn’t go as fast as he wanted, but Ratchet knew he couldn’t stop him if he wanted to.  His sire’s youngling indeed.  Impactor hadn’t let Ratchet or Velocity near himself, and only let First Aid patch him up minimally before declaring himself fine.

Appulse left the medbay and made his way down the hall, though he became very confused very quickly.  There were a lot more people here than when the battle had happened.  And he didn’t know any of them.  He thought they may be deserters from the DJD’s army, but a lot of them were wearing Autobot badges.

“Do you really think we could do it?”

“Minimus, did you just ask the two greatest geniuses on Cybertron if they can deconstruct your Maximus armor and then put it back together as your Magnus armor again?”

Appulse followed the sound of the voices, finding himself back in the laboratory Perceptor and Brainstorm had used to make the Maximus armor.  Said armor was standing in the corner, the two scientists, Minimus Ambus, and Pseudo standing within.

“Aww, Perce…” Brainstorm was saying, looking legitimately touched.  “Did… did you just call me the smartest person you know?”

“Besides myself?  I think you’ve earned the title,” Perceptor chuckled.

Pseudo perked up at the sound of Appulse’s pedesteps, turning to the door quickly.  He jumped up and down excitedly at the sight of the other half-Wrecker, running over and jumping into Appulse’s arms.

Appulse caught him and hissed, though he managed to not swear.  “Hey, Pseudo,” he said affectionately.  “Watch the chestplate, I’m still sore.”

“I would say so,” Perceptor said disapprovingly.  “Shouldn’t you still be resting?”

“Nah, I’m fine.  Just hurts to move.  Or stand still.  Or sit.  Or… really, it hurts to do anything.  But I’m good, I swear,” Appulse replied, shifting Pseudo to hold him with one arm.

“Still, you shouldn’t be straining yourself,” Minimus pointed out.  “Pseudo, down.”  He was taller than his usual Minimus self, suggesting they’d already used the scraps left over from their Maximus project to make him a bigger Minimus armor.  It really was hard to tell most of the time exactly how large his actual form was.  They’d seen it back when they retrieved him from Tyrest, but Appulse had only seen it briefly.

Before Appulse could insist that he was okay again, Pseudo nodded in understanding and slipped out of his arms.  He landed gracefully on the floor, though he didn’t return to his creators’ sides.

“Have you guys seen my creator?” Appulse asked, putting a hand on the artist’s helm.

“Last I saw First Aid, he and Impactor were in the main room,” Brainstorm said.  “I think Impactor was having a reunion with Megatron and… uh… Terminus, yeah.  That was the old mech’s name.”

“Sweet, thanks,” Appulse waved to them, turning to leave.  When Pseudo went to follow, he glanced down.  “You coming with me?”

Pseudo nodded, still smiling.  Appulse smiled back, glad to see the youngling happy again after how miserable he was before the battle.

As they left, Brainstorm turned back to the conjux endurae.  “Alright, so we determined we definitely can make the Magnus armor out of this if we deconstruct it,” he said to them.  He then smirked.  “Now, the question is do you want us to?  Cause… look, I’ve seen how you look at him in the Maximus armor, Perce.”

Perceptor’s faceplate tinted a bit, and he crossed his arms over his chestplate.  “How I look at my conjux endura is none of your concern, Brainstorm.”

“I feel that you’re violating at least four sexual harassment rules for the Lost Light right now,” Minimus agreed testily.

“One, we’re not on the Lost Light.  They left our afts behind,” Brainstorm reminded them.  “And two… it’s not sexual harassment, I’m just pointing out the obvious.  I mean… it will take us a few days to be able to draw out proper plans for a new Magnus armor.  You’ve got time, so I suppose as long as you use it well…”

Perceptor looked to Minimus, who raised an optic ridge at him.  He then looked back up at the armor for a moment before glancing away.  His mouth quirked up in a hint of a smirk.  “Well… I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to have it around for a few days…”

Appulse and Pseudo made their way down towards the main area of the building – no longer a fortress since they weren’t in danger.  Passing by one of the rooms, they heard some strange noises going on inside.  It sounded like two people were scuffling almost.  Worried, Appulse put his audial against the door to make sure everything was okay.

That’d been unnecessary, as no one could have mistaken the distinct, “Oh, frag, Drift, harder!” that emanated from it.  A few ‘bots passing by stopped a moment before moving on with themselves, rolling their optics.  The red and black mech’s faceplate flushed heavily, covering Pseudo’s audials and shoving him down the hall.

“Primus, Rodimus,” Drift huffed into Rodimus’s audial, though he didn’t quit the thrusting of his spike deep in his captain’s hot, wet valve.  In fact, he complied with the very loud request, repositioning himself for a better angle.  “I don’t think the entire building needed to know what we were doing in here.”

The only response the spiritualist received was Rodimus’s servos wrapping around his helm to kiss him, glossa invading his mouth.  The red and orange co-captain’s heavy venting and moaning, mingling with his own of both, and the heavy clanking of their hips impacting with every rough thrust were the only sounds after that.

In the main hall of Censere’s building, most of the crew was gathered and talking either with each other or the new additions.  The sun was shining through the now wide-open windows lining it.  Seas of blue flowers were painted pink with the energon of the bodies from their battle, but they’d at least moved the corpses that had surrounded the immediate area.  Tailgate was telling stories of his accomplishments throughout the battle in the middle of the room.  He boasted enthusiastically, but every once in a while would calm himself when Cyclonus shot him a warning look.

Off to the side, Skids, Swerve, Nautica, and Velocity were sitting and talking seriously amongst themselves.  “Skids, you have to tell him,” Velocity said.

“I know,” Skids replied, looking uncomfortable.  “I will.  Brainstorm’s… he’s just really busy right now.”

“I dunno, guys,” Swerve muttered.  “I mean… I know I talk way more than necessary most of the time, but even I don’t think telling Brainstorm is a good idea.  What’s it going to accomplish?  Best case scenario, he hates Skids forever.  Worst case, he kills Skids in a new and probably creative and inventive way.”

“Swerve’s making a good point,” the theoretician said nervously.

“Skids,” Nautica put a hand on his knee.  “We’ve been over this.  Brainstorm deserves to know.  He invented a time travelling briefcase to go back and stop the war from ever happening, mostly because he never knew what actually happened to Quark.  I can’t even imagine being that in love with a person.  But if I was, I would want to know the truth behind how they died.”

Skids took in a deep vent.  “You’re right,” he muttered.  “I’ll tell him next time he’s taking a break from… whatever he and Perceptor are doing.”

Appulse and Pseudo passed the four, raising their hands in a quick greeting.  They were given cheerful acknowledgements in return, Appulse getting a ‘welcome back’ from them, as well as a ‘good job not dying’ from Swerve.

The next person they actually knew that they ran into was Runescribe.  She sat in front of one of the massive windows.  Her servos were typing rapidly at her datapad, but every once in a while she’d look outside and tap her pede.

“Hey, Scribe,” Appulse called, approaching.

“Oh, hey,” the femme’s attention was tugged over to him.  “Welcome back to the world of the living.”

“Thanks.  What’re you doing?”

“Going through my notes and the footage Rewind uploaded to my datapad from the battle.  It’s keeping me distracted from being… worried, I guess.”

“About what?” Appulse asked, glancing at Pseudo.  The youngling didn’t look back to him.  His attention was fully on Runescribe.  So Appulse returned his there, too.

“Nightbeat,” the author ex-vented.  “He and the shrink left before the fight.  It’s nearly been an entire day.  What if they’re lost?  Or hurt?  Or…”  She trailed off, looking at the ground.  It was the first time since they met that she looked uncomfortable even saying the word ‘dead.’

