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Was it even that fair of them to be laughing so much at him?  The story was freaky.  And Smokescreen had lived through enough 'freaky' in real life, so that had to mean something (Right?). 

Well, not to the other speedster.  That purring voice was laughing at him right now and Smokescreen found he preferred the normal tone from the medic.  He wasn't a newspark, no matter how they were laughing-

Oh right.  They.  'Cause there were two of them laughing, weren't there.

So much for Autobot loyalty.  Nope, none here. The wrecker in the other room was too enamored with the human film.  Another heightened loud tearing noise and scream came from the theater and Smokescreen left for the deeper recesses of Knock Out's house to escape the noises of messy deaths.  How had it ever come to this, he mourned, how?


There were days he really missed Breakdown.  From the obvious to less obvious, Knock Out had a lot to mourn missing.

And then there were days he could break past that missing to go do something fun.  Something obviously without the big lug, but something Knock Out would enjoy.  

Well, human entertainment was a blessing in disguise.  Trash to be sure, but an artfully entertaining kind of trash.  Far more entertaining than watching clips of old theatre actors spout political propaganda for a long dead council that barely tried to pass itself off as a story at all.  

His favorite were the horror films.  They were brutal and at times truly unnerving.  From the B-list with special effects so bad even the humans cringed from it to the award winners with all sorts of soppy drama he could do without, Knock Out was entertained.  

There wasn't alot of time he could spend entertaining his hobby with all the building and injuries and interning with Ratchet to get a 'real license' and be a 'real doctor' (pah).  But he found all that he could to indulge in polish and waxing and buffing and detailing (he'd been branching out to others, but he always made himself look fabulous before worrying about spending free time on them) and, of course, racing-

It was racing that had made him reach out.  No matter the little awkward incidents with the, ahem, wall, he could get along with Smokescreen just fine.  For one, the bot was young and dumb; Knock Out gravitated towards those dumber than himself. He liked to be the smartest one in the room, not just the best looking; they both just came so naturally.  Just as naturally as his charm and innate talent.  

Friendship didn't.  Or at least he didn't remember a time when it came naturally.  If it had, it had been buried underneath centuries of fragile bloated ego.

In the army he'd been in, you had to be noticeable.  You had to be unique. You had to be better. The best.  Because the best weren't expendable. Resources went into keeping the best alive and scratch free.

That didn't mean he was as completely as cowardly as Starscream; when they had been living through their own horror film, Knock Out had spilt his virtual soul and offered the other a place amongst his wall of fame- and then his commander had sold him out the moment the big M showed his face.

Coward, they both were.  Loyal, however, applied only to himself.

And loyal he could be.  Not to a cause or a leader or whatnot.  But to a companion-

Breakdown should never have died.  He didn't deserve that. Erm, Knock Out didn't deserve that.  Losing his buffing partner and all.  

The racers didn't make him scared to be around.  He didn't have to fear for his own plating with them.  Bumblebee was really something. So long as he didn't go about selling him out, Knock Out knew he'd end up loyal to the yellow bot.  But Bumblebee was definitely the smartest of the three- and currently he was the one with his life most put together.  Painful as it was to admit, Knock Out was not the 'best' around him.

Smokescreen was ignorant of so much that had happened while he'd been in stasis.  He had ambition but lacked the efficacy Bumblebee had. He wasn't dumb, per say, but he was far from the brightest.

In other words, he seemed like a good enough option.  Knock Out wouldn't feel threatened one bit having him around.  So he asked the younger bot over for a night of human entertainment.  

And then had to put up with how Smokescreen jumped at the mere musical cue of a jumpscare before the scare itself even happened, hated the horror element, and would yell "Oh, gross!!" at the slightest fleshy gore.

Psht, it wasn't as if the humans were actually being hurt.  Most of these creatures didn't exist in the first place-

(although a variation of zombie/vampire had once hunted him aboard the warship and Knock Out still hadn't found his taste in either plot device monster return since the whole Terrorcon thing)

-and the humans were just actors.  

Fun as it was to watch Smokey jump, it wasn't the same kind of fun as watching someone else jump while laughing instead of cringing in disgust.  

"You are, frankly, horrible at this," Knock Out jabbed at the speedster during an ending scene.  Smokescreen, unsurprisingly, denied such (although he seemed relieved when the medic failed to start another [despite Knock Out's hope to watch more, it just wasn't fun with him])

And Knock Out, also unsurprisingly, ribbed him about it afterwards.  Which was how he'd found himself joined by an unexpected partner in crime- a bot that wasn't one bit shocked with Smokescreen's reactions.  He'd laughed about the young wrecker finding alarm in the old monster mash type movies the little fleshy Miko had introduced him to- certainly not in one bit scary, although admittingly disgusting (as it was to see any biological thing ripped apart), but just Breakdown's type of B-list human movie.  His old partner loved the b-list stuff as much as he had; although, his nurse had also been a sucker for the romances in more 'classy' movies that Knock Out truly couldn't enjoy when fleshy interfacing was so utterly nasty and romance such a sappy niche.

Well, Autobots were sappy.  And even if he'd offered to defect to save his own polish at the start, there was something infectious about them.  Or there had been after Knock Out found out he would melt under the eyes of their Prime and his praise.

Now that was a role model.  As much as he hated to not be first place, the medic knew that he could only be the second best role model in comparison to that high a bar for all the less intelligent bots he now hung around with.

Sometimes he wasn't even sure why he had to be.

And that sometimes part of himself was the part that had pitched his offer to Breakdown's big rival after listening to him bash Smokescreen affably over his misery at the lamest of the human horror genre.  

And that, he supposed, was how he ended up joined by both wreckers for another night of human film entertainment.


Which, in turn, was how Smokescreen was now trapped here.  At first he'd felt pressured to stay and watch and suck up how unpleasant it was so that the other two could enjoy it.  

But then he'd eventually decided to slip away.  He had planned to go back. That plan changed when he stood in the theater doorway and listened to the other two.  They were laughing all right, but not at him. They were laughing at the movie. At the idiot characters. At the cheesy monster.  At the way Knock Out would scream so high and then right back at Bulkhead for his own startlingly high yelp.  

Smokescreen smirked unseen at the two and turned back around.  It sounded fun all right, but it wasn't his sort of fun. And as long as he'd been in there, it hadn't been their sort of fun either.

 

Chapter Text

 

Miko wasn't sure how it happened.

There she'd been, simply minding her own business; strolling around her favorite exoplanet in her second favorite exosuit.  She did that often enough. Sometimes she couldn't deal with the empty life on Earth and managed to wheedle out a visit. The energy spent during a spacebridge opening was serious, she knew, but-

Well, that wasn't the matter now.  Because right now she was still slowly comprehending that she was, apparently, a queen.

Of course, her subjects were the same that had once hailed Megatron as queen, so that title wasn't exactly what the earth term signified.

Anyhow, there she had been.  Nestled inside a suit the still sometimes itched where it rubbed against her armpits (Not that the itching mattered, when from the outside she looked so badass.  The Apex armor was fun enough, mainly for the memory of those she'd hit while in it, but this armor at least fit her form better and it wasn’t invincible- being invincible ruined half the fun of beating things into scrap).  And she'd been strolling along the different streets (and backstreets, not that her guardians [excluding Jackie, of course, because he was Jackie after all] knew about that) popping in different shops set up by the growing citizens of the place.

There was an art studio she of course had to visit.  One of the Vehicons inside had named himself Da Vinci, which had amused her even if she'd been asleep most of her art history course.  Splashing wild paint and making a mess that was called 'artistic' by the others had become a favored hobby for both her and Bulk. The mandatory class on dry, boring human painters of the past was less intriguing; but required gen ed courses from online college was something that both the human guardians who were in on her secret and Bulkhead, overprotective lunk that he was, had told her she had to do if she wanted perks like this current suit and tickets to Cybertron.  OK. That was fine. She could handle dry for their sake.  

For an adrenaline rush, she would do nearly anything.

And for her family, there was nothing she wouldn't do.

A mixture of those two led to the incident that had, a few years later, led to this incident.

The next place to drop by was a music studio.  Now that had been fun.  She'd spent a few hours there using Cybertronian equipment and amping it up.  One of the singers in there, Nightlife, was a flashy young speedster, a real prima donna type- Miko had wanted to introduce him to KO so bad.  Either they’d get along and disgust everyone else, or they’d end up catfighting; either option seemed pretty amusing.

It was after leaving that place that she noticed the first one.  But it was just one. Miko had barely bat an eye at the Insecticon rambling down the street behind her.  Sure, sure, they were rare and all- after most of them had disappeared with Arachnid, the remainders had been smothered with all sorts of protections (And yeah, she wasn't an idiot- she got that the bots wanted to avoid any other genocides like those that had happened over the last millennia [and even before that, though as fascinating as it was, she still wasn't good at keeping her attention focused in on Cybertronian history lessons either]).  And yeah, they were unique looking enough to strike her notice but not to keep it. Most things couldn't.

After dropping out of the next place, Miko realized there was still an Insecticon behind her on the street.  Maybe a different one or maybe not; whichever it was, it had a friend now.  

But it was after leaving the snack shop with the contact information of a rambunctious young predacon, whose fast speaking had let Miko know all sorts of details (Like her failure to stay in any sort of education branch but desire to live in a city like New Iacon) about her without even a question asked (which she had found rather appealing and fun) that she had noticed her fanclub had grown.  

She cast a glance back at Dùn chǐ, who waved a set of claws happily at the human through the window; should she go back inside the shop and bunker down until the chittering group left?  Should she call Bulk over to her spot?

Miko took a second to wonder about it.  Her answer was, unsurprisingly, quick and thoughtless-

Nah.

So she went up to the Insecticons to ask what their deal was.  

Well, their deal was...apparently...

She was their queen?

The flat "what" that had been delivered was replied to with some untranslated chitters.  Raf could probably understand them. She sure couldn't.

But one gestured restrictedly that they'd discovered about her and her...more illicit activities.  (Activity. One that rarely phased her unless she wasn't able to throw any walls its way. And then...then she'd remembered how empty, how lacking of human guilt but lacking of enjoyment, she'd been left after decimating Hardshell, how she’d cried at how drained she felt and at the realization she couldn’t go back, not to her family in Japan, not to normal [and here she’d fought so hard to get away from normal] and it felt trashy-) 

That incident was one she never talked to the other humans about.  Not many, at least. Jack knew. She'd talked with him while drunk before about it.  About it all.

(About how she never thought she'd belong on Earth with humans again- she'd flown too far from them to fit again)

About Hardshell.  About revenge.

About killing.

He was, after all, a member of the military.  A special corp, sure, but he'd had training. Not the physical stuff that taught you how to take someone down.  The mental training.  The mental prep for giving out a killing blow.  And he had Arcee. 'Course he did. Just like Miko had him.  Had Bulk. Had Jackie. Had Doc Knock. Had Arcee and Magnus (no matter what a stickler he was, she'd found she liked him) and a full on team behind her.

A team that had been there done that a million times over throughout their long lives of war.

Well, these bug guys knew too.  Part of that was just their hivemind and part was through research.  

And the killing blow for them was getting near her.

See, they tried to explain (she didn't see, but whatever), Insecticons could sense the strong.  They naturally gravitated for strength, dominance, sheer guts.  

It didn't matter to that instinct that, in actuality, she couldn't really stand up to a single one of their kind without all sorts of tech.  It was the personality that radiated that mattered.

Apparently it didn't matter what species it came from either.  Megatron had been their queen the moment their Arachnid was blocked because he was dominant.  So slagging dominant. But Arachnid was more; and she was an Insecticon like them.  

Miko was a human.  She was tiny and fleshy.  

But her personality still radiated with dominance.  And backing that was the knowledge that she, tiny and powerless as she naturally was, had killed one of their strongest people.  

By the time she got back, Miko flopped out of the suit onto one of the couches in the human lounge at Bulk's place.  All the main buildings and old ships like the Nemesis had been fit with all the biolife protection sciency blah blah stuff.  It just meant she could spend some R&R without rubbing her armpits dry. Lounging as she was, the woman sent a message off to Bulk alerting him to where she was, replied to Frenzy's frenetic stream of memes dumped into their chat (he'd been addicted to human 'humor' since being woken from stasis), dropped a hi to Dùn chǐ, Nightlife, and the other people she'd met at the music studio...

And then she actually got to thinking about what her new Insecticon pals had told her.

Queen, huh?

Miko didn't quite get how it had happened.  She didn't really think that, other than the fan club buzzing nearby that sensed her personality radiating all those 'queen'-like qualities, it would even mean anything.

Still, she had started grinning up at the alienly tall ceiling above, it wasn't even close to some of the weirdest things to happen to her. 

No, Miko Nadakai wasn't all that phased by her new status that her (admittingly fractional) clan had given her.

 

Chapter Text

It was like pulling teeth.  Or whatever the Cybertronian equivalent was.  

It had taken how many years now?

But he'd done it.

Jack was washing up his tools and grinning up at his partner while she looked at her newly painted and detailed arms.  

He'd wanted to do this since Bee and Smokey got their paint jobs (in the latter's case, a paint job already replaced by another).  But Arcee was a picky bot. And a practical bot. And there really was no practical reason for a new look.

There had been an unexpected ally in the venture though.  

Much as being near Knock Out still made his skin reflexively crawl, the ex-con seemed far less dangerous when he was trying to force paint rather than a vivisection.  One instance of Arcee having to 'babysit' him while spending an afternoon with Jack had stretched into two and then into more times. Besides, he'd been forced to get used to Knock Out.  Afterall, the medic was already on Earth with Ratchet at least once a month and his mom tended to be at the base during those times. Which put Jack on edge at the start and now just disgusted him.

But disgusting him was a hobby of his mom's, judging by the amount of time she dragged him to her visits (dates) with Agent Fowler.

Arcee had the clearance to visit him and lately Jack himself had the clearance to do the same.  Only to the grounded Nemesis but still; that ship was grounded on a different planet and that meant standing in it was standing on said different planet.  

He'd been the first human to go to Cybertron.  It made him practically giddy that he got to go again.

The Nemesis was engineered to support human life without forcing him into one of Fowler's old space suits.  And it was created to fit Cybertronians, not humans. Which made it a more ideal place to do this painting session with Arcee than a bunker on Earth.

So, instead of squeezing into a docking bay for planes, they'd had fit comfortably in Knock Out's old quarters.

Jack tried not to feel uneasy about that.

Like the rest of the bots, Knock Out had moved out of the ship to one of the constructed places on the planet outside.  This left all the old rooms free to use in less pragmatic ways. It was a fact the medic had no qualms talking about; he enjoyed discussing how the reactions of his old superiors would be if he'd opened up a 'salon' (as Jack called it) in an officer's quarters.

They weren't here to whine so Arcee valiantly tried to make up for their silence with her own complaints.

"I like my paint."

"No pink, got it?  No red either. No white or black either-"

("What options are you going to leave me??" Knock Out would throw his arms up dramatically)

But she wasn't unhappy doing this project.  Jack had taken her aside to make sure.

"If you don't want to do this..." the human checked her expression as he spoke.  "We don't have to, you know. It's up to you."

And it was.  This was a bonding experience only so long as both of them (and their actual 'artist') were happy to do it.

"I'm good-" she flashed a 'thumbs up' gesture with silver servos.  "Just a little nervous. I haven't done this since I was still partnered up with Tailgate."

Long before he and any humans he knew were alive.

Made sense though.  There probably hadn't been any time for that in the height of a war and, besides, his partner was no-nonsense.  She didn't have time to bother with cosmetics. Unlike the Decepticon CMO on Earth (who quite proudly boasted on how he'd broken Starscream's many rules on wasting time with racing and polish).

There was all the time in the world now that the war was over.

