Author's notes:

This scene is heavy spoilers through Chapter 44 or so of Masks. I've decided to cut it from Masks because it gives away a little too much of Fang's motivations. So this is seriously bigtime spoilers. Also, I probably should have done more foreshadowing with Death and Fang.

If anyone hasn't been reading Masks, these are both OC's. Deathwheels is a former harmless maintenance mech who Fangface rebuilt as a badass monster truck. He's smarter than the average Decepticon, has a wicked sense of humor to match Fang's own, and he plays the dumb minion to perfection because it amuses both of them, and it gives them an advantage when they think he's just another lackey. None of this has really been touched on in Masks yet, though the chapters are coming together.

Fang himself is complicated, to say the least. On the one hand, he's kind to his subordinates, he's capable of love and self-sacrifice, and he's brilliantly intelligent. On the other hand, at least part of his motivation for being a 'good guy' among the Decepticon ranks is that he enjoys the hero-worship, affection, and sense of power he gets when he treats people well and they respond positively to it. He's not entirely altruistic when he repairs a broken and discarded worker, or makes a show of compassion and lets a mech he's bested in battle live. It's as much about power to him as it is about morality. On the third hand, part of him does see that there are wrongs in the universe, and he's willing to fix them. However, he also places a high value on his own aft and would sacrifice almost anything (short of Wheelie, probably, or Deathwheels after this scene) to survive if his own life is threatened. Finally, he's got the robot version of ADHD, doesn't always think his plans through completely, is as impulsive as hell, and annoys others just because he finds it funny to get an aggravated reaction.

Fangface is loads of fun to write. So's Death.

Because I love the characters, and because I know some of my readers are fond of Fang too, I thought I would post it here. Again, here be massive spoilers. (And, err, romance between robots who've assumed male pronouns.)

With the door shut and the privacy shields up on Starscream's lab, Fang transformed and then sent Death a tight burst of files from the meeting with the Autobots. "Analyze, give me your input, yadda yadda."

Deathwheels nodded curtly. "This will take some time. Permission to contact the 'bots for clarification on a few items?"

"Granted, of course. Just share what they tell you with me. I'll tell Optimus to expect your questions." Fangface sighed. He hurt, and he was tired, and he'd been left shaken to his core by the words of the 'bots. "Death, Optimus thinks I'm like a keystone for everything."

He had to talk to someone. He kept his own counsel most of the time, but this was too big. Deathwheels was really the only person he knew who he could trust.

Deathwheels walked over to the pile of broken and deactivated maintenance 'bots that was piled in one corner of the lab. He stared down at them, at the mangled parts and dented armor. A few were leaking fluids: energon, lubricant, hydraulic fluids. No coolant; all of the mechs were small enough for air-cooled systems. The fluids made a greasy puddle under the bodies, and he made a mental note to get someone to clean it up. It was a fire hazard, particularly since some of the capacitors and power cells might carry enough of a charge to throw a spark. He refused to acknowledge emotionally that he'd known any of them before the Autobots had fragged half his most loyal troops.

Finally, Death said, "Optimus is right."

Fangface huffed a sigh. It wasn't what he wanted to hear. It was too much responsibility. It made everything too real. This wasn't a game anymore. "I want to set things up so that command transfers to you if ..."

Deathwheels spun around sharply, surprised. Then his optics narrowed. "If you give me that kind of power, how can you trust me not to take over from you someday?"

Fangface took a step backwards, brought all his weight down on his bad leg, and staggered into a table. He caught himself, eyes going huge and wide as much from the implications of Death's words as from the agony he was in. Joint injuries hurt like the pit, but Fang's reaction was emotional. What did Death mean? Was Death implying he would take over if he could?

"And how do you know I even want that kind of responsibility?" Deathwheels shook his head. "I don't."

His minion's words had the ring of truth to them. Deathwheels had little ambition of his own. It was one of the reasons that Fang loved him so much. He was the perfect lackey: smart, sensible, calm, and perceptive, without any desire for command of his own. He'd told Fangface in the past that commanding others was just too much of a strain on his processors, and he preferred problems without so much unpredictability. He was happiest with a job to do, be it scrubbing a floor or picking his way throuh terrabytes of data to find the incriminating patterns that had allowed them to find the spies. He was meticulous and patient in his work, and startlingly intelligent for a mech who'd begun his life with 'washing things' as his primary function.

He was also good at polishing armor.

