Wow, I've been gone a long time, huh? This chapter is not as long as I'd intended it to be, but I just couldn't think of a way to smoothly flow into the next bit of the story without breaking into another chapter. Many many thanks to rageai, who spent a lot of time soundboarding this chapter and quite a bit of the remaining story with me. She really helped add a great deal of depth that this story would otherwise have lacked. Thank you so much.
Bluestreak peeked in the open door of the lab and then sidled up to a very bemused-looking Perceptor. "So, uh, what's he doing, anyway? He's been feeling a little—I dunno, disappointed or something ever since he's been here."
Perceptor blinked and glanced at him sidelong. "I believe that he is attempting to think of a project to occupy himself with that he has not already completed," the scientist said blandly.
"Huh." Bluestreak stared at Wheeljack, sitting at a lab table and tapping a stylus against a datapad, deep in thought. "Attempting?"
Perceptor's voice was wry. "He has not yet been successful."
"Huh," the Datsun said again, watching as his bondmate suddenly brightened and began scribbling furiously on the datapad, muttering unintelligibly the whole while. Bluestreak shook his head, baffled, as always, by his beloved's behaviour when in a laboratory setting. He stood in silence for a time, fidgeting a bit restlessly beside Perceptor as Wheeljack chuckled to himself and continued to write as fast as he could.
When the grey gunner finally decided he couldn't take the quiet anymore and opened his mouth to speak, Wheeljack sat up straighter, shooting Perceptor a triumphant look, and slid the datapad across the table for the microscope to look at. "There! Get a load of that!" Apparently noticing Bluestreak for the first time, he flashed—literally—his version of a grin, vocal indicators lighting up happily. "Hey, Blue! Didn't see ya standing there!" He couldn't help but smile in return—Wheeljack's boundless enthusiasm was always so contagious.
Perceptor picked up the datapad with the air of one who has done this a hundred times already today, perusing the contents for a moment before shaking his head as though unsurprised. "I am sorry, Wheeljack," he offered, "but I am afraid that this particular type of thermonuclear shielding has been incorporated into our standard defenses for vorns now…"
"In other words, I already invented it," Wheeljack translated, obviously crestfallen. Bluestreak couldn't help but feel bad for him as Perceptor nodded ruefully.
"Well, dammit," the Lancia said, frustrated. "Is there anything I haven't already done?"
"Very little," Bluestreak offered, prompting both scientists to look at him in surprise. "What?" he asked defensively. "Even I know that."
"Sorry, Blue," Wheeljack apologized. "I didn't mean to be insulting." The gunner sent him a wordless little bubble of reassurance through the bond, and Wheeljack smiled at him again briefly, then huffed a morose sigh. Looking back at Perceptor again with an almost-hopeful expression, the Lancia asked, "Aren't there any unfinished projects of mine that I can take a look at the notes for?"
Perceptor shook his head again. "I sincerely apologize, Wheeljack. I am afraid that most of the plans for your unfinished projects and inventions were obliterated—most likely by your own hand, to keep them out of enemy possession—during the Decepticon offensive against Autobot City, and what few files remain have been reduced to fragments - of which we've been unable to decipher anything, despite our best efforts," he said, sounding remorseful.
"What about projects he's already completed? Don't you have the files for those squirreled away somewhere safe?" Bluestreak asked, surprising himself and the two scientists with him. They both blinked at him for a moment, and then Wheeljack began to brighten.
"Bluestreak, you're brilliant!" the engineer said, beaming again. "That way I'll at least know what I've already done!" Bluestreak ducked his head bashfully at the praise and stammered something inaudible.
"That we are aware of," Perceptor cut in, wry once more. "It would be impossible to say with any sort of certainty or veracity that what we have on record comprises the entirety of your achievements throughout your life, or even throughout your career with the Autobots." Seeing Wheeljack drooping again, dismayed, he added in a kind voice, "But I will compile a compendium of your collected projects, as quickly as I am capable of doing so."
"Thanks, Perceptor," Wheeljack said gratefully, no longer looking quite so hangdog. "I would really appreciate it."
Perceptor inclined his head gracefully. "Please, think nothing of it," he said, smiling. "I am delighted to be capable of rendering assistance. Now, if you will excuse me, I will attend to this matter immediately." He nodded pleasantly to both of them, and took his leave.