“I’m sure if they’re gone much longer we’ll get the co-captains to approve a search party,” Appulse assured her.  He didn’t mention that Megatron wouldn’t be hard, as he felt affection for Rung.  That was the silver mech’s business, not anyone else’s.

“Yeah, I guess,” Runescribe muttered, looking back at the battlefield.  “Is this what it feels like to like someone enough to hope they’ll come back?”

Appulse watched her green optics sweep the energon-covered flowers for a moment.  “You ever going to tell me why you’re so stubbornly opposed to trying to get close to people?”

Runescribe didn’t get angry like he expected.  Instead, she chuckled.  “Maybe someday.  It’s a long story.”  She turned back to them and bent down, patting Pseudo on the helm.  “You two go on.  I know you didn’t come all the way here to bug me.”

“Yeah,” Appulse smiled back.  “Don’t worry, things will be fine.  You’ll see.”  He shrugged, turning to find who he came looking for.  “We survived the DJD and their psycho army.  What could the universe find harder than that?”

“Don’t jinx us!”

Pseudo turned to follow, but stopped a moment.  He looked at Runescribe and waved his hand in a direction for her to lean down.  She looked at him puzzled, but did as he requested.  The youngling reached up when she was in range, mirroring the pat she’d given him.

Runescribe looked surprised, but smiled deeper.  “You little brat,” she laughed, pushing him after Appulse.  “Get out of here.”

Appulse looked back at her one last time, watching her bring her datapad back up to concentrate on her work again.  He then glanced at Pseudo.  “You know she appreciates minimal contact, don’t you?” he asked.  “That’s why you didn’t give her a hug like you normally would.”

Pseudo just smiled at him.

Travelling a bit further down, they finally found their targets.

Megatron and Impactor were standing and talking to another large, grey mech.  He was much older looking, though the same model as Megatron himself, and was detailed with the cautionary decals the miners on Messatine wore when they worked in the mines.  Appulse bore a couple of them himself, having helped there a few times when he could sneak away from Delphi.  He’d always liked them, seeing no reason to take them off.  First Aid stood off to the side, not looking uncomfortable or ignored, but rather like he was enjoying just watching.

“I feel like I’ve missed everything,” Terminus, who the other mech had to be, was saying.  “As long as I have been gone, you’ve both changed so much.  It feels like the resetting of an optic for me.”

“To be honest, it doesn’t feel like it’s been four million years for me, either,” Impactor grunted.  “Especially since I spent most of it tryin’ to kill this idiot.”  He nodded towards Megatron.

“Life takes us in directions we never intended,” the tyrant simply replied.  “Even when you think you’ve figured out the next course, you never see the branching paths ahead until it is too late.”

“Ugh,” the Wrecker huffed, rolling his optics.  “More poetry.”

First Aid gave a light giggle behind him, then noticed the approaching young mechs.  “Ah, Appulse!  Pseudo!” he waved at them.  “Ratchet contacted me and said you were released.  Or rather that you released yourself.  I didn’t realize you became a medic in the time I was gone.”  His teasing was only slightly betrayed by the worry in his visor.

“I wasn’t staying in there when I knew you were out here again,” Appulse grinned, walking over and kissing his creator on the cheek.

Impactor thought it best to give Appulse a moment to enjoy his reunion with First Aid before the awkwardness of their own official meeting.  So he turned his attention to Pseudo.  They actually hadn’t formally met themselves, yet.  He had the feeling that for one reason or another Perceptor was on the list of people avoiding him.  And being as Pseudo was perpetually with his creators that meant the youngling was never around him.  “You’re Pseudo, right?” he asked.

Pseudo looked up to him.  His optics were analyzing the Wrecker.  Despite the fact that those huge, blue optics were so much more expressive than Perceptor’s, they still had the same look in them when he looked at new people.  Like he was trying to figure them out in that one shot.  Honestly?  Impactor didn’t like it.  He never liked people trying know him.  He supposed he had to get over that with his second chance he was getting with First Aid, though.

“Pseudo,” Megatron’s vocals cut across Impactor.  The youngling immediately looked to him.  “Don’t stare.  Your creators taught you better than that.  It’s rude.”

Pseudo looked sheepish, optics turning to the floor.

“I thought you said he doesn’t understand words,” Impactor pointed out.

“He doesn’t,” Megatron confirmed.  “But he can read vocal intent, body language, EM fields, and optics.  He can also learn word association to a degree.  The easiest for him is associating names with the people who carry them.  The mechling is… I believe Rung used the term ‘Living Lie Detector.’  He’s still trying to figure out how to communicate back as well.  He used to be able to use his vocals to make us… I don’t know how to describe it.  The sounds he would make would resonate in our sparks with certain emotions and intentions.  But now that he’s lost them…”

“You care deeply about him, don’t you?” Terminus spoke up.

“I… what?” Megatron was caught off-guard by the question.

Instead of answering, the elder mech knelt down with some effort in front of Pseudo.  “Hello, Pseudo,” he said gently.

The mechling turned his attention to him.  After a moment, he smiled shyly.  He reached to his side, but stopped in surprise and confusion.  He held his servos in front of himself, looking to Appulse.  The other young mech was still discussing what had happened while First Aid was gone with his creator, though.  He shifted his gaze to Megatron.

“Did you forget your Box?” Megatron asked smartly.

Pseudo nodded.  Without his voice it was the only way he could communicate.

“Box?” Terminus echoed curiously.

The word brought the white and gold mechling’s attention back to the miner, nodding again.  He pointed towards the door he and Appulse had come in.

“I suppose we should retrieve it, then,” Megatron ex-vented.  He only sounded slightly put-off by the news, though.  “Come, Pseudo, shall we?”  With all of the new people walking around, many of which they didn’t know if they could trust, they couldn’t leave Pseudo alone.

“I’ll join you,” Terminus announced, straightening again.  “I wouldn’t mind taking a bit of a walk.”

Pseudo looked between them, nodding more enthusiastically this time.  He took the few steps to be standing next to Megatron, holding his arms up expectantly.

Megatron looked more annoyed this time, ex-venting in frustration.  Still, he reached down and lifted the youngling into his arms.  “I’m going to have a discussion with your sire about how spoiled you’re becoming,” he muttered.  He seemed to be less uncomfortable interacting with Pseudo ever since the meeting Ultra Magnus had brought him to before this had all happened.

Terminus chuckled, following as the co-captain and youngling left.  “Good luck,” he said to Impactor as he passed him, patting his arm.

Impactor looked at him in surprise, then shook his helm.  He should have known there was a scheme in here to get him, First Aid, and Appulse alone.  The older miner may have been frail, but he was shrewd.  He looked back to his sparkmate and youngling.  The medic was checking over an exasperated Appulse’s chestplate to make sure the transmetal had taken and solidified.

“Creator, I’m fine.  Sore, but fine.  We’re not fighting anymore battles, so I have plenty of time for this all to heal,” the red and black half-Wrecker insisted.

“There you are, sounding like a medic again,” First Aid teased.  He straightened back up, satisfied.  “But you’re not wrong.  I don’t see anything damaged.”  He then glanced behind Appulse at Impactor and reset his vocals.  “Appulse, I don’t think you can avoid him forever.  Especially when he’s standing right behind you.”

Appulse tensed, dimming his visor for a moment.  “I can certainly try,” he muttered.  Still, he humored his creator by turning slowly.

The look in his visor actually made Impactor cringe, though he hid it.  The knowledge that he basically deserved it didn’t help.  “So,” he said awkwardly, rubbing the back of his helm with his good hand.  The crew had luckily let him keep the harpoon on his right hand, mostly through a lot of insistence from First Aid and guarantees he wouldn’t attack any of the Decepticons or Megatron out of reflex.  “You’re Appulse, then.”

“Last I checked,” Appulse replied dryly.  He crossed his arms over his chestplate in challenging defiance.  He had no fear of Impactor, which was a new sensation.  “And you’re Impactor.  Which, unfortunately, makes you my sire.”

