Title: The Gestalt Bond and Other Problems

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Implied slash (if you choose to read it that way – which is the way I intended it to be read ;) ), implied violence.

Disclaimer: Just playing in the sandbox, characters not mine.

Characters: Blast Off, Long Haul, Onslaught, Vortex, ensemble.

Notes: Written for the 28 Combaticons meme. Prompt claimed by caia_comica on LJ: 'on vacation', Blast Off and Long Haul. This happens a long time after the events in 'Taking One for the Team'.

Massive thanks to "naboru_narluin for beta reading, as well as putting up with my extensive ramblings about the Combaticons. This fits into the same AU as all my other G1 cartoon fics. A prompt is where I start, but it's not necessarily where I end up!.

"Why him?" Blast Off leant over Onslaught's desk, huffing air through his vents. "I can carry things."

"So can he," Onslaught replied.

"He's a dump truck!" Blast Off objected. "How can he carry things in space?"

"I'm sure he'll manage," Onslaught said levelly.

"But he's so small! My storage capacity vastly exceeds his!"

The office door opened about a second before Vortex knocked. He slid into the room, visor gleaming, and rapped his knuckles on Blast Off's side. "Yep, you're roomy."

"Stop that," Blast Off said.

"No," Vortex responded, and tapped him on the other side.

"I said stop it," Blast Off snapped.

Another tap, this time followed by a squeeze. "Hehe, roomy."

"Gah! Get off!"

"Make me."

Onslaught raised a hand to stop him, but Blast Off had already spun around and grabbed Vortex by the wrists. "Stop. Touching. Me." He enunciated each word slowly, voice raised over the squeal of metal as he brought his fingers together. Vortex made a happy sound.

Onslaught stood. "Knