A/N – Claimed by rezuri over on LJ with the prompt "transforming in the sense of personal growth." The very last one, folks! It's taken me almost a year and a half to finish this, but here we are. In some ways, I'm kinda sad that it's over, but it's a big relief as well. Thank y'all for reading!
Cybertron, early in the war:
"I demand a new partner."
Optimus looked up from the daily report when the security director barged in. "Good Morning, Red Alert," he said dryly.
"He doesn't follow orders, he doesn't listen," Red Alert growled, waving his hands in frustration and pacing. "He's got all the common sense of a rabid glitch mouse! How am I supposed to work in the field when my backup decides it's more fun to run off and try to get himself killed?"
Optimus set the datapad on the desk, waiting patiently for Red Alert's ranting to wind down.
"Transfer the suicidal idiot to somewhere else and give me someone who can actually follow a fragging order to stay put!" Red Alert finished, planting his fists on his hips.
"Inferno a good mech, Red," Optimus said calmly.
"Then let someone else have him! Frag it, he's worse than having no one!"
Optimus sighed. "Red, sit down." He steepled his fingers, waiting as Red Alert perched on the edge of the seat. "While I admit Inferno is a bit rough around the edges-"
Red Alert snorted.
"-He's both skilled and well-trained," Optimus continued, ignoring the interruption. "We're short on resources, Red. Everyone is going to have to make due with what – and who – they get."
"He ran off and left me! In the middle of a firefight!" Red Alert was indignant. "What's the point in giving me backup if he's not going to stick around?"
"Discipline can be learned, Red, but you're going to have to give him a chance," Optimus said firmly.
Red Alert folded his arms over his chest. "Fine. But when we all end up dead because one idiot can't keep to his post, don't look at me," he grumbled.
"Noted," Optimus told him dryly. And maybe the two of you will learn something from each other, he thought at Red Alert's back. Inferno could use a little of your sense of responsibility, and you, my friend, could stand to learn that sometimes it's alright to relax.
"Red! Hey, Red!"
Red Alert twitched at the boisterous greeting. And the last person I want to see would be... He walked faster.
Not to be deterred, Inferno jogged after him. "Hey, Red, I've been lookin' for you."
"Imagine that," Red Alert growled.
"So, I was wonderin' if ya wanted t'go y'know, get a drink or somethin'..."
"I'm working," he said shortly.
"Maybe after your shift?" Inferno asked hopefully.
Some mechs just didn't take a hint. "I'm busy."
"Oh." Inferno trailed along for a few steps in silence. "I just thought maybe since we were gonna be workin' together and all, we should get t'know each other a bit...?"
Red Alert stopped outside the security center. "I fail to see how getting drunk would improve our work performance." He keyed in the door code. "In fact, if you're interested in improving our working relationship, maybe you should be spending your free time reading up on protocol. Particularly the section on how to obey orders." He stalked into the security center, palming the door shut behind him.
Inferno just stood in the hallway for a long moment, staring at the closed door, shoulders slumping. "Yep. He's still mad." He heaved a sigh, turning and slinking back down the corridor.
"Hey, if it ain't the hero of the hour," Powerglide greeted him when he slunk back into the rec room. "Bumblebee was just tellin' us how you saved the day!" He raised his cube in a toast. "That was nice work."
"Glad someone thinks so," Inferno said glumly.
"Red giving you a hard time?" Bumblebee asked sympathetically.
"I don' think he likes me much." Inferno sighed, slumping into a chair.
"He's Red," Powerglide snorted. "He doesn't like anyone."
"He's not that bad," Beachcomber protested.
Cliffjumper made a rude noise. "Yes, he is. He's a paranoid nutcase."
"Look who's talking," Bumblebee teased.
"Hey, compared to ol' Red, Cliffy's downright sane." Powerglide laughed. "Least he doesn't hallucinate about the Decepticons coming to murder us in our sleep."
"What the frag do you mean by that?" Cliffjumper demanded.
"Hallucinate?" Inferno repeated, unsure.
"You haven't been around long enough, but don't worry, you'll understand soon enough," Powerglide snickered, ignoring both Cliffjumper's glare and Bumblebee's disapproving look. "Just don't say we didn't warn you."
"Er...thanks, I guess," Inferno said, not at all reassured by the smirks and laughter.
Bumblebee caught the overwhelmed look. "Hey, it's not that bad. Red's just... particular. You get used to him."
"If you say so," Inferno said, discouraged. "I guess I should go try an' get somethin' done. No reason to give him any more reasons to yell at me," he sighed glumly, climbing to his feet and waving to the minibots. "See ya guys around, alright?"
"What was that?" Red Alert demanded, head lifting from the tangle of wiring he'd been working on. What exactly he was doing, Inferno wasn't sure, and considering the security officer's frosty attitude so far, he hadn't quite dared to ask for details.