“Appulse…” First Aid warned gently.

“No, it’s fine,” Impactor nodded to him, though he didn’t take his optics off of the mech in front of him.  Appulse was just shorter than him, and looked a decent mix of the two.  His red and black chassis was indicative of both his creators, though his gold helm and blue visor were distinctly Impactor and First Aid respectively.  He could see why Blurr had said Appulse looked just like him, having the same body type.  Not to mention his stance, sneer, and combative attitude.  Primus, he really was their kid.  Impactor knew it when he saw him out on the battlefield, and even watching him heal up in the medbay.  But standing here with him, it was irrefutable.

“Where were you the last eight meta-cycles?” Appulse challenged.

“That’s… a long story,” Impactor muttered.  “If it makes you feel any better, I was near-dead for most of it.”  He had to be prepared to answer any questions Appulse had.  To earn what little trust he could for the time being.

Appulse’s optic ridge lifted, as if he were considering it.  He then huffed.  “It really doesn’t.  Because the real question I should be asking is why you didn’t stay.”

Impactor prepared for that one.  “Because I thought at the time that the nicest thing I could do was not be there.  I didn’t think I could be a sire, or a sparkmate.”

“Well, good job,” Appulse spat bitterly.  “You proved yourself right on both accounts.”

Impactor noticeably cringed at that one.  Ouch.

“Appulse, that’s-!” First Aid tried again.

“No, I need to say this,” Appulse cut him off this time.  He was much gentler with his creator than he was with his sire, though.  He turned back to Impactor.  “I don’t care what you said to creator to get him to let you back into his life after one frag.  Pit, you probably didn’t have to do much.  His creator protocols are so sensitive all you probably had to do was show up.”

It was First Aid’s turn to cringe, looking away uncomfortably.  Partially because Appulse wasn’t wrong.  He didn’t need any convincing to let Impactor into his life.

The Wrecker himself clenched his dentae, getting angry this time.  “Hey, this is about you and me!” he growled at his youngling.  “Don’t you drag First Aid into this!”

“Oh, now you care?” Appulse snapped.  “You didn’t care enough to stay after you knocked him up with me, but having me tell the truth about you two?  No, then you suddenly feel the need to protect him.”  Before either could object he stepped forward, shoving a servo into Impactor’s faceplate.  “Do you know what we’ve been through since you abandoned us?  How much danger we’ve been through?  How many times we could have died?  How many of our friends did die?  You’re my sire!  You’re supposed to be here to protect us!  But instead you went running off at the first sign that you might have responsibilities that don’t involve you being a fragging murderer!

“Appulse, that’s enough!” First Aid finally stepped forward, grabbing his youngling’s arm and pulling it down.  He stood between them, facing Appulse.  “I think it’s time for you to go back to the medbay, Appulse.”

“I’m not-!”

“Yes, you are!” First Aid shouted over him.  He hadn’t sounded this livid since they first joined the Lost Light and he found Appulse drinking and betting.  Even his words reflected it, as for the first time in years he shouted, “Medical office, Appulse!  Now!

The red and black mech shut his mouth and made a frustrated sound, moving around his creator to do as he was told.  He purposefully pushed past Impactor, knocking into his shoulder with his own.  He avoided anyone else, though, as he stormed out of the crowded room.  First Aid was starting to notice a pattern of embarrassing moments of his life happening where large groups of people could witness it.

Everyone had quieted for the occasion.  The conversation between Nautica, Skids, and their friends had died out.  Tailgate was holding onto Cyclonus’s arm, watching worriedly.  Runescribe wasn’t even writing anything, though this likely would have made for great material.  She at least had enough class not to use her friend bickering with his creators as inspiration.

Impactor watched Appulse go, but couldn’t muster the same amount of anger at the words that First Aid had.

“I’m so sorry about that,” First Aid said, taking Impactor’s arm and gazing up at him with his wide, blue visor.  “I knew he’d be angry, but I never imagined…”

“No, it’s fine,” Impactor admitted.  “He’s not wrong.  I don’t like hearing it, but that’s the worst part of the truth, isn’t it?”  He grunted out something that could have been a dark chuckle.  “Megatron and I have been enemies for four million years now, hoping to be the first to kill each other.  Didn’t think he’d be the easy one for me to deal with.”

“Appulse didn’t have to say it the way he did,” First Aid said lightly, leaning his helm on Impactor’s arm.  “And you’re right.  He isn’t wrong.  It honestly probably is just the protocols that are making me want you in my life.  At least, at first it might have been.  But I truly want to try, protocols or not.  I want to be able to say that… even if we don’t work, at least we tried.”

Impactor looked down at him, putting a hand on his helm affectionately.  “Agreed.  It’s just going to make things a lot harder if Appulse hates me, you know.”

“I know.  I’ll talk to him.  Maybe I can get him to at least give you a chance, if nothing else.  You saved his life.  That has to account for something.”

 

---

 

Appulse marched to the medbay as he was told, anger coursing through his energon lines.  He didn’t think it would be this hard.  He knew eventually he’d have to face his sire, and he thought he was ready.

But he wasn’t.  There was no way to be.

How dare Impactor?  How dare he just waltz into their lives and expect them to just accept him like he hadn’t been gone for literally Appulse’s entire life?

How dare First Aid for letting him do it?  For letting Impactor think that he was welcome just because some fragging creator protocols made him go all gooey for his youngling’s sire?

The half-Wrecker punched the button to open the medbay doors, unsatisfied that they slid open so he didn’t have the opportunity to slam them.  Ratchet barely even looked up from the computer he was typing at, knowing who it would be.  “You should have let me just call First Aid,” he simply said.

“Please tell me there’s Enjex of some sort somewhere around here,” Appulse growled.  He marched over to the cabinets and started pulling them open roughly.  He didn’t actually have hope of it, he just wanted doors he could rough-handle.

“Of course there’s not.  If there was, Swerve would have opened a bar in one of the spare rooms,” Ratchet snorted.  “And don’t break my cabinets.”

Appulse glared at him, but stopped.  He walked over to the repair berth he woke up on, sitting on it heavily.  “I fragging hate him.”

“I know.”

“Who does he think he is?  Being gone for so long, then coming back like he actually cares?”

“How dare he?”

“You know what?  Frag him.  I don’t need him.  This facility is big enough, I can avoid him as long as I need to until we get off this fragging planet.  And when we get the Lost Light back I can avoid him on there, too.  In the years I was there I never talked to a good chunk of the crew.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Will you stop that?!” Appulse snapped at the older medic.

“Stop what?” Ratchet questioned.  “Agreeing with you?”  He kept his tone neutral so Appulse couldn’t read his intentions.

“Doing it so… so condescendingly.  It’s pissing me off.”

Ratchet stopped what he was doing and turned in his seat, getting up.  He walked over and sat on the repair berth across from the red and black mech glaring at him.  “You want to know why I’m treating you like a sparkling?” he asked.

“I was assuming you were just being an aft,” the half-Wrecker muttered.

Ratchet ignored the comment.  “Do you hate Megatron?” he asked bluntly.

Appulse started at the sudden change in topic.  “I… no?  What does that have to do with…?”

“Why not?” Ratchet continued.  “He’s responsible for the deaths of billions of lifeforms.  The largest chunk of it Cybertronian.  He was a tyrannical monster who committed mass genocide on more planets than we can probably count.”

“I don’t… that’s not how he is anymore!  He’s trying to be better!” Appulse argued.

“How do you know?  How do you know it’s not an elaborate ruse he’s using to secure himself into our ranks so he can murder us all and escape?”

“He wouldn’t do that!  He’s not a bad person!”

“What makes Impactor a bad person?”