For a long moment, the pair just looked at each other a bit awkwardly, no longer certain of what they should do now that they were alone. Finally, Wheeljack broke the silence. "Nice guy, that Perceptor," he said quietly.
"Yeah," Bluestreak acknowledged. "He is, even though I don't really understand half of what he says, and he can be kinda distant or, I dunno, distracted maybe is a better word, a lot of the time, but I don't hold it against him, since he really is such a nice guy, and I guess he's got a lot of really important things to think about…" Seeing his bondmate blinking at him with a sort of bemused look, he trailed off sheepishly. "Guess I'm babbling again, huh?" he asked, dropping his gaze in embarrassment. "I keep forgetting that you're not used to listening to me go on anymore."
Wheeljack's expression became reassuring. "Nah, Blue, it's okay," he said, and smiled when the gunner brightened.
"Y'know," Bluestreak said, smiling in return, used to interpreting Wheeljack's expressions even with the facemask in the way, "your personality isn't really all that different from…from before." He winced a little at even this small reminder of what had happened. "I mean, Ratchet seems to have changed a lot—he's a lot less…well, angry, I guess. Less mean, y'know?" Seeing Wheeljack's surprised look, he hastily amended his statement. "Well, not exactly mean, I suppose, just…he doesn't seem as quick to throw things at people now…though he really only threw things at people when they deserved to have something thrown at them…" He paused again, taking in Wheeljack's expression and wilting a bit. "I'm just digging the hole deeper, aren't I?" he asked miserably.
Wheeljack blinked at him in surprise. "What? No, Blue, I'm not upset with you," he reassured the younger mech hastily. "I just…it keeps surprising me, these reputations that we seem to have now. I mean, Ratchet has always had a temper, but…" He shook his head. "As excitable as he can get, he really doesn't have a mean strut in his body. And he's had plenty of temper tantrums, sure, but I've never seen him just start throwing things," he finished, his voice quiet.
Bluestreak shrugged, still just a bit uncomfortable despite his bondmate's reassurances. "Well, from what I've seen, someone has to have done something really, really stupid or dangerous before he starts pitching stuff at them," he said softly. "Not that there's a shortage of that sort of thing going on around here," he added dryly. He paused for a moment, then, heading off on a tangent, he continued, "And you say he doesn't have a mean strut in his body? Primus, the twins will eat him alive, then. You have to be at least a little bit mean just to keep their interest, let alone to keep them in line. I sure as slag couldn't do it." He sounded a little amused—at least, until he saw the startled look on Wheeljack's face.
"Primus!" the engineer said, optics wide and worried. "What sort of mechs are they? …wait, are you implying that you…?"
"Interfaced with Sideswipe and Sunstreaker?" Bluestreak finished wryly. He shrugged and gave Wheeljack a small, crooked smile. "It was some time ago," he said, his tone noncommittal. "It ended pretty quickly. I don't regret having done it, but I don't regret it being over, either." His smile became sweet and warm, obviously meant only for his bondmate. "I'm happy with you."
The gunner's voice was soft and trusting, and it made Wheeljack melt utterly, despite the unsettling knowledge that his bondmate had been intimate with Ratchet's bondmates. The engineer could feel his spark flutter with an emotion that he'd thought himself too raw to ever feel again, let alone this soon after…well, after him. It almost seemed a betrayal, a cheapening of the pain he'd felt when he left, to be feeling the first stirrings of a crush, even if it were a crush on this mech who was his bonded.
"It's not so bad, is it?" Bluestreak asked quietly, and Wheeljack had to wince at the layer of hurt in his tone.
"Oh Blue…" The engineer looked down, unable to meet the younger mech's gaze. "It's nothing you've done…" It was on the tip of his tongue to add, You've done everything right—and then realized that he didn't have to when he felt the odd mix of joy and sorrow radiating from the gunner in their bond.
"I know it's nothing I've done," Bluestreak said in a soft voice. "I just wish I could undo what he's done."
