Title: After Atlantis
Obligatory Disclaimer: I don't own Transformers. This chapter contains references to scenes from the G1 cartoon episode "Trans-Europe Express" and an oblique reference to "Triple Takeover."
Warnings: PTSD angst, references to rape, references to sex, sexual situations.
Author's Note: *deep breath* Soooo…here it is, the long-awaited conclusion. When I started this fic over a year ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I always knew I would finish it eventually, but I'm sort of amazed the day has finally come. I want to thank all my readers for their support and encouragement, especially LJ-user Vonderbarr, the poster of the original prompt, and Kookaburra, my beta and brainstorm buddy from chapter 3 onwards. Without you, "After Atlantis" might still be gathering dust in my brain. This final chapter is dedicated to you. Thanks for reading!
Wheeljack onlined his optics with the distinct feeling that something was wrong.
He stared up at the ceiling, trying to figure out what it was. The ceiling. The ceiling was wrong. It was orange, which meant he was onboard the Ark, but it wasn't his ceiling. The room he was in was much larger than his quarters, and he was alone on the berth. Where was Trailbreaker?
He tried to sit up, and a blinding wave of pain assaulted his sensor net. He cried out, and the next thing he knew Ratchet was there, his hand on his shoulder strut, pushing Wheeljack back down onto the berth.
"Don't try to move yet, 'Jack," Ratchet said. "I'm still putting you back together."
All the pieces abruptly fell into place. He was in the repair bay. He'd been damaged.
He didn't need to run a self-diagnostic to know it was bad. Memory files were flooding his cache, images of winding mountain roads, the Black Sea…
The Europa 2000. A charity race from Paris to Istanbul. Optimus Prime had sent a group of Autobots to participate because one of the human drivers, an American named Auggie Cahnay, was driving a car in it made by SymulTech Industries, a company that specialized in cutting-edge technology. Prime had been worried Megatron might have designs on Auggie's car.
Wheeljack had wanted to go from the moment he'd heard about it. After being cooped up on the Ark for over an orn, the simultaneous opportunity to see one of Earth's latest technological developments and to join in a race spanning several countries had been too tempting to pass up.
Fortunately, Hoist had approved of the idea. The medic had felt that participating in the race would be the perfect way for Wheeljack to begin rebuilding his lost confidence, and had even gone to Optimus Prime personally to recommend that Wheeljack be allowed to go.
Wheeljack had been delighted when he'd learned Prime had accepted Hoist's proposal, and Trailbreaker had been ecstatic, especially after he'd found out Sunstreaker and Sideswipe were also participating.
Kick their tailpipes for me, Trailbreaker had said with a grin. They could use a dose of humility.
At first, the race had gone off really well. Wheeljack had even been in the lead. But then Motormaster showed up.
The initial collision sent Wheeljack into a roll, but he managed to get his wheels back under him and floored his accelerator. Motormaster was larger and stronger than he was, but also significantly slower. Wheeljack knew the Stunticon would never be able to match his top speed.
Motormaster tried anyway, dogging him through a series of sharp curves. It was a testament to the Stunticon's skill that he didn't go careening off the side of the cliff, but Wheeljack suspected Motormaster's antigravs might have something to do with that. His suspicions were confirmed when Motormaster launched himself off a steep drop-off and landed ahead of him sidewise, blocking the road. But Wheeljack was still lighter and quicker, and he was able to mount the sloping rock face and bypass the impromptu blockade.
He gained a small lead as Motormaster struggled to straighten out and continue his pursuit, tearing down the narrow winding road as fast as the sharp turns would allow. Motormaster was hot on his wheels, but the gap between them was steadily growing. One last burst of speed would end this race.
They rounded a corner, and Wheeljack spied a second road below them, one with a sizeable straightaway. He leapt for it, intending to max out his acceleration when he landed and leave the Stunticon sucking on his exhaust.
He forgot about the antigravs.
Sixteen tons of Kenworth K100 Aerodyne tractor-trailer came crashing down on top of him like a runaway wrecking ball, and Wheeljack's world went white with pain. He dimly recalled trying to activate his comm to transmit a distress beacon…
…and that was all.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Stunticons, the way I hear it," Ratchet replied, waving a hand to include the rest of the repair bay. Wheeljack turned his helm in the direction he'd indicated, and spotted Smokescreen, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker laid out on repair berths as well. "Which one of them got you?"
