A/N: Something of a rarity here – one; I've almost finished one of my multi-chapter fics, and two; I started this when I was 27, and will have finished it when I'm 28. Spooky-awesome? You decide.

Disclaimer: Nightraider, Dreadnought, Crossfire and all of their deep-seated psychological issues are mine. Everything else Transformers-wise is the property of Hasbro and TakaraTomy.

Slightly M-rated in the middle, but I reckon it's no worse than what you'd get on daytime TV. The ending isn't exactly a bundle of laughs, but then again, love never is.

Italics denote telepathy/thoughts.

*...* denotes flashback.

Presents: Part 12

Power grid online...check.

Transport co-ordinates locked and loaded...check

Iron ore test specimen in place...check.

"Sending now..."

A beep on the console signalled the transport was complete, and a further text report confirmed the sample had survived the interstellar journey intact.


Dreadnought rubbed his hands together and grinned in anticipation. All he had to do now was wait for the acknowledgement that the bridge plate was fully loaded from the spacebridge terminal on Earth and they could get their first wave of troops home, to say nothing of finally getting their Femme CMO back.

He glanced over his shoulder at the bulky form of Shockwave calmly monitoring the communications console, Crossfire strapped to his back and chirping contentedly at his toy cyber-cat. "Any word from Sounders or 'Screamer yet?"

The Military Operations officer gave him something that could pass for a Look in response. "Negative. And their names are Soundwave and Starscream. One feels it may be prudent to use their full designations rather than the vernacular."

Dreadnought rolled his optics. "Yeah, recap? One is not dumb enough to use their nicknames to their faceplates."

He paused and thought for a second "...Okay, maybe a lil' bit in 'Screamer's case since annoying him counts as my rest and recreation time."

Shockwave angled his head in acknowledgement of the fact. "Perhaps. But, and much as I hesitate to use the words 'respect' and 'Starscream' in the same sentence, he is the second in command and the Air Commander of the Decepticon forces, and he is still due a modicum of deference."

"Hey. One, he gets the same level of casual disrespect from me as he gets from anyone else in the forces, and two; even if he doesn't like it, he's got more sense than to start a bitch-fight with a 35,000 ton battlecruiser who's been known to sit on his opponents to win an argument."

Crossfire suddenly perked up at this new piece of information. "You sit on mechs to stop them being mean?"

The chief engineer leaned back far enough from his current position to reach over and scratch the little mech between his antennae. "Mostly when they deserved it, but sometimes just for funsies."

"Can you sit on Shockwave to stop him being mean?"

Dreadnought studiously avoided his colleague's optic. "Isn't that a bit extreme, short stuff?"

Crossfire blinked. "Nope."

"Hmmm. I'll see what I can do."

Shockwave looked decidedly unimpressed and turned his attention back to the communications console. "Not while I have my strength, you won't."

Dreadnought shook his head. "Y'know, for a mech who claims not to be able to process any emotions, you sure as Pit got the hang of casual sarcasm."

"I had an...adequate teacher."

The battlecruiser's retort was lost under the sound of the comm. system alert and a sudden burst of static, under which the unmistakable sounds of an argument in progress could be picked up.

Megatron's voice echoed harshly through the speakers. "Spacebridge terminal Nevada to spacebridge terminal Darkmount. Shockwave, if you value your continued existence, acknowledge."

Somewhat warily, the Military Operations officer activated the spacebridge communications array and cleared the static out of his vocaliser with a cough.

"Darkmount receiving. Is...there an issue, Lord Megatron?"

"That would be a drastic understatement."

The vidscreen fizzled with static before reforming into the unimpressed visage of the Decepticon leader. On Earth, Megatron exhaled hard enough to whip up a small sand flurry and briefly turned towards Soundwave, who was silently manipulating the access terminal to the spacebridge and trying desperately not to be noticed.

"Get the first wave organised or the last thing any of them will see will be the opposite end of a black hole."

Not for the first time, Soundwave was infinitely grateful that his frame designer had installed a face-mask.

Turning away from the console, he regarded the assembled first wave of troops and supplies, and felt his spark sink slightly. Skywarp was using a family of passing coyotes as target practice, with a visibly swaying Drag Strip at his side trying to outshoot him and failing spectacularly. Breakdown, Wildrider and Dead End were slumped together in a hangover-riddled heap next to the spacebridge gates and making the occasional whine about feeling so close to death they could see the faceplates of Primus. Astrotrain was reclining comfortably against a cliff-face with Nightraider draped over his shoulder as they both took a brief stasis nap.

