Changeling – Part 5
Minus 5 vorns
"Oi! You, Seeker!"
Most heads turned to the bulky guard outside the cell.
"Which one?" Tempest drawled from beside Crank.
"The white one with the frilly decal."
Well. That left the choices somewhat limited. Crank stood up. "I'm a medic, not a Seeker."
"Don't ya get witty with me. Now move yer scrawny aft over here. Yer wanted fer questioning."
Oh well. "Of course."
Below Crank, Windsong made a disconcerted noise. Crank squatted down and kissed the kid on the helm. "I'll be alright. Look after Tempest for me, huh?"
Windsong nodded, looking as if he was about to cry. Poor thing was on his third trine in four vorns, you couldn't really blame him. Crank hugged him for a moment.
"Took yer sweet time," the guard grumbled, when he'd finally secured Crank with handcuffs and ushered him outside.
Crank didn't comment.
He was force marched (and occasionally shoved so he'd stumble) through dimly lit hallways. After a few breems, he found himself pushed into an interrogation room and shackled to one of the chairs at the table.
Half a joor passed. Windsong would drive Tempest insane with his fretting by now. The kid was as sweet as you'd hope, but their ongoing captivity in such close quarters with no glimpse of the sky had everyone in the cell on edge.
Crank had mediated in several fights already, and now he prayed everyone would still be in one piece when he returned.
More time trickled by.
Then, after nearly two joors, the door opened, some Autobot grunt, Prowl, and Crank's adoptive parents filed in.
So much for bringing it to them gently.
He'd have stood if not for the shackles, so he settled for an embarrassed face.
"Hi," he offered fake brightly, and, " Sir. Officer."
Prowl nodded in acknowledgement, while Topic and Offsite just stared and seemed also slightly intimidated. They took the seats Prowl asked them to take and then made a point of not looking at Crank.
The grunt retreated to lean to the wall near the door. Prowl took the chair opposite of Crank's.
"So," Prowl began after half a breem of smothering silence. "I assume you know these two civilians."
"Yeah… Topic? 'Site?" he tried.
Offsite glanced at him.
"I'm sorry about this. It's not the way I wanted you to find out."
Offsite shook his head.
"You don't really believe I'm the same kid you tucked in all those vorns ago," Crank concluded. "The one you had to shoo to recharge because he was watching the air patrols again."
That seemed to make them rethink their opinion. "We didn't think you were quite that determined to become flight-capable," Offsite said.
"I wasn't. I also overheard you arguing, that one night. After we'd fought on the street. I knew my carrier creator was a Seeker."
Offsite lowered his head.
"I did some digging, too, later on" Crank continued. "I had a pretty good idea what was going on in Vos, and I wanted it to end. I assumed you were in on the deal. That's why I never said anything, and that's why I stayed behind."
Topic frowned. "Which deal, exactly, are you referring to?"
"The one where you leave some sparklings in serious need of comfort with active reproductive programming and no sex ed."
Topic's optics grew wide. "You're joking."
"Given my information? No. This is not a joking matter."
"That's a serious accusation," Prowl interjected.
"I can back it up, if you'd be willing to listen. Given how the entire war started over someone's unwillingness to listen to perfectly reasonable requests."
Prowl nodded. "We'll talk about this at a later time."
"As you wish."
"Right," Topic said. "So how does helping Seekers translate into being one?"
"First, I'm a medic, not a Seeker. Being a Seeker requires taking an oath that's the opposite from what a medic is supposed to vow. As to the other part – I ran into my creators."
Both Topic and Offsite seemed to deflate, and both of them looked very vulnerable. It was odd, how, after everything, they still cared enough to give Crank the capacity to hurt them.
"I'm sorry I couldn't include you into the decision making. But I've never regretted it."
Topic shook his head. "If you weren't already down, I'd smack you for being the biggest fool on this planet."
"I don't feel particularly down. So if you think smacking me helps…"
"I wish it would."
There was little to say after that.
Prowl cleared his vocalizer, declaring visiting joors over, and, after letting Offsite hug Crank, he ushered them out, and the guard took Crank back to the cell.
Once Crank was rid of the handcuffs and the guard out of viewing range, Windsong snuggled close and wouldn't let go. Tempest took this monopolizing with equanimity and waited to kiss Crank hello until Windsong had drifted off to recharge, head in Crank's lap.