And yet it had still taken this long.  Here Jack was in his second semester of college and they'd only now gotten around to doing this.

Their talk was interrupted by Knock Out, who had his arms full of supplies and came over to them without any outward signs he cared that he was butting in on their heart-to-spark.  

"Come on, come on, I'm a busy mech," he whined, "I don't have all cycle to spare."

Right.  Because he had to go practice what Ratchet wanted him to like the student Jack currently was.  The human said as much. The ex-con responded with a singular servo in true human expression and almost dropped his load by doing so.  

They got to work regardless.  Arcee liked blue and simplicity.  The pink highlights were replaced with a lighter shade of blue then (which both painters decided was more fitting than the shade of 'stale energon' and Arcee gave a little grin at their talk on how she could wear freshly spilled energon instead- it was weird to share an inside joke with Knock Out of all bots, but the trio did).  

White and black were banned but silver hadn't been...and, seeing the practicality of that shade, they'd let that be her main color.  Jack was careful not to mention that color scheme was shared with a certain mech (ie Starscream, who Arcee would explode in the face of whoever was dumb enough to compare her to).  

He was sweating by the time they were adding the finishing color (teal).  If he'd tried to do this on his own it would've taken hours. Her height made it difficult for him to even reach a lot of places.  

Of course, painting wasn't enough.  While he cleaned up his supplies, Knock Out uncapped his premium polishes ("From Earth," he'd waved the bottles towards the human, "You people do know how to make a good product" [Jack wasn't sure whether to be insulted or complimented by the purred words]) and proceeded to make Arcee shinier than Jack had ever seen her.

All the motorcycle washes in Nevada seemed sad in comparison.

The sweat had disappeared by the time Knock Out was done.  The Nemesis may have been outfitted to Earth's atmosphere but it also felt permanently freezing.  With a shiver, Jack pulled his sleeves back down. They'd been dragged up and out of the danger zone while he'd painted and for good reason; both hands were stained with teal from where paint had dripped down and splattered him.

Knock Out vanished to the room next door.  That left both partners in a suddenly ego free zone.  They grinned over at each other.

"How do I look?" Arcee joked.  This time it was Jack who offered the thumbs up.

"Ridiculously shiny," he replied, "We'll have to go drive offroad to get some dirt back on you."

Which wasn't even completely sarcasm.  He enjoyed going through the random roads and not-roads of Nevada with her.  

The medic returned with a slab almost as large as himself.  It turned out to be a mirror, or at least something reflective enough to work as one.  Knock Out set it against one purple wall and stood back while Arcee stood from her seat to approach it.  The shorter Cybertronian cocked her head, looked herself over, posed a few times to see the little winglets behind her, and-

"Not bad, I suppose."

"Ahem," Knock Out gave a faux coughing sound into one fist.  "Nothing I do would turn out bad."

This time, the same noise was followed up by a throat actually designed for the sound.  The medic looked down to the ground where Jack was looking up at him pointedly.

"And what Jack does," the ex-con added.

Much better.  They shared a respectful stare.  

Arcee stretched her new teal arms over her head and then released the tension with a slump.

"You got your suit, partner?" she glanced down at Jack.  He nodded. "Well. I think you were right. I've got to go get some dust on this paintjob."

Any sputtering on Knock Out's part were interrupted when she gave him a sideways stare.

"Care for a race?"

And of course there was no argument there.  The medic would never turn down a competition.  And Jack would never turn down an opportunity to outdo him.  Or sit on her bike seat while Arcee did.

Which just as well summed up their partnership.

Chapter Text

It had been that sticklers fault.  He'd been rubbing Wheeljack's plating since his arrival on Earth.  Oh yes, in his pristine up-to-code ship with a name as blatant as the Iron Will and grandstanding frown.  Barging in at the height of their outmatched worry like a...deus ex machina if he was to use the human terminology.  

Then Ultra Magnus resumed his position over the Wreckers.  Did it matter? Bulk wasn't a Wrecker anymore. Wheeljack was a one man team.  Smokescreen didn't know what he was doing and besides, the mech had spent most of his life as an elite guard member, not a down-and-dirty Wrecker type.  If the three of them couldn't be counted then the only real Wrecker Magnus had a position over was Miko. And she wasn't even a Cybertronian.

What had been his fault?

Well.  Everything.  What wasn't? Wheeljack had been content here, even after the whole Darkmount II and destruction of the base issue.  Fine up until Magnus had shown up. Again. Like he had all those cycles again when he hijacked the Wreckers.

Of course, Bulk had just gone with it.  He'd seen the mech and gone all breathless to say "It's an honor" and mean every word.  And Smokescreen was thrilled to work alongside a legend like Ultra Magnus.  Good for him. Wheeljack wasn't thrilled.

Because the rookie had never worked with Magnus before.  Wheeljack had. And Wheeljack didn't want to again.

Just fitting of the commander that his only response to Bulk's praise had been to order a 'sir' at the end of the statement.  Following orders prickled his plating. It always had. You follow orders without thought, you're no better than a drone. But that's what Magnus wanted.  He didn't want a team of uniquely skilled mechs. He wanted strong drones.

That wasn't Wheeljack's style.

It was so easy to make mistakes when you just followed orders.   So easy to make regrets.

He'd been getting used to life on Earth.  Life with a team again.

Arcee and Miko really did have him pegged later; he wasn't a true lone wolf.  He wasn't a teamplayer either but he did like a team. A unit. A partner or two.

And he'd watched so many of them die.

Good mechs like Seaspray.  It had been his death at the servos of Dreadwing that had led him to Earth.  A death unfitting of a fighter like Seaspray. Wheeljack liked grenades; they, and all explosions, were a signature for him.  But the one that had torn Seaspray apart had been unfitting, unexpected, cowardly. Optimus had earned his respect but it still would make Wheeljack bristle whenever the Prime tried to recruit Dreadwing.  It was a feeling similar to how Arcee would bristle at the idea of allying with Starscream after what he had done to her old partner. Just another something the two of them could relate about.

If the Wreckers hadn't been disbanded, Seaspray wouldn't have left on his own.  And if he hadn't left on his own, he wouldn't have been killed while independent.

But with a commander like Ultra Magnus, Wheeljack would have left disbanded or no.

He'd meant what he said to Bulk; the rust had set in after the green mech had left.  Magnus had no interest in actually being a Wrecker.  He did not allow their motto. He didn't allow their lobbing or wrestling.  He didn't allow them anything but strict and stupid military protocol.

Protocol he carried to Earth.

Absolutely infuriating.

It wasn't even the new necessity to tack a 'sir' on the end of each sentence.

It was the lack of spirit.

The Wreckers had been his team.  They'd been his band.

They'd been, if he was to use the word Optimus had found from Earth, his family.

And Ultra Magnus hated them.

The vibe had been evident on Cybertron.  When the Wreckers would travel offworld to stations or battleships or colonies to deal with Con presence and Magnus had gone with them, the vibe was still there.  The commander would say on Earth that he "couldn't deal with 'wrecker-style' on Cybertron and I refuse to deal with it here" but that was misleading. It was misleading for Bulk, who'd heard the statement.  Because it made it sound like Magnus had only had a problem with the team he was in charge of while he'd been on world with them.

No.  He had a problem with them no matter where he went.

How could someone who hated the Wreckers be expected to command them?

Bulk had left to follow the Prime.  Ultra Magnus had came in to take charge not long after.  

The rust set in.

And Wheeljack didn't want it to do so on Earth.

But that felt unavoidable.  And that borderline despair rubbed at his plating just as much as Magnus's stupid voice.  Every time Wheeljack found something good it changed. Changed in that someone died? Didn't matter.  Change happened in all forms and that was that.  

The Wreckers changed when Magnus took the lead.  Bulk changed while he was gone off with Optimus. Even the entertaining little humans here would change; it hadn't taken Wheeljack long to discover how short their lifespans were.

Every change was more of that inevitable rust.  Every change hurt.  

He had armor against that hurt.  Said protection meant avoiding staying in one place with one group and one person.  Because if he did that, he couldn't help it. He'd find a place. He'd find a team.  

He'd have that place and those people taken away when things changed once more.  

But he'd done it anyways.  He'd stayed on Earth after Seaspray.  In reality, he'd spent the whole time in between visits thinking of the planet.  Sitting in the Jackhammer surrounded by stars and thinking of the team he'd ran from and of good old Bulk and-

And even after meeting up with Seaspray, he thought about it.

Some part of him knew he'd end up back on the planet.  

And some other part knew whatever happiness he found there would be upturned.

Magnus showing up in his stupidly clean ship and spending his off time at their new base organizing everything was just the herald to that fact.

So he listened to the officer bash the Wrecker's style and their disorganization and use of human tech (and humans) and his constant disrespect and-

Then he ran.

And been pulled right back to it all.

But he returned to a change that...wasn't unpleasant.

A change between his dynamic with his commander.

He didn't respect him like he did Optimus.  He felt no friendly camaraderie.

But one thing you could say for Magnus- the cycles away from him hadn't changed him one bit.

Which, one, proved that not all change was bad (Magnus could do with a change or two or full blown redo to his personality) and, two, gave Wheeljack a comforting sense of familiarity.

They'd gone hunting and Magnus had leapt down into a fray of Vehicons and put that drained relic of Solus Prime's to good use.  It had been impressive. That strength and brutality

Any admiration got wiped out when Magnus opened his mouth next.

And, of course, there was the dressing down later.  Protocol, protocol. It didn't matter if detonating a grenade in a confined space was against protocol.  What mattered was that it was against common sense and by doing it he'd put both of the other two in danger.  If Magnus had been pointing that out, Wheeljack would've been more interested in listening. Not because he wanted to but because he needed to.  He needed someone to hold the reigns sometimes but not someone who took the chain aspect of the chain of command seriously enough to tie him down from doing anything.

Ratchet had stopped his attempt to retreat with a grumpy bit of manipulation.  Heh. The medic was good at that. And his talk with Arcee forced him to do what he had no desire to in regards to the entire Wrecker situation: think.

So he thought.  He thought about how he wanted "chit chat".  Thought of how much he'd left behind with every desertion and how much he'd be abandoning if he left now.

Ratchet's grumpy affections.  Arcee's no-nonsense pragmatism.  Bulk, no matter how he'd changed.  No matter how much he'd lost of the old Bulk because of those changes.

Ultra Magnus.

Even him.

After his mission with her, he stuck around.  He kept peeling Magnus's paint. The commander kept up with his own efforts to by the book peel Wheeljack's plating.

Then the cave had happened.  The Predacon had crushed the servo Magnus used to wield the forge.  That should have warned them about its intelligence; that was the servo used to wield the weapon and metaphorically deal the killing blow against the stillborn predacon army.  Destroying it specifically wasn't the action of a spiteless animal.  

There weren't the parts for a proper replacement.  Magnus never mentioned it. He moved on pretending he was fine.  Even if his tablets fell from his scrappy replacement when he had the down time to read.  Even if he couldn't organize the mess of a base in the same time he could previously.

Even if he never made a comment on how much quieter Wheeljack made himself be in his presence.

Their dynamic had morphed again.

The war came to a halt at, surprisingly, Bumblebee's doing.  There was no reason for the Wreckers, or whatever Magnus called them, without a war.  Wheeljack tried to keep himself busy. Old remnants of tyranny were blown to pieces by the Wrecker.  Magnus never told him to stop.

If anyone seemed more lost in peacetime than him, it was the commander.  Peacetime was purposeless and soft to Wheeljack. It was chaotic to Magnus.  All his books and codes and rules- they didn't work here. There was no government to give his knowledge of law to.  There were no civilians to give rights to. There was no structure to cities that he could organize and enforce.  

Wheeljack found he could sympathize with the utter loss of what to do that Magnus was undergoing.  

Then the young Predacons had put him out of commision while Wheeljack was off in space with Optimus.  They'd returned, fought off Unicron, and seen Optimus Prime die.

There was much mourning after that.  There were celebrations over the official end of the Autobot-Decepticon war.  

No one mourned the bedridden state of Ultra Magnus.  He was not included in their celebrations. Even after Ratchet had given him leave (Magnus was surprisingly hyperactive in that he hated holding still doing nothing), he didn't show up at any of the fun.

It didn't take long for Wheeljack to realize he was never invited to any.

That...stung a bit.  No, Magnus probably would make them put the high grade away and ration the energon and keep them from doing anything stupidly fun but-

But still.  Wheeljack remembered how Magnus would wield the forge and crush through troops.  How he'd stand up again and again in a fight with Predaking.  

How lost he was whenever Optimus would discuss family and how it took priority over laws and rules.

Magnus never mentioned it if Wheeljack gave him the occasional help now that he was no longer bedridden.

The salutes Wheeljack would offer were not protocol salutes.  He'd started using the cocky expression back during the Wreckers and again on Earth because he knew it peeled Magnus's paint.  

They still were far to casually swung to be protocol salutes.  But there was an air of affability about them now. Even if Magnus never smiled, he stopped frowning quite as much at each 'salute'.

One cycle, the large mech pulled him aside and said he didn't understand.  "You never helped or followed protocol or listened to the chain of command in the war.  There is no military chain of command anymore. You are lawfully required to offer any of those to me anymore.  But it is only now that you have started."

They both were confused on the matter.  But Wheeljack had more of a grasp on the situation than Magnus did.  See, the once officer understood respect; he understood respect for the rules and superiors.  He didn't understand the respect friends gave one another.

Wheeljack could understand the latter respect far more than the former.

Not long after, he had seen the officer taking his energon alone.  It didn't seem like the type of "alone" a superior would chose to be; the type that screamed 'pompous officer, you are not worthy to sit with me'.  This was more of a..."I'm so out of place" vibe.  

Magnus had no place with the Wreckers.  That didn't mean he shouldn't feel at home with a tight knit batch of Autobots.

So Wheeljack had forced him to come over to his table.  The group of bots there were cracking jokes and laughing.  Magnus had listened carefully to one of Arcee's jokes and then spoke up plainly that what the punchline insinuated was again NC.L. section 431, extortion, and-

Drew up a bunch of blank expressions.  Knock Out had begun to smirk and excused himself to retreat to a safer zone to laugh in.  Arcee had gone professionally stony. Bumblebee apologized profusely for any offence and then tried to explain that it had been, afterall, a joke.  Not something taken seriously.

Wheeljack took a good long look at Magnus's faceplates.  It was serious. Always serious. 

Then Magnus had been the one to excuse himself and he left the room.  Wheeljack had the feeling he was embarrassed, although it was impossible to tell on the mech.

After that incident, Magnus had taken to bringing his energon back to his own room and fueling alone.  During one visit from Earth, Ratchet had gone in there and his cranky voice could be heard raising. It seemed what he had to say worked.  The commander once again fueled in the rec room and tried to "socialize". He was awful at it and Wheeljack couldn't even find that funny anymore now that he'd stopped despising the mech.

Whenever Magnus would walk into a room, the inhabitants would go quiet.  Humor and noise would clam up in the presence of the mech who still instinctually told others to tack a 'sir' to the end of friendly sentences.  Wheeljack waited a while before he dragged the killjoy over to a populated table again. This was a cycle that one of the Predacons was busy abusing the goodwill between factions to drink the energon in the bot rec room; said Predacon was busy buddying up with the younger bots (ie Smokescreen and Knock Out, the latter of whom was actually older than Bumblebee but certainly didn't show it) and buzzed up on high grade.  It had made Skylynx even more stupid than usual. He'd started laughing over how easily Ultra Magnus, the most esteemed of Optimus Prime's old lieutenants, had gotten taken down by him and his brother.

What was surprising was how Wheeljack reacted.  He was allowed to pick on Magnus. He had rights to.  After all that time putting up with him and his horrible lead of the Wreckers.  This young Predacon did not have those rights.