Wheeljack flinched and dropped his gaze a little further. Softly, he whispered, "Primus, Blue, I wish I hadn't been so stupidly gullible…"
Immediately, in a voice that was firm but not harsh, the gunner corrected, "You're not stupid. A stupid mech couldn't do the things that you've done." He paused a moment, then, in a quieter voice, continued, "I know I can't undo what happened. The past is the past and I can't change it." The young mech's head came up, his expression determined and his voice firm once again. "But I can damn sure make certain that you never feel that way again. I love you, Wheeljack, and nothing will ever change that."
Wheeljack's optics widened as he lifted them to meet his bonded's gaze. A sudden flush of hope suffused him, and he knew that Bluestreak caught it by the way his own optics brightened.
Suddenly, the grey mech smiled warmly. "I have an idea," he said. "Why don't we go out? On a date, I mean." He dropped his gaze shyly, his hands twisting together with a hopeful nervousness that Wheeljack couldn't help but find endearing. "We could even pretend we just met. It could be like starting over, and we could get to know each other all over again…" He met the engineer's gaze with such a pleading look that he hadn't the spark to tell him no—and besides, Wheeljack was surprising himself by finding that he actually liked the idea.
"You know…" He smiled beneath the mask, optics and vocal indicators glowing brightly. "I think that would be wonderful, Bluestreak."
Cliffjumper was nervous. His plating felt constrictive and itchy, as though he might burst into pieces at any moment from the contained excess of energy building in him as he paced before the medbay doors. He was waiting, along with everyone else invited to this little party, for the final repairs to be made to Windcharger's chassis, waiting to be allowed back in to see what had been made right and what was irreversibly wrong. He couldn't help sneaking sidelong looks at Prowl and Wheeljack and Ratchet, all there with their respective bondmates, both grim and glad reminders of his own fears and hopes.
Prime and his entourage were not here this time; they had gone back to Cybertron once all had seemed stable here. Rodimus had since assigned Ultra Magnus as City Commander, but the big mech had yet to return to Earth. Cliffjumper couldn't help but feel more than a little relieved not to have any of them; being around them still felt awkward to him, and it was just one more stress he didn't feel capable of dealing with.
He could feel his companions' optics on him; Sideswipe's, in particular, seemed a weight on his shoulders for some reason he couldn't fathom. It was a physical relief when the medbay doors finally opened to admit them, and he brushed past Swoop without waiting for any further invitation.
And then he stopped dead, making Sideswipe, close on his heels, skip aside with an oath to avoid tripping over him.
Windcharger was lying there, his paint gleaming as though he'd just rolled off the assembly line, and Cliffjumper could see Sunstreaker out of the corner of his optic, clearly surveying his work to see if First Aid or Swoop had left any last-minute scratches during the final repairs. For a moment he was frozen, unable to move, unable to make a sound—until he felt someone give him a little push, and then he was running, dashing to Windcharger's side as though Unicron himself were chasing him.
"Oh," was all he could think to say, and he looked up at First Aid, standing beside the berth, with expectant optics. Thankfully, the young CMO seemed to understand what he couldn't manage to ask, and he nodded, his quick fingers removing the blocks that kept Windcharger in stasis.
At first, nothing happened, and Cliffjumper had a sickening moment of pure terror that nothing would happen—then, all at once, Windcharger's optics blinked on, and he turned his head to stare at him.
"Um, hi," Cliffjumper said, optics wide, cursing himself for his lack of eloquence, every word of the greeting he'd rehearsed in his head gone like smoke on the wind.
"Hi," Windcharger said back, and looked around curiously. "…why's everyone staring at me like that?" He wrinkled his nose in confused wariness.
"Do you know who I am?" Cliffjumper blurted out, before he could stop himself, then hunched his shoulders and bit his lip, bracing himself for the inevitable answer.
Windcharger looked at him like he'd grown a second head. "What?"
There was a sickening lurch in Cliffjumper's fuel tanks, and for a moment he thought he might be ill. There was blank incomprehension in Windcharger's bright optics, puzzlement drawing his mouth into a frown.
"Um, am I not supposed to…?" Before anyone could respond to this, something seemed to click in the newly-onlined minibot's head, as though he thought maybe Cliffjumper and everyone else had taken leave of their senses. "Wait. Do you know who I am?" he asked.
Taken aback, Cliffjumper stared. "Of course I know who you are!"
Windcharger blinked, a quick flicker of his optics. "Oh, well, that's good, 'cause the way you were looking at me, I almost thought you didn't, and, you know, that would be bad."