Motormaster, reeling from a combination of the four hangovers of his gestalt-mates and the two nights of celebrations, was taking a swipe with his sword at any mech foolish enough to enter the 20 foot exclusion zone around his frame. Starscream naturally had entered said exclusion zone, had narrowly missed earning a desk-job for life, had taken immediate offence at the 'blatant' disrespect shown to him and was busy shrieking at the top of his vocaliser about lack of discipline and the Stunticons' rightful place in the dirt and how if he was the Decepticon leader all of them would have been reformatted into Segways...and Thundercracker, possibly the only mech out of the entire group who was anywhere near sane and sober, was sitting peacefully next to the piles of energon cubes and assorted weaponry, reading a bookpad.

Trying to delay the moment when he had to assert his authority, Soundwave loomed over the blue and black F-15 and attempted to read the title of his ebook.

Thundercracker had stopped reading after the Communication officer's shadow had crossed his screen. He glanced up at Soundwave's impassive face-mask and shrugged. "Star Wars: A New Hope novelisation. It's not actually that bad."

Soundwave's expression didn't change. "Novelisation: inferior to film."

"And yet, still a million times better than The Phantom Menace in any shape or form."

He deactivated the bookpad and subspaced it as he stood up and cast his optics over his fellow soldiers.

"You have to get them rounded up?"


"Looking forward to it?"


"Reckon you'll get a few dents in your plating not caused by 'Raider?"

Soundwave settled with narrowing his optic band and glaring at the now-smirking jet.

Thundercracker held up his hands in mock-defence. "Hey, I'm just saying what we're all thinking."

"Comments: unnecessary."

He pressed the eject button on the side of his chest compartment and straightened up. "Frenzy: eject."

The tape deck mechanism whirred and clanked, but Frenzy's frame didn't emerge.

"Frenzy: eject."

A grumpy voice laced with exhaustion piped up from the depths of the deck. "Don' wanna."

Soundwave narrowly resisted the urge to strangle something. Frenzy had been in a foul mood since that morning, the cause of which was still unknown, and which he wasn't particularly interested in at that moment. The navy mech managed to direct a glare into the top of his chest compartment where the barest edge of the red-and black Cassette's frame could be seen.

"Action: order, not request. Eject: now."

"Make me!"

A sudden clang inside the depths of the deck made the Communications officer stumble ever so slightly. Guessing what was about to happen, he leaned against the edge of the nearest weapons storage crate and braced himself. He felt the unmistakable sensation of a Cassette partially transforming within his compartment, and could make a comfortable prediction as to who it was.

Frenzy's tone changed from whiny petulance to irritation within a sparkbeat. "Whoa-whoa-whoa whoa, where'd' ya think you're puttin' those claws kittykat—OWOWOWOWOWOWOWWWWW!"

The red and black Cassette finally emerged, followed swiftly by his feline brother. Transforming as he landed, Frenzy frantically ran his hands over his frame, inspecting the metal for any obvious injuries. Finding nothing but small mesh wounds, he span round and directed a death-glare at Ravage, who had finished his transformation and was sitting quietly next to his creator's foot, idly running his glossa over his claws.

"Fair warning bro, my vengeance will be swift and unannounced!"

Ravage merely raised an eye-ridge. You are aware, of course, that the fact that you've announced the obtaining of said vengeance completely eradicates any element of surprise I might have felt at the encounter?

Frenzy's optics darted back and forth as he attempted to follow his sibling's train of thought and got stuck in the buffet car. He folded his arms across his chest and turned his head away, nasal unit in the air. "Whatever, boss's pet."

Soundwave offered a silent plea to Primus to give him strength, turned his attention to his younger creation and nodded in the general direction of the designated first wave.

"Operation: Awakening. Function required: sonic scream."

Frenzy went rigid, glanced up at his creator and blinked.



A slag-eating grin made its way across the red and black Cassette's face-plates.

Thundercracker groaned and stared at Soundwave.

"You really are just a sadist, aren't you?"

"Hints: numerous."