Afterwards, Wheeljack noticed how Magnus fled the scene.  If he dared to guess, he'd say the overstoic mech was embarrassed by how Wheeljack of all mechs had verbally defended him.

It was hard to get a read on Magnus.  He didn't smile. He didn't frown that often.  His expression was almost as unreadable as Soundwave's visor.  And whenever he talked to Wheeljack, the most emotion he tended to glean was anger or frustration.

Gradually, it got easier to pick up more than irritation.  For one, he was uncomfortable. Probably with the help Wheeljack started offering.  And the whole defending event.

That had been awkward.  

The confusion over what to do now lingered on and on.  Even after Bulk's construction made progress and buildings were made liveable.  Even after neutrals and bots and cons landed to find out how the war had ended and then determined whether to stay or not.  Even after both Wheeljack and Magnus had their own places outside the grounded Nemesis.

The latter's home may have well have been the antithesis of Wheeljacks.  

Magnus liked to keep his apartment clean and in the process of 'decorating' it had ended up looking more like an office than a living space.  Wheeljack had no issues making fun of him for that fact.

There was only a living planet with dead cities, a faction of Predacons that included wartime Decepticons Magnus was not allowed to prosecute, and a trickle of returning ships; and that altogether was chaos to the commander.  But Ratchet suggested he find some sort of work and so he'd begun to document and direct new arrivals to the planet. That pristine apartment began to crowd with new tablets and records.  

Somehow, things had changed again.  But he had followed Arcee's advice; he had moved with those changes instead of rusting.  And the consequence was grudging respect and equally grudging camaraderie with his retired commander.  

During the Wrecker's active cycles, Wheeljack never would have confronted Magnus over his deal with the outfit.  On Earth, he rather have torn the commander a new one than to ask why he hated Wreckers but insisted on leading them.

On post war Cybertron?

It was possible.

There was a riot one cycle.  A couple of detonations rocked some of the new buildings.  Magnus's apartment had been hit by one. There was no other explanation to why his organized office had its piles and shelves of boring stuff spilled across the floor.

Wheeljack stopped by the entryway to soak in the sight.  It'd probably be the only time he'd get to see any of Magnus's stuff not stacked and ordered by title, color, date, etc.

Inside the disrupted room, Magnus was sorting through the tablets and boxes.  Wheeljack moved to enter the room (possibly even help, even if Magnus wasn't an invalid anymore) when he realized the room already had more than one occupant.

"This it?" Miko popped up from behind one of the stacks and hefted a tablet almost her own size into the air.  Her presence took the Wrecker by surprise.

Ultra Magnus looked over from his own search and took in what she was holding.  With that same even tone he seemed to always speak with, he told her "no" and looked away.  The suited human dropped the tablet and Wheeljack couldn't help but flinch; Magnus was gonna be mad that one of his boring codes just got dropped...but the anger didn't come.

The flinch had turned into amusement.  Wheeljack lounged against the doorway and watched as Miko moved to another random item and treated it similarly.  Magnus gave the same patient response. Simple, brief, and lacking in negativity.

Hah.  He liked her.

It was probably all the "sirs" she tacked on.

Eventually she left (it was nearing Earth's night cycle and her human body knew it) and Wheeljack went in.  Magnus gave a stiff greeting. Wheeljack gave a salute.

Approaching the subject wasn't easy.

Finally, he managed.  While the big mech was crouching to search for whatever it was he was looking for, Wheeljack blurted it out.

"Hey."  

Magnus lifted his head until his neutral faceplates stared at him.  

"'been wonderin' lately.  You were in charge of us Wreckers a long time.  Why?"

The expression didn't change during the long pause that followed.

"Optimus Prime handed the position to me," Magnus answered evenly.

Yeah right.  That was the story Wheeljack already knew.  It wasn't a lie. No, Magnus never learned the subtleties of lying.  But it wasn't saying the whole reason.

"Why'd he offer?" 

The blue mech still didn't stand.

"I requested full command after 18 vorns of lower ranking commanding positions within the Wreckers.  He accepted my request."

Those 18 vorns hadn't been so bad.  He'd never been in any units that had Magnus as their officer, after all.  

The smart thing would have been to end the conversation there.

Wheeljack spoke up again instead.  

"What I don't get," he drawled slowly, "Is why you'd bother.  You hated Wreckers. You hated 'Wrecker Style'." There was no reason for an antiwrecker to get involved in the team went unsaid and still heard.

That seemed to take Magnus by surprise.  He pushed up from the ground and was suddenly standing tall over the short Wrecker.  

"The amount of laws broken and dismissals of the Autobot Code by the Wreckers disturbed me.  I had hoped to polish the strengths of its members while pruning those problematic tendencies," Magnus said.

Sounded like something he'd do.  Wheeljack couldn't help but scoff.

"You never thought you were overreacting?" he crossed his arms.  "Your 'pruning' gradually cut every one of us out of there. No one can meet your standards."

The bubble of anger rising was unavoidable.  He couldn't stop its growth.

"Your standards and codes and rules made the Wreckers fall apart.  The Autobots lost one of their greatest military branches," Wheeljack continued.  His jaw jutted forward competitively.  

Magnus gave a little frown.  But the blue mech stepped backwards towards his newly stacked and filed piles of junk (or treasure, depending on which one of them was asked).  One servo went down to the top as if he was going to take a tablet and wave it in Wheeljack's face for 'education' purposes.

There was none of that.  There was no anger. Magnus didn't rise to the bait.

"Soldier," he said (slipping up once more; peacetime just wasn't working for a naturally forged officer).  "Do you understand what the Wreckers were?"

Another scoff.

"I was a Wrecker," Wheeljack contested sarcastically, "What do you think?"

"I think," Magnus began slowly, "That you understood your own unit.  Mech's like Bulkhead. Brawn. Seaspray. Springer. Not the other Wrecker units."

This was...not going in the direction he'd been suspecting.  Wheeljack let his shoulder plates rise up and down in a shrug.

"What about them?"

In a manner uncharacteristic for the stiff mech, Magnus opened his mouth and then closed it again.  Reading him may be difficult but it wasn't impossible; he was uneasy.  

It made Wheeljack feel uneasy too.

"What do you know of Pova?" Magnus started up again slowly.  This wasn't a patronizing, you're-slow-and-stupid tone. He really wasn't sure of how to talk about whatever he was trying to.

"It was just a planet," Wheeljack tried to shrug again.  He knew what had happened on Pova (the rest of the Wreckers had celebrated pretty thoroughly after it) but not much about the planet itself.  Was the planet what Magnus was trying to discuss?

The next sentence answered no to that question.

"Do you know what happened on Pova?" the bigger mech pressed.

There was that unease again.  Wheeljack found himself looking down at the floor instead of those blue optics.  There was a play script from some technorganic colony neutrals had clung to on one of the tablets sitting on the ground.  Huh. Look at that. It seemed the commander could read something other than laws.

"Sure.  Every Wrecker does," he responded uneasily, "We took down those slaggers in Squadron X.  We dealt a big blow to the Cons."

Magnus went quiet again.  Then he spoke up once more.

"Impactor was the commander of the unit on Pova.  It was a zone our extraplanet treaties forbid fighting on.  But the squadron was on the planet refuelling and..."R&R"ing, you would say.  The Povans were angry that we broke that treaty to land and fight with them. I gave the order to pull out.  Impactor didn't listen."

Sounded like Magnus alright.  Doing the legal thing even if it was stupid.  Even if it meant letting one of the crack teams of the Decepticons get away to kill more Wreckers later.

"Impactor didn't listen," Magnus continued, "The Wreckers on Pova had apprehended many of Squadron X nonlethally.  But the prisoners could not have been delivered to any Garrus or prison because Autobot prisons would have recognized the law.  They would have listened to the Povan's demands to not play any role in our war. No prison would take Squadron X because Pova had said that both the Decepticon unit and the Wrecker unit had to cease hostilities and leave the planet separately.  And yet..."

Wheeljack looked back over at the pause.  

"and yet?" he prompted.

"Squadron X was killed that day.  Tell me, soldi-Wheeljack. How could that have happened?"

There were lots of ways.  Probably a lot of those ways were ones Wheeljack would have done.  Squadron X, alongside other units like the Stunticons, had been created to kill Wreckers and they had succeeded for many of his teammates.  Friends.  

"You tell me, boss," Wheeljack opted to say.  

"In clear violation to the Autobot Code and Ethics, Impactor killed the Wrecker prisoners.  Not one of the other Wreckers stopped him."

As he'd thought- lots of ways.  End result was getting rid of them.  That was what mattered, right? 

...Not to Bulk.  Bulk had left because he was too soft for the Wreckers.  And he'd gotten even softer with Optimus.

Wheeljack had gotten soft too.  But he'd been told to move with life's changes and life had become soft.  He'd just been following Arcee's advice.

"So that's why you hated us," Wheeljack said flatly after a silence.  Magnus's engine gave a soft rumble.

"I did not hate.  I was disappointed.  I was one of Optimus Prime's allies."  One of his friends .  The stickler still hadn't figured out how to say it.  "I stayed with him because of his cause. Because of that cause's code.  To see the Autobot Military blatantly ignore that code seemed no better than-"

He knew what the other was about to say.  He knew it even as Magnus's voice cut off momentarily.

"If one doesn't adhere to the Code, I cannot see them as Autobots.  And I had no interest in allowing the Wreckers to serve as neutral mercenaries hired by the upholders of that Code in order to utilize their brutality or sadism."

There was a shuffling.  Wheeljack's plating had risen defensively.  He was feeling chastised even if he hadn't been there.  If he had? He'd have let Impactor do his thing. He never liked bothering with prisoners anyways.  Still, what he chose to do did tend to go in strict opposition to what Magnus chose to.

"You shoulda told us," Wheeljack kicked a pede out and swung it back absently.  "We'd have still hated you, sure, but at least we'd know why you'd come in. I don't care about Pova; I still am mad about what you did to my team and I will be.  But I like a good chit chat. I think this one has me at least gettin' why you did it all."

The even stare never changed but it had no confidence.

"...I do not talk to troops unless to give orders.  I am not..."

Magnus's frown deepened.  Wheeljack had come to learn it meant the bigger mech was feeling uncomfortable.

"Not good at talking."

The understatement of the century; Wheeljack snorted out a laugh.

"Besides," Magnus continued quickly, "Officers give commands.  They do not...'chit chat'."

"The Wreckers weren't ones for officers," the other rebutted.  It had those blue optics narrow as they stared down at him.

"No, they were not," the commander conceded with a touch of darkness, "They also, as I recall, do not call for back up but clean up."

It was a bit of a slaughter to their motto, but Wheeljack couldn't really expect anything more from the mech who insisted he didn't tolerate Wrecker style.

"The Wreckers on Pova did indeed not call for back up," Magnus finished, "I was there for their clean up.  It was a logistic and ethical mess."

Speaking of logistics...

Magnus did things slow.  He did things illogically.  He was no Shockwave anymore than he was an Optimus Prime.

His lead slowed the Wreckers down.  It slowed the hunt for Predacon bones down on Earth.  When they had taken the Iron Will instead of a groundbridge, they had made a tactical error when the mission needed speed.

But...

But it had also been playing it safe.  Magnus was used to flying in the Iron Will.   He wasn't used to groundbridges.

He wasn't used to socializing or peacetime or Wrecker style.

Magnus liked to play things safely and stick to what he was used to.  A stickler for the code that couldn't seem to have any independent thoughts outside those rules.  But the 'mess' on Pova wouldn't have happened if other mechs in the Wreckers were also robotic sticklers.  

That wasn't how living mechs worked though.  It certainly wasn't how Wheeljack did.  

In the war, neither was going to give another any ground.  In peacetime, both were a bit forced to actually consider the others reasonings.

If he could go back and prevent Magnus from taking over the Wreckers?  He still would.

But that didn't mean he couldn't attempt a chit chat here and there with the mech.


Later

As it turned out, Magnus was looking for a datapad with the logs on the latest ship (some sad sack of a crew and their ship, called the Weak Anthropomorphic Principle) to land on Cybertron.  Miko had been zero help in finding it among this mess and Magnus was too distracted by every tablet he picked up from the ground; his pathological organizing was forcing him to search through everything incredibly slowly.

So Wheeljack offered a servo.

"Need any help finding it?"

He was back to lounging against a wall with his arms crossed and that slow drawl in his voice.  After their talk, he'd felt a bit more reason to stay behind and try to keep the commander company even if that meant trying to find some uselessly technical datapad. 

Magnus looked his way at the question and responded flatly that "I don't trust you wouldn't make more of a mess."

Well then.  Wheeljack found himself frowning and regretting the offer.

"Forget I said a thing," he waved the other mech away in slight irritation, "I'll just go then."

There was another pause.  An awkward pause.

"I didn't mean-" Magnus started up, "I was attempting to make a joke."

There was another awkward pause.  Then Wheeljack did a gesture he'd picked up from Earth.  His planted his faceplate in a servo and ground it there.  Since it was a human expression, Magnus was probably left even more confused.

Or not, considering how he, the stoic no-nonsense born-a-sir, somehow found the wild human Miko tolerable and she pulled faceplants on a daily basis.

Wheeljack shook his head and Magnus kept his own frown.

"You're going to need a lot more practice then," he said plainly "Sir."

 

Chapter Text

 

The name was the first step.  Others had taken ones before he had.  There was Datura, named after an earth planet that bloomed only on its night cycles.  It was poisonous to earthlings and held names like hells bells or devil's trumpets; names that didn't deter him in the slightest. Datura, formerly XL-3T09, had always loved a flair for the dramatic.  He'd been a part of commander Starscream's armada after all.

There was Rust, formerly XL-R991, one of the oldest surviving eradicons.  They'd struggled through life as an expendable and now found a new life ahead.  

XL-2580 took a little longer than some of the others to find a new name.  Those who'd chosen names had gone on to choose pronouns and paints and Datura, flashy as he was, had even pushed one of the Autobots for mods to further distinguish himself.

That just felt too risky to it.  Trying to demand being called something else was pushing enough, wasn't it?  Truly forged Cybertronians did not like to be pushed. Hadn't life under the Decepticon army proved that?

But XL-2580 took a name regardless.  It chose the uninspired moniker of Spring.  Then the vehicon had gone to register the new name. He'd (as he recently decided he wished to be, rather than an it) shuffled uncomfortably the entire venture.  

Currently it was the Autobot Smokescreen at the station.  Apparently the mech had spent time in libraries and other such places and had been given this job because of those previous ones.

He was bulkier than Spring.  He'd been the one to use the Spark Extractor in battle.

Spring had almost left there and then.  The official records could call him XL-2580, what did it matter?  At least he'd be safe.

Smokescreen didn't kill him with a stare alone.  Slowly, Spring had mumbled his way through the request.  The bulkier mech had dug through files, made him sign forms, and finally showed him the proof that he was registered (all current inhabitants on Cybertron were registered, even the remaining commanders [...no, not commanders.  They weren't his commanders anymore] boarding with the Predacon faction) as Spring now.

Then the vehicon had returned to the barracks with the rest of his friends.  He had survived.

Which gave him a little more confidence than was likely wise to have.

Because cycles later, Spring wanted to make another change.

Like the other vehicons on the Nemesis, he'd been offered a job at the end of the war.  Some of them hadn't taken the offer up. They'd been kept in the ship, locked away with the crazy medic.  And then just cycles later Knock Out was free and most of the imprisoned drones had been killed during Starscream's short lived coup.

Spring couldn't be too bitter about that fact.  At least Knock Out's old nurse would've been happy to know his friend was up and at 'em in this new world.  The vehicons had always liked Breakdown; his happiness at this peacetime would've been good to see.

But that officer was dead just like the vehicons helping in the coup.