The kid was recharging a lot, too. Nine out of twenty joors per orn, that was almost as much recharge as Crank had needed at that age. Tempest had been right, in a way. Windsong was just a baby, and by unspoken consensus, he had become his and Tempest's baby. Crank tried not to feel too scared at that thought.
"So. Your adoptive parents, huh," Tempest said.
"Yes. Primus, it was awful. But at least I know now they really had no clue about that breeding system the emirate had going on."
"You didn't want to hate them," Tempest stated.
"I don't know if I've forgiven them yet. I love them, I do, but," Crank shook his head, unable to voice the sense of betrayal he still held. They'd lied.
"Shush, love. It'll work itself out, you just watch." Tempest put one arm around Crank's shoulders and tugged him closer for a kiss. Crank wanted more than that, needed some more substantial comfort, but that would have to wait until they had some privacy back.
The next orn, Crank was fetched again to meet Topic and Offsite, this time with no obvious chaperone.
"We hate to see you locked up," Offsite said.
"We'd bail you out if it were allowed for prisoners of war," Topic added. "But they might be inclined to have you moved to a regular prison after the trial."
What? "No!" Crank's optics went wide at the sudden panic that rippled through his spark. His trine, they'd take away his trine.
"Topside?" Offsite asked tentatively. "Are you alright?"
"No. You can't do that."
"Why ever not?"
Crank forced himself to cycle air normally. "First, I'd be the only POW in a jail full of criminals. I'd despise them, they'd hate me. The guards probably would have to stick me into solitary just to keep the other inmates from killing me."
They both looked crestfallen.
"But… wouldn't be solitary confinement an improvement? You're cooped up with twenty of those warmongers right now, and I don't think a camp would leave you with more privacy."
"How do you know where I'm kept?"
Topic shifted in his chair. "We were shown a few breems of your cell's surveillance last orn. So that we would know what to expect."
"Well. Even if it weren't for the obvious threat to my life, I'd still refuse. I have a trine down there, and they both need me more than you do."
"The ones you were… sitting with."
So they'd gotten to see more than they'd wanted. Maybe they even were under the delusion they had to save Crank from unwelcome advances.
"A mech missing a leg and a bereaved youngling. It'd be beyond cruel to leave that kid now."
"You're just a kid yourself," Offsite said plaintively.
"I am, or was, chief medical officer of the Decepticon Tarn East base. It was I who tipped off the media before the raid in Praxus. I stopped being a kid that orn. So excuse me if I feel capable of parenting a mech a tenth my age."
"He's that young?"
"He's just a baby. I didn't particularly want him to latch onto me, but I can't back out now. I won't leave him."
"Very well." Topic tilted his head and studied Crank. "He's chosen his protector well, I can see. We won't ask you to shirk your responsibilities."
"Just… don't do anything rash, please," Offsite said. "That mech missing a leg…"
"I'll notify you before it gets serious," Crank promised. It was serious, of course, but that bit the inevitable watchers didn't need to know. "He's Windsong's remaining trinemate. They are a package deal, and he's only marginally less shaken than the kid, only he's hiding it better."
"Well… we'll drop by again if they let us," Topic said. "And we'll be at the trial, of course. It's a pity they won't let us hire an attorney for you."
"No. It's good. It'd be unfair if I had one and no mech else."
"I suppose you're right, but maybe. Maybe they should allow everyone an attorney…" Offsite said.
"They should," Crank said. "But that's warfare."
Offsite shook his head.
Minus 4 vorns
Morning roll call. There was an unfamiliar, silver officer present, and the prisoners would have been whispering if they hadn't known better.
Crank rolled his shoulders. At least they put him to work in the base's small medbay, instead of making him work the mines or the shuttles. He wasn't as bored as everyone else.
The silver officer stepped forward. "Inmates numbers 0997, 1012 and 1015, you're with me."
Crank's trine. Now that was unusual. He exchanged a glance with Tempest. Windsong was too busy hanging on to Tempest, his anxiety a faint echo in Crank's spark.
Everyone else filed out to work, and they walked over to the silver officer.
"You're to pack and present yourself here again within half a joor."
"Of course, sir. May I ask why?"
Windsong made a small squeal, then ducked. He'd been beaten for being too exuberant a few times.
The officer made a face. "Now, get."
The officer overseeing the exchange was Jetstream. They watched the Autobot shuttle leave the neutral ground before hugging.
"I still can't quite believe we have you back," Jetstream whispered. "Choosing that particular trinemate was quite the lucky decision."