Nightraider's wings flexed briefly as she awakened, rolled over and sprawled out on her back, the December sunlight still strong enough to heat up the black coated areas of her frame. Under her wings, Astrotrain's larger frame hummed peacefully, the triple-changer content to simply sit back and catch a few breems of rest before the spacebridge was ready to send them home.

She couldn't deny she'd missed Cybertron. Much as her stay on Earth had been a welcome change to her routine, she wanted to get back and help the others to consolidate their victory. As a military model and a Seeker, it went against her programming to relax completely, and frankly, she was a lot happier when she had something to do.

Or now...perhaps it was now having someone to do on a hopefully routine basis that made her just that little bit more enthusiastic about returning to her normal duties.

A small but filthy smirk crept across her face as she recalled what exactly Soundwave had considered a memorable final night...

*The repair berth in the weapons upgrade ward was designed to hold the weight and frame size of a triple-changer, but even two relatively compact frames combined were still physically a tight fit side on the mattress.

At that particular moment, Nightraider didn't give a flying frag.

Condensation dripped down hers and Soundwave's frames as their plating cooled off. The Communications officer still had his bondmate's arms pinned above her head, her legs wrapped around his hips, and his interfacing leads buried in the sockets at the back of her port as he rested his helm against hers.

The red and black jet was the first to speak, an exhausted giggle emerging from her vocaliser. "Mmmmmh...I can't feel my legs."

Off of Soundwave's look, she grinned and raised her head up just enough to kiss him. "Trust me, that's a good thing."

The tape-deck 'Con purred. "As long as the lack of feeling is caused only by pleasure and not pain."

"I dunno, depends what you're into."

She caught his renewed look and rolled her optics. "Would you relax? If I wasn't into it, you'd know."

Soundwave removed his hands from her wrists, running them down her frame with deliberate languor until they settled on her hips. "Would this be by implication or by vocally stating your displeasure?"

Nightraider wriggled her frame up the berth until she could prop herself up on her servos. "My memory may be a little hazy right now, but I seem to recall overloading three times within the past hour and screaming your name each time. I'd like to think it was obvious that you were doing something right."

The look on the Communication officer's faceplates could have been used as an illustration of the dictionary definition of the word 'smug'.

The corners of his mouth turned down slightly as he called up his internal chronometer. "As long as it will be enough to satiate your desires for the next two months."

The femme jet looked down and exhaled briefly. "I waited nine million years for you. I...guess two more months won't make a huge difference."

She turned her head and fixed her gaze on the window on the far side of the bay, determined not to let her mate see any sign of her unwillingness to be apart from him. Not being onlined as a psychic however, she had underestimated both the strength of the bond, and the clarity of her thoughts.

Soundwave brought his knuckles up under his femme's chin, forcing her to look him in the optics. "We have not discussed the more practical implications of this union."

Nightraider shrugged. "I'm a medic. I'm aware of some of the physiological aspects – the initiation of spark-to-spark communication, enhanced telepathic sensitivity, shared emotional states, and the risk of simultaneous offlining if one or the other is fatally wounded."

"I was referring to the effects of sustained absence on both partners. The physical and psychological symptoms of bond strain are...unpleasant."

Soundwave gathered the femme more securely into his arms. "While I do not wish to sound mawkish, we are now two halves of a whole. Our sparks will recognise the missing halves and call to each other until they are whole again. That call will be draining on both of us until we are reunited."

The femme jet didn't trust her vocaliser not to break. Instead she delved into the bond and closed her optics as she buried her face in Soundwave's neck pistons. Define draining.

If Soundwave noticed the sudden switch in communication method, he chose not to question it. A full set of rations will not fulfil either of our fuel requirements. We will exhaust ourselves more easily. Our tempers will be strained, our concentration less focussed...and our desires more easily aroused.

So, drowsy, grouchy, hungry and horny. Sounds like either a typical fledgling or four of the rejected names for the Seven Dwarves.

The Communications officer hung his head briefly before pulling away and glaring at his mate.

Nightraider, now more sure of her vocaliser, and not being one to turn down an opportunity to tease her bonded, returned to her normal speech pattern. "Hey. I have Wi-Fi and I was bored."

"I was hoping you would be taking this more seriously."

"I am. You can feel my spark, right?"


"Then you know that...ugh."