Didn't matter.  Spring was alive.  He had accepted the offer to live outside a prison and help with reconstruction efforts in exchange for good behavior.  All those who had accepted had good behavior. There was no reason not to.

For the first few cycles, Spring had been terrified.  Every order yelled at him by the Autobot in charge sent his defensive protocols whirling.  Eventually that had worn away. He'd grown better accustomed to the sight of Autobots, the very people he and the rest of the drones were constructed to fight against.

Bulkhead wasn't even too scary a guy once that sort of ingrained fear was worn down.  The mech was patient and never seemed to see them differently than he did the real mechs.  That was...nice. It was what Breakdown used to do. None of the drones ever mentioned it to the Wrecker though.  They all were aware of the rivalry between the two.

But no matter how patient and respectful Bulkhead could be (even if he was irritated with how clumsy some of them were; but what had he expected?  Not all of them were miner class. Some of them had spent their time at various screens and stations on the Nemesis, not lifting heavy equipment with skilled dexterity), Spring didn't like construction.  He'd mainly dealt in communications on the warship, fixing dishes and monitoring stations, and the occasional ground based job guarding a mine. Despite being created for cannon fodder, Spring felt like he'd gotten passively used to those jobs.  He'd done adequately at them.

He was awful at construction.  Maybe designing the blueprints themselves would have been a better use of his skill set than lifting things.

As time passed after he'd changed his registration information, Spring found himself more and more unsatisfied.  He didn't want to press what limits the forged mechs had by stepping out of the jobs given to them all. But...but at the same time...

Spring got himself a decal on his right servo palm and waited for the blowout about the accessory to happen at work...waited and waited until he determined the reprimand wasn't coming.  He paced the halls outside his barracks instead of successfully initiating a recharge cycle. He climbed to the top of one of the recently constructed buildings and sat down alone on its rooftop.  Buildings- homes, offices, a clinic, a few shops- rose up from the small city. Beyond them were the frames for more buildings, bridges and roads, and then just the expanse of the planet.

Spring hadn't been made on Cybertron.  He hadn't been forged from a living fragment of the Allspark here.  By the time of his creation, the Allspark hadn't given out life for vorns.  

In fact, vorns had passed since the army had even been centered on the planet.

Coming here in the Nemesis after the Autobots had hijacked the ship had been the first time Spring had ever seen Cybertron.

And he knew, even if the Autobots hadn't realized it until they had the first small ship land on the planet and had started up the registration database to keep track of what would likely be an exploding populace, that almost all of his fellow vehicons had not seen the planet before either.

It really was beautiful.

Spring rested his head on his servos and looked over it all.  It was so very empty at the moment. A wild sense of adventure seemed to be the only correct response to seeing that wilderness.

The truth become inescapable; he was restless.  He, like so many of the other vehicons, wanted more.  They wanted names. They wanted ways to make themselves look unique from the others.  

They wanted to be people.

And people could make choices.

So if each new name replaced an old set of numbers and each vehicon declared whether they wanted to be called an it or not, their subspecies began to be seen.

The Cybertronians couldn't keep seeing them as drones.  They were people.  

Spring was a person.  And he didn't want to stay in the construction barracks building this city.  

Still, approaching the matter was nerve wracking.  

Once again, he hadn't been the first to try it.  Plenty of others had left. Plenty of others had even gotten full paintjobs and modded themselves, even if the blank visor of a face remained on each one.  But he was nervous about doing anything more extreme than a decal. On the Nemesis, all this being done by the vehicons of late would have been crushed underpede.  Trying to convince himself that it was all alright here was like fighting a losing battle (something vehicons were very experienced with).  

As of yet, only one new ship had actually landed.  There had been no others since the database of new inhabitants had been begun.  There was no concrete government yet. The officers on the planet were still the same officers who had piloted the warship here (with the exception of the Prime and the medic, Ratchet [who took Knock Out back with him to earth once every earthen month and made the already small officer count go down further]).  The ship contained a few neutrals who, being forged mechs and not drones, had been able to chose what they wanted to do.

Spring wanted to choose, no matter if he had been created by scientists on an offplanet station just to be an expendable who wouldn't question orders or its lot in life.

No more.

The one he had to go to this time wasn't Smokescreen.  That mech had shrugged at his nervous questions and told him to look for someone higher ranked.  Ambition drove Spring straight to the top. Bumblebee. 

A mech just as small, compared to some of the other true Cybertronians, as Smokescreen.  Unassuming. He had a lively voice that seemed accustomed to giving orders even if he'd been without a voice for vorns.

Spring realized he was terrified of him as he explained his presence.

What if?  

What if the officer was mad this vehicon was questioning his job?

What if it was all seen as an insult to the Autobots offer for clemency at the end of the war?

What if Bumblebee lashed out at this insubordination in the skin of independence?

Bumblebee didn't seem surprised at the request.  But the commander looked almost surprised at how tense Spring was.  The mech wasn't very good at hiding his expressions.  

The officer's surprise was one of those things that shocked the vehicon just as much as it seemed Bumblebee was.  And was one of those things which made him actually feel a sense of...loyalty. To this black and yellow mech who'd only recently found a voice.

Because none, with the exception of Breakdown, of the officers on the Nemesis would have listened to Spring's request for relocation.  Chances were, many would have been angry. Vehicons weren't supposed to think. They weren't supposed to question their assigned lot in life.  

It hadn't made them the most loyalty inspiring commanders.  For many vehicons, the only motivation for following this way of life was just plain fear.

In this new life on this planet, Spring didn't have to feel motivated to listen to his superior officers because of fear.  He would want to follow them because they respected his own wishes and hopes.

And they had; Bumblebee agreed to relocate him and, even though the mech was likely busy, had made time to sit down and talk over options.

Spring had chosen one.

With the mask retracted, the vehicon caught sight of Bumblebee's smile.  The young officer had, after all, been a scout too not long before.

Then the mech left to work on some new task and Spring had returned to the construction barracks to pack what few belongings his old job's salary had let him buy.  His friends had held a small going away party for him. Bulkhead had (unlike what his imaginations of anger had promised him) offered him a hearty slap on the back when he'd gone to inform the mech he was quitting.  

There was a small apartment on the outskirts of the growing city that Spring bought with what little he had.  The walls and sparse furniture were all an unpainted gray but he didn't mind much.  It had a tiny window looking out over the expanse. Spring had pulled a chair right over to it and then looked out at the vast world beyond.

As the city grew, this apartment building's view would eventually be blocked by more infrastructure.  As other cities grew, the wilderness outside would shrink.

But for now Spring had the empty room to himself and the view that promised what lay ahead of him in his new scouting job.

If he had a face, he'd have smiled until it hurt.

Chapter Text

It had started with a race.

Or, perhaps, with a dressing down.  They couldn't really afford to arrest their one on-site medic for racing after all.

The last few jours had been exhausting.  Knock Out was ready for them to be over. But life on a newly reborn world didn't have a time when work was 'over'.  So he'd broken free of the Nemesis to drive.

Sure, it was risky.  He was on thin ice as was.  Ultra Magnus had come out of stasis to his face and had as much of a breakdown as a stiff mech like him could.  Of course Ratchet had appeared moments later to calm him down, but the blue mech had only frowned whenever Knock Out was brought up in a conversation.  

It had, of course, been Optimus Prime's ideas that kept him out of trouble.  The former Prime had hoped to give all a clean slate on a world similarly wiped clean.  The bias and prejudice of being on the winning team were to be ignored. The Vehicons were to be offered a chance to work and be free.  All visitors would as well. Unless they were causing trouble or unwilling to let go of their 'team'.  

Technically, Knock Out had been willing to let go of the Decepticon title but for some (perfectly understandable and flattering) reason, no one had trusted him.  He'd been tossed into a cell with the Vehicons who refused to stand down and then spent far too many cycles cooped up in there.

No oil baths.  No buffing partners.

Ugh.

Being tossed into the brig should have been a signal that the Autobots did not plan to deal kindly with him.  But Knock Out had only let that fear drive him for the first solar cycle (he was still adjusted to Earth time).  After that, he found himself in a conundrum of sorts.

He couldn't just sit here in darkness while they flew towards and eventually over his home planet.  He couldn't sit here with only the dry company of war-thirsty drones.

Didn't matter if common sense said whining to the people who had defeated your faction in a long, long war was a bad move.  He needed conversation and he needed a way out to 1) get cleaned and fix the faceplate hit by that little human in the Apex Armor, and 2) see Cybertron with his own optics.

So Knock Out had yelled and pounded and eventually riled the others into doing the same until-

You know what?  Maybe it hadn't started with a race.  It had started with a cell and a call.

The first time a call came in from the outside was from that young and smarmy rookie Smokescreen.  He'd started off on some taunt and then was shoved offscreen by Bumblebee.

The scout had his mask slid apart.  For the first time, Knock Out could see his entire face.  On Earth, he'd always kept it shut.  

Then his mouth opened and a confident but young voice began to speak.  On Earth, Bumblebee had been limited to primal vernacular. Now...he was talking?  He was fine?

How had that happened?

The details and answers came later.  At that moment, it was just him, a prisoner, and the scout, one of the victors.  

In the first call, Bumblebee was cold.  But he also wasn't gloating. He was just cold in his professionalism.  Read him the rights that Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus had decided on.  

Knock Out had jumped upon those 'rights' and demanded an opportunity to clean up.  It had taken Bumblebee by surprised. Without the mask, the scout's face was too expressive.  And then the bot had mumbled something like "of course" and cut the call.  

Not long after, he was given a basic mechanics treatment to the dent in his face.  No oil bath or buffing but Knock Out took what he could.

For a while at least.  

The more he demanded, the less Bumblebee would answer in cold professionalism.  It became a game for them. It was a game Knock Out technically always lost, but the speedster always got his call when he riled the Vehicons to pound away at the cell for attention.  

Attention was his victory.  Even if his demands were always refused.

The first time Bumblebee used his (the very sight in another's servos made him splutter) buffer to tease took Knock Out by complete surprise.  He had stuttered and sputtered in indignation and watched the scout laugh.

And it was proof that it was a game to them both.

If these were still the interactions between a prisoner of war and his jailer, there wouldn't be this flair of taunting and back and forth.  There wouldn't be this vying for attention. Any of his calls with the other Autobots proved that; those calls reminded him of his fearfully unpleasant place aboard the ship and left him with worry over what his fate would be.  The calls with the scout let him forget those worries for a while.

So it had started with those calls he supposed.  But that had all had a different feel to it. Now he was out of the cell.  He had his old room back (and the 'comfort' of knowing it was being recorded at all times).  He even had his old job as a medic back.

And not just any medic.  The CMO of Cybertron. Granted, there were only a servo-full of adult Cybertronians on the planet anyways and out of them, he just happened to be the only medic.  

But thus far he hadn't done much medically.  Every one of them was kept busy with so many tedious jobs.  Ultra Magnus was still berth ridden but he insisted Knock Out be forced to go over laws, treaties, the Autobot Code, and so on with him from the berthside.  

Before the Prime had given up his spark, he may have told his followers not to prosecute by faction.  He may have insisted that faction not matter so long as hostilities were dropped.

They still mattered.  Knock Out had made the decision to switch sides to save his own plating but by the time they'd trudged back to the Nemesis after the Prime's death, he actually wished to.  Even if Magnus's dry lessons and judgmental tones whenever Decepticon atrocities were brought up (Knock Out made sure to scrub his office of any sign of C.Y.L.U.S. after that first lecture- no need to give Magnus any new ammunition in his tirades) tried hard to get him to quit it.

If anyone believed he meant it...Well, there seemed to be a few.  Arcee didn't necessarily think he had the right reasons, but she did believe he wanted to defect.  She had struck an unsaid alliance with him, only fed by the fact that both shared a common hatred of Arachnid for killing their blue partners.  There were things Knock Out had done that would undoubtedly make her plating crawl but, out of all the Autobots, she seemed least likely to flip out at the, *ahem*, work.  Wheeljack was the other who didn't seem much likely to overreact; that mech had his own fair share of blatantly unregretted energon on his servos.  Smokescreen didn't seem to understand that Knock Out had spent the entire length of the war, vorns and vorns, as a 'mad doctor' of the Decepticons.  Then again, Smokescreen didn't seem to understand at all how long the war had been and what its soldiers were responsible for. He'd been a rookie guard for too much of it and in stasis for the rest.  For some reason, the other racer seemed to think Knock Out was a rookie too.

Hah.  No way.  He had so much experience-

Not that Ratchet cared.  When the news came in that the Autobots had found his license, or lack of, in the records and that Ratchet was requiring him to come to Earth on a regular basis just to be 'taught'...pah.  How frustrating and embarrassing.

There was quite too much 'embarrassing' going on these days.  

So Knock Out reached the end of his frayed rope.  He spent too many jours working at buildings and random jobs and patching up injured Vehicons and--

Drove away.

Drove from his problems.  Drove from the fray.

It wasn't a race.  He had no partner. It was just him and the empty planet.  His comms were turned off after receiving the first call from Ultra Magnus demanding he return (his work cycle wasn't over?  Yeah. It never was. Hadn't the berthridden idiot realized that yet?). He was still trackable.  

The groundbridge opened and shed green light over the metal roads.  Bumblebee stepped out. Knock Out didn't brake. He drove right on past the (not a scout.  He'd been promoted to warrior class once the war had ended and there was no need for warriors any longer.  There had been a 'big' party and everything that first cycle after the Unicron thing had died down) officer and ignored the way the short mech had dodged his unstoppable charge.  Then Knock Out could see behind him that the other mech was folding down into his altmode. Then he was chased down.  

Ah.  Just like a race.  The thrill of an overheated engine, frantically spinning wheels, and competition.  

It came to an abrupt end when Bumblebee shot up from the ground, went completely into root mode while airborne, and then crashed down on top of him.  Knock Out had been too surprised to do anything for a split second. Then he had transformed and was yelling and admittingly freaking out about his paint that Bumblebee had rubbed away and was frankly scandalized at the audacity of it all.  Who did Bumblebee think he was, Robocop? Taking him down like this was some stupidly cinematic arrest?

He realized they were tangled up the second his processor caught up with the situation.  

Which is why he would say this started because of that stupid 'race'.  But it had started before then; with all the calls, and the casual hope Bumblebee offered by teasing him through those, instead of implying some horrific trial and execution, with the taunts that really could've been read as something else-

Who could blame the medic for letting himself read things wrong?  He'd missed this. It was always a favorite pastime of his; few things earned more attention than flirting, after all, and Knock Out placed a high value on attention.  No one on the Nemesis knew how to flirt, other than Starscream and that mech was a dick, to use the human term. On Velocitron it had occurred quite often and the mechs there were always good looking enough for their flattery to be quite welcome.  The Autobots were horrible at it, but they seemed to have.. something else.  Something that he hadn't figured out, couldn't quite comprehend.  They cared about each other; any flirting they did engage in meant something serious amongst them.

When he'd spent the last dozen orns reading (most likely mistakenly [judging by their past history and current situation]) their back and forth as flirting, this current situation was rather compromising.  He didn't want Bumblebee to expect that something to be reciprocated.  He didn't know how to reciprocate.

Uncharacteristically, Knock Out untangled himself in a wild hurry and began to blab on and on.

Bumblebee had started laughing and he pushed himself up to a stand as well.

"Hey," the officer held a servo out to gesture for a pause in the stream of talking.  "Hey," Bumblebee continued to snicker but moved forward to make sure he hadn't actually done anything to give the medic a reason to be upset. "Are you okay?  I didn't hurt you, right?"

It sounded too much like other questions.

Like a heavy duty mech that idolized him.  One who would always hunt down and find Knock Out while the red mech was sulking.  

"Doc?  You alright doc?"