"I need more people I can really trust." Fangface ran a hand over his face. He had loyal commanders, but most had their own agendas too. Deathwheels was the only mech he'd trust with knowledge of what the Autobots had said to him, much less his responses. "That's one advantage that the 'bots have over us. Optimus trusts his people. I have you alone to confide in."

Deathwheels stepped closer to Fang, who simply looked up at him. He said softly, "You fixed me after Soundwave broke me."

"Liked you before that," Fangface sighed. He tried to hitch himself up on to the table, and failed with a hiss of pain. He wanted to sit down, and the table was a better choice than a chair. He'd have to rise out of a chair. He could slide off the table. "You were smart, and you weren't afraid of me. You joked with me."

Deathwheels said softly, "May I help you?"

Fangface hated letting anyone in that close, but it was Death, and he trusted him. After an inital tensing of his body in reaction to the idea, he npdded acceptance of the help. Death put both hands on Fang's hips and boosted him up, then companionably leaned against the table next to him.

Deathwheels continued, quietly, "I figured I was dead when Soundwave grabbed me. Soundwave wanted to make me a cassette, and I fought back with code, and he decided I wasn't worth the effort and that I would never be loyal. He left me injured and dying, internals ripped out and my spark chamber cracked from his attempts to install a quantum link to his own core. I wasn't even conscious and I was minutes from death. He intended for me to die as he couldn't allow evidence that he'd failed a project to exist. But you rebuilt me, then gave me a new designation and told me never to tell any of the other officers what you'd done. It could have hurt your own goals."

"I could trust you." Fang repeated. "I need people I can trust."

"You do." Deathwheels straighted up, but only so that he could move closer to Fang. "Boss, you need someone you can trust completely. I mean, completely."

"I trust you."

"You do, but you can't." Deathwheels's thighs bumped against Fang's knees. "Just now, you flinched when I offered to help you."

"Been attacked a few times in my life when I wasn't expecting it," Fangface sighed. "I know you won't, but it's reflex."

"You don't know I won't," Deathwheels rested a hand on Fang's shoulder, the same place Ratchet had grabbed and impatiently shook earlier, but this was a very different sort of touch. Fang looked up at him, surprised by the contact. Their optics met. "Leaders need people the can trust. You need someone you can talk to, and not worry about it coming back to bite you later. You're trying to trust me, I can tell, and I appreciate it, because I'm loyal. But you can't know that for sure, for hundred percent. You're taking a chance on me, just like you take chances with everything else you do. Mostly it works out for you."

"What are you offering, Death?" He thought he knew. It shook him to his core. "Besides undying devotion, loyalty, and all that slag."

"I'll be at your side until the end, good or bad. Until I'm offline or you are. They won't ever get information out of me that you've trusted me with. I'd reformat myself first. But you're always going to have doubts, boss. It's your nature. You don't trust anyone completely." Deathwheels's gaze was level. There was nothing of the dumb, nearly drone-like minion in his expression now. This was the real Deathwheels. "I owe you my life, and I personally like you."

"Flattered." The sarcasm slipped from his vocalizer easily. "Glad you like me. I try, really, I do."

"I like you." Deathwheels moved again, and this time, it was completely unexpected. He slid a hand under Fang's legs, and an arm around his back, and scooped him up off the table.

"What the slag are you doing!" Fangface protested, "Put me down or I'll blast you right now ..."

"You're outgunned," Deathwheels grinned. Fang's tail was pinned under his arm, the laser rifles harmlessly aimed at the ceiling. "You trust me with bigger weapons than your protoform could ever begin to support."

"And I'm going to reformat you into a slagging trash compactor if you don't put me down!" Fangface's battleroutines activated on their own as he panicked. He'd trusted Death as much as he had ever trusted anyone, and this was how he repayed him? Deathwheels had a fierce grip on him. Death knew Fang's fighting style. One arm was restraining Fang's clawed feet, and the other had Fang's shoulders locked to Death's chest. Deathwheels was vastly more powerful than he was, and in this position, he couldn't fight back.

"I trusted you, you slagger! I did! I hope you rot in the Pit for betraying me!"

He was sure this was a coup and that Deathwheels had tricked him into letting him close by uttering soft words and flattery that he had almost believed. They had a privacy shield up on the room so no sound would escape. Death could blast him into bits and no one would ever know.

"You trust me so much," Death noted, "that you're ready to kill me now simply because you don't understand what I'm doing."

The much larger mech, rather than trying to kill Fang, simply settled down to the floor. "That table won't hold my weight," he murmured, a shocking nonsequitor that left Fang frozen as he tried to figure out what Deathwheels had in mind.