She pushed at Soundwave's chest until he sat up, pulling her body with him. Rearranging herself in his lap, she stared down at him and traced the back of his helm with her fingertips.

"Being apart from you when we thought the Nemesis was lost was painful, and I...I didn't deal with it well."

Soundwave merely raised an eye-ridge.

"Ok, drastic understatement, but still. Being apart from you and the Cassettes then was painful, and I know that being apart now we've bonded is going to be the Pit. But most of that earlier pain was due to not knowing if you were still alive. With a bond, it's going to hurt either way, but at least I know you're alive."

"It is not a situation I would wish you to be in."

Nightraider smirked. "Any situation right now which doesn't involve me pinning you down on this berth and interfacing until we can't walk straight isn't a situation I'm likely to enjoy. But...we still have 12 more hours. And I'm pretty sure I want to be enjoying the time we have left rather than regretting the time we've lost."

The Communications officer returned the smirk in kind. He shifted his body so that he could recline against the berth with the femme jet astride his hips, and studied her frame with darkened optics.

"Two months is our longest estimate for troop transfer. If the Autobots do not interfere, I could return to Cybertron within six weeks."

Nightraider settled her frame atop his and pulled his head to one side, providing just enough room to bend her head and graze her dental plates along his pistons.

"Only 'could'?"

Soundwave hissed and grabbed the F-14's aft, distracting her long enough for him to claim her mouth with his.

Alright, I will return within six weeks. All I ask of you right now, femme, is that you recall my name – I intend to have you screaming it at the ceiling in the next few minutes.*

A gentle nudge through the bond brought her out of her increasingly lurid thoughts.

Much as that was entertaining, I would suggest you return yourself to ground level and deactivate your audials.

Cracking open one optic, Nightraider squinted down firstly at the desert floor, and then at the form of her bondmate shimmering slightly in the heat haze, Ravage and Frenzy standing at his feet.

But I'm comfy here.

Soundwave's expression didn't change one iota.

Ah. This is one of those situations where I don't really get a choice so much as a courtesy warning, right?

The Communication officer nodded wearily, while Frenzy's head was nodding so fast it was just a grinning blur.

Out of the corner of his optic, Megatron observed the femme jet as she sat up and stretched, then vaulted from Astrotrain's shoulder to the desert floor. Making her way towards the assembled upright mechs, she squinted one optic shut and tapped at the secondary control system under the edge of her helm, where the override for the audial system was located.

Another, longer glance at Thundercracker and the two Cassettes present revealed them to be making similar movements. That, combined with Frenzy's almost obscenely gleeful expression, was more than enough to have Megatron seeking out the tiny panel under his own helm.

The Communications officer turned back towards his commander, seeking approval for the forthcoming action. Receiving both a glare and a sharp nod, he activated his loudspeakers and stepped forward.

"Suggestion: any mech wishing to retain full audial function in the next minute should prepare to deactivate their audials and prepare for spacebridge transport."

This suggestion received the usual amount of rapt attention any of the Decepticon forces granted Soundwave while hungover – absolutely frag-all.

He looked back at the two Seekers, who offered him identical shrugs. Finally deactivating his own audials, the navy mech gestured to Frenzy to step forward.

The red Cassette rubbed his hands together, took a completely unnecessary breath of air and opened his mouth.

On Cybertron, Shockwave had caught the announcement and the tiny gesture made by his emperor, put two and two together and quickly deactivated the audio link with the Nevada terminal.

Dreadnought winced as he spotted the sonic waves peeling across the screen, strong enough to kick up dust flurries that obscured Megatron's faceplates, but not strong enough to obscure the sadistically amused glint in his optics.

"Why air going all wibbley?"

The battlecruiser glanced down at Crossfire, who had managed to climb partially out of his sling and was peeking over his creator's shoulder at the terminal screen.

"That's a sonic wave, lil' buddy."

Carefully disentangling the little mech from the sling and earning another Look from Shockwave as he did, Dreadnought settled Crossfire into the crook of his arm and pointed at the screen.

"See, when an object passes through the air it creates a series of pressure waves in front of it and behind it, like the bow waves and aft waves you see in front of me and behind when we go out sailing on the Mithril Sea. Understand?"

The silver and lavender sparkling giggled. "You said aft."

Shockwave almost rolled his optic, but managed to refrain. "Is this really necessary?"