That question stopped Appulse.  He looked away from the older medic, chewing his bottom lip component.  “Impactor hurt us…” he muttered.  “He’s been hurting us for eight meta-cycles.”

“So he’s bad because he’s hurt you and First Aid personally,” Ratchet said, following the line of logic Appulse was trying to use.  “That means Megatron isn’t a bad person because he didn’t hurt you or your creator.”

“That’s not-!”

“Would you like to know how many times he hurt me?”

Appulse snapped his lip components shut.  He stared at Ratchet as if he had grown a second helm.

Ignoring the look, Ratchet continued.  “I couldn’t even tell you.  All of my friends he’s killed.  How many times I’ve almost died at the servos of both him and his fanatics.  My life turned into a living hell because of Megatron and the Decepticons.  I should hate him.  I have every reason to.”

Appulse took the next pause to speak again.  “You don’t hate him?”

“No.  I don’t like him, but I don’t hate him anymore,” Ratchet ex-vented.  “Because I think you’re right.  No matter what his intentions were coming on our ship, I think he came to actually start wanting to be a better person.  And on some level, no matter how small, I can respect that.  Change is hard, especially for us.  Cybertronian society is often stagnant, and its people end up being that way as well as a result.  But I’m starting to believe that when someone wants to, truly wants to, they can defy all expectations.  More importantly, they can defy their past.”

Appulse sat and thought of those words.  Of what Ratchet was implying about not just Megatron, but at the core of the lesson Impactor.  That he was trying to change, just like so many others in this peacetime.  Appulse thought of Starscream, who he heard was a devious snake in the Decepticons, but had become the rightful and legal ruler of Cybertron.  He was trying to do right by the planet, even if he wasn’t going about it the right way.  He thought of Blurr, who used to be a racer who thrived on fame and attention, and now was a dedicated bar owner with enough self-awareness not to allow a smitten youngling make the same mistakes he used to.  And of course, Megatron, who was trying his best to go from being the reason the universe hated Cybertronians to part of the solution.

“I’m not asking you to forgive Impactor.  No more than I expect to ever forgive Megatron, myself.  Because I don’t think I ever will, and I shouldn’t.  I don’t expect anyone to forgive everything that happened, everything Megatron did in his past.  The hardest thing for anyone to admit is that Getaway wasn’t wrong,” Ratchet continued.  “Giving someone like Megatron a second chance should never have happened.  But his approach to it wasn’t right either.  He’s so blinded by his hatred of Megatron that he doesn’t see where the line between himself and Megatron is.”  The medic pushed himself off of the berth and stepped up to Appulse, putting a hand on his shoulderplate.  “Kid… don’t turn into another Getaway.  Don’t let your hatred and anger for Impactor blind you so much that you’ll hurt the people around you to get back at him.  Because I know the last thing you want to do is hurt the people you love.”

Appulse looked at him, venting in deeply.  He then let it out, deflating.  “Frag it all…” he muttered.  “Why does this slag have to be so complicated?”

“Life always will be,” Ratchet smiled wryly, patting him before going back to his computer.  “It’ll get easier when you’re older.  But not by much.”

Appulse let out a dry chuckle of his own finally, leaning back against the repair berth.

A few minutes later, First Aid appeared at the door, still looking stern.  “Appulse?” he called.

His youngling stood up from the repair berth, looking sheepish.  “Hey, creator,” he said lightly.

At his look, First Aid softened a bit.  “Appulse,” he vented the name softly this time, walking forward and throwing his arms around his much taller youngling.  He felt Appulse’s arms immediately close around him in return.  “I know you’re having a hard time with Impactor being here, but…”

“I’m sorry,” Appulse cut him off.  When First Aid pulled away and looked up at him in surprise, he continued.  “I was being an aft.  You didn’t deserve it and… neither did Impactor.  I guess… I can give him a chance.”

First Aid’s visor widened, looking from Appulse to Ratchet at his computer.  He huffed.  “Did you talk to my youngling while I wasn’t here?”

“Someone’s gotta be a responsible adult around here,” Ratchet replied.

First Aid laughed a bit, looking back to his youngling.  “Thank you, Appulse.  This means so much to me.  It’ll mean a lot to Impactor, too.”

“First time he frags it up, I’m kicking his aft from here to his own monument on this Primus forsaken planet,” Appulse replied.

The young medic almost raised his vocals, but then noticed the smile on his youngling’s lips.  “Fair enough,” he chuckled.  He pulled Appulse’s faceplate down and nuzzled it affectionately.  “I love you, Appulse.”

“You, too, creator.”

 

-----

 

“Ratchet really got him to give me a chance?” Impactor asked First Aid as they lay on the berth in their quarters.

It had been hard finding space for all of the bots, both old and newly acquired, in Censere’s fortress.  Rodimus had insisted that couples would get priority for private quarters, but that was only to be expected from the co-captain who was extremely excited for the return of his sparkmate.  The two weren’t even hiding it anymore, daring anyone to say something about their relationship.

“He says he’ll try, anyway,” First Aid assured him, snuggling into the crook of Impactor’s underarm.  “As angry as he’s been for so long, it’s the best we can really ask for.”

“I’ll take it,” Impactor chuckled.  “I still don’t blame him if he wants to give me another verbal lashing.  That was an impressive one he did there.”

“Yes, he’s had plenty of practice,” First Aid chuckled.  “He’s not the kind of person who censors himself.”

“Good to know,” Impactor gave a light one back.  He looked down at the medic snuggling into him and let out a growl of frustration.  He suddenly rolled over so he was looming over the medic lying underneath him.

“Impactor?” First Aid inquired in surprise.

“I know you’ve been wanting to hold off on the interfacing, prove some kind of point,” the Wrecker muttered, leaning down and nibbling on First Aid’s neck lines.  It gained a sharp vent inwards.  “But I really want to frag you right now, doc.”

“I wonder where Appulse gets his lack of filter…” First Aid joked, though he didn’t push him away this time.

Impactor didn’t answer, nipping and biting his way down the medic’s neck.  He wasn’t the kissing type, instead sticking with nips and licks as he worked his glossa and servos into seams down First Aid’s chestplate and midsection.  The red and white mech squirmed and whined under him, cooling vents whirring to life as he both felt and watched the Wrecker worship his chassis with his hand and mouth.

“I wanna do something different than when we met,” Impactor muttered, moving further down and lifting First Aid’s legs over his shoulders.  He nipped the wires of First Aid’s left thigh, eliciting a moan.  He’d removed his harpoon, becoming used to doing so when they went to bed together.  Even when they weren’t being intimate, it felt safer to leave it off.

“D-different?” First Aid vented heavily.  His visor was unfocused, but that didn’t matter.  All he could see at the moment was Impactor between his legs, and that was all he needed.

“Without a heat cycle in the way, I have time to do more,” Impactor explained, running his left servos from the medic’s aft up to his interface cover.  He could feel the heat building underneath it.  “I wanna make you overload more than once tonight.”

“Mmmm…” a light moan was all the red and white medic could manage, nodding his approval of the plan.  He’d never overloaded more than once before, though it wasn’t surprising since outside of their one night stand he’d only ever pleasured himself.

“Open your valve panel, then,” Impactor demanded.  With another moan, there was a click and First Aid’s panel practically snapped open

 Impactor gave a small smirk at the willingness and returned his gaze to the valve he hadn’t seen in seven and a half meta-cycles.  Still beautiful and white, with a red exterior node and lined with the same color inside.  The Wrecker leaned forward the small bit he needed to be face to face with it, blowing gently on the valve array’s slitted opening and node.  He received another gasp and squirm, the lips fluttering prettily at the feeling.  Impactor flicked his glossa out, across the opening and exterior node.  That gifted him a small cry of pleasure from the medic underneath him.