"Motormaster," Wheeljack said. "He landed on top of me."
Ratchet winced in sympathy. "Ouch. That explains all the damage. Hoist and I have been working on the four of you ever since Skyfire brought you back home, and you, my friend, are the worst of the lot. Congratulations."
"Gee, thanks Ratch," he said, his vocal indicators flashing in amusement. "How long 'til I get outta here?"
"Another joor at least," Ratchet replied. "Might as well make yourself comfortable."
Wheeljack nodded, and settled in to wait.
"So how'd it go?" Trailbreaker asked.
Wheeljack looked at him. Once they'd finished refueling, he'd invited Trailbreaker back to his quarters. Now they were sitting side by side on his berth. Trailbreaker had his arms around him.
"Okay, I guess," he said. Trailbreaker's chestplate was warm where it pressed against him.
"Did it help?" Trailbreaker asked. "You talking to Hoist?"
"A little," he said. "He, uh…he said it was normal. That I'm not…you know."
"Told ya you weren't defective," Trailbreaker said, giving him an affectionate squeeze. "I'm glad it helped."
"Yeah," he said. "So, uh…did you want to?"
Trailbreaker drew back in surprise. "Are you asking what I think you're asking?"
Wheeljack looked away, his circuits heating with embarrassment. "Well, that's – that's what you wanted, isn't it? F-for me to ask you?"
"More than anything," Trailbreaker replied. But when Wheeljack reached for his chestplate, Trailbreaker caught his hand. "Wait."
A little flare of alarm surged through his spark. "Why? Don't you want to?"
"Is that why you're asking me?" Trailbreaker said. "Because you think I want to?"
The words were like a shot to his laser core. "Don't you?"
"Of course I do," Trailbreaker said, giving his hand a squeeze. "But I want you to want it, too. Really want it – not just for me, but for you." He tilted his helm, trying to catch Wheeljack's optics. "So I guess the real question is, do you want to?"
Wheeljack hesitated, wrestling with himself. Did he want this?
A part of him did. A small, uncertain part of him wanted desperately for Trailbreaker to touch him the way he had before, to make him feel…loved. Another part said that he owed Trailbreaker this, that he needed to show him how sorry he was for all the lies and deception. But Wheeljack suspected Trailbreaker wouldn't be satisfied with that.
"You don't, do you?" Trailbreaker said softly. "Not yet."
It's normal to feel conflicted, Hoist had said. Was that why this was so hard?
"I don't know," he admitted. "I just…I don't know."
Trailbreaker smiled, gathering him close. "Let's wait until the answer is yes."
"Raise your right arm forty-five degrees," Ratchet said.
Wheeljack looked up, pulled from his review of past memory files by the sound of Ratchet's voice. "Huh? Oh, sure." He did as Ratchet had asked, lifting his arm off the berth. It gave a disheartening creak.
"Still needs some tweaking," Ratchet muttered, returning his attention to Wheeljack's shoulder joint. "All right, you can lower it again."
Of course the day had come when the answer had been yes, Wheeljack recalled as Ratchet resumed his repairs. It had started out just like any other day. He'd onlined in Trailbreaker's arms, they'd gone for energon, and then Trailbreaker had been called away to duty – something about a damaged water main – leaving him to report to his lab alone to try and get some work done.
He hadn't seen Trailbreaker again until that night, but when Trailbreaker had returned, dripping wet but triumphant, the sight of him had sent of flush of heat through Wheeljack's systems. At first he hadn't been sure what to do. He'd stammered out a greeting, fidgeted his way through their evening rations, even twitched when Trailbreaker's hand brushed against his backstrut. It wasn't until they'd returned to the privacy of his quarters that Trailbreaker finally asked what was wrong.
I want you, he'd replied.
The words had come out as soft as a whisper, but they'd come. And afterward he'd explored every inch of Trailbreaker's frame, laying claim to each circuit and servo while Trailbreaker strained and shuddered beneath him, chanting his name like a mantra.