The times he'd be panicking over his safety once he'd been recalled to the Nemesis by Starscream and joined a coup against a mech they had thought would never pose a threat again; then Megatron had stood from the slab and Soundwave was the specter by his side, and Knock Out knew, they all knew, the tall mech had shown their leader everything and that everything included his deal with Starscream that should have sealed Megatron's demise-

"You're too important to offline," Breakdown would hold him still.  It fed his beliefs. It fed his mindset that the world truly did revolve around him and who could kill the center of the universe?  

But if the world revolved around him, then Breakdown wouldn't have been killed.  He'd meant to much. He made Knock Out feel too good.

He couldn't do this now.

There were the tinges of panic once more.  Knock Out couldn't comprehend why they were there.  He was being given everything he needed. A good looking mech was giving him attention.  The attention made him preen and feel good. The attention meant that he was becoming someone too important (to at least one of the Autobots) for the other faction members to just offline him and that security made him feel good.  His life had been, for the longest time, about prioritizing what made him feel good.

So why did he feel so uneasy right now?


Everything had changed.

In the past, this would have been easy.  Flirting was just part of his nature. Interfacing was always fun so long as the mech was nice looking.

There was emotional investment.  As follows: does he make me feel good?  Does he shower me with praise? Does he change until I am the center of his world?  Does he come to me for advice?

The Autobots had this whole...family...unit...thing...going on and it operated differently.  They had spark-to-spark conversations in quiet tones or breakdowns that seemed to him as he watched like they...

Actually mattered mutually.  Like the complaints of one meant something to the other.  Like the success of one was actually perceived as a victory for the friend.  Like the disappointment of one meant legitimate pain to the other.  Empathy, wasn't it?

It didn't look like painted on lies and proper responses practiced and delivered with ease.

Had Knock Out ran simply because he was sick of the workload?

He wanted to say yes.  But he knew there was more.  

It was different with these people.  Optimus Prime had been so very different from Megatron and the other Decepticon officers.

Ratchet didn't treat him like scrap just because he didn't know the schooled and technical answer to some medical question.  

When one of these bots thanked him, Knock Out had a processor stalling astrosecond because somehow he could tell they meant it and...that was just alien.  It made him feel the unmistakable desire to keep pleasing so that he could keep getting those sparkfelt rewards.

And somehow, that motivation made him feel a little unhappy.

It didn't seem like it was the same motivation driving the others.  It didn't seem like they acted the way they did because they were all the main characters of their own story seeking for validation and praise.  

So what was their motivation?  And why couldn't Knock Out feel it?

He was being left out of something.  Something innate and natural that just didn't click with him.

And Knock Out did not like being left out.  

That meant he wasn't everything.  It meant he wasn't getting all the experiences there were to be gotten.  It meant he wasn't the best.

And when Bumblebee acted friendly and gave him jobs and still occasionally teased him about his buffer, Knock Out found himself distracted from enjoying that attention with pervasive internal questions on what Bumblebee was feeling throughout the whole process.

Knock Out had never really understood how to question what another mech was feeling.  He had his honor and knew what friends were and knew that Starscream's tendency to betray friends made him an aft and Breakdown's idolizing made him more of a tool than an equal but-but-

Had he actually ever known what a friend was?  

Had he ever had one the way these Autobots had?

Careful observation on how they interacted with each other let him see through that observant lens how it was Bumblebee was interacting with him. 

The once-scout thought they were friends.

But Knock Out wasn't sure they could be.  He wasn't sure he could have any. He wasn't sure if Breakdown and the others over the vorns had ever been friends.

There was this unavoidable feeling that something in his hardwiring had made it impossible to see mechs and love them in the way Autobots did because he couldn't quite comprehend how it was they did it.

And not being able to do something?

It made him panic.  It made him miserable.  It made him not the best.  

It made him run.


"How mad is our perpetually unhappy commandant ?" 

They were striding through the halls from the Groundbridge center.  A few clicks before and he'd been waving off the concerns of the Autobot.  The other Autobot. He was one too now. Or he would be whenever Ultra Magnus finished with his list of lectures (who cared what some musty old code said?  All it took was a few cycles with Optimus Prime to know exactly what the perfect Autobot looked like and striving towards that role was far more loyalty-inspiring than striving towards a bunch of bland laws).

He wanted to be one.  

In fact, if Breakdown had lived...Knock Out thought the blue bruiser might have wanted to too.  But he couldn't say for sure. It had never mattered back then what Breakdown had actually wanted for himself because that didn't relate to Knock Out.

He really wished the mech was alive so that he could try to actually get to know him.  To know Breakdown. Not what Breakdown was to Knock Out. What he was independently.

A certain Insecticon femme and delusional human had seen fit to forever erase that opportunity.

"Oh, he blew a gasket," Bumblebee answered with a laugh.  The other mech was walking leisurely and his face was pointed ahead.  Even so, blue optics whirred and slid to look at the red speedster by his side.  "But he couldn't get all the way off his berth so the anger is staying contained to his corner of the medbay."

Lovely.  So when Knock Out went back to work, he'd have to deal with that stormy presence seething in all its legal indignation.  On probation as he was, the medic was technically not allowed to just up and disappear from the warship without someone to watch him.

"I've already commed to say I got you back."

"Really?" Knock Out slowed his pace a bit.  "So I-"

"-won't have to?" Bumblebee finished for him.  The grin came back wide as ever. "Yeah."

"Thank Primus," the medic sighed dramatically, "That means I can avoid that messy...'reckoning' for a good cycle or two.  Enough time for a stress-free oil bath."

If only.  One of those sounded quite nice at the moment.

"Oil is rationed out, remember?" The ex-scout sounded quite amused.  "But yes, that was my goal."

"What was?" Knock Out heard himself ask absently while his mind was still focused on bemoaning the lack of proper beauty treatment.

"Dealing with Magnus so that you wouldn't have to," Bumblebee turned in the hall to face the medic.  His sentence had once more brought Knock Out's focus back.

Wait.  He did something unpleasant.  So that Knock Out could avoid that unpleasantry.

"What sort of favor do you want?" the medic asked him.  "A trade in shifts? Maybe," he slid in closer to drawl cockily, "a session with the buffer you still owe me?  Hm?"

The scout didn't twist away in discomfort but he also didn't respond in kind the way Starscream would've been apt to do.  Instead, ever the affable professional, Bumblebee just rolled his blue optics with another whir and spoke up again in the same tone.

"No.  I was just trying to do you a favor.  Look-

Knock Out discovered he would rather look at the Nemesis's purple walls than the Autobot when his voice had lowered in concern.  The medic had fauxed concern often enough to know how it, real or fake, sounded.  He couldn't yet tell the difference between genuine and faux yet because it had never mattered before- if they were talking to him, the concern was obviously real.  If they were talking to someone else, why would he care if they were being genuine or not?

"A few of us are pretty sure that this adjustment has been hard on you.  I'm just. I'm trying to give you a helping hand."

The quieter voice dissolved into another unmasked smile.  Knock Out felt that unease inside him at not knowing just how to react to the situation spin about again.

"Well...Thank you," he spouted off the alien words with his own red optics wide.

Maybe he couldn't read if another mech was genuine or lying.  But he knew what he had been when he said the words.


Of course, after that whole incident, Knock Out had the free time to realize the awful truth: Bumblebee's 'arrest' had left him horrifyingly scuffed.  Beautiful, painstakingly applied red paint had been pushed apart for gray in splotches.

He had been so affronted that he had marched to the door of the other speedsters room and pounded for attention.

The mech signaled the door to slide apart and stood expectantly for the answer to why his recharge had been ended.

"Yes?" Bumblebee prodded.  He didn't snap. It wasn't part of his professionalism.  It was just because he was a laid-back mech. 

No wonder he had so many friends instead of the fans that Knock Out had. 

The medic shook off the distracting thoughts of appreciation.  

"Don't you see it?" he gestured down towards his body.  It wasn't all that rare of a gesture for him to make, but in the moment he was only trying to draw attention to the ruined paint.  If the other racer saw his slim waist and trim rims, well, that wasn't a drawback for anyone involved. "Your little stunt earlier has laid waste to my exquisite paint job.  I expect full compen-" 

Bumblebee was laughing.  Knock Out prickled up in offense but the other mech paid him no heed as he buried a silver faceplate in a servo.   

"Sure-" the free servo waved at him, "I'm sure none of us would care if you did some window shopping on Earth for new paint." 

"Oh, the commandant would probably be overjoyed to accompany me.  We could stroll down New York's finest streets to find only the best of product," Knock Out interrupted smoothly.   

"Ratchet could probably find time to hold your hand while you shop," Bumblebee added, purposefully prodding at his medical probation. 

"No thank you," the currently present medic gave an exaggerated shiver, "He'd probably contaminate me with rust and chronic laziness in the self care department." 

That earned a raise from one optic brow. 

"He just thinks your take on that is self overcare." 

"He just doesn't know how to make himself presentable for our poor optics." 

"And you do?" 

"Excuse me?"  Knock Out placed his servo on his chest with affront.  "Have you seen me?" 

A far less manicured servo made contact next to his to push him back jokingly.  Bumblebee was smirking again. He didn't seem surprised at all by the response he had elicited.   

Well, truth be told, it wasn't hard to get that response from Knock Out.  But it wasn't his fault he was so gorgeous. 

Or normally was, when his paint wasn't scratched to the pit and back. 

Which brought the focus back to where it belonged. 

"Now, about that compensation-" he gave a faux cough into one fist.  The expression on the other never changed.  

"I already told you.  We're fine with you paying one of the kids or our human agent to grab you extra paint.  Why should we care?"   

Because...it was wasting faction resources...right?   That's how his old team saw the matter. Granted, he did it anyways if just to spite them.  He said as much. 

"A strain on our resources would be opening the Spacebridge on a weekly-" and so he wasn't the only trapped using Earth times as much as resources, was he? " -basis, not grabbing some extra paraphernalia to your collection.  It's not like any of us haven't done the same. Well. Other than Magnus and-" 

The Prime.  Obviously. But not even Bumblebee, as calm and easy going as he seemed, could seem to mention their leader posthumously.   

"Right then."  Knock Out shifted.  The conversation had turned into such an uncomfortable still.  Neither seemed sure of what to do.  

"I'll just-" the medic pointed down the hall nonchalantly, or meant to but succeeded only in pointing towards the wall behind him.  "Be going. Now."

Despite the words, he dawdled.  Normally he was so much more suave.  Why did the Autobots have to be contagious in their awkwardness?

"Right."  Bumblebee nodded absently.  "Well."

"Yes," Knock Out agreed.  "Exactly."

There was another poignant pause.  Then the other mech couldn't help but started to chuckle.  He stepped back into his room, shaking his head and the smirk it wore, and then pointed those bright blues at glowing red.

"See you around."

And Knock Out, scratched paint notwithstanding, strode back to his quarters with a skip to his step and a spark hoping that those words were true.

Yes, the end of the war could have left him a lot worse.


Bee was so radically different from him that it was almost funny.

Cycles passed by and that became so evident.  

Ships had started to come back.  Predaking had opened full communications and tried so hard to be diplomatic with the larger faction on the planet.  A fledgling government grew, styled as a council once more but still very different than the senate of old.

And through it all, Knock Out didn't play a very major role.  He stayed on as Cybertron's CMO, continued his visits to Ratchet (which, unfortunately, were rather 'educational' no matter if he didn't need them), ogled every new person to land- Yes, he kept himself busy.  But Bumblebee, or Bee as Knock Out had taken to accepting instead, was a natural leader. He had the welcoming charisma that Ultra Magnus didn't. He was the one Predaking always deigned to speak with. He kept fights between Autobots, Neutrals, and Decepticons from escalating too horribly.

Knock Out was unarguably envious of the success.

But the original group was still in the Nemesis and the visitors were still in their own parked ships.  The fledgling city was too small to live in. The purple halls of what had once been Trypticon were still walked through on a common basis.  

Bee and Knock Out still ran into each other in the ship rec hall or passed in the halls.  The red speedster still tried to get the other racer to ignore his responsibilities and go for a race.  Sometimes he succeeded. Because, deep down, Bee was still young and free spirited and liked a good race.  He may posture with rules and responsibilities and be teased by the medic about how much of a 'goody two-shoes' he was, but Bee was still someone who loved a good adventure.  

And he loved people too.  He loved his team. Knock Out had determined that with certainty by now.  And the weirdest part?

He was included in that.  

It really made him want to be the same.  It made him try so hard to ignore all the benefits being with Bee gave him and try to benefit the other mech instead.

The purple halls had been graffitied and painted.  It made the old warship more personalized, gave it character; Knock Out loved being a part of the groups that would do it.  He and Smokescreen were the most common culprits and both would sprint away laughing whenever Ultra Magnus caught them and failed to chase them down fast enough.

Along these walls of halls, Knock Out ran into the responsible mech he spent so much time recently vying for the positive attention of.  Bee was with Arcee just sitting against a wall chatting together. The two-wheeler had her head on his shoulder and both were relaxed in their cozy position.  The part of Knock Out that had been so common for vorns had a hard time understanding that mechs could do this without him involved. But yes- yes, not everyone's life involved him at all times.  

It still felt unnatural to think that but he kept giving it a shot at least.  

Arcee knew it too.  When the two had seen him coming, they bid a goodbye to each other and then stood up once more.  Bee flashed Knock Out a grin and said he'd see him later and the medic tried to control how ridiculously excited that made him feel for 'later'.  The femme stayed behind and struck up conversation with him.

She, out of all of the original Autobots of this group, was the one that seemed to understand him most.  In fact, in many ways, her attitudes and personality didn't quite fit with the dutiful and sappy picture of an Autobot that propaganda painted.  The hate that boiled inside her was something that Knock Out could empathize with far more than the 'love' that the rest seemed so full of. Despite that resentment, Arcee tried pretty hard to be her 'better self'.  It made her a bit of a role model herself. Knock Out had admitted so during a late cycle of high grade and Arcee hadn't been scared off by his admission. Afterwards, when both were no longer overcharged, he would have been more than happy never bringing it up again; but Arcee was too blunt and had been fully willing to discuss his admission (and many other awkward things he had said that jour).  

They chatted in the hall a bit and then Arcee had patted his shoulder (Autobots were an incredibly touchy bunch, even the newcomers) and said she was glad he had made a friend with the other racer.

The comment kept coming back to him the entire cycle. 

A friend?  

Knock Out had thought he'd had friends before.  Weren’t he and Breakdown friends after all? The big guy certainly had thought so.  But his time with the Autobots and a war-free people left him unsure of that 'fact'.   In actuality, the medic had discovered that, as unpleasant as it was to admit, he hadn't had friends before.  He'd had people that made him feel good. When they died, he would miss all the good feelings they used to bring him.

He'd been working very hard to think about them differently.  If anything, he probably thought more about Breakdown as a person and what he liked and didn't like and what his hopes could've been if Knock Out had ever paid attention to them nowadays than when the mech was alive to actually pamper and listen too.

But he didn't treat Arcee the same.  He didn't treat Smokescreen the same.  

He didn't treat Bee that way.  He tried extra hard to listen and try to care.  At first, he could only pretend to care about the other mech's dreams and desires and opinions.  

Somewhere along the way, the act had at least absorbed enough to make it feel-

Not natural.  Maybe not real.  But almost.  Close.  And that meant…

Oh scrap.

Knock Out had become friends with a mech, hadn't he.  

Real friends, not the 'friends' he used to make.  He did know Bee's dreams. He did know his hopes. He knew his smile.  He loved his compliments, took his advice to spark, filled with excitement whenever they were able to hang out.

And yes- much of that excitement was because he knew how happy being with Bee made him, Knock Out, and the medic was preemptively excited about that upcoming happiness.  But he also had the feeling that this dynamic was different than any of his old ones with the Decepticons. This one was so much more genuine. Healthy, perhaps (he couldn't really judge that).

