A/N: Oh frabjous day! The start of another patented antepathy fic guaranteed to end with robots in unrelenting misery. It helps a lot to have read "Break" first. I'm not saying that to story-whore, really. It will also help to read "Barricade: Control" from "Echoes". Again, not mandatory (fanfic homework?!), but…may help you follow the backstory.
If you like Barricade in misery, whoooooo, buddy, is this the fic for you. I can promise you: Autobots! Decepticons! Intrigue! Angst! The usual half-assed science which I just make up as I go along! Educational content! An exciting battle scene! Only ONE scene with no robots, and it's not a full chapter (and they're talking about robots)!
Themes: Got two of them for you: trust (Who is trusting whom? Why?) and vision, in a physical sense (eyes/optics) and metaphorical (what we see/believe). You think I can top the disturbing and unpleasant reading experience that was "Break"? Let's find out!
"Hiding out here?" Blackout said, stepping through the doorway. The intel center's lighting was even dimmer than Repair Bay. He could barely make out Barricade's shape, picked out as gleams of light against the silver parts of his armor.
"Not hiding. Busy." Barricade sat up from where he'd slumped himself over the terminal, and began tapping out a report, the very picture of industry.
Barricade dropped his hands against the console. "Do you have any actual business here? If not, security requirements require that—"
"See? Hiding," Blackout cut him off. "Behind words."
"Not hiding," Barricade insisted, wincing at how childish it sounded. "See you finally got that rotor repaired."
"Yeah. Tired of hearing your shit about it."
"Really? I have a long list of other improvements, if I have that kind of power over you."
Blackout snorted, only half in irritation. "Stop being a glitch, Barricade. Came to see how you were doing."
Barricade blinked, surprised. His eyes narrowed in their cages. "Why?"
"Gotta be some nasty reason?"
"Sometimes isn't. You just don't seem as…happy as you should be."
"What are you, the happiness fairy?"
Blackout laughed. "There's an image for you." He flexed his rotors. "Got the wings for it and everything."
Despite himself, Barricade grinned.
Blackout stepped farther in. "Vortex reports initial assays of the Tunguska materials are promising. Air burst, so there's a large scatter. Makes collecting it kind of like a hunt. Got drones scrambling out there like little repair bots playing 'find the casualty'." The drones he'd supervised had bleeped happily the whole time, as if it were a game. They'd had a right to be happy, he'd decided. They were doing the work to save all their lives.
"Good to hear." Barricade said, without real enthusiasm. "Autobot interference?" He called up that report on his console, ready to input new data.
"Minimal. Two grounders. Easily overrun. We expect air reinforcements at any time, but until then, doing our best to haul up. Just brought up my second load, actually." He watched Barricade update the report. "Not telling you this for your report. Supposed to be happy. Your work. Your results."
"Hurray me," Barricade said, dully.
Blackout stepped across the room, slapping a large hand over the console. "Talk. Now."
Barricade tilted back in his chair, looking up at Blackout. "About what?"
"Look, I don't have your fancy tricks. Just talk to me. What's going on?"
"You seem more up on that than I am."
"Stop being dense," Blackout snapped. "As bad as talking to Starscream, sometimes." He looked around the intel center. "Gonna have to leave this room at some point. Everyone's talking about you, you know."
"Figures." But Barricade's processor ticked over almost audibly. Blackout waited. Finally, Barricade broke. "What are they saying?"
"No way. You talk first."
"Why'd you wait so long to get your rotor repaired, really."
"Not talk about me, you slaggin' glitch."
Sigh. "What do you want me to talk about?" Forced patience.
"Want to know why you're not celebrating. I would be. Megatron praised you publicly. Starscream's ready to throw a piston in envy."
"That would be worth seeing."
"Can't see it from in here."
"Why aren't you jealous?" Another point blank question.
"Not threatened by anyone's success. I'll prove myself on my own merits. Or not."
Barricade looked at him, evaluating. Blackout added. "Not smart enough to run an approach, you know. Some of us really are that simple."
Barricade sat back. "So you say."
"So I know."
"Bound to happen you'd know something," Barricade said, acidly. "Sooner or later."
"Why you keep doing that?" Blackout folded his arms over his chest, leaning against the console.
"Doing what? Talking? Isn't that what you wanted me to do?" Barricade's eyes spiralled tighter, directly against the innocence in his words.
"Keep trying to make this unpleasant."
"It's supposed to be pleasant?"
"It's an option."
"I have to get back to work," the smaller bot said, trying unsuccessfully to move the copter's hip off his console. With amusement, Blackout watched him try, first with the back of one wrist, then with both hands, then bracing his whole weight against it.
"If I wanted to play your kind of game, Barricade, I'd probably tell you how much that tickles."
Barricade slammed his fists against the edge of the console. "Leave me alone."
"No." Blackout lifted one of his large feet, and planted it squarely across Barricade's legs. "And don't think you're going anywhere. Not til we have this out."
"Something I would like to have 'out' is your foot out of my damn lap. Then you, out of my damn IC."
"No, sorry. Try again."
Barricade began poking at the copter's foot, trying to find a sensitive sensor node. "Tell me if this tickles, too," he hissed.
Actually a few of his pokes really hurt, but Blackout wasn't going to give up this easily. "Only if you tell me if this tickles." He wiggled his toes hard against the smaller bot's armor. The smaller bot squirmed, shifting his effort to try to pry up the copter's toes. Blackout started laughing. This was just…so ridiculous. Only Barricade was this annoying. When you were trying to help him. Starscream would have pulled rank but then run his mouth so long you'd beg him to stop. Or tear out your own audio.
Blackout stopped. "Come on, Barricade," he said. "Talk."
The smaller bot dropped his hands to his sides. "About what?!"
"Why you're upset."
"Then how come you're not out there rubbing Starscream's arrogant face in it? Even Soundwave was impressed."
"Not really a good idea to get on Starscream's targeting grid right now." Barricade shifted uncomfortably. He didn't need to explain why Starscream wasn't feeling particularly beneficent toward him right now—Blackout had seen the whole thing.
"Yeah? You think he's going to forget if you stay out of sight for long enough?"
"Jets aren't known for their long term memories," Barricade retorted. "Attention span barely longer than a drone, most of them."
Blackout grunted agreement. "You might consider how he sees it, though. While he can remember."
"You think being labeled a 'coward' is such a hot idea?"
"Is that what he thinks?" Barricade's voice got hard.
Blackout shrugged. "Think about it: you're hiding from him. That's how he sees it. Means he thinks you're afraid of him."
Barricade swore. Should have seen that. Any sort of intelligence bot should have run that head-line. Not as good at it as he thought he was. Only now, he wasn't even sure he wanted to be any good at it. "I'm afraid of him?"
"Can handle him," he said.
Blackout lifted his foot from Barricade's legs. "Then why don't you?"