He shifted on the repair berth, hoping Ratchet hadn't noticed the spike in his core temperature that memory inspired. Since that night, there'd been many others like it – including a few in which he'd offlined Trailbreaker – and Wheeljack had gradually come to realize what his spark had known for decacycles.
He was in love.
"–jack? Are you even listening to me?"
Wheeljack shook his helm, distracted once again from his musings. "What?"
Ratchet huffed in annoyance. "You haven't heard a word I've said, have you? I said you're free to go. I just finished."
"Oh," he said. "Right, sorry." He sat up carefully, glancing down at himself. His paint job needed some major touch-up work, but the damage Motormaster had caused was completely repaired. "Thanks, Ratch."
Ratchet smirked. "Go on, get outta here."
But he'd never said it out loud.
Wheeljack stared at the tools spread out over the workstation in his lab, too preoccupied by his own thoughts to decide which of his current projects he wanted to work on. It wasn't that he didn't want to tell Trailbreaker how he felt – he just couldn't seem to force the words past his vocalizer. Every time he imagined himself saying it, to his audials it always sounded overly melodramatic, or glib and insincere.
I'm sure he already knows, he thought as he cleared off a section of the cluttered workspace to give himself more room to maneuver. It's not like I have to tell him.
…or did he?
Perhaps it was due to his recent injuries, but Wheeljack couldn't help feeling like he needed to say it, to tell Trailbreaker just how important he'd become. They were, after all, involved in a longstanding war. Things happened, just like they had today. He hadn't even been on active duty.
He glanced down at himself, taking in the fresh weld lines and irregular patches of exposed primer Ratchet's repairs had left behind. If the damage Motormaster had inflicted had been just a little bit worse, he might not have returned from Istanbul at all. And with Trailbreaker a whole continent away, there would have been no time for last goodbyes.
He sat down in dismay, struck by the implications. In war, nothing was certain. One surprise Decepticon attack, one explosion too many, and it could all be over in an instant. The same was true for Trailbreaker as well. Either one of them could be terminated at any time, in battle or by some tragic accident.
And Trailbreaker would never know how Wheeljack truly felt about him.
The thought of leaving Trailbreaker behind to wonder whether or not Wheeljack had ever truly loved him, or of having to live on without him, plagued by regret because he'd never said three simple words…
The thought was almost unbearable.
I have to tell him, he decided. He has to know.
But that still didn't answer the question of how to tell Trailbreaker. Just because Wheeljack knew he needed to say it didn't make it any easier to do. If anything, it made it harder, all the more important that Trailbreaker understand he really meant it. He couldn't just blurt it out at random, or simply echo the sentiment when Trailbreaker said it –
A query ping sounded in his audial, interrupting his thoughts. "It's open," he called.
The door to his lab slid open, and Mirage stepped through. "I heard you had a bit of trouble at the race," he said.
Wheeljack grinned inwardly. He wasn't surprised that Mirage had already heard the news. Over the past orn, they'd spent a lot of time together, and in the course of that association he'd discovered that Mirage had an insatiable craving for gossip.
Not that Mirage ever spread rumors; the former noblemech simply liked to listen, to hear all the latest details about everything that was going on aboard the Ark. And he was remarkably good at getting them – Mirage often seemed to know about things long before they hit the public rumor mill.
Wheeljack suspected Mirage's electro-disruptor was the source of that advantage, although Mirage vehemently denied ever doing anything so uncouth as eavesdropping. It was probably what made him such an effective spy, Wheeljack reasoned – Mirage was constantly gathering intel, be it Megatron's latest plot or Brawn's most recent failed attempt to woo Windcharger.
Mirage's current visit was probably more of the same. Wheeljack knew for a fact that Mirage had wanted to participate in the Europa 2000, but he'd been disqualified from entering – something about his alt mode not being "road legal" – so the former noblemech had been forced to stay behind. Naturally Mirage would want all the details about the race, if only to experience them vicariously for himself.
"Unfortunately, yeah," he replied, swiveling his chair around to face him. "Had a run-in with Motormaster."
Mirage gave an audible gasp at the sight of him. "Primus, Wheeljack! You look dreadful!"