Death leaned against a wall, still holding Fangface. "I'm sorry if this hurts your hip," he murmured, as he held Fang close to his chest, tightly. "You can trust me. I want you to know you can trust me."

"Sorry way to show it, you fragger!"

"If I'd suggested this without getting a good grip on you first, you'd run like a scared rabbit,or possibly slagged me." Deathwheels let Fang slid down a bit, so that he was sitting between Death's legs. This freed Fang's feet and he whipped his uninjured leg up, digging his claws into the first bit of armor he could reach, which happened to be a seam at Deathwheel's knee.

Death froze in place. "Are you going to tear me to shreds now? I thought you said you trusted me."

"You just assaulted me!" Something kept him from dealing out a crippling injury.

"I didn't hurt you," Deathwheels let go of Fang entirely. "But I wanted to prove to you that you don't trust me."

Fangface started to scramble to his feet, hip be damned, but Deathwheels raised a hand into the line of view of his primary optics and Fang realized he was holding an interface cable. He froze in place, on his knees, staring at that object. Death wanted to what?

"Okay, a huge freaking monstrous world of no!" Fangface did try to get up in a panic. Deathwheel's free hand grabbed one wrist and pulled him back. Their armor clanged together as he landed face-first against Deathwheel's chest plating. Panic rose in equal measure with pain. He yelped, then vowed, "You try to hack me by force and I swear I'll scramble every synapse you've got."

"I'm better at coding than you by far," Death noted, sounding both hurt and amused. "And I'm not going to hack you. But this definitely proves you don't trust me, if you think I would."

"Coulda fooled me, what your intentions were." He was being held loosely. He could shred Death's armor in a heartbeat, get at his spark, and rip it out. His hip hurt like the pit, but the worse pain was the agonizing feeling of betrayal. Deathwheels was absolutely correct that he was better at coding than Fangface. "That's generally what Decepticons do with interface cables."

"You can leave your firewalls up." Deathwheels tone was soothing. "I just want you to see how I feel."

There was a snick as Death clicked the cable into his own port. Then Deathwheels caught one of Fang's heavily clawed hands, and pressed the other end of the cable into it.

Soothing hands spread across his back. He was on his knees, pressed up against Death's chest. He looked up at the other mech's face, framed on either side by enormous tires. That configuration was Fang's design; Death had a tremendous number of sensors packed into the rims of those tires. He was not built to be the average minion; Fang had wanted him to be useful in all sorts of ways.

He looked at the cable in his hand. It was worn and old.

"I repeat: you can keep your firewalls up."

"Yeah, and the moment I connect you break that promise and batter your your way through." Fangface's jaw set with angry suspicion.

Deathwheels lowered his hands, and leaned his head back against the wall. Fangface was free to go. "I see. Very well, Fang. But this offer stands. And I'll never try to manhandle you again. I just ... you would have run, the moment I even implied this. I wanted you to stick around and listen to the offer."


The other mech was silent for a moment. "You've got nobody who's close to you. That's not right. You need people you can trust. I'm offering to prove you can trust me."

"Because -- why, you hero worship me?" Fangface started to stand up, but a wave of agony from his hip convinced him that this was a bad idea. He was going to need help getting up, slag it all, and the only mech around to help him was his minion. The thought he might need Death's assistance getting up rankled.

"Because I'm yours." Deathwheels shuttered his optics. "I'm sorry, Fang. This was ill-advised. I just ... I like you, okay? You don't trust anyone in this universe. But you saved my life, and you cared enough about me to build me a form I really appreciate. I like being big. You knew I would. You want me to like you, you want me to trust you, and you desperately want me to care about you. But you're too scared to return the sentiments. You might like me, you might care about me, but it only goes so deep because you cannot bring yourself to trust me. And you want me to care about you, but then you don't really believe it when I do."

"You're crazy."

"You need crazy."

Fangface didn't know what to say, so he fell back on snark. "Maybe you just want me 'cuz I'm the most powerful mech you know."

Deathwheels sighed. "There's much more to you than just a Decepticon warlord."

"My own side abandoned me," Fangface balled his fists. "That kindof makes an impression on a mech. You can only trust people so far, Death. Something you need to learn. People follow me because I'm the better alternative, but that'll change if things go south. I can't let things go bad or I'll get slagged right out of command."