So it came down to how this all had started.  It was a long process, to be sure. It started with simple attraction and self-centered seeking of attention, personal safety, and fun.

It had evolved from flirting to friendship and from there the flirting took on a completely different tone.  There was a different impact. There was a care involved and that made him desperate for more.  

All of this world shaking mess had started just because Bee had decided to play the dramatic hero cop and leap into a tangling, overly dramatic arrest (to keep Knock Out from getting into worse trouble with the others he was on thin ice with- and Bee's motivation was so completely on the medic's well being there that it had unsettled said medic, who couldn't be motivated to help another for their well being alone).  It had started before because the black and yellow mech had been his hope spot when the war ended with him as a captive. Their banter then had been the precursor to discovering that Autobots viewed each other so differently than the mechs around him for vorns had.

But wait.  No, no. He was right before.  It had started with a race.  With a silly human race on Earth where Knock Out felt his competitive nature threatened and thrilled by a certain yellow challenger.  It hadn't mattered that the challenger was an Autobot and he a Decepticon. What mattered was that camaro was a threat on the field for victory.  

Knock Out did hate to lose.

But... 

At least the view from behind Bumblebee really wasn't too bad.

No, not bad at all.

 

Chapter Text

 

"Watch it!"

The Predacon did not.  It shoved down the crowd, jumpy and likely vicious.  Or at least it had seemed so because of how it jumped.  A closer look showed that the movements came as responses to the loud noises caused by falling equipment; equipment dropped by vehicons in response to seeing the dangerous creature next to them.  It was a vicious circle.  

From one shop, the vehicon once known as XL-3T09 watched the disaster unfold.

His old moniker was so blase.  So had his old look been.  Datura much prefered things now.  He'd just gotten done with a walk in at this very shop to add some lights to his look.  The lines of neon brightness carved down his front and lit up his legs. It was perfect.  A vehicon was built only with one look. Light only came from their weapons and their visor.  As a 'Seeker', he'd been black and white with only the red Decepticon emblem in a blatant copy of their air commander's.  More distinguished than purple but still just a part of a matching set.

In this new world though?  Datura didn't care for just that.  So now stripes of blue lights carved through his orange paints like a bad Halloween costume.

But even his amatuer mashups of colors looked tame compared to the Predacon panicking on the street.  It was primarily coated in an aquamarine paint but its wings, flattened onto its body as they may be, were deep red and ripped looking.  Swinging between its legs was a deadly looking tail; the golden tip could be seen as it twisted about frantically by similarly golden claws.

All in all, it was a colorful and unique looking being.  Datura had watched vids and reports showing the Predacon race and it always seemed to him that their leaders wore dark, unexciting colors.  At least, at first. At the start it was just their imposing king and the two smaller ones providing dumb muscle at his side. Gradually, more of what some of Cybertron called 'beasts' filtered into view until it became evident that there were many of the creatures roaming Predacon territory.  But one of the first to show up behind Predaking was-

This one, actually.  Which meant...

Datura set a few slabs of currency down at the desk of the body shop and went towards it.  While the other vehicons (and even many of the forged bots, though they would no doubt nurse their pride later) were trying to flee, the orange drone went straight towards their visiter.  It wasn't like Predacons weren't allowed to come into the city. No, the Autobot Bumblebee had made it very clear that wasn't the case. And it wasn't like the drone populace were going to throw a fit about their presence (not after how the forged populace viewed them); after all, most of the vehicons were just happy to be alive and given the same freedoms as everyone else.  It didn't mean the forged Cybertronians saw them as equals. But Datura didn't plan to let that get him down. The rest of the drones could stay under the radar, but he refused. He'd make sure no one could mistake him as sparkless. Oh no. Datura had a personality. It was showy and vibrant and brave and the world would just have to deal with that.

Just like they had to deal with the Predacons.  If anyone was looked down on as much as drones, it would be the newly reborn ancient race.  Still, for a Predacon who no doubt knew that all to still come out here to New Iacon and brave the streets?  It meant that it, or rather she if Datura had in fact recognized her from the vids, had no plans to stay under the radar either.  

"Your majesty," Datura spoke up when he got close enough.  The Predacon spun around and her tail whipped behind her from the action.  She was down on her claws in beast mode and the drone could see fangs as large as his servos being bared at the surprised hiss.  But that's all it was- surprise. The first panic from vehicons had sent her into beast mode. The attempt to fly had led to more panic by those airborne unexpecting of a Predacon rearing into their flight paths.  The return to land seemed to upset even more. Wares and boxes were dropped. Pedes ran, and ran into others as well. It was a mess.  

"Ripclaw.  Right?" He inclined his expressionless head at her.  The Predacon gave one last hiss and then folded in on herself until she was bipedal like him.  Bipedal, but huge in comparison to his seeker body; and here he'd modded himself enough to look bulkier than he was created to be.  Even like this, on two legs and with a vocalized that spoke, there was no mistaking her for an average Cybertronian. The Predacon had dangerous yellow optics, curling horns, an ancient look to her armor instead of modern smoothness.  

"...yes?" 

Oh, fascinating.  Her voicebox elicited a sound very like her bestial growl.  It didn't sound hostile, but it rasped deeply.  

And there was his confirmation on who she was as well. 

"I thought I recognized you!" Datura said happily.  His visor kept close attention to her still twitching tail.  The claw at the end of it constricted and opened and no doubt had some horrible present inside its three prongs to give prey unlucky enough to be grabbed.  

"We-I-don't recognize you," Ripclaw cocked her head to the side in wary curiosity, "What's it matter?"

And here he thought he'd made such a name for himself.  Perhaps his fame was only limited to his fellow vehicons and ignored by the rest of the populace.

So Datura introduced himself.  And, since he was already talking, offered her a tour of the city.  Read: a tour out of the city. She accepted relatively eagerly.  

"What would one of the Predacon high command be doing out here in the backstreets?" Datura asked as they strolled.  The others still had the habit of jumping and panicking at the unexpected presence but Ripclaw hadn't made things worse by panicking again.  Still, even in biped mode, her tail waved and twitched around. She really was as jumpy as those poor mechs she was scaring.

"Just visiting," Ripclaw answered in that deep rasp.  It was so different from the accents of the neutrals and others that came in.  "Wanted a glimpse at city life out here. I certainly hear too much about it from my brothers."

Is that what they were to her?  Datura asked and she confirmed it.  

"At the production rates your leader and Shockwave are bringing more of you to to life, your family is going to be huge," the drone said bluntly.  It made the Predacon laugh.

"You are not wrong," she grinned.  Even in biped form she still had fangs; smaller than in her beast mode, granted, but still quite the sight to see.

"Vehicons are made in bulk," he said as he looked down the street once more.  "Others may not think we have sparks because of that, but we've always known that we do.  We are all unique. But not one of us that I know of has ever considered the vehicons created alongside them as brothers just because we come from the same production line."

Ripclaw only made her smile wider.  

"Your loss then."

That closed the lid on that subject.

But if Datura loved to do anything, it was talk.  So he did and the time it took to escort the Predacon back to the outer areas of the city, those areas still being constructed, passed quickly.  Too quickly. The conversations had been so lively.

"So?" the vehicon crossed his arms and face her.  "Was it everything your brothers said it would be?"

"They failed to mention the noise in there-"

Not surprising, seeing how she had been reacting to all that noise.

"Or the looks Predacons get in there-"

That so?  Datura hadn't been paying attention to the crowds reactions as much as he'd thought then.

"Or anything about the people like all the stuff you told me today-"

...was that so.

"I can tell you more," Datura shrugged.  Ripclaw’s optics went crescent shaped.  

"Deal."

And after deciding on a place to meet again, she became a mass of chaotic metal expanding until she was the long, slinky Predacon once again.  Those torn looking red wings expanded and slammed to the ground. Datura stepped back while the dust flew out. And then the wings beat down again and Ripclaw slowly pushed up into the air to wind away from view.


They met again on the outskirts.  Ripclaw was still persistent about investigating the new city.  It had been his idea to start with the construction zones. Granted, those were the areas he was stuck in most of the time.  The central realm of New Iacon had far too few vehicons in it for his tastes. Most of them stayed out here where most of them still worked.  The rest lived in the backstreets with their own shops and working under other bots. Seeing how those backstreets had reacted to the Predacon earlier, they stuck with just the construction zones.  He introduced her to some of his companions, showed her around the skeleton architecture, painted the mental picture of what the city would look like after building was done. Ripclaw seemed to enjoy imagining it. 

Meetings went further into the city.  Shops were visited. Ripclaw hadn't panicked again.  Some of the shop owners seemed close to doing so but Datura would always flash the red of his visor towards them when they started to act up and Ripclaw would offer a smile (showing off all those fangs).  It tended to keep the calm.

She liked the rust sticks especially.  Apparently such fancy snacks weren't common in Predacon territory.  Out here, Ripclaw was free to stuff her maw while using her diplomatic position to buy as many as she could for free.  When that failed, Datura would toss a few cycles wages down and get the snacks anyways.  

They'd grab a table in one of the fountain squares and watch the oil splash.  Ripclaw would devour her rust sticks while Datura used a tube to feed energon into his intake.

"Why don't you scrap that?" the Predacon asked one cycle when it was her turn to watch him eat.  

"What?" Datura asked in confusion.  Gold claws gestured at his face and he leaned back to avoid them.

"Your face," she said bluntly.  If he could frown, Datura would have.

"Excuse me?"

"You can't eat right like that," Ripclaw tried to explain but made no sign that she had realized what offense she'd done him.  For someone who looked so old, she seemed so naive at times. "It's better with a mouth, not what little intake thing you've got down there.  I know you added on those shoulders, the other vehicons don't have them. Why don't you add a face?"

For a moment he was quiet.  Then Datura disconnected the energon line and set his cube down on the table.

"I couldn't do that," he said.  "The visor is a part of me. Replacing it with a face would be as if I didn't think being me was good enough.  All the colors and lights and mods I add? I've wanted them for orns. But to be a copy of every other forged mech out there?  That's not my style. I'm proud of what I am. I'm a vehicon who lived through a war I was never meant to survive through. No rust stick is going to convince me to leave that behind."

"Suit yourself," Ripclaw rasped as she shrugged and returned to her snack.  

Datura didn't take it to spark.  It hadn't taken long before he'd determined that the Predacon liked that attitude of his.

"It's spicy," she'd say and prowl around him approvingly, "Aggressive.  I like it."

He could be more than aggressive though.  He could be downright impressive. That cycle, he decided to prove it.

"Could I entertain you with a flight, majesty?" Datura gave a half bow and listened to his vocalizer purr with his engines.  It was a tempting offer, he could tell that by the reaction on her faceplate. Hah. Faces. They gave away so much more than a visor did.  

She always puffed up when he called her by an honorific.  This was no exception.

The cube and tray were returned and then both had taken to the sky.

Datura loved to fly.  Despite the overall opinions around the Decepticon ranks, he'd liked Earth because of this.  Other planets the Nemesis had ran along hadn't had the right atmospheres for flight. But the organic planet had great wind, temperatures that didn't put fliers in subzero weather that ruined their internals, even those funny cloud things had been great fun to fly through.  The vapors would scatter and the shapes dissipate through the force of a jet. White trails in the sky could reshape the blue expanse.  

It was a shame Cybertron didn't have those volatile kinds of clouds.  Besides, no one here would be dumb enough to fly through an acid storm expecting it to be like Earth’s rain clouds.  

But the winds were still here.  The air was far superior to the organic planet's.  The temperature was amazing.  

Datura blew past the city and the expanse below.  Plains of metal, shiny and dull, shards of rubble and hills- all sights to take in while never slowing.  

The jet flew quick, soaring in loops and making tight turns through the canyons below or mountain ranges above.  Ripclaw flew slower. Her Predacon body was slim and long with a wide set of wings and trailing tail. It looked like some sort of human eastern mythological dragon- a fact Datura only knew because of his friend Otu's hidden obsession with human entertainment- as she wound through the same tight corners with a body that trailed along instead of turning like his jet form could.  

They flew for some time before Datura finally called an end to the venture.  He spun towards a flat outcropping and transformed while the nose of his alt mode pointed straight up; doing so let him drop straight to his pedes and then stand.  Dramatic? Yes. Overkill? Never.

Ripclaw came down to land next to him.  The Predacon skidded on the ground and rended metal up with her claws before she transformed into her bipedal mode.

"Fancy moves," Ripclaw inclined her head at him.  Datura preened; he couldn't help himself. "Where'd you pick those up?"

"Oh, here and there," the vehicon shrugged, "Com- Starscream was my flight commander.  He's quite the show off himself."

"Ugh, him," she looked away, "I hate him."

Despite what pride he felt in his roots as a 'seeker armada' member, Datura laughed too.

"I'm not surprised.  Far as I know, no one likes him."

They both chuckled.  It sounded dangerous from Ripclaw- but there was an attraction to danger at play on his part.

"Must have been his winning personality, I am sure," her optics brightened.  

Neither spoke for a moment.  Datura kicked at some rubble and watched it crash down the cliff.

"In my opinion," Ripclaw hissed as she joined him in kicking rocks off, "Predaking wastes far too much time on him."

Oh, was that so?  

"You'd fit in with the rest of us," the vehicon laughed, "All the respect when he was facing us but the minute he was gone?"

"Why wait for his back to turn?  We make our opinions about our leader known right to his face."

Comments on Predaking?  That Predaking? As a drone, Datura knew so very little of the Predacon leader.  He'd never seen him in person and only had the vids to go by. Rumor was that Bumblebee hoped to put the big guy on Cybertron's fledgling government; if that came to be, he guessed he'd see more of the Predacon.  As it was now, he was a frightening enigma.

"Really?  He doesn't seem like the type to accept criticism," the drone said.

"Oh he is not," she grinned sharply, "He may talk big stuff that makes the rest of us look stupid in comparison but it's all a cover for just how lost he is.  Fancy words don't mean much to us but they're his entire gig."

"Is that how you view it?" he seemed surprised, "In the vids, he just seems sophisticated.  I never thought it would bother you."

"Don't get me wrong," Ripclaw rasped, "Predaking is my leader.  He is my king. He is my brother. Even were I not to love him for the latter, I would always respect him for the former no matter what big words and prose he uses."

"Then what is this?" Datura asked.

"Call it sibling mockery," she shoved his shoulder brightly, though her voice couldn't raise from that threatening rasp.  "It's just as natural as the respect is, believe me."

They sat still for another moment.  The planet beneath the outcropping spread far.  It was wild and untamed. Like the dangerous but personable Predacon by his side.  Ships were just dark specks parked beside the small city of New Iacon from this distance.  The city itself was just a bright smudge. And Predacon territory was in the opposite direction.  No one was out here to see them show off but each other.

"Like you?" Ripclaw started up again.  "You're ridiculous. Your entire look is ridiculous.  Orange? Who actually likes orange?"

"Oh?" Datura's visor brightened.  He posed a servo on a flashy chest of the very color she was making fun of.  It was a unique servo; he'd spent a lot of time designing a pair that no other vehicon had.  

But it still looked tame compared to Ripclaw's shiny claws. 

She tittered out a laugh.  

"Don't act so surprised-" the Predacon teased.  The pointed tail swung mindlessly behind her. Datura watched its venomous tip.  Beautiful.

"Someone else has to have said something to you about it."

"No," Datura shook his blank head, "I don't believe they have."

"See?"  Ripclaw pushed his shoulder playfully.  With her strength, the motion had the vehicon reeling.  "It's 'cause you don't have someone close enough yet. No one's cared enough to be honest."

"Or maybe it's because my friends only have one opinion on color and that's that purple is off limits," he pushed back.  It didn't even make her budge.  

They were both grinning, or would've been if he could.  His visor and lights were overbright to make up for the lack of smiling on his part.  Ripclaw's ridged plating was flared.  