"Hey, you put me in charge of his education. I'm educating, back off." The battle cruiser returned his attention to his tiny charge.

"So, these pressure waves travel at the speed of sound, and as the speed of the object increases, the waves are forced together, or compressed, because they can't get out of the way of each other. Eventually they merge into a single shock wave travelling at the speed of sound..." He stopped at the confused expression in the little gun-former's optic and sighed.

"Soundwave and Frenzy can create sonic booms. Sonic booms can be felt as well as heard, so you're seeing sound move."

"Ooooh." Crossfire stared at the screen.

"Is Frenzy the red one or the blue one?"

Silence fell over the lab for a brief, blissful moment. Shockwave finally intervened.

"Leave it."

Dreadnought shook his head and tapped his comm. link. "Dreadnought to Glit. We got any spare audial parts in the stores?"

The receiver hissed for a few moments before Glit's baffled tones purred through Dreadnought's speakers. "...Yes, and I hesitate to ask, but why?"

Dreadnought sucked on his dental plates and flashed an apologetic grin that the feline medic couldn't see. "Um, Frenzy did the other thing he does best?"

"Oh sweet Primus." The sound of a paw being slapped over a set of optics could be heard clearly through the comm. system.

"Fine, but if anyone complains of any injuries to anything other than their audial systems, they're on their own."

On Earth, Soundwave glanced at his chronometer and calculated that 30 seconds of sonic based aural torture was more than enough to get the troops' attention.

Or at least enough to make two of the Stunticons keel over in agony and the rest of the assembled mechs collapse on their knees with their hands slammed over their audials and mouthing a few rather choice obscenities.


Tapping Frenzy on the head, the Communications officer made a throat-slitting motion.

Gotcha boss.

The red and black Cassette clamped his mouth shut and shook his head a few times to clear the last of the vibrations out of his system before he activated his audials. "Hmmm, tingly."

Beside him, Ravage activated his own audials and carefully licked at a patch of sand marring his paintjob. Dusty is perhaps the phrase I would have used, but no matter.

Astrotrain was the first to stand up and stagger towards the spacebridge gates, all the while jabbing a finger into his helm in a vain attempt to regain his hearing. "Was that really necessary?"

Frenzy beamed up at the triple-changer. "Nope. Fun though!"

"Urrgh..." The space shuttle mech shot the Cassette a filthy look before he entered the gates. The Stunticons had taken the hint and were staggering towards the terminal, accompanied by a whining Skywarp and a spitting Starscream.

Thundercracker and Nightraider glanced at each other, shrugged again and onlined their audials. The blue and black F-15 made a move to comfort his mate while trying desperately not to show his amusement, while the Air Commander glanced between his now-smirking emperor and the sniggering Femme CMO as if deciding on whom to vent his ire.

The F-14 lost the metaphorical coin-toss.

Starscream squared up to the smaller jet, wings twitching in self-righteous rage. "Laugh away femme, you won't be so amused when I return the favour!"

"If listening to you whine for several million years hasn't already ruined my auditory systems, I seriously doubt you'll manage it now."

The silver and red jet sneered. "Don't think your insolence will be tolerated for much longer. I am still your commanding officer; I could have you thrown out in a spark-beat."

Nightraider let out an amused-sounding chuckle as she made her way towards the terminal, idly stretching an arm behind her back. "As a Seeker, yes, you're my commanding officer. As a CMO, I answer only to Strika and Megatron, both of whom, if memory serves, outrank you."

She shot a look at the Decepticon emperor, who acknowledged it with a sharp nod.

"Want to try again?"

Starscream made a few strangling motions behind the femme's back and growled. "My patience with you is shrinking rapidly!"

The F-14 smirked. Oh, too easy. "And it's not the only thing."

With a screech, Starscream flung himself at the smaller jet, fingers curled into claws and a look of death in his optics that Unicron would have been proud of.

Nightraider frantically calculated the odds and her position relative to that of Soundwave and Megatron, and ducked. The Air Commander soared over the top of her helm, made a swipe at her wings as he passed and collapsed in a raging heap next to his commander's feet. Megatron stared down for a few seconds and shook his head briefly before hauling the F-15 up by his neck collar.

"Are you quite finished?"

Realising that there wasn't a dignified way out of this situation, Starscream folded his arms across his cockpit and glared.