"I'll follow you even if things go bad." Deathwheels reached a hand out, and Fang should have pulled away but he didn't. The hand rested lightly on his arm. "You just said that the Autobot's biggest strength is their loyalty. Things are bad for them, yet they're sticking together. They love Optimus, and would die for him. Even when we defeat them, they will stick together. They will never splinter apart. Not his core team."

"Your point is?" His hip was agony. He rested a hand unwillingly on Death's knee, optics narrowing in pain. His position was awkward, neither seated nor upright, but halfway in the middle.

"Maybe I should have b-been created an Autobot. I'll follow you for loyalty, past the point of my own good."

That ragged admission made Fangface tense up, and he shifted his weight and jarred his damaged joint. With a small cry of pain, Fang slumped back forward, toppling against Deathwheel's chest. Arms encircled him immediately, and Death murmured, "I'm so sorry I hurt you."

"Yeah, you're a sorry aft."

Death's hands were astoundingly gentle. He wasn't actually restraining Fang any more, just holding him close. "I just want you to believe how loyal I am, Fang. I want you to take a chance on me."

Fangface hesitated. Deathwheels was very still. He hadn't been this close to another mech except for Wheelie since he'd been a sparkling himself. Additionally, his own mentor had been cold, efficient, and professional. The engineer who had designed him had been creating war machines, not children. He had heard regular praise as a youngling for jobs well done, he had been a favorite of his creator, but in his life few had ever shown him any affection. There was a huge difference between 'good job' and 'I like you.'

Screw the universe, he decided finally, if he frags me when we interface it's a chance I'm willing to take.

Either he was going to get hacked and reformatted in the next few minutes, or his entire world was about to be turned on its head. Fingers shaking, he popped his own interface port open and connected the cable. Death's offer had woken a hunger he didn't know existed.

Death made a disbelieving sound as Fang initiated the access by opening a link. He honestly didn't know what to expect. He'd never done this before with anyone. Most 'cons didn't -- it was too dangerous to trust another, and then if you did partner with someone, the partner was a weakness. He'd never allowed anyone to interface with him, had never desired it, and had rarely been asked.

"Fang ..." Death whispered, in utter shock. Then he bowed his head forward. "Oh, Primus, thank you."

:Thank me?: Fangface said, over something akin to a commlink. Neither of them had lowered firewalls. Teasingly, he added, :Or thank Primus? Your context wasn't clear there, buddy.:

Then Deathwheel's core defenses came down. A rush of emotions surrounded him: love, affection, worry, fear for him, utter trust, and a shatteringly convincing sense of loyalty. Fang was so shocked his weapons systems came online, because he tended to react to anything unknown with battle routines. Death froze in place, hearing the whirr of capacitors. Fang realized belatedly that he'd never powered up his laser rifles before this point; on some level, he had known it wouldn't be necessary. But this new input was so foreign, so alien, it made him frightened on a whole new level.

"Easy," Deathwheels said, as if he knew exactly why Fangface was suddenly humming with inadvertently hostile subroutines. The rush of love that came with his next words made Fang's spark stutter in his chest. :I'm not going to hurt you. Easy, Fangface. It's okay. It's okay. It's strange, it's different, it's all new, but it's a good thing. I'm never, ever going to hurt you.:

He'd never known ... never expected ... love. He was loved. And it was a pure feeling; Deathwheels wanted nothing back other than Fang's trust. :I am your dog,: Deathwheels thought at him. :I am your loyal soldier.:

:You love me ...:

Until that moment, Fang had not loved him back. He liked the way that Death's snarky sense of humor and bright and cheerful personality made him feel when they joked about, and he valued him as a skilled subordinate, and for both those reasons he wanted nothing to happen to him. Additionally, Death was his secret; few others really knew that Death was so much more than a dull-eyed, violent, and unthinking bodyguard. Most assumed he was just Fang's muscle. But that wash of feelings, that new and shining realization that he was actually loved ... it was so completely unexpected and so wonderful that something fundamental changed in his spark.

:I didn't know you really felt that way.: Fangface wasn't transmitting emotions, but he couldn't keep the quaver out of his commed response.

:You do everything you can to make people like you,: Deathwheels replied, softly, to Fangface. :But you never really believe it when we do. You care for us, but it's almost as if you're trying to impress us. You treat us well, when the other officers were evil and vile, because you liked the sense of power it gave you when we looked up to you. It made you feel clever and smart and influential, when lesser mechs saw you as their personal hero.:

He wanted to argue. He could lie to Deathwheels, he could deny the other's words. His own firewalls were still up.

Deathwheels sent him another pulse of that stunning love.