This complete reversal of his expectations had Cliffjumper so thrown that he honestly wasn't sure what to do or say. He'd been prepared for his bondmate to not recognize him, to have to coax him to trust him again—in short, for all of the problems and sparkache the bigger mechs were already going through, and he couldn't quite make himself understand the way things were actually turning out. A little stupidly, he said, "But…you died. And came back to life."
Windcharger looked confused for a moment, then, inexplicably, he brightened. "Oh," he said, "good!" When everyone gaped at him, his expression fell. Cautiously, he ventured, "It is good, right? Right? I mean, not the dying part, obviously, but the coming back to life part, that's good, isn't it?" It was clear that he was growing more and more concerned as the other mechs in the room regarded him with stunned disbelief.
"Yeah…it's good…" Cliffjumper knew his voice sounded strangled, but he couldn't manage to steady it; it was really beginning to sink in, that his bondmate might actually remember him.
And then, in tones of dawning realization, as though he'd finally put together the pieces of the puzzle and figured out why everyone was staring at him as though he was going to jump out and eat them, Windcharger said, in a very reassuring tone, "I'm not a zombie, you know. I don't want to eat your brains. In fact, that would be pretty disgusting." He nodded sagely, as though that explained everything.
Cliffjumper just goggled at the other minibot, completely at a loss for what to say, and he was peripherally aware of the others watching with expressions varying between startled and dawning amusement. Finally, after an eternity, and when it looked as though Windcharger might reiterate his reassurances, someone said, laughter clearly threatening to spill over, "…we didn't think you were a zombie, Windcharger."
Windcharger blinked, then nodded. "Well, I just wanted to make sure. You know, just in case."
Cliffjumper snorted, overwhelmed to the point of reacting on instinct, drawing his mate's surprised gaze. "No more late-night movies for you," he said, stubbornly ignoring the uncharacteristic quaver in his voice. Windcharger's optics widened at the sound, and he nodded uncertainly.
"Yeah, sure," he murmured, seeming a bit unsettled for a moment—until memory dragged his mind down another path, like flipping a switch. "The battle! I almost forgot! Did we win?" Another round of staring, this time enough to make the impulsive minibot fidget nervously.
First Aid's tone was gentle, answering for all of them, since no one else seemed able to find a voice. "No, we didn't."
"Oh." Then Windcharger brightened again, irrepressible. "Well, then, how'd I do?" This time he came to his own realization, responding to his own question, looking downcast. "…oh. Yeah. Not so good, huh?"
Suddenly, Cliffjumper felt himself quivering with pent up emotion, and he climbed up on the berth with his bondmate, wrapping the other mech up in his arms tightly. Voice shaking, on the edge of sobs, he whispered, "No, no, you did fine. You did great." Holding his mate for the first time in what felt like an eternity—since before they were posted halfway across the galaxy from each other—he's hyperaware of the fact that he'd never expected to get to hold Windcharger again, and everything began to spill from him in a torrent, in a flood that was impossible to stop. "You—you stupid glitchhead, I thought I'd lost you, Primus, I'm so sorry I wasn't here…I should have told them to stuff their slagging posting when I found out you weren't coming with me…"
He was oblivious to the utterly bewildered look on Windcharger's face, which was really just as well. "But…you couldn't disobey Prime, and there was no way of knowing that things would happen the way they did…" Windcharger said, worry and alarm heavy in his tone. He started patting Cliffjumper's back awkwardly, as though he didn't quite know what to do with him. Clearly trying to be cheery despite the red mech's mood, he added brightly, "And hey, I'm alive now, right? No harm, no foul!"
For just a brief moment, Cliffjumper seriously considered slugging him right in the face. Then he counted backwards from ten, turned to look at First Aid, and growled, "I'm gonna take this moron back home, if that's okay with you, Doc."
"Um—yeah, sure," First Aid said, looking a little off-balance, but not really having a reason to keep Windcharger there when he clearly didn't have to be. "Just, uh, make sure he refuels?"
Cliffjumper was already dragging his bondmate down off of the repair berth, and he waved a hand in acknowledgement as he pulled an apologetically grimacing Windcharger out the door.
"Well that's not fucking fair," Sunstreaker said flatly into the following silence, and stalked out.