"Slagging bitch."

Nightraider returned the glare in kind. "Mech-whore."

The two glares both simultaneously transformed into matching smirks.

Nightraider flipped her commanding officer a brief salute. "See you in six weeks."

Starscream chuckled lowly. "Send Obsidian my regards."

With that, he retreated to supervise the loading of the bridge-plate, Thundercracker and Skywarp following close behind.

With a rush of air and electricity, the first shipment of energon cubes arrived on Cybertron, lighting up the control room with an otherworldly pink-purple glow. A number of Shockwave's drones immediately swooped in to collect and transport the cubes through to one of the many storage bays dotted throughout the Darkmount complex.

Studying his screen, Dreadnought fed a few calculations through the computer and nodded thoughtfully.

"Looks like we've got another two supply transports to make before we can get the troops sent through."

The Military Operations officer briefly tilted his head in agreement. "Do we have the designations of the troops?"

"Eh...all five Stunties, Astrotrain and 'Raider. The Stunties are hungover but should live, but Glit should probably be in here to get Astrotrain and 'Raider sorted. Flight models don't bridge well."

Shockwave glowered. "Do not remind me."

Dreadnought grinned. The last time any of the Seekers had been bridged back to Cybertron, Dirge had passed out, Ramjet's gyroscope hadn't worked correctly for almost three orns, and Thrust had barely taken three shaky steps out of the bridge terminal before his last energon ration had ended up decorating Shockwave's feet.

"Lip components are sealed. Oh, and let 'em know they've got one breem to make their goodbyes."

Ravage purred and let his optics drift shut as Nightraider gently scratched between his ears and then under his chin.

"You do know the Autobots have you on file as the most feared and deadly Cassette under Megatron's command?"


"Purring like a five tonne cyber-kitten probably isn't good for your rep."

The feline Cassette cracked open one optic. Everyone's allowed some downtime. And I trust you will not...

"Yeah yeah, I won't mention the fluffy kitty bit to Howlback."

As it should be.

Ravage reluctantly broke away from his co-creator's touch and glanced at Frenzy.

The red Cassette didn't budge. He simply stared at the sand beneath his feet, hands behind his back, faceplates curled into a frown.

"'Zee? I know we did the whole goodbye bit earlier, but..." The femme jet held out her hand towards the younger Cassette.


"Sorry 'Zee, I don't speak gibberish, but I could patch it through gobbledegook?"

Without pausing or looking up at Nightraider's face, Frenzy moved forward and latched himself onto the femme jet's leg, clutching hard enough to make the plating creak. Guessing immediately what the problem was, and opting to spare the Cassette's pride, Nightraider shielded Frenzy from view with her wings and quietly patted him on the back.

"I know. I'll miss you too, you little freak."

At that, Frenzy finally raised his head and shot a wobbly smirk at the F-14. "'S'not gonna be long, right?"

Nightraider returned the smirk. "Six weeks. Not even two orbital cycles. You'll live."


Ravage, sensing what was coming next, quietly moved towards Frenzy and tugged on one of his hip components. I believe our presence would be of better use elsewhere.


Finally letting go of Nightraider's leg, Frenzy let himself be dragged off by his older sibling, but not before shooting what could almost pass for a mournful look up at his co-creator.

Inside Soundwave's tape-deck, Ratbat nudged himself forward to the front of the compartment and pressed himself against the plastic partition, his optics wide and filling steadily with tears.

I don't want Nightraider to go.

Buzzsaw and Laserbeak snuggled next to the youngest Cassette, letting the warmth of their sparks seep into the little bat's frame. Laserbeak watched the femme jet as she stared after Frenzy and Ravage, trying to disguise her expression.

I don't believe she wants to go back either. But she must. And it's only for a little while.

Still don't want her to go. Even in Cassette-form, Ratbat's pout was clearly audible.

From the back of the deck, Rumble's telepathic voice finally entered the conversation. She'll be fine Squeaky. Plus she's got Shockwave's creation t' look after 'til we get back.

Ratbat went rigid. ...Crossfire? She's looking after Crossfire?

He launched himself at the partition, squeaking and flailing in a jealous rage at the thought of his co-creator fussing and looking after the little lavender and silver gun-former, who was widely considered to be as cute as a week-old cyber-kitten soaked in low-grade by the Femme Division.