:Why? If you knew that I don't really care that much about you, why?:

:Because you also do care.: Deathwheels fingers were tracing small circles on Fang's armor. :Deep inside you, you do care. I've never seen you be casually cruel to those below you. And you are funny and smart and you have dreams beyond anything I would ever dare to imagine. You are the greatest hope our race has had in a hundred thousand years, and I love you for it. I am your dog, Fang, and any time you need confirmation of that I will lower my firewalls and show you. I want you to trust me, to know that you have at least one person who truly believes in you.:

A stray thought touched his processors lightly. Deathwheels deserves a universe without war.

And then, purely on impulse, he dropped his own firewalls, and let Deathwheels see the real Fang. He expected to be rejected. His snarky sense of humor hid fears he couldn't name. There was the fact that he wanted power almost as much as he wanted peace, and on some days, the power was more tempting than the adulation that leading his people to a peaceful conclusion of the war would bring. Somehow, his thoughts went to the real reason for claiming and raising the sparkling Wheelie: he'd wanted someone who worshipped him, who had never known anyone but him, and who could therefore be trusted. Deathwheels saw that in the bond, too.

Wheelie had been an eye-opener. A few days after hauling the sparkling to his quarters and roughly uploading operational code to his processors, he'd woken from recharge to find the child curled up between his paws, trust and innocence all rolled into one small package. Awake, though, he was another matter entirely. Wheelie already had far more personality than the blindly obedient slave he'd planned on, and yet he had found himself fiercely protective of the little mech as well as deeply amused by him. He never wanted to let the child go from his optics. For the first time ever, he had loved another in Wheelie, and then Starscream had kidnapped him away. Fang had assumed Wheelie dead, and it had been a miracle to find him alive on Earth, and he was happy that his charge was with the Autobots. He'd told Optimus that he wanted Wheelie to be safe, but that wasn't strictly true.

He had gotten a glimpse of a better life during the few years he'd spent among them. He wanted that upbringing for Wheelie. The Autobots would give him the love that Fang had never known, and Wheelie would be happy among them. He wanted Wheelie to be happy. However, he missed Wheelie terribly.

Death's arms tightened around him as Fang's grief struck him. Not just over Wheelie, but a thousand things he never let slip to anyone.

:You asked me to find out about Grimlock because you felt guilty, didn't you?: Death realized. :It wasn't about tactics at all.:

:Oh, tactics too.: Fang objected, but weakly.

:You wanted to know how badly your actions had hurt him. Fangface, blast it all, I didn't even catch that ...: Deathwheels sighed. :I love you so much but sometimes I don't understand you at all.:

His words -- and the raw emotion that accompanied them -- hit Fangface's pleasure centers and made him groan. He'd never expected that this day would turn out this way. And to his stunned surprise, and clearly to Death's, Fang reciprocated with real feelings right back. :I love you too. Oh, Primus, Death, you see me as I am and you still love me?:

It was a different sort of love than he had for Wheelie, that was for sure. It hit him like a crashing wave, throwing his world out of kilter, and then resetting everything he'd ever believed in with slight changes. He was worthy of love, the intimate love of one adult for another, and he could give it back.

:I knew what you were like.:
Death's emotions were making Fang ride higher and higher on a wave of intense pleasure. He was warm, and safe, and somebody loved him, and somebody understood him, and he could utterly and truly believe it to the core of his spark. He was loved. He was trusted. He was wanted. He was far from perfect, and some might say he was evil, but Deathwheels loved him. Death repeated, :I knew, Fangface. I knew.:

:I love you. I don't deserve you.: Fang sent, along with real feelings of guilt. He had so much to be sorry for in his life. He didn't deserve a gift like Deathwheel's love. But Primus! He was willing to take what was being offered, and reciprocate with everything in his spark.

His own emotions made Deathwheels groan aloud. Fang lifted his head to see Death's expression. His optics were offline, his mouth hanging slack. The hands on his back had stilled.

:Love you ...: He wasn't sure who said it, Deathwheels or himself. :Never gonna let you go ...:

His pleasure centers discharged, then, with a flood of absolutely blinding feeling. He soared, lost in the feel of the other's thoughts whispering through his and reinforcing all that was good, all that was right, and promising a future he'd never really dared dream of. He slumped into Deathwheel's arms, and Death rearranged both of them so that he was cradled comfortably against the other's chest. "Recharge," Deathwheels whispered. "I'll be here. I'll be here when you wake up. I'll always be here."