"Yeah. Both our minds are probably too valuable to let them rot."
"Well, obviously they had to use you as the front. It's very lucky people had no idea of my position and the Autodorks let on I was part of your trine," Tempest offered from behind. "You want to introduce us?"
Crank did. Jetstream grinned like an idiot – the proud, dazed feeling of 'my youngling has trined!' filtered clearly over the bond – and was otherwise very embarrassing, asking any number of nosy questions during the flight home.
"Don't let them fluster you so," Tempest said once they were alone in their newly assigned quarters. "It's a very odd situation for everyone involved."
Crank sighed. "Still. They shouldn't have made it quite such a big deal." And alert everyone on base to the fact. Even the ones who didn't want to know. Especially those.
"They're just happy. And look on the bright side, they're watching Windsong for us."
"Uh-huh. They do."
Tempest tackled him and Crank let himself be wrestled onto the berth. Their cockpits ground together, sending a shiver of vibrations. Hmm. Having both time and room to play was new. No more stolen touches in the washracks.
"I'd say the mortification is worth the perks," Crank concluded.
Tempest grinned and dove in for a kiss.
The tower swayed slightly from an approaching storm, so Topic and Offsite hovered near the small penthouse's door while Crank hugged his creators goodbye.
They left with some last acrobatics.
"Will they be alright in this weather?" Offsite asked when they took the stairs back to the apartment.
"It's just wind," Crank said. "And they're good flyers. They'll consider it fun."
Back in his parent's living room, he was presented with a cube of high grade.
"So," he said. "What do you think?"
Topic stared at his own cube, as if the energon's swirls would provide an answer. "We sometimes wondered where some of your idiosyncrasies came from. It's easy to see if one meets them."
"You're a rather lucky mixture of them," Offsite said. "I find them quite nice, if a little odd."
"Crude and unsophisticated," Crank supplied.
"No! But it's obvious they have no formal education."
"It's not their fault."
"We know that," Topic said. "They were out of their depth here, just like we were. We have no common interests beyond having to share you."
"Having them never made me love you any less."
"You're more relaxed around them," Offsite pointed out.
"We have less baggage," Crank said.
"What have we done to you that you carry such a grudge?"
Crank shuttered his optics for a nanoklick. "You lied. You knew where I came from, and you knew I was stolen. You knew I'd never find my creators through a simple query. Instead you fed my a story about my oh so selfless carrier."
"Well, what else could I have said? You were forty vorns old, you wouldn't have understood."
"There's a difference between glossing over the ugly parts and outright lying. Didn't you consider that I'd have found out you knew about the NDA eventually?"
"You would have," Topic conceded. "I know it… it wasn't right. We wanted things to be normal. That it would all go according to the self-help texts."
"They never mention sparklings from Vos or Kaon. We were at a loss and Social Services weren't helpful and," Offsite shook his head. "I'm sorry."
Crank stared for a moment. An apology, after all this time. "I won't say it's alright. Not yet. I understand your reasoning. But I'd trusted you, and then I couldn't."
"We just wanted you to love us."
"Well. I do. That's why it hurts in the first place." Crank stood up and locked himself into his old room.
He sobbed, trying to be silent, and wished he'd taken Tempest's offer of accompanying him. A vague brush of concern came over the trine link, and then his comm. crackled to life.
"Are you alright?"
"No. I'm just talking it out with my parents." He stifled another sob.
"Hush, love. I know you're hurt, but try to hear them out, huh? They didn't do it on purpose, I'm sure."
Crank breathed a few times. "I'll try," he said. "Thank you." He'd forgotten how lonely he'd felt back then.
"You're welcome. I love you."
"Love you, too," Crank said back and closed the communication. Then he rose from his spot on the floor and ventured outside.
They were huddling on the couch and looking very, very small. Sad and hopeful, even though they had to know they had no right to be so.
Crank stared at them for a while. They stared back.
Eventually, Offsite came over to him and drew him into a hug. "I'm sorry. We never realized why you'd become so distant. We were hurting because you were hurting, and I never guessed it was my fault. I was being selfish and wasn't thinking about the consequences. I never wanted to scare you away. Please forgive me."
Cycling air for a moment, Crank gathered his courage. "Yes," he said.
Offsite beamed at him, and Crank smiled back without having to force himself.
So... I hope all of you enjoyed reading. Even more thanks to those two of my readers who got out of the closet and publicly admitted to reading this (and even liking it).