"So that's what you meant by friendly mockery?" Datura asked sardonically.  The Predacon winked.  

"See?  There's no disrespect intended."

Perhaps it was a Predacon thing.  But Datura had seen some Autobots and Decepticons both play with words that should've been hurtful.  It wasn't actually an idea that came across as alien.  

"Yeah, well, what about you?  Since when does red and teal ever go together?" he shot back after the stall.  

They insulted each other for a few more cycles up there.

By the time they had to leave, they'd scooted all the way up against each other- no matter what their barbs and insults said on the outside.

 

Chapter Text

It was a quiet night.  June leaned back against her living room couch and took a sip from her mug.  Normally she would avoid dairy; but it was Christmas Eve. Spiced eggnog was seasonal.  And it had been a gift.

There was no snow this Christmas but it was below freezing this year.  No doubt the morning would show frost on each patch of lawn outside.  

This new house had a bigger lawn than the last place had.  Nevada didn't exactly pay its nurses the wages that somewhere like California did, but her stint as an emergency personnel at the end of the war had given her the benefits she needed to get a new place.  

In all honesty, she had liked the old house.  It was small but that made it cozy. It was only her and Jack inside it after all.  No pets. Few dates. And Jack hadn't stayed close with many friends in middle school to be dragging over for sleepovers.

Well, not until high school.  Then she had prodded her son to bring Raf and Miko over and let the kids pull the living room apart to sleep on the floor.  He always enjoyed those times and it made her feel vindicated in pushing him to do so.  She couldn't help it if she wanted him to make sure he had some human friends his age.  It was for his mental health.

She worried too much.  Jack was fine. He was shy at school but he still had friends.  And Bill was hoping to get him an internship alongside college courses.  

June wasn't rich.  Getting a new house after the first had been blown to powder by Megatron and his forces had been a financial strain.  Supporting Jack through college would be as well, although her son had plans to try his hardest at supporting himself.  The boy always had those plans. He'd practically forced her to walk him through the process of getting a work permit at fourteen and had been part time at different jobs ever since.

And there was only one year left of that.  One year of high school. One year before Unit:E officially took him (he was already sworn in as a consultant, but then so was Ratchet- it wasn't a completely restricting action) and college forced his attention away.

Already, he was being taken away.  He was with his friends instead of here this evening.  Of course, he'd be back later tonight. He'd be with her for the holiday.  But for now he was enjoying his own party and she was enjoying the quiet.  

They set up a real tree this year since their annual plastic one had been burned away with the rest of their house.  The little spruce was already wilted a bit but Jack had been dutiful with watering it over the month. He was always dutiful.  There were sparse few presents underneath it. A new helmet for her son, even though she knew he held nostalgic love for the one he'd bought as a child.  A few interesting looking books. A few manuals. Tickets to a nearby NASCAR. A couple presents she didn't know the contents for; those ones were for her.  

There were more.  Gifts she'd bought for the people she'd be seeing the next day.  But the pile under the tree was still small. That was alright. She had a small family (ironic, considering the size of some of its newer members).  Both old house and new both only had two occupants; her son and herself. She'd wondered for a few years whether or not it would always remain that way.

June leaned back against the pillows and took another sip.  The lactose in the drink was going to be hurting the next day but she had determined the eggnog was worth it.  That got a chuckle from her. June could remember a time when Jack had used her GI intolerance to keep her from going on a 'milk run' with Bill.  Oh, what a day that had been.  

She wondered how he was doing now.  

This new place had a living room that lay declined from the rest of the home.  A few stairs led down to it and the arching roof over head had frosty skylights.  Through the frost, June could make out the stark white of the moon. It was only seven pm and it already felt so late.  All she felt like doing was snuggling up in some blankets with a hot drink and a good meal in front of the calm of classic Christmas films.  

The more she lay here in the quiet house, the better that idea sounded.

June got up to check her kitchen and found herself pulling her flip phone free.  Only a moment's pause occurred before she typed in the familiar number and waiting for the phone to ring.  She hoped that it wouldn't go straight to that frustrating voicemail about intensive training retreats-

Bill picked up.  

No, he wasn't busy right now.  No, no family was over. Oh, the same for her?  What a shocker! No, she wouldn't mind at all if he wanted to drop by.

When he arrived, it was with two big paper bags in hand.  

"June-" Bill gave that big smile of his that he still thought was so suave.  "Mind if I come in?"

The nurse opened the door wide and took one of the bags from him.  It was Italian take out, still hot and steaming. Not a traditional Christmas Eve meal but her son had already grown up and it seemed they had both outgrown their family traditions.  

The two opened the food and put it into bowls.  They poured more spice eggnog and Bill was already telling her about work that day.  The food chilled while they talked. By the time they were discussing that, although in his case it was somewhat reluctant, they were both looking forward to seeing the 'bots tomorrow, June had noticed that and put both bowls in the microwave.  It sat in there after finishing a good few minutes while they continued to chat.

This was what she liked about Bill.  They both could run their mouths around each other.  It wasn't like they were likely to offend the other after everything they'd said during the whole...Knock Out incident...At that time, June was pretty clear that no, Bill was not her boyfriend.  He was just Bill, no longer William, no longer Agent Fowler, who she'd spent some truly horrid hours after Darkmount II working with and who'd once hugged her after another world threatening crisis averted.  Just Bill, who she had taken up to hugging not too long ago. Just Bill, who knew the story of her ex-husband and who's own ex she knew the story of as well.  

Just Bill met all the requirements of a boyfriend at this point.  

They carried their food into the living room and June set the old TV up.  She found some fuzzy blankets and curled up under them with the hope that neither of them would spill too badly on it.  

Black and white movies had a certain charm to them.  Both adults let the films play while they ate and talked and sometimes just watched.  

Bill was so amusing to watch movies with.  They'd visited theaters a few times to play at being just two traditional adults and she'd picked that up.  The agent was not, as she'd discovered, a textbook viewer. One theater had asked them to leave after he'd made too much noise and he'd gotten all bristled and offended.  But when they watched movies here at her house or at the base, both could be as loud as they wanted.

Which was good.  Because Bill tended to get so enthusiastic in movies.  A hand would gesture wildly at the characters on screen while he gave frustrated advice; frustrated because there was no way for the characters to actually listen to him.

It's a Wonderful Life passed by.  Their dirty plates had been set aside on the coffee table.  Jack returned some time during Miracle on 34th Street .  The teen had seen both their heads leaning together and snuck upstairs.  

It was late and Bill hadn't left.  The TV was still playing. His hand was on her shoulder and her head took its payback by being on his shoulder.  The skylight above frosted further and further. The young part of her wished it would snow. They had remained cozied up like that for half an hour, an hour, a movie and a half.  

The next morning, Bill brought her coffee.  June rubbed her fuzzy eyes and ignored how her hair was sticking up in spots to take it.  Jack came downstairs and tried to grab a few cinnamon rolls; the teen was noticed and his mom, no matter how groggy she still was as she drank her morning coffee, told him he would have to wait.  

She rolled off the couch and grabbed the dirty bowls.  They were harder to wash the next day after the food had dried on them.  But it was worth it, June remembered with a smile. She hadn't wanted to move last night.

Bill had been curious when she had called him over.  

"I didn't want you spending Christmas Eve alone," June had told him softly.  

Yes, her son may have been growing up.  He may have had a girl of his own to leave his mom for (or so she liked to joke, knowing it made him fluster).  When the Autobots had entered their life, both Darby's had changed. So Jack would go on with his life and celebrate away from her with new family.  But that didn't mean she couldn't move on with her life either.  

No, she thought when she held Bill's hand right in front of her gaping son that morning, it certainly did not.



Chapter Text

He hadn't expected more than the texts.  Those messages came in early in the morning.  And by early, Raf meant early.  Miko sent a spam of texts (with their extraneous exclamation marks) at 00:00 and after that point Raf had turned his cell's ringer off.  The recently thirteen year old liked to hit the sack around 9 or 10 and being woke up in the middle of his sleep cycle was not pleasant.  

Although it had made him fall back to sleep with a sweet contented smile.  

Jack, at least, waited until well past a respectable hour to send his short (not that Raf could blame him; typing on flip phones was nothing like typing on a keyboard) message.  Bee had sent an email from Cybertron that was wordy and sweet that Raf saved in a starred file.  

And that was supposed to be it.  He spent the day with his family.  They ate a big dinner and had his favorite dessert while he opened presents.  

The day ended and Raf returned to bed happily.

And sometime in the next morning, he was abducted.


There was muffled nonsense above his head.  Raf blinked slowly in disorientation. Where was he?  

Well, to answer that question maybe he should think over his last steps.  He'd been sleeping. And- yes, something had woken him up. A green glow in his room.  So...a groundbridge? It wasn't too unlikely. Ratchet had once bridged Fowler, Jack and Miko into his old room.  

But then what?  It couldn't have been a bot that came into his building.  So it was one of the humans.  

Raf put his bets on Miko.

"-ready?" someone said loud enough for him to hear over his head.  He couldn't see them because he couldn't see anything but darkness.  Raf just sat still instead of demanding sight be returned. He was an oddly calm kid that way.

"Now!" 

He spluttered a bit when the bag shot off his head.  Really, Miko?  A bag? Someone get this girl away from the television set.

But his attention left those thoughts almost immediately.  Even with his glasses disheveled, he could see everyone in front of him.  Or rather could see everyone's colorful blurs. Unfortunately, his specs dropped down to the ground while he sat still in overjoyed confusion.

"Whoops-" Miko's voice came from at his side.  The doppler effect distorted it accordingly when she dropped down to the ground and stood back up again while talking.  "Gramps lost his glasses." They were plopped back into place by the other teen with an uncharacteristic amount of grace.

With his vision restored, Raf could see Bee crouched down in front of him.  His mouthguard was retracted and under it the mech was smiling widely. And by the groundbridge controls, Ratchet was offering a smile of his own.  They took his attention first, not that Raf could feel guilty for that; Bee was a brother to him and he remained close enough to Ratchet to visit him as much as the human boy possibly could in the week.  But eventually Raf did look from them to the rest of the Autobots and humans.  

"Come on," Jack's voice stuttered up to life behind where Raf was sitting.  At that cue, the base called out a (unfortunately loud) "Happy birthday!"  

Some said just that; like Arcee, who was just smirking with a servo on her hip.  Some added a "Raf" afterwards; that was Bee's choice of words. And Ratchet exchanged his nickname for the more formal "Rafael" that the medic tended to call him by.  

The large black palm of Bee's servo came down by Raf with comfortable ease.  Finally standing from the chair Jack and Miko had carried him to, he walked atop it and grabbed at one finger for balance as it rose up in the air.  

He really hadn't expected them all to come in from Cybertron.  The calls and emails and such used up energy enough, but activating the space bridge took up so much energon...

If his eyes were watering, at least Raf knew his glasses shielded such a sight from the others.  The day of racing, the outdoor picnic in one of Nevada's desolate deserts, the quick bridge up into Canada (where Raf found himself missing Optimus every time a snowball hit him), the human only cake and everyone's excited faces watching him open their presents-

Everything they'd pulled together to celebrate his birthday went far beyond expectations.  

But that was his family, all right.  Always blowing away realistic expectations.

Chapter Text

Irony.

The word left bitter residues behind.  How many times had he turned another corner of his life and determined a fragment of the last to be ironic?

Maybe he should make a list of the most ironic parts.  

The time he had taunted the Autobot scout over his inability to transform, only to find himself grounded that very cycle: irony.  The fact that he had pitched an alliance to the human Silas over their many similarities, only for the human to betray him: irony as well.  Oh, oh! What about every time he had determined to snuff Megatron's spark, attempted to do so, bragged about his desire to- only to slink right back to his pedes to gain his old position, and their dynamic therein, once again.  

Maybe the real irony of it all came down to Megatron.  Maybe it would always come back to him, just like Starscream always found himself returning to his 'master'.  

It came back to him, no matter where Starscream turned.  Every attempt for flash and glory was rooted in his vorns under Megatron.  It was all his fault.

There was a touch of irony in his inability to take responsibility too, wasn't there.

But what hurt most now was the illusion he had uncovered.  It was a realization he really should have made long ago; after every time he had pandered to Megatron to gain favor underneath his rule again after trying so hard to come out on top.

The illusion was freedom; the goal, the concept, he would never attain.

It wasn't news to him.  Starscream was no idiot, despite what his mas-Megatron and others seemed to think (better that they do- better that he be underestimated).  A part of him was privy to the way life twisted and mocked and laughed at him.

Once he had fought against slavery.  It hadn't taken that many solar cycles before he fought to enforce slavery for his cause.  What hurt far worse than discovering your cause had evolved into something else was the realization that he was enslaved.  Under Megatron he had no freedom; not even personal freedom. So why not blame that cursed mech for everything?    

And then.  Hah. This was the apex, the fragging punchline- Megatron just quits.  Says no more Decepticons, no more cause. The cause Starscream had sold his soul to, the war he had lost and found himself in a dozen times over, the mech he wanted dead and wanted the approval of- all of it.  Did the disillusioned mech really think that he, the engineer of it all, could run away from everyone he had made so dependent on him?

Oh well.  If Starscream had any luck at all left, Megatron would never show his face again.  It was bad enough dealing with his new problems without adding any old ones.  


Predaking was a diabolical monster, that much Starscream had determined.  With Shockwave responsible for his creation, was it really a surprise he had turned out as such?

But now there was more than Predaking.  There were the two Starscream and Shockwave had created as they attempted to resurrect the Decepticon cause on Cybertron.  Where was the fire now? Gone, it seemed. The scientist had heard his leader's words and decided to not bother with war any longer.  So long as he could continue his experiments (which, no doubt, he could; it wasn't like the Autobots would try stopping Shockwave so long as the Predacons stood in the way), he didn't care.  Of course, it was Shockwave after all; he simply didn't care about anything.  He certainly didn't care to pull the leash on his beasts nor did he care about Starscream's plight.  

And his enemy faction were even less likely to come in and rescue him.  As an ambitious mech, Starscream tended to hang on to bitter hopes and push through anything.  But with the war over by Megatron's anticlimactic words, he hadn't felt very hopeful. With his wings gone, he hadn't even really felt much like himself at all.


It sickened him most that Megatron had gotten away with it all while he cowered on the throne of Darkmount.  He flew free while Predaking bore down on a figure so hopelessly outmatched by his brute size.  

At least he had survived it, even injuring one of the foolish creatures in the process.  But at a price. A price the beasts constructed merely to make him choose one bad situation over another.

"You thought us beasts," Predaking had snarled down into his face, "but mere animals do not comprehend choices.  So to prove you wrong one final time, we give you what beasts cannot and offer you a choice:  die by our hands or lose the superiority you deign to hold over others. No more wings. No more Decepticons.  No more commands or mockery or needless punishment."

And since no amount of writhing or clawing had managed to let him wriggle free of their grips, Starscream had been forced to make that choice.

"It is your decision."

Oh, and what a diabolic set of options.  It was truly the very type of sadistic lose-lose situation, a farce of free will, that he himself would create.  Such creativity up to his own level made him reconsider if his 'new king' was the mindless beast he had felt sure the Predacon was.  

Whatever he was, whether it was an animal or a sentient creature, it didn't change how much Starscream hated and feared him.  But it lacked the nuance of history that his hatred of Megatron had contained. And after he had regained consciousness, Predaking's cold distance only proved that point.  The warlord would gloat, just as Starscream would when the tables turned. Shockwave and Predaking had no inspiration to gloat. The two oafs lacked the imagination to do it well, but at the least they tried; their 'king' would shut them up with far more effectiveness than Starscream had ever managed when he was the one in control of Darksteel and Skylynx.  