Impactor looked up to see First Aid still watching him, chestplate heaving as he vented desperately.  His visor reflected the heat in his EM field and radiating from his valve perfectly.  The Wrecker smirked at the look, returning his attention down to the valve before him.  He extended his glossa again, but this time he ran it up and down the opening of his valve, every once in a while allowing it to dive inside.  The sounds he was eliciting from First Aid at the treatment were delicious enough, but nothing compared to the taste of his pretty valve and the lubricant that began to leak from it.  It tasted like the sweetest Enjex to him, and was just as intoxicating.  On a couple of passes he pressed and swirled his glossa around First Aid’s exterior node, causing much louder cries to escape him.  The third time he nipped at it gently with his dentae, causing the medic to cry out once again and clench his legs around Impactor’s helm to hold him where he was.

Impactor was quite content to do exactly that as he returned his attention to the opening.  He used his servos to part the swollen lips this time, giving himself a nice view of the canal inside of First Aid’s valve.  The walls inside shuddered and pulsed with pleasure, lubricant flowing a bit more freely now.  The Wrecker finally placed his mouth over the opening, plunging his glossa inside to plunder what he could from it.  First Aid’s hands came down onto his helm, as if his legs weren’t enough to hold him there, and he bucked his hips. 

Impactor’s servos moved up to First Aid’s exterior node, pinching it.  He remembered how much the medic had loved being treated roughly when they did this before, so he pushed down on it and rubbed hard, earning actual words this time.  “Impactor!  Oh, frag, yes!  Don’t st-stop!  Don’t stop!  I’m going to overload, Impactor!”

The Wrecker increased the pace and pressure of his ministrations, pushing his glossa as deep into the hot, wet valve as possible.  After a few more moments of this, First Aid let out a particularly joyful cry and there was a rush of lubricant as he overloaded into Impactor’s mouth.  The Wrecker drank as much of the lubricant as he could, licking it off of his soft valve-lips.

First Aid tensed hard when he overloaded, but then released his grip on Impactor’s helm as he finished.  He vented heavily, going completely limp in Impactor’s grasp as he was completely spent in his overload.  “O-oh… Primus…” he heaved.

“You really did need to get laid…” Impactor teased, crawling up First Aid’s exhausted form.  He nuzzled his faceplate into the red and white medic’s neck again, though he kept his dentae to himself this time.  “I haven’t even fragged you yet and you’re acting like we’re done.”

“Give me a moment…” First Aid insisted, though he felt a small rush of excitement at the idea of them reconnecting physically after so long.

Impactor grunted a bit, but otherwise granted him his wish.  He waited for a couple minutes until First Aid’s venting calmed.  He then pushed himself up, putting his forehelm against First Aid’s and looking him in the optics.  “I need to warn you before we do this,” he said seriously.  “Since you’re not on your heat cycle this time, it means your body isn’t going to automatically ignore how painful interfacing is if you’re new to it.  Even though we already fragged once before, your protocols made it so your body was at its most ready for my spike.  We’re gonna take it slow this time, though.”

First Aid’s optics turned just a little worried at the reminder, but he nodded.  “I understand,” he confirmed.  He remembered how big Impactor’s spike was, how intimidated he was even during his heat cycle.  But he wanted this more than anything.

“Good,” Impactor nodded, leaning back.  He sat back between First Aid’s legs, hooking his handless right arm under First Aid’s left leg and lifting his hip components.  He then took his fore and middle servos and ran them up the still wet lips of First Aid’s valve.  The after-warmth of First Aid’s overload made his spike push against his array in need, but he had to prepare him this time.  “I need to get you nice and worked up again.  I also have to stretch you out as best I can,” he explained, parting the lips and pushing them inside.

“Aah… yes…” First Aid vented in, pushing his hips a bit towards it.  Despite his already fulfilled overload, he could feel a new wave of pleasure, if a very small one, rush from his valve into his spark.

Impactor worked slowly as he ran his servos along the soft walls of First Aid’s valve, pushing them gently outwards with each pull and plunge of them inside.  The medic held as still as he could, though he couldn’t help but squirm as he felt sparks of pleasure once again build.  They were slower than with Impactor’s glossa, though that was probably because he wasn’t touching his exterior node this time.  He had the urge to do it himself, but thought better.  He remembered when they fragged on his heat cycle, and Impactor had ordered him not to.  First Aid trusted the Wrecker to take care of him.

As First Aid’s valve began to loosen, Impactor growled a bit in satisfaction of watching the breeding hole open wide whenever he’d scissor his servos and drag them out.  Lubricant was beginning to leak out, coating the Wrecker’s servos with every plunge.  “I’m gonna add one more servo,” he announced, looking to the medic.

First Aid simply nodded his understanding, venting hard and trying hard to hold still.  It was difficult, as he was indeed becoming extremely revved up again at the treatment.

Impactor pulled his servos out and added the third before pushing back inside.

“Aaah!” First Aid’s visor went wide with the third one, finally feeling the burn of pain as his valve began stretching further than he was used to with it.

Impactor stopped at the sound, recognizing that it wasn’t one of pleasure this time.  He halted his servos, watching First Aid carefully.  “Does it hurt?” he cautioned.

“A little,” First Aid muttered, adjusting his hips to try and find a more comfortable angle.

“Do you want to stop?” Impactor asked.

First Aid drew in a sharp vent, looking at his sparkmate.  “No!” he exclaimed, a little more desperately than he intended.  “I mean… I’ll be okay.  I want to do this with you, Impactor.  Without the heat cycle.  If it means we have to go slow because I’m smaller than you, that’s fine.”

“My spike is a lot bigger than these three servos,” the Wrecker persisted.  He wanted to make extra sure this wasn’t going to be something First Aid would regret.

“I know,” First Aid said.  His faceplate tinted a bit as he looked away.  “Ever since we fragged seven and a half meta-cycles ago, it’s all I can think of when I pleasure myself.  I’ve wanted nothing but to have that again.”

Impactor could do nothing but stare at him at the words.  He was serious.  Impactor knew First Aid wanted him, and he wanted the little medic in return more than anything.  But he didn’t realize exactly how much it was.

“You can move your servos now,” First Aid said lightly, turning his visor back to the Wrecker.

Impactor snapped out of it and nodded, pulling his servos out and slowly pushing them back inside the valve.  There was another hiss of pain from First Aid, but he kept his optics locked with his sparkmate.  Another push of his servos.  And another.  After a handful more, the pained sounds started to melt into light moans of pleasure.  He did as before, gently fanning the three servos a little bit more as he continued his ministrations.

“Ah… yes…” after a while, First Aid began moaning freely.  His hands made their way down, but didn’t begin pleasuring his exterior node as Impactor thought they would.  Instead one placed on the stub where his harpoon usually was, and the other grasped the wrist of the hand working his valve.  “Harder…” he begged.

Impactor’s lips quirked up in a grin, happy to comply.  He began thrusting his servos as far as he could get them inside the hot, leaking valve, with as much force as he could muster without hurting the medic.  First Aid’s moans turned to cries, the medic arching his back in pleasure.  After a couple minutes of this rough treatment, Impactor pulled his servos out.  He solicited a groan of objection from the red and white mech underneath him.

The sound was silenced as Impactor’s spike panel clicked open, releasing the organ contained inside.  The huge spike pressurized fully, the Wrecker giving a moan at the feeling.  “Frag, you make me want you so bad it practically hurts…” he groaned, grasping his spike with his hand, servos still soaked in First Aid’s lubricant, and stroking it a few times for good measure.  Before he mounted the medic, he noticed he was looking nervous again.  He thought a moment, then said, “We need a safe word.”

“A… what?” First Aid asked, attention going from the large organ to Impactor’s faceplate.

“Safe word.  Something you can say if you really want me to stop,” Impactor explained.  “It needs to be something you wouldn’t accidentally say in the middle of interfacing, but something you’d still be comfortable with.”