"Gee, thanks, Mirage," he replied wryly, his vocal indicators flashing in amusement. "Good to know."
Mirage's mouth snapped shut, and for a moment he looked utterly mortified. But then his expression turned stern. "Get up," he said. "Whatever you're working on, it can wait. No friend of mine is going to be seen walking around in that condition, even if I have to repaint you myself."
Wheeljack chuckled and got to his feet. He knew better than to argue with Mirage when he used that tone. He needed a retouch anyway, and it would be nice to have someone to help him with the hard-to-reach spots, especially someone as fastidious as Mirage.
Mirage insisted on paying a visit to the washracks first, where he fussed over Wheeljack until the engineer felt downright spoiled by all the attention. Mirage also questioned him at length about the Europa 2000 while he worked, so Wheeljack supposed his efforts weren't entirely selfless – the longer Mirage lingered over seemingly-invisible specks of dirt on his plating, the more time he had to press Wheeljack for details.
He had paint that matched his color scheme back in quarters, so after Mirage was satisfied he was clean enough, they headed back there. But after one look at the supplies he had to work with, Mirage insisted they go back to his own quarters to "do the job properly."
So now here he was, doing his best to hold perfectly still while Mirage carefully stripped, primed and repainted every inch of his chassis. Left to his own devices, Wheeljack would have simply retouched the damaged portions of his plating and called it a day, but Mirage insisted on giving him a full repaint.
"Are you sure all this is really necessary?" he asked again.
"Yes, it is – and hold still," Mirage replied imperiously from behind him. "If you keep moving around like that, I'm going to make a mistake, and then we'll have to start all over."
That was enough of a threat to effectively weld his feet to the floor. "Sorry Mirage," he said. "I appreciate you going to all this trouble for me."
"It's no trouble," Mirage said, his crisp tone softening. "Once the paint dries, I'll give you a wax as well."
"You don't have to do that," he replied, feeling abruptly sheepish. He'd begun spending more time with Mirage because he found he genuinely liked the former noblemech, but he suspected Mirage valued their association a little more than he did. Mirage, he'd discovered, was painfully shy around most 'Bots, and had few friends aboard the Ark.
"Oh, believe me, you'll thank me when I'm done," Mirage said. "When Trailbreaker sees you, he won't be able to keep his hands off you."
Wheeljack felt his circuits heating with chagrin at Mirage's suggestive tone. Mirage may have been shy around most 'Bots, but among friends he was often embarrassingly frank about certain topics. When Wheeljack had passed on his message about Hound to Trailbreaker, Mirage had been only too happy to share the details of his plan's success. Wheeljack wondered if his current insistence on fussing over him was Mirage's way of repaying the favor.
"How is Trailbreaker these days?" Mirage asked. "Hound hasn't mentioned him lately."
Wheeljack glanced over his shoulder at him. "Huh? Oh, he's fine. He's out on patrol today."
"Don't move," Mirage chided him. "So everything's going well for you two?"
"Everything's great." It really was. "Really great," he added, his tone softening.
Mirage straightened, abandoning Wheeljack's detailing in favor of circling around to look him in the optic. "Why do I get the feeling there's something you're not saying?"
Wheeljack hesitated. He'd thought about asking Ratchet for advice, but in light of Ratchet's feelings for him, it seemed cruel to ask. Ratchet had been busy in the repair bay anyway, and so had Hoist. But perhaps Mirage could help?
"That's sort of the problem," he admitted. "I've never said it."
Mirage frowned. "Said what?"
He shrugged. "It's not like it's a secret or anything. I've just…never actually said it."
"You haven't told Trailbreaker how you feel about him," Mirage said, catching on. "Not the actual words."
"Yeah," he said. "I mean, I'm sure he already knows. But I feel like I should tell him anyway."
Mirage smiled. "I had a hard time telling Hound, too. It just never seemed like the right time."
"How'd you finally do it?" he asked.
Mirage looked abashed. "Oh, I just blurted it out one day. I must have sounded so silly. But it was a relief to finally say it."
"I can't even do that much," he admitted. "Every time I even think about saying it, it's like my vocalizer locks up. I can't get the words out."
"For me, it was easier after Hound and I had uplinked for the first time," Mirage said. "I already knew that he loved me, and he knew I felt the same."