One would think that the Predacon leader wanted nothing more than for the flightless seeker to leave his life.  Yet that was not an option. Small as their faction was, Predaking had no intention of letting go of a strategic asset.

So he was trapped again.

Predaking had been right, however; Starscream did hold himself over all others and his flight played a large role in that.  Losing that ability had brought him 'down to ground', the expression went. Down to reality where he simply couldn't live in illusions and delusionary hopes.


It was his lot in life.  Second in command. Slave to one faction or another.  

Freedom was only an elusive illusionary ideal that would always stay too far out of the once-air commanders reach.

Chapter Text

June had driven her little dirty red car through the gates of Unit:E.  Warehouses rose up around the settlement and soldiers, some of which she recognized from operations, moved around in drills and work alike.  She got out and watched as an agent went to park her car elsewhere. Steven, was that his name? She really out to get the man a gift some time.

It was almost silly how familiar all of this had become.  But even with all the changes throughout this venture, there really was no going back.

Speaking of those changes...

It was that week of the month.  At the start, she had not enjoyed her visits with Ratchet during the week when his tutee visited.  But things really had calmed down in that regard.

In the seat next to Ratchet at the table, Knock Out made another sly comment that made her laugh and shake her finger in motherly disappointment both while the older medic sighed into his servo.  Yes, it seemed things really had changed again.

"Maybe we should change subjects," June finished snickering and nodded her head towards the exasperated Ratchet.  She was currently seated as well, although her chair was not one of the oversized crates the Cybertronians used. For the last few months, a human sized chair sat on top of the makeshift table.  Really, this little section of the base had little purpose other than a place for the medics, human and alien alike, to socialize.  

"Did you hear that a new ship landed?" Knock Out asked, doing his part to change subjects like she had suggested.  "A neutral craft that apparently spent the last vorn trying to find the 'Knights of Cybertron' like total lunatics."

"How could I miss it?" Ratchet scoffed, "Brainstorm was on that ship."

There was a second's pause and then both mechs shared a collective shudder.  Knock Out's face had curled into offended disgust, seemingly at the mention of this 'Brainstorm'.

"Is he like that Pharma guy?" June started to ask, trying to understand why both medics seemed to have had such an unhappy reaction.  It only made the older medic snort and wave the question off.

"No, no.  Brainstorm's insufferable but he's no murderer."

Ratchet's chilling declaration didn't get the chance to settle in when the flashier medic had started talking immediately after he had finished.

"Absolutely insufferable.  He thinks he's the smartest mech ever forged!  Acts like the universe revolves around him; what a conceited, arrogant," Knock Out spluttered for the word and decided on shooting, "-egotist!" out.  

Sounded a little familiar.  June tried to cover her laugh with the edge of her mug.  

"Do you not like the competition?" the older medic turned on the younger.

Well, someone had to say it.

After that, conversation got a little heated.  The human listened for a while, rather amused, before stepping in.

"Alright, alright, children!  That's enough!"

Neither took offense, other than the mock faux sort that banter demanded.

"But speaking of the Lost Light, have you seen their captain?" Knock Out started up again.  

Ratchet's teal optics rolled.

"I think you've already talked on and on about his looks," he replied gruffly.

Oh, was that so?  June had not get to hear any of that yet.  She cast a glance at Ratchet. Sorry, the nurse apologized internally, but you'll have to hear a bit more of it.

"What is this?" she asked.  "Do you have a candidate for a-" June racked her brain for the terms Knock Out himself had once teased her about Bill with "- Conjunx Ritus?"

The ex-con recoiled and June took that as a point for her own score.  It wouldn't be fair if he was always the one giving them a hard time.

"With Rodimus?  Er, no."

Ratchet set his cube of energon aside and looked at Knock Out closely.

"I would assume you are still recovering from Breakdown's demise," he said softly.  That just made the other medic look even more confused.

"What?" Knock Out responded flatly.  Then, after a pause, he let out an "oh.  You've got it wrong. We were never together."  

Her nursing friends would be very amused to hear that she spent her free time with giant robot aliens that talked about relationships, or lack thereofs, just like they did.  The moments themselves were less amusing and more... heavy.  Ratchet didn't like to talk about it any more than she liked to talk about her ex, but June was well aware that he had cared for Optimus very much.

"So!" the younger medic barked a clearly forced laugh.  "What about you all then?"  

It seemed Knock Out didn't like to talk about his situations any more than Ratchet did.  Well, June set her mug of tea aside, it looked like it was up to her to step up before things became even more awkward.  

"I did have a spouse once, actually," she said and brought two sets of grateful optics over to her.  "Jack's father. He was a field medic-" 

"Good choice," Knock Out interrupted to mutter.

"-that I met in medical school," June continued smoothly, "I haven't seen him in almost two decades."

There was only a moments silence before the red medic said a teasing "ouch."  There was a slight grin on his face but June couldn't tell if it was there out of awkwardness or genuine enjoyment.

"That said, I haven't left the dating game just yet," she added with a knowing smile of her own.  That was technically true but she only went on dates with one person instead of searching around. "It's never too late.  So if you've got 'optics' for this Rodimus guy, take the chance for my sake."

"Please."  This time it was Knock Out's turn to groan into his servo palm.  "I am not looking to 'date' him. If I wanted to try a relationship, I would imagine choosing someone I know a bit better."

June remembered that when it later became clear to her that his outings to Earth with Bumblebee were basically the equivalent to dates.  Well, good for him. The human nurse really didn't harbor that many ill feelings towards the third member of her and Ratchet's little medic gang.  There was nothing to do about James Darby, but June had moved on from that, from him, years ago. A long process, no matter how short it seemed from a Cybertronian's perspective, but she had gone on.  And there was nothing to be done about her medic friend's situation, June acknowledged sadly. But Ratchet would make it too.  

James Darby, Breakdown, Optimus Prime: all of them dead, or not ever returning in one way or other.

But the three medical professionals left behind wouldn't let their absences be the end of their worlds.  And if that burden was harder to carry some days, they had each other to help ease the weight.

The next visit, June remembered to give Steven a gift card to a nearby theater and headed into the warehouse for her favorite chair.  It didn't matter if it meant spending free time out into the desolation. It didn't matter if it meant dealing with soldiers like Steven that guarded the gate and made her go through tedious parking processes.

She wouldn't miss these outings with friends for the world.

Chapter Text

New Iacon didn't have many oil houses or energon shops yet.  The construction effort had made enough buildings that a few of them were already rented out.  Some of the newcomers had parked their ships on the surface and built up around them. It was in one of these pseudo shops that they were sitting.  An energon cafe sitting at a junction between three roads.

A steel slab jutting from the ship had been turned into a cosy table.  A few decorative crystals were in a jar atop the 'table' and other accessories cluttered around it.

The clutter of it was annoying Magnus.  That was evident in the way his servos fidgeted when they were resting on the table top.  

Heh.  When had he ever got so good at reading the commander?  

Personally, Wheeljack found the decor here very charming.  It had the whole rusty but new era look to it, just like so many of the shops and cafes of the reborn planet.  The clutter was comely and the way the shop was designed partially under roofing and partially under the sky was especially appealing.

Magnus would probably rather it just decide on being indoors or out.

"You see 'em?" the smaller mech broke the quiet.  For a moment, he was sure he'd get called out on making too much noise.

"No, I do not," came Magnus's even reply.

Typical.  They went quiet again.  The blue mech's servos fidgetted towards the central clutter.  Wheeljack sipped the energon cube he had ordered.

If the servers saw them, they probably would just assume it was two war heroes catching a moment of relaxation together.

This may have been slow going, but it was far from r&r time.  His optics were scanning the streets this shop sat by.  

"'you really think they'll be coming this way?" he spoke up again.

The big mech looked away from the table decor to look at the street again.  Knowing Magnus, he was probably analyzing the area and potential routes of escape and chase.

"All evidence would suggest that."

He looked away from the streets to stare at Wheeljack.

"We can only hope so," he added.  

His face went clear for a moment while he listened, and likely responded, to a comm.  Wheeljack heard it as well.

There weren't many of them, but the four of them did all communicate pretty thoroughly.  Even the Wrecker did. Some of the times. On occasion.

Alright, so maybe he kept a close watch on his younger two companions.  Both had gusto but lacked experience. So when it came down to it, Wheeljack made them report in and gave them warnings whenever someone of interest came near their proximity.  He didn't plan on letting a couple virtual sparklings die because he hadn't done enough.

And maybe he reported in across the comms to his commander as well.  Or chief , that's what they were going with by now, wasn't it?  The title he'd used on Earth had stuck.  

Magnus liked all the reports.  All the 'asking' for 'permission' that was half a joke and half...affectionate.  "Permission to use a grenade in a confined space?"  "Permission to clear the area?"

Of course Wheeljack didn't actually wait for permission from officers.  Chain of command? He'd tossed that aside long ago.

...about the same time Magnus had taken over the Wreckers.

Then the officer had his servo crushed, just when Wheeljack "was beginin' to tolerate" him, was avoided by everyone else, had Ratchet keeping him berthridden when he so obviously wanted to help out-

It had been Wheeljack that told the medic to let Magnus come back.

And the blue mech had been impressive in a fight even without a servo.

He'd caught Arcee giving him looks.  After all, it had been her that he'd talked to about everything peeling his plating at the time.  To go from that to sticking up for Magnus, staying by his side, being so mindful about asking permission - it was a bit at odds with everything.

Time had passed by on Cybertron without any need to do any of that anymore.  He and Magnus both had tried to find peacetime roles. Magnus had taken on responsibilities relating to filing the newcomers, organizing reports, clearing requests.  

Well, he did have a horridly rigid and boring processor.  He was good at the tasks.

But Wheeljack felt like it was a huge waste of skill.  

So he wouldn't obey Magnus if they were both still in the Wreckers.  But that group wasn't much needed anymore. There was no war with the 'cons.  

That didn't mean there was no trouble.

A bombing had shaken up many apartments not long after New Iacon began to have a bigger populace.  Magnus's apartment had been caught in the damage, though it was back to pristine orderliness now. A riot or two had began and caused some chaos before Bumblebee had managed to calm most everyone down.  That mech was fantastic at PR. Mech's like Wheeljack and Magnus were both far less good for public image for different reasons.

Regardless, it wasn't fair for Bumblebee to have to try to keep everything calm.

Burglaries were unavoidable.  No one here was really rich but some shipments of mech's had items that seemed rare to those who hadn't gone through those segments of space while wandering.  Vehicons reported harassment. Hate crimes reared their ugly heads on occasion.

Bottom line?  It really shouldn't have been Bumblebee's job to keep everything in order.

Not when there were two perfectly good mechs for the job that happened to be in possession of far too much free time now that the war had ended.

Wheeljack had come up with the idea.  To his own surprise, he had gone to Magnus first to pitch the idea.  

After all, Wheeljack could deal with chases and fights and playing 'cowboy', to use the human Fowler's term, just fine but he had no wish to deal with the administration part.  Magnus, on the other hand, had to be some sort of model for that sort of work.  

They set some ground rules quick.  

No 'leading'.  Magnus wasn't going to be the commander to his soldier.  They'd be on equal footing for this gig.  

That had been a bit naive.  But at least it had been up to Wheeljack to say he was alright with letting Magnus be the chief of this operation.  It was so much easier to swallow when he was the one deciding it (quite unlike the untouchable high ups who knew nothing about the Wreckers as a unit but decided their officers anyways).  

And it wasn't like Magnus could become some suffocating officer again.  The blue mech had his own workload when it came to monitoring the new arrivals to the planet.  

Whether that administrative work or this peacekeeping gig was his hobby or job, neither were sure.

And Wheeljack hadn't really had a place at all in this new world.

This, at least, felt a bit like those last cycles on Earth.  He had grown to rather like those last cycles. It was a comforting familiarity without all the former aggravation Magnus used to bring about.

Plus it came with the added perks of living on Cybertron and the unique little landmarks New Iacon let him visit.

Like this fun little shop they were sharing energon at.  

If it wasn't for the comm line both kept open with their other two, this could feel like a date.  A cozy hang out.

That did sound oddly appealing, but the suspense of the chase made this twice the fun for Wheeljack.

«we're coming in the east airway.  optics are on our guy now.»

The chief and the fighter shared a glance over the table.

«together?» Wheeljack asked across the comm.  «we want to get him trapped in the middle, not in the lead of a chase»

«correct .» Magnus nodded at the smaller mech and the Wrecker felt oddly validated.  « sol-...Rust. » the commander was still having difficulty calling mech's by their given names rather than a title like 'soldier', «split off and attempt to block his path west.»

Cutting off, the blue mech asked aloud: "Are you ready?"

Wheeljack made the thumbs up gesture he'd learned from Earth.

They turned to glance at the roads.  Wheeljack's energon cube folded under his grip the more he tensed in waiting.

Finally the perp sped down the eastern roadway; a small gray vehicle with the design of some colony brand and no doubt containing the stolen goods inside. 

Without sparing another click, Wheeljack rose out of his chair and folded down into the sports vehicle from Earth; he could catch up with that colony car easy.

The metal streets of Cybertron kicked up no dust when he revved and sped away from the shop.  The chief wasn't much good in a chase so there wasn't a reason to wait up for him.

Besides, when it came to speed-

He heard the flaps before he felt the gust of air.  Overhead, one of the smaller Predacons that had once tried to disembowel Magnus (Wheeljack still wasn't a big fan of the sparkling for that alone, though Magnus himself acted as if the attack had been forgotten in the wake of Unicron's attack) shot by.  The suspect panicked at the claws bearing down at him.  

Unfortunately, his panic only let him react quicker.  He squealed down a tight corner; Wheeljack took a few clicks too long to right his own direction and follow down the alley.  Skylynx reared, claws rending into the street he'd come too close to, and flapped back up into the air he held an advantage in.  Then the young Predacon was out of his view and Wheeljack was alone in the tight backstreet. Debris and junk lay out of half-finished buildings; it made it hard for him to navigate, though the suspect in front of him used his small size to take advantage of the narrow path.  

No matter how he would transform to leap over particularly problematic heaps of junk and revved as fast as the conditions would let him, Wheeljack still fell behind.  Magnus was asking something over the comm and in the moment it was an irritating interruption to something that required too much focus; that is, losing .  The gray Cybertronian paused a moment at the exit of the backstreet to taunt him and then pulled out into the open.

Something far larger than his alt mode crashed down into him.  

The brown Vehicon kept their pede crushed into the hood of the suspect while their dark faceplate shot up to look at Wheeljack.  The Wrecker transformed and walked forward in his casually slow gait.  

Rust didn't say a thing when Wheeljack reached him and gestured for them to step off of the thief.  Even for a Vehicon, they were rather quiet.  

It made them far more inoffensive than Skylynx.  But these were the volunteers that had come when he and Magnus had opened the opportunity.  Sure, there were many volunteers. Bright optic'd rookies like Smokescreen that wanted a luxurious life of action and excitement.  

Most of the survivors of the war had no interest in action or excitement anymore.  And most of those who expressed interest failed to make it past the many examinations Magnus insisted on doing.  So in the end, the only two either of them had been remotely alright with were the rookie griffin and aged drone.  

And Wheeljack still had many issues with the Predacon for what he'd done to Magnus.

Well, it was no Team Prime.  And Wheeljack had made sure it wouldn't resemble the past of the Wreckers.

But wouldn't you know it, it was a team that worked just fine.

Catching small fry criminals and easing Bumblebee's ever growing load.

And it gave him an excuse to catch energon and conversations with Magnus in the city (he had a self imposed duty to teach the stoic mech how to appreciate sarcasm and relaxation).  With the way the blue mech spent his off time working, they likely wouldn't get this chance without both playing cowboys.

It felt like those good moments on Earth at the end.

Just with more Cybertron and indie shops and rookies in law than he remembered.