First Aid thought about it for a moment, taking the opportunity to relax.  “Scalpel.”

Impactor raised an optic ridge.  “I certainly hope you wouldn’t say that under any circumstances during a frag,” he teased.

“Shush, you’re the one who said it should be something like that,” First Aid laughed.  The conversation successfully calmed his nerves, though, and he brought his hands back up by his helm.  “Okay, I’m ready.”

“Good,” Impactor nodded.  “Cause I’m more than ready for this.”

The Wrecker settled back between the medic’s legs again, lining his spike up with his valve’s entrance.  He parted the swollen lips with his servos and pushed forward, gently working his spike inside.  First Aid gave a pleasured gasp as he felt the cords of his sparkmate’s spike stretch his valve, pushing against the sensitive circuits lining the inside.  He held still, though, knowing it wouldn’t go so smoothly for the whole thing.

Sure enough, after half of it was in there was a pang of pinching pressure as the tip pushed into the area inside of him Impactor’s servos hadn’t reached to stretch.  He gasped again, this time in pain, as the head of the spike pushed into parts that went untouched for the last eight meta-cycles.

Impactor stopped and waited, letting First Aid move his hips and adjust.  He hadn’t said the safe word yet, so he still wanted to keep going.  Impactor waited until First Aid went still again, pulling out until the tip of his spike was still inside and pushing back in.  He slowed the further he went, stopping when First Aid gave another pained noise and repeating the process.

Wait.  Pull out.  Push in.  Wait.

It took a few minutes of this before he was almost completely inside of the medic’s valve.  First Aid vented heavily, putting a hand on Impactor’s chestplate to ask him to wait a moment.  The burning, stretched feeling in his valve was almost too much, but he was determined to keep going.  The lubricant he already had produced was helping, at least.

Impactor leaned forward, being careful not to push further in until First Aid was comfortable.  He kissed First Aid’s helm, which was the first time he’d ever done so.  “You’re doing great,” he said soothingly.  “We’re almost all the way there.”

First Aid nodded, reaching up and wrapping his arms around Impactor’s neck while he was there.  He buried his faceplate in one of his shoulders, muttering, “Move.  I mean… like you mean it.”

“You sure?” Impactor asked in surprise.  “I don’t think you’re…”

Frag me,” First Aid growled forcefully, moving his hips to emphasize what he was saying.  It still had a twinge of pain behind it, but hearing those words made Impactor’s spike pulse.

So the Wrecker leaned on his arm where he was, not dislodging his sparkmate, and braced himself.  He pulled his hips back and drove them forward.  Not as forcefully as he would have liked, but he knew it was still painful for the medic.  The small gasp of pain proved it, but again First Aid didn’t tell him to stop.  So he did it again.  And again.

A handful of thrusts later, Impactor groaned as he picked up the pace.  This was what he wanted, to be able to frag his pretty little medic.  And after a while First Aid’s arms tightened around his neck, but not in pain anymore.  A moan escaped from the red and white mech’s vocals, indicating that the pain was finally giving way for pleasure.

“Impactor…” First Aid vented out lightly, starting to thrust his hips as well.  They met each other with a satisfying clang with every plunge of the spike into First Aid’s hot and leaking valve.  “More… please, more…”

Impactor made an appreciative sound, pushing himself up a bit and repositioning his hips for a better angle.  He then thrust his spike in as hard as he’d been restraining himself from.  It had the effect of not only fully sheathing his spike inside of First Aid’s mating hole, but also causing him to cry out forcefully in pleasure.  His spike had found First Aid’s ceiling node, the medic making desperate sounds as he ground his hips upwards to grind the spike against it.  “Frag… I don’t think we’re gonna need that safe word,” Impactor teased, sitting up and pulling First Aid with himself.  He sat back, First Aid in his lap, spike still fully sheathed inside of him.

“Make me overload again…” First Aid begged in response, keeping his arms around his sparkmate’s neck.

“Like I could say no when you beg so sweetly,” Impactor chuckled.  He moved his hand under First Aid’s aft and lifted him up until his spike was halfway out.  He then thrust upward sharply, not slowing down for anything this time.  He thrust his spike into First Aid, screaming with pleasure, over and over again.  He moved the stub of his right hand between them, pushing it against First Aid’s exterior node while he beat on his ceiling node inside.

“Oh, frag, Impactor!” the medic cried out, nothing but pleasure filling him from his overheating chassis to his blazing spark.  “That’s it!  That’s it!  Right there!  Oh, Primus, Impactor!  Impactor!

“Primus, I almost forgot how loud you are,” Impactor huffed out, not slowing his pace.  It made his spike pulse with a growing need to overload himself to hear his little medic scream his name over and over again.  Since First Aid had already overloaded once, he was more than certain he’d be finishing first.  He wasn’t reluctant to overload inside of the medic this time, though, as he could feel the gel wall protecting his gestation camber with the tip of his spike every time he sheathed it inside.  There was no danger of a second accidental sparkling.

Impactor’s grip on First Aid tightened as he felt himself reach the edge of his overload.  With a groan he pulled the medic down, making sure he was completely inside him as he unleashed his overload.  Transfluid filled First Aid’s valve, Impactor grinding up into him as it did.  The medic cried out in pleasure again at the feeling, reaching between them and moving Impactor’s arm out of the way to rub his exterior node roughly into his own climax.  He screamed and overloaded as well, lubricant mixing with the transfluid and forcing it out of his valve.  It coated both of their interface arrays.

First Aid collapsed backwards, Impactor letting him fall as he hit the berth in satisfied exhaustion.  The Wrecker pushed himself to the side and landed beside him, venting as heavily.  “Primus,” he chuckled.  “That was even better than I thought it’d be.”

First Aid laughed, rolling over enough to wrap his arms around Impactor’s left arm and lace his servos into his.  “And this time you’re not going anywhere, right?”

“Never again,” Impactor promised, kissing First Aid on the helm again.

The Wrecker may not have been much for kissing, but he was already making a lot of exceptions for First Aid.  It wasn’t so bad.

 

-----

 

Appulse hadn’t seen Pseudo since he left with Terminus and Megatron, and he was starting to get a little bit worried.  He knew he had to talk to him, to tell him what he’d figured out about his own feelings.  Terminus was helping Minimus Ambus and Ratchet in waking up the rest of the Cybertronians in stasis below.  Megatron had gone off on his own, he suspected to mourn the loss of Ravage in peace.  He hadn’t had many chances since the battle ended.

As Appulse made his way outside, the only place he hadn’t checked yet, he knew he’d found him.  He didn’t see Pseudo, but he could hear him.  The distinct melody of his music was emerging from next to one of the high windows.  How he’d managed to get there, it was hard to tell.  The window had been broken during the battle, making it not completely safe, but he wasn’t near the edge of either side of the platform.  Appulse climbed his way up and sat next to the youngling.

Pseudo’s optics were dimmed, box in front of him on the ledge instead of on his arm as it usually was.  His servos moved across it gracefully, touching lasers with just the tips of them.  The song coming from it was soft and melodic.  It spoke to Appulse of a plethora of emotions.  They ranged from relief, to uncertainty, to happiness, to an underlying sorrow.  Across all of them, though, there was a longing.  For home.

Appulse leaned back against the window frame, shuttering his optics as well and letting the song envelop him.  He never knew that there was a way to convey so many things at once through simple sounds.  It made him feel relaxed for the first time since they arrived on Censere’s planet.

Down in the main hall, Perceptor stopped his trek to the stasis room to turn and look to where his youngling and Appulse were sitting.  He smiled lightly, listening to the song and ex-venting.  He finally made it there and walked up behind his conjux endura.  “How is the waking going?” he asked, putting his hands on the smaller mech’s shoulders.