Inferno frowned to himself, listening. "I don't hear nothin'."
"I did," Red Alert snapped back, testily. "Footsteps, it sounded like. From over there, around that building."
"From way over there?" Inferno gave the building a dubious look, remembering Powerglide's warnings.
Red Alert gave him a flat look. "Yes. From way over there."
Resigning himself to having to check out every noise, real or imagined, Inferno vented a sigh and started for the building in question, missing the glare Red Alert directed at his back. He was beginning to understand what the minibots had been talking about.
But hey, at least it gives me somethin' to do besides sittin' 'round on my aft, he thought, poking his head casually around the corner. "Ain't nothing here but glitch mice an' rust," he reported cheerfully.
"You could at least pretend to be taking this seriously," Red Alert growled when he returned.
"I am!" Inferno protested automatically.
"What, pretending?" Red Alert turned back to his work. "I can believe that."
Inferno fixed him with a hurt look, but Red Alert wasn't paying attention. Blowing air through his vents, he settled back to wait.
Maybe they're right, maybe I'm wastin' my time, Inferno thought. Some people are jus' like that, I guess.
Red Alert shut the casing of the perimeter scanner with a firm click.
"We done?" Inferno asked hopefully.
"I need to re-synchronize the scanner with the base computers, but after that, we'll be able to move on to the next one," Red Alert said, distracted.
Inferno sighed and slumped against the wall. Joy, more of 'em. This day just gets more excitin' as we go.
"That's strange," Red Alert muttered.
"What?" Inferno looked up.
"I can't reach the base computers on the link." He frowned. "And no one's responding to my comms. Frag it, we're being jammed!"
A quick check of his own comms told Inferno the same thing. "'Cons?"
"Who else?" Red Alert scanned the area, doors twitching nervously. "We need to get back, now!"
"They wouldn't have started jammin' if they weren't already in place," Inferno pointed out. "But I bet they don' even realize we're here. We could swing 'round and sneak up on 'em, catch 'em by suprise."
"And do what? Inferno, we're two people. Two! What in the name of the Matrix do you expect us to be able to do?" Red Alert turned away. "No. We're heading back to base, and that's final."
"Yeah, well, you mighta noticed, but I ain't the best at followin' orders," Inferno told him cheerfully. "I'm gonna go find out what these fraggin' Cons are up to."
"You're- you-" Red Alert sputtered. "What in the Pit do you think you're doing? We can't split up out here! We don't have any comms or any way to call for backup!"
"Well, if we can't split up, I guess that means we're both gonna go check out what the 'Cons are up to, don't it?" Inferno grinned, not at all concerned about the danger.
"..." Red Alert glared at his back. "When we get back, if we get back, I'm going to have you brought up on charges for this," he growled.
"Aw, Red, don't be like that..."
"What the frag is that?" Inferno muttered, peering over the piled rubble.
"Apparently, it's a very large dampening field generator," Red Alert murmured back.
Inferno turned to stare at his companion. "I didn't know you were an engineerin' specialist, Red..."
Red Alert snorted. "I'm not. But that's what they're calling it."
"You can hear them from here?" Inferno blinked in surprise. "So... what're we gonna do about it?"
"Why are you asking me? I'm here under protest, remember?" Red Alert frowned at the Decepticons below them.
"Yeah, well, if we hadn't come, no one woulda known 'bout the generator thing, and then where would we be?" Inferno grinned.
"Home, probably, with nice thick walls between us and them." Red Alert paused, thinking it over. "If we can't take out that generator, there's no way we'll be able to get a message out to the other outposts. By the time they even know we're in trouble, everyone will already be dead."
"Right, so we need to blow up the big generator thing, check." Inferno hefted his rifle.
"Inferno, you are not going to go charging down- Inferno! Get back here!"
"-And you already know the rest," Red Alert finished, pacing Optimus as he strode down the corridor from his office.
"I do," Optimus agreed. "So, have you changed your mind about Inferno?"
"He's a good mech," Red Alert admitted. He scowled at Optimus' smile. "But if he so much as twitches on guard duty, I reserve the right to have the hot-headed idiot brought up on charges."
Optimus just chuckled. "It's good to hear that you're getting along. Now, aren't you supposed to be meeting someone for a celebratory drink, or did I mishear that?"
"I said I'd think about it," Red Alert protested. "Not that I'd go."
"Go, Red, it'll be good for both of you."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Red Alert demanded indignantly as Optimus gently but firmly pushed him toward the lift.
"Just try to have fun," Optimus told him. "Work will still be here in the morning."
Red Alert grumbled something impolite back at him, but allowed himself to be herded off the command deck. And if part of him was looking forward to a night off with his partner and now friend, well, he sure as slag didn't have to admit it.