"Oh," he said quietly.
Mirage must have picked up on something in his tone or posture, because he frowned and cocked his helm. "What's wrong?" he asked. "Did I say something I shouldn't have?"
Wheeljack shook his helm, avoiding his gaze. "No, it's not that. It's just…Trailbreaker and I, we've never –"
"You've never uplinked?" Mirage said, looking incredulous. "Well…I must admit, I'm surprised. You two always seem so in tune with each other, I just assumed that you had."
"Yeah," he said diffidently.
"So what's stopping you?" Mirage asked.
"Me," he admitted, meeting Mirage's optics briefly before returning his gaze to the floor. "I guess I'm just afraid to find out how he really feels. That if he sees who I really am, he won't love me anymore."
"I guess it's kind of stupid to think that," he said, glancing up nervously, but the look on Mirage's faceplate muted his vocalizer. Mirage's expression looked pained, as if Wheeljack's words had struck agonizingly close to home.
"What?" he said. "What did I say?"
Mirage shook his helm, smiling ruefully. "Nothing," he said. "I was just thinking we really are a lot alike." He stepped forward, laying a hand tentatively against Wheeljack's shoulder-strut, as if uncertain of its welcome. He was still smiling, but it was a wan, sorrowful smile that didn't quite reach his optics.
"For what it's worth," Mirage said, "I think Trailbreaker really does love you. You can see it whenever the two of you are together, or whenever he talks about you. I can understand you being afraid, believe me. But I don't think you need to be."
Wheeljack stared at him, struck by the depth of compassion in his tone.
Mirage withdrew his hand and looked away, seeming almost embarrassed. "Trailbreaker and Hound are a lot alike, too," he said with a tiny shrug. "But it's not as if there's any rush to tell him how you feel. Maybe you're not ready for that. When you are ready, you'll probably be ready to uplink, too."
"So you think I should wait?" he asked.
"If you need to," Mirage said. "When the moment is right, you'll know. Don't worry about when it will come. Wait for the moment."
Once the final coat of paint had dried, Mirage had gone on to polish Wheeljack's plating to a blinding mirror finish. Wheeljack appreciated his efforts, but he felt a little foolish when he saw the results. He was just so…shiny.
He'd thanked Mirage anyway, and then headed on to the common room to wait for Trailbreaker.
Mirage's prediction about Trailbreaker's reaction to his freshly waxed and repainted frame proved to be entirely accurate. Trailbreaker's jaw literally dropped at the sight of him, his gaze sweeping over Wheeljack's chassis like a starving mech who'd just stumbled upon a massive cache of energon cubes.
"You look incredible," Trailbreaker said, staring at him in amazement.
"Mirage did it," he replied, shrugging abashedly. "To be honest, I feel kind of silly. I guess soot and scorch marks are more my thing."
"Remind me to thank him," Trailbreaker said, making a visible effort to tear his optics off Wheeljack's gleaming chestplate to meet his gaze. "Not that you weren't gorgeous before, but…wow."
Wheeljack ducked his helm, a flush of heat suffusing his circuits at the compliment. "So, uh…do you want to grab a cube?"
"If it's all the same to you, I think I'd rather go back to your quarters," Trailbreaker replied, his optics flashing. "Otherwise I might have to ravish you right here."
The look Trailbreaker was giving him was so heated Wheeljack felt his own core temperature jump several degrees. "S-sure, if you want," he said.
Trailbreaker grinned and grabbed his hand, pulling him towards the door.
Fortunately his quarters were nearby; Trailbreaker had his hands on his hip plate before Wheeljack could even punch in the locking code, and he flubbed it three times before he finally got the door open because Trailbreaker was greedily mouthing his neck cables.
They stumbled through the door in a tangle of groping limbs, their energy fields pulsing and their engines running hot. Trailbreaker had him up against it the instant it slid shut, his fingers buried in the wires at Wheeljack's hips.
Wheeljack moaned, arching into him, his hands pressed flat against Trailbreaker's chestplate to absorb the vibrations of his roaring engine.
"Primus, I love those sounds you make," Trailbreaker panted, his vents cycling hard. "You think Mirage'll be torqued off if I ruin all his hard work?"