“Slow, but we’re more than halfway there,” Minimus answered.  “And the project you and Brainstorm are working on?”

“The teleporter is going as smoothly as can be expected with our limited resources,” Perceptor sighed.  “It will not be very big.  But it will function.”

“Good.”

“Make sure you keep Rodimus and Drift away from it,” Ratchet called.  “Those two have been playing ‘Every Room in the Facility’.”

Perceptor snorted, but Minimus looked confused.  “Every Room in the Facility?” he echoed.  “What in the world is that?”

“It’s where two people try to frag in every room in the facility,” Ratchet answered.

Minimus balked, looking to his conjux with huge optics.  He was silently asking if that was a joke.  When Perceptor shook his helm, he shook with disgust.  “Take this, Perceptor,” he said, handing him his clipboard.  “I must go have a word with our co-captain and his reacquired sparkmate.”

Terminus laughed from where he was working the computer.  Ratchet had taught him what to do, wanting to help bring as many people back online as possible.  It was mostly to give Megatron some much needed alone time.  When the door opened for Minimus, they heard a swell in the music Pseudo played outside and he stopped.  He looked from the door to Perceptor, whom he met when they retrieved Pseudo’s Box.

“You must be very proud of your youngling,” the elder mech said.

Perceptor looked at him in surprise, then back out the door before it slid shut again.  “Yes, very,” he said warmly, walking over to Ratchet.  He held out the datapad.  “What do you need me to do in Minimus’s absence?”

“Just tell me which pods we haven’t opened yet…” Ratchet began explaining as Terminus went back to his own job, smiling as well.

Outside, Cyclonus and Tailgate sat on the ruins of one of the turrets.  Specifically, Cyclonus sat where they would fire from if the front half of it hadn’t been blown off in the battle.  Tailgate lay with his arms folded in Cyclonus’s lap, helm resting on top.  They listened to the music Pseudo played and watched the scenery in front of them, flowers blowing gently and clouds moving in the sky.  It was quite peaceful, despite the violence that had taken place there only a day ago.

“Remind me to thank Appulse,” Cyclonus suddenly said.

“Hmm?” Tailgate asked, looking up at him.

The not-a-Decepticon gazed back, petting his sparkmate’s helm.  “If it weren’t for some surprisingly wise, if stern, words from him… well, I don’t know how long I would have put off our talk.”

“You are pretty stubborn,” Tailgate teased.

“Hmm, I didn’t see you scrambling to speak to me, either,” Cyclonus returned with a wry smirk.

Tailgate looked away for a moment.  “Good point.  You were stubborn, I was just… scared.”

“Of what?”

“I don’t know.  That I misread your feelings?  I know it’s silly.”

“Not at all,” Cyclonus assured him, leaning down and kissing Tailgate on the side of his faceplate.  “Fear is rarely rational, especially when it’s about someone you love.”

Tailgate made a small sound, though it was hard to tell if it was in agreement or not.  “I miss home, Cyclonus…”

“I know, Tailgate,” the purple and black mech assured him.  “We’ll get it back.”

The white minibot sat up, lifting Cyclonus’s arm and snuggling into his side.  “Together?”

“Of course.”

There was a silence as they listened to the music and watched the sky.

“I love you, Cyclonus.”

“… I love you, too, Tailgate.”

 

-

 

Skids vented in deep, standing outside of the science lab.  Brainstorm was in there, alone.  This was his only chance.

Frag.

“I can’t do this,” he said, turning to leave.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Nautica huffed, gesturing to Ten.  The hulking legislator blocked the theoretician’s hasty exit.  “That’s why we brought Ten.  Because we’re not letting you out of this.  Also so he can hold Brainstorm back in case he overreacts.”

“What’s all this ‘we’?” Swerve asked.  “I’m just here to support Skids and make sure you don’t misuse the big guy.”  He’d been making an effort to be interested in Ten lately, treating him much better than before.

“Ten,” the yellow mech reasoned.

“The point is,” Nautica continued, “If I don’t make sure you tell Brainstorm you’ll try to get out of this somehow.  You need to tell him now.  The longer you put it off, the less likely he’ll respond well.”

Skids looked from her to the bouncer.  He then looked at Swerve, who despite his words looked like he might agree with the scientist.  “Fine…” he finally muttered.  He turned back around and knocked on the door.

After a few seconds, Brainstorm opened the door.  “Oh, hey, guys,” he greeted.  “What’s up?  Come to see my awesome work on the teleporter?  I mean, Perceptor’s helping, but it’s mostly me…”

“Uh…” Skids managed.  Nautica pushed his shoulder gently and he vented in deeply.  “No, that’s… it’s not what we’re here for.  They’re just here to make sure I… there’s something I need to tell you.”

Brainstorm raised an optic ridge, crossing his arms over his chestplate.  “Hey, you’re pretty cute, Skids, but…” he teased.

“It’s about Quark.”

Those words made Brainstorm’s snarky tone die out, his optics going wide and arms falling to his sides.  He looked to the others, as if asking if this was a sick joke.

“Please, Brainstorm,” Nautica pleaded.  “Hear him out?”

The weapon specialist looked around at their serious faces then nodded.  “Alright.  I’ve got time.”  He moved to the side and let them in.

 

-

 

“Lottie, you’re the ‘friendship’ type.”

Velocity glanced at Runescribe.  The author was sitting in the seat by the computer in the medbay, spinning absently.  She was going to get a sick tank that way, but she ignored the warning of such already given.

“Yeah, Scribe?” she replied, putting the supplies they were using for some of the new additions woken from their stasis away.

“What are the benefits?  I mean… say I wanted to be real friends with someone.  Not just ‘I say I’m your friend but I more mean acquaintance I vaguely care for’ friend,” Runescribe asked.

“Benefits?” Velocity actually snorted.  Only Runescribe would ask a question like that.

“Like… you know, what would I get out of it?  And don’t say ‘loyalty,’ because there are people in this crew who are loyal to each other but hate each other’s’ guts,” the author expanded.  “I need to know in case Nightbeat died down wherever he and the psychologist went and I need to get myself someone else to hang out with.”

Before Velocity could fully answer the question, the door slid open.  “I can answer that!” Whirl announced, striding in.

“Gah!” Velocity jumped and turned.  “Whirl?  What are you doing here?  You didn’t injure yourself, did you?”  She looked him over quickly.

“Nah, just bored, thought I’d come bother someone,” the mono-optic mech shrugged.  “But, since inquiring minds want to know, I can also tell Runescribe exactly what you get out of friendship.”

“Oh, this oughta be good,” Runescribe smirked, stopping her spinning and leaning back in her seat.

Whirl walked over and sat on the repair berth across from her.  “Runescribe, friendship has no real benefits,” he said wisely.  “Friends come and go, there’s nothing you can do about it.  You can never really tell when they’re seriously being your friend, either.  They could be playing you for a fool, wanting to rob you for everything you have, and then stab you in the back and run.”

“Whirl, that’s not-!” Velocity objected, trying to step in before he could do damage.

“No, he’s not wrong,” Runescribe cut her off.  “That’s exactly why I was asking.  But then I have to ask… aren’t you friends with Cyclonus?”

“Ha!” Whirl let out a loud guffaw.  “Friends?  With him? No way!  We’re something way deeper, way more solid than friends.”  He stood up again and went over to her, throwing an arm around her shoulders and pulling her up.  He got in, as if to tell her a secret to life.  “We’re rivals.”

“Rivals?” Runescribe asked thoughtfully.

“Yeah, rivals.  We hate each other, want nothing more than to outdo each other in everything we have in common.  Which… outside of battle, honestly, isn’t much, but the violence is enough.  But the thing is, with rivals there’s this certain honesty to it.  You don’t need to like each other, so you don’t have to lie.  We’re the most brutally honest people to each other you’ll ever meet.  And we’ll never throw each other to the turbowolves like Getaway did, because we don’t want anyone else to defeat each other but us,” Whirl explained.

