A/N: Due credit must be given to ryagelle, rageai and dark kitsune (aka sbanchs) for pushing, poking, prodding, patting, and, at one point, TYPING AT ME IN CAPSLOCK (!) to convince me to finally post this (or even write in the first place), because I'm a big chicken and they are pure awesome and win. My Protectobots were initially inspired by (although not necessarily consistent with) some very delightful works by Anhai and Tiamat's Child, if you want some more Protectobot goodness to read.
Disclaimer: I don't own them (more like the other way around, most days).
"Just have fun today," Ironhide told them. "You've worked hard and you're well ahead of schedule. That's your assignment, just have fun. Besides, you've about worn this old 'bot down to the struts," he added, smiling affectionately. "I need a break to plan your next lesson."
They tumbled about awkwardly, laughing and shouting encouragement. Learning to maneuver in zero gravity would be an important, and very serious, part of their training, but for now it was adventure and Groove spinning madly helm over heels until Streetwise, with a wild joyful yell, launched himself from a corner handhold, grabbed his hand mid-spin and sent them both in strangely graceful whirling dance to the other wall. After a short rest to let his gyros stabilize, Streetwise pushed off again and "flew" back across the arena, arms and legs outstretched. As he reached the middle, Blades came soaring up from below and tried to grab Streetwise by his leg as they passed, but managed only to barely brush his foot.
"Looks like we need Springer to come back and give you more flying lessons," Streetwise teased as they both grabbed wall handholds and came to rest. Blades only chuckled. For once he was not the odd mech out; all of them could fly here, and he was having too much fun to take offense.
Hot Spot, watching them from a perch on the ceiling (or floor, it was hard to be sure in this topsy turvy world), leaned forward suddenly, optics intent, laughter fading to be replaced by a keen, considering gaze. Something about how the other four were arranged on the walls. Without pausing to think about it too much, Hot Spot turned and pushed off from the surface, "falling" at an even pace towards the center of the large arena. He could see First Aid peering at him from where he clung, upside down from Hot Spot's perspective, and head slightly tilted, questioning.
"Hey," Hot Spot said, and the other four plummeted towards him, as if he had become a giant magnet or neutron star. They transformed as they went, and Hot Spot transformed too and then in quick succession Streetwise-Groove-First Aid-Blades and they were all together, jostling at first, just a little until everything fell in place suddenly, unexpectedly, and Defensor laughed, a soft deep chuckle, in delight and triumph.
But only a moment and then abruptly they were flying apart again. Blades fared the best, landing neatly on one of the support girders. First Aid hit the corner nearby, bounced off with a rather dazed laugh and drifted within range of Blades, who swept him up with his free arm and anchored him to the side. Groove and Hot Spot and Streetwise somehow ended up sprawled against the "floor," Hot Spot starting to drift back up to be grabbed by Groove. Streetwise floated past, helplessly giggling, and Groove pushed Hot Spot down and tried to nab Streetwise, neglecting to keep his own grip on the floor in the process. Groove sighed resignedly as he and Streetwise (who hadn't stopped giggling) floated at a leisurely pace to the other side.
"We did it!" First Aid said from Blades' embrace, his optics glowing their brightest, happiest blue. He launched himself back over to Hot Spot who caught him with an exaggerated "whoof!" First Aid wasn't any larger than Blades or Groove or Streetwise, but the redundant systems of his med-bot construction and dense protective armor made him surprisingly heavy. Logically he shouldn't feel any heavier in zero gravity, but Hot Spot-Defensor remembered the weight of him, that brief moment of complete unity, his sturdy left arm.
"You bet we did it! For about half a click anyway," Hot Spot said, bumping their helms together playfully before tossing First Aid back up to Blades, who was on his way down, sending them both tumbling back the other way to Streetwise and Groove. Hot Spot followed them so they were now all clinging together to the same side.
"What was that all about, anyway," Blades asked, and they all turned to look at still-giggling Streetwise, whose sudden attack of hilarity had disrupted the delicate balance of their first successful merge.
"Yes, care to explain what it is you find so funny with the rest of us, Street?" Hot Spot asked pointedly, trying to be stern but it was not working, not with the huge smile that kept creeping across his face. Wheeljack would be so surprised. They weren't supposed to even start that part of their training for three more vorns, but they had done it! Only for a moment, but he was sure now they could do it again, and he wanted to try, but first they had to get Streetwise to stop laughing.
They had a bit of a wait for that. Having the other four looking at him in puzzled what-in-the-name-of-Primus-is-wrong-with-you fashion only seemed to make it worse, and it was a long while before Streetwise was finally able to gasp out "Hey?"
"Hey?" Hot Spot repeated, puzzled.
"That…that is your signal for forming Defensor? 'Hey?'" and Streetwise lost it once again.
Hot Spot gaped a moment at his now snickering team. "I guess I never really thought about it." His dismayed expression made the rest of the team join Streetwise in outright laughter.
"What's wrong with 'Hey?" At that the team dissolved into complete helplessness. Hot Spot waited it out, occasionally snagging one teammate or another, when they threatened to drift away with the force of their giggling. Really they needed to get back to work (fun, Ironhide had said, Hot Spot reminded himself. Not work, they were having fun), but either he was starting to get the joke, or all of the laughing was affecting him through the gestalt bond.
When the laughing finally died down to the occasional whimper-snicker, Hot Spot rubbed a hand along his chin thoughtfully. "I suppose," he said slowly, "I could ask Wheeljack what Silverbolt says?" and gave his team a hopeful look. "Or how about 'Protectobots, Unite With Me!'" he intoned in a deep, commanding voice.
It really shouldn't have been that funny, Hot Spot thought to himself. He should have been more insulted maybe, that apparently his team found him such a hopeless case, but Hot Spot instead felt a warm inner satisfaction as his gestaltmates gave him wide-eyed looks (First Aid had his hands over his mouthplates, but his optics were glowing merrily) and then dissolved into hysterical laughter yet again.
"Transform, and Become ONE!" Hot Spot said, doing his best imitation of Optimus Prime's voice from the holo vids Wheeljack had shown them.
"Hot Spot…stop…please, whoooo…"
"Ow, ow, oh Primus…my intakes! I can't feel my intakes!"
"Um, ok, seriously here…'Amalgamation Now!' Guys? C'mon, guys, I thought that was a good one!"
They never did form Defensor again, at least not that particular day. No matter what Hot Spot tried to use as a signal, no matter how bland or humorless or serious he tried to be (later, when he finally had mercy on them) Streetwise would look at Groove, or someone just HAD to say "Hey!" and all was lost for another several breems. Hot Spot finally gave it up for a lost cause, for the time being at least, especially when Groove made the delightful discovery that Hot Spot would giggle worse than Streetwise if you wriggled your fingers into his knee joints.
It was a good day, and they would remember it, that first time Defensor came online, keep it tagged and carefully saved in all of their memory banks. Long after Hot Spot had come up with something suitable and non-laughter inducing as the merge command ("Protectobots, Form Defensor" – although he often thought longingly of "Hey" – it was shorter for one thing), and merging into Defensor was as easy as smiling, or coming home, they would remember. Even when (especially when) war and separation made laughter a rare, more elusive thing. Together again in tiny moments of peace, they would press close together, and Hot Spot would murmur "hey" and smile, and then gravity could not hold them.