Wheeljack wasn't sure whether Mirage would be or not, but he definitely didn't want Trailbreaker to stop what he was doing. "He'll get over it."
"Your plating is so smooth," Trailbreaker whispered ardently, running his hands over Wheeljack's sides and chestplate. "It feels like glass – was this your idea, or Mirage's?"
"Mirage's," he said. "He – oh Primus, do that again! – when he saw how slagged I was, he insisted on giving me a full repaint."
Trailbreaker pulled back abruptly, drawing a disappointed whine from his vocalizer. "Wait, what do you mean, slagged? Did something happen today?"
"Yeah, kinda," he said, his engine dropping back to a low idle now that Trailbreaker had stopped touching him. "I got jumped by Motormaster during the race. But I'm fine now; Ratchet put me back together."
Trailbreaker frowned, a worried look passing over his faceplate. "How bad was it?"
Wheeljack hesitated, not wanting to worry him after the fact. "Pretty bad," he admitted. "But I'm okay now, really."
Trailbreaker cocked his helm, giving him a careful look. "You sure? 'Cause we don't have to do this if you're not feeling up to it."
"The Pit we don't," he retorted. "If you stop now, I won't be the only one getting slagged today!"
"Ooh, tough talk," Trailbreaker said, his engine giving a short rev. "Tell me more."
Wheeljack stared up at the ceiling, his sated circuits humming with contentment. Trailbreaker's helm was resting against his chestplate, his strong arms wrapped around him. Their internal fans had already cycled down, and the steady ticking of their cooling engines was the only sound in the quiet room.
He wanted to say it.
I love you.
Just three small words, easy to pronounce.
I love you.
"Hm?" Trailbreaker shifted slightly, raising his helm to look at him.
"I love you."
Trailbreaker smiled. "I love you, too."
A tension Wheeljack hadn't even realized was there suddenly eased from his servos. He'd finally said it. And it hadn't sounded glib or insincere. It had sounded perfectly normal. Looking back on it now, he couldn't help wondering why it had seemed so hard before. It hadn't been hard at all. It had been easy.
Maybe too easy, he thought as Trailbreaker lowered his helm again, settling more comfortably against him. They were just words, after all. Anyone could say them. Of course it was different when you really meant it, and Wheeljack truly did.
But did Trailbreaker know that?
It wasn't as if he hadn't lied to Trailbreaker about his feelings before. Trailbreaker had forgiven him for that, said he understood why Wheeljack had done it, but did Trailbreaker understand that he wasn't lying now?
"I mean it," he said, reaching up to touch Trailbreaker's helm. "I really love you."
Trailbreaker chuckled. "I love you, too."
He didn't doubt that Trailbreaker meant it. In all the time they'd been together, Trailbreaker had never once lied to him. But for Wheeljack, just saying the words didn't seem like enough.
His hand drifted down from Trailbreaker's helm to his back, his fingers trailing over the sleek black plating that made up the roof of Trailbreaker's alt mode, stroking it absently. It was still warm.
Of course there was one sure way to let Trailbreaker know how he felt, but Wheeljack wasn't contemplating that.
…and then he plugged into me.
After what had happened with Starscream, Wheeljack had sworn he'd never uplink again.
Link with me, Trailbreaker had said. I want to feel you – really feel you. Link with me.
He'd been certain he'd never want to.
I already knew that he loved me, and he knew I felt the same.
Trailbreaker squirmed under his hand, snickering. "That tickles."
"Sorry," he said, halting his idle caresses.
"I didn't say stop," Trailbreaker replied with a grin, his optics twinkling with mischief. "If you wanna go another round, just say so."
Starscream had used him for his own ends, and had made no attempt to hide his disdain. Wheeljack had felt his contempt. But Trailbreaker loved him, and Wheeljack truly loved him back.
Gathering his courage, he reached for Trailbreaker's hand. His own was trembling as he lifted it and placed it on his chestplate, directly over his access panel.
"I love you," he said again.
Trailbreaker's optics widened in surprise.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
"I think so…but…"
"You don't have to. You don't ever have to. You don't have to prove anything to me."
"I know. I want to. I want to show you. I want you to know."