“But then… what about your entire obsession you had with Cyclonus and Tailgate’s relationship?” Velocity asked, now interested in what he had to say.

Whirl looked to her, shrugging.  “Part of the whole ‘honesty’ thing.  There’s a certain… what’s the word goody-goody people like to use all the time?  A certain ‘honor’ in being a rival.  You want to beat them in everything you have in common, but you weirdly kind of want them to succeed in the places you can’t.”

“A rival…” Runescribe echoed again.  “Yeah… yeah, I need a rival!”  She turned around and put her hands on Whirl’s shoulders.  “Thanks, Whirl!  You’re a lot smarter than you let on!”

“I’m pretty sure most of us are at this point,” Whirl shrugged, but he still looked proud of himself.  “Now, go out there and get yourself a frienemy, Scribe!”

 

-

 

Rewind sat in front of the monument to Dominus Ambus, where they’d buried his body.  It only seemed appropriate, since he was no long one of the ‘unaccounted.’  He still remembered the day Dominus left like it was yesterday.  He’d begged to go with him.

“Please, Dominus!  I want to go with you!”

“No, Rewind.  I’m going somewhere too dangerous for you.  I need you to wait for me here.”

“But-”

No.

“…Did I do something wrong…?  Are you punishing me?”

“Oh, my dear Rewind… of course not.  I love you more than anything.  That is why you must stay here.  I’ll be back, I promise..”

So Rewind had waited.

For weeks.  Then months.  Then years.

Dominus never came back.  After decades had passed, that was when Rewind went looking for him.  Determined to find him.  Blaming himself for not being more firm.  For not insisting harder that he go.

Now he knew why his former conjux had told him so firmly that he had to stay behind.  A spy in the DJD.  Whose idea was this?  What was Dominus thinking taking an assignment so dangerous?

“I’ll be back, I promise.”

Those words haunted him for so long.  Dominus had promised he would be back.  And he never was.  Rewind never felt more alone in his life than that.  Wandering Cybertron, looking for any hint at where his conjux endura could have gone, with those words echoing in his processor.

And then he met Chromedome.

“I knew I’d find you here.”

Rewind looked up from the monument at the conjux he gained in his search.  Chromedome walked over and sat next to him.  They both looked at the empty monument in silence.  “I’m so sorry,” the mnemosurgeon finally said.

“I know,” Rewind replied.  He’d heard so many people give their condolences for Dominus Ambus’s passing that it almost didn’t have meaning anymore.  Before, when he vanished, everyone he asked for information gave it.  They were all completely sure he was dead, and they wouldn’t tell him why.  Now that he really was, the whole crew kept apologizing as if they were the ones who killed him.  Technically it had been Ten, but Rewind didn’t blame him.  The Pet had been a threat to them.

“Have you gotten your talk with Minimus in yet?” Chromedome asked.

“No.  He’s always busy doing one thing or another.”

“Hmm,” Chromedome hummed, not sure what else to say.  This was a subject that Rewind was avoiding himself, so he couldn’t blame Minimus.  “Do you want to talk about it?”

The archivist looked up to him.  He then scooted over, putting a hand on Chromedome’s leg.  “I’m fine.  I was ready for this outcome, you know that.”

“This one?  I don’t think so,” Chromedome challenged gently.  “You were ready for him to already be dead.  Not to come so close and then have him ripped away from you.”  He looked at the ground.  “I’m sorry, I’m being insensitive.”

“No,” Rewind replied lightly.  “You’re not wrong.  I wasn’t completely ready for exactly this scenario.  But expecting him to be dead after all this time did help.  I’m ready to move on.  I just need to make sure Minimus and I are alright, since I was the one who sacrificed Dominus so you could stay alive.  I didn’t even think of the fact that Minimus might have wanted me to save Dominus instead.”

“Would you have done it if he wanted you to?”  Chromedome was almost afraid of the answer.

Rewind thought for a moment, then shook his helm.  “No.  I don’t think I could have.  You’re the person I love now.  Having Dominus be alive and okay, that would have been nice.  But I still would have chosen to stay with you.”

Chromedome felt his spark swell at the words.  “Thank you,” he whispered.

“No.  Thank you,” Rewind replied, leaning against him.

 

-

 

Drift watched Rodimus seriously.  “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Positive.”

“Because this is a serious matter.  It will change your life.”

“I know, Drift.  But I want to do this.”

The spiritualist stared at him a few more moments, then ex-vented.  He couldn’t deny Rodimus anything.  So he nodded.  “Alright.  There are paints we can use here in the facility, though don’t ask me what Censere was doing with them.  If you want me to give you new colors then I shouldn’t question it.”

“You’re the best, Drift,” Rodimus leaned in and kissed his sparkmate.  He was enjoying being able to be so open and honest about their relationship now.  As easily flustered as he could be, he still didn’t want to hide it anymore.  No more secrets.

“Not the best,” Drift softened, smiling.  He wrapped his arms around Rodimus and kissed him back.  “You shine brighter than I ever could dream.”

“Primus, you and your cheesy romance,” Rodimus laughed, putting a hand on Drift’s face and pushing him back.  “You’re gonna kill me with it someday.”

There was a hammering against the door before Drift could reply, making them both jump.

“Primus, is the DJD back?” Rodimus yelped.

Are!” Minimus barked as he opened the door.  “Are the DJD back?  And don’t think you can use bad grammar to get what you want this time!”

“Whoa, someone’s pissy,” Rodimus said, untangling himself from Drift.  “What’s up, Mins?”

“I’ve been recently informed that you two have been playing some… game that involves you physically fraternizing in every room in this facility!” Minimus Ambus announced, walking in.  He stopped and looked around, as if to make sure he hadn’t interrupted exactly that.

“Ah, frag, who told on us?” the co-captain whined.

“I told you it was a bad idea,” Drift added, sounding amused.

“So it’s true!” the former Enforcer of the Tyrest Accord said in disapproval.  “Well, I have a list of reasons why you should stop this immediately!”  He pulled out a datapad and activated it.  “Would you like me to start with the sanitary concerns, or is there another order you’d prefer?”

Rodimus groaned and sat down, knowing they weren’t getting out of this.  Drift took a seat next to him, chuckling.  As Minimus began reading his list, the swordsmech leaned towards his sparkmate.  “Believe it or not,” he whispered.  “I missed this, too.”

“You’ll get over that within the next week, I guarantee,” Rodimus muttered in return.

 

-

 

First Aid and Impactor walked into the main hall, hearing the distinct music of Pseudo’s Box.  They both looked to where it came from.

First Aid smiled behind his visor at the sight of Appulse up there, watching Pseudo play.  Their youngling looked so perfectly content.  “This is it, isn’t it?” he asked.

“What is what?” Impactor replied.

“This is how we’re going to get through it all.  You, me, and Appulse.  Pseudo and his creators.  My medical team.  You, Megatron, and Terminus.  All of us from the Lost Light who were left behind, and everyone we found beneath this building.  No matter what happens from here on out, we’re going to get through it together.  Because that’s what families do.”

Impactor looked back up to Appulse, putting a hand on First Aid’s shoulder and pulling him in close.  “I guess we are a family now, aren’t we?”

“The biggest, strangest, most messed up one you’ll ever find,” First Aid laughed.

Impactor laughed as well.  It was the first real laugh he’d had in a long time.  Probably in about four million years.  “Sounds like the right kind of family for us.”

“Creator!”

Appulse waved to them from his perch, the music Pseudo was playing not even pausing for it.  Their youngling grinned at them, despite everything that had happened.

Because in spite of all of the tragedy, the bumps, the turns, and the hitches along the way, they were alive, they were together, and they would make it.

As a family.