Buzzsaw shot a psychic glare at his older brother as Laserbeak tried to restrain the little bat. Thank you Rumble, you just had to mention him, didn't you?

The blue Cassette smirked. D'ya want Fighty Squeaky or Sad Squeaky? 'Cos Fighty Squeaky's got muchos more entertainment value.

I believe Soundwave was hoping for a little more decorum from us when he bids Nightraider farewell.

Eh. She knew what she was gettin' into when she did th' nasty wit'm.

Soundwave's shoulders slumped ever-so-slightly from the combined thoughts of his creations and the spectacular temper tantrum his youngest creation was busy throwing.

So much for a dignified farewell.

Nightraider bit back a grin as she picked up on the Cassettes' thoughts via the bond. "As the short blue one puts it, I knew what I was getting into at the start."

"Wish: for our parting to retain some formality."

"I know."

With the rest of the troops either loading or being loaded onto the bridge-plate, Megatron silently turned and moved a few steps away from the pair, just enough to give them the illusion of privacy.

Both Soundwave and Nightraider caught the gesture, even if they chose not to acknowledge it. The femme jet moved one step closer to her mate and placed a hand over his chest partition, the movement instantly quelling Ratbat's temper tantrum and causing the other Cassettes to fall silent. Behind the two elder Transformers, Ravage and Frenzy watched the proceedings with respectful optics.

Soundwave's hand closed over his femme's smaller digits. Where your spark goes, there with you I go.

Where your spark lives, there too I live. Nightraider just managed to prevent her intakes hitching, but it was close.

Back in the Golden Age, the bonding vows were traditionally made before an audience of the two Cybertronians' family units, and blessed by the ruler of the city-state. After that, the bonding rituals took place and the pair would get onto the far more entertaining business of spark creation.

In this case...well. Creations followed by bonding, followed by a blessing (of a mostly unimpressed sort), followed by vows definitely weren't the normal order of courtship, but neither the Communications officer nor the femme jet had ever considered themselves to be traditional.

Nightraider was the first to break away and turn. Deliberately not meeting her mate's optic band, she moved to stand in front of Megatron and drew her fist up to her chestplates in a crisp salute.

"Permission to return to Cybertron, sir."

The Decepticon emperor nodded. "Permission granted."

Soundwave would later recall a number of images and words after the pain had subsided to bearable levels.

The image of Nightraider marching onto the bridge-plate and taking her place between Astrotrain and Motormaster, shooting the truck in the knee when he made a half-sparked attempt to grope her wings.

The sounds of Starscream and Megatron as they prepared the plate and its contents for transport.

The sight of Skywarp and Thundercracker bidding farewell to the femme jet, Skywarp waving frantically and pretending to cry, his blue and black bondmate smacking him lightly upside the head and offering a far less animated, but no less sincere wave.

The sudden whisper of his femme's voice through their bond.

I love you.

I know.

And the flash of light from the spacebridge as the combined mass of the supplies and the returning troops shot into the heavens in the space of a sparkbeat.

But before that...

The silver gun-former turned just in time to see his third in command go suddenly rigid. Making an informed guess as to the cause of this new state, he glared at Starscream and made a small gesture, enough to indicate that the silver and red F-15 should return to base with his trine-mates.

Starscream stood his ground for a moment, hands on hip-plating and a pout on his lips. "And if I don't?"

Megatron simply raised his arm cannon and shoved it in his Air Commander's face.

"Ugh, fine."

With an irritated nod, Starscream stepped back a few feet and nodded to Skywarp and Thundercracker. "Well, it's not as if we need to listen to a groundpounder conversation anyway."

Megatron toyed with the notion of just shooting the F-15 in the back for the hell of it, but decided Primus probably wouldn't thank him for sending Starscream to him before his time. Instead he watched as the Elite trine took off, and only after the three jets became three minute dots in the Nevadan skies did he turn to study the Communications officer.

Soundwave slumped first to his knees and then hunched over his body, his shaking left arm supporting his upper body while the fingers on his right hand formed into claws as he ineffectually dug them into his chest plating. Beside him, Ravage had pulled his body into a defensive posture and was snarling in agony; Frenzy had gone fully foetal, his arms and legs drawn around his frame while streams of optical lubricant coursed down his cheekplates.

Inside his chest compartment, Laserbeak and Buzzsaw were curled together, shuddering in physical and emotional torment. Rumble, barely able to move from the fire coursing through his spark, had managed to position himself next to Ratbat shortly before the spacebridge had activated, and was desperately trying to soothe his youngest brother's shrieks of pain and misery before he offlined himself through his own distress.

He pressed his eject button and winced at the new lash of agony. "Ravage...Frenzy...return."

The two Cassettes gritted their dental plates, jumped in to the air and transformed, sliding to rest in their creator's chest compartment. With his creations as safe as they could be, Soundwave hunched over again and bowed his head, trying to keep his optics fixed on the sand underneath him lest his gyroscope give out and he simply purge his last fuel ration over the desert floor.

In his peripheral vision, he could see Megatron's black plated feet silently resting before him.

"Do you understand now why I cannot and will not fully condone your actions, Soundwave?"

The Communications officer remained silent as another inferno radiated from his spark.

He deliberately tried not to think of the pain Nightraider was almost certainly in.

"Because that care and concern for your mate makes you weak. Because your loyalty is now divided. Because you are now..."

The whine of the fusion cannon charging was unmistakable.

The Decepticon warlord aimed the barrel at Soundwave's bowed cranium.

"...a liability."

With an immense amount of concentration, Soundwave managed to block the worst of the physiological pain and met his commander's gaze with bleary optics. What Megatron had said was true. He was a liability.

But he was a liability who still had his uses.
A liability who was telepathic.
A liability who was competent.
A liability who knew that somehow, he could be loyal to both his CPU and to his spark, and to the two beings who ruled each of them separately.

He inhaled deeply, only too aware of what could happen next, and stretched a shaking hand up towards Megatron.

"Request...plea: do not leave me...sir."

The silver gun-former studied the hunched chassis before him in tense silence.


Soundwave, the mech who epitomised self-control and quiet strength, reduced to begging for his life like an Autobot or a Neutral.

In any other case, he would have shot the mech or femme with barely a pause for reflection.

But Soundwave...

The mech who had supported him unwaveringly from his origins in the gladiatorial slaughterhouses of Kaon.
The mech who had located Starscream and his trinemates.
The mech who had enticed Shockwave into joining the cause.
The mech who had brought Nightraider to him that night and saved his life.

The mech who exemplified all that the Decepticons stood for.

One black hand reached down and firmly grasped the trembling navy digits. Soundwave shuttered his optics a few times and tried to focus.

Megatron hauled him to stand upright, his optics now an unreadable crimson.

"An optic for an optic. A life for a life."

The Communications officer read the gun-former's meaning perfectly.

"Implication: understood."

Megatron nodded.

"Can you fly?"

"Uncertain; attempt will still be made."

Any other comments Megatron had to make were interrupted by the beep of the communications terminal on the spacebridge gate.

Trusting his third-in-command wasn't about to offline any time soon, the Decepticon emperor strode towards the terminal and activated the transmitter. "Spacebridge terminal Nevada receiving."

Shockwave's blocky cranium appeared onscreen, his optic reflecting rare concern. "The troops and supplies have arrived, Lord Megatron. However..."

Megatron cut him off. "However, our Femme CMO has either just collapsed, or is screaming her vocalisor out for a sedative."

The Military Operations officer looked slightly confused. "The latter and then the former. If I may ask, how did you...?"

Megatron simply angled the screen until Soundwave's pain-riddled frame could be seen by the purple gun-former. Even to Shockwave, who prided himself on not knowing an emotional state if it bit him on the aft, the cause of the pain was obvious, and explained their CMO's current status perfectly.

No doubt Dreadnought, once he stopped running around panicking like a new-built femme, would be thrilled as to this new state of affairs.

"Understood. We will take the appropriate measures and keep you informed. Spacebridge terminal Darkmount out."

The terminal darkened as Megatron turned around, his optics fixed once again on the Communications officer.

"You will fly back to the Nemesis under your own power, or you will not return at all. Is that understood?"

Straightening up, Soundwave managed to psychically block out the remains of the pain and activated his leg boosters without a word.

"As you command, Megatron."

Pebbles and sand clattered against the metal plating of the spacebridge terminal as the two Decepticons took off, all signs of their presence erased by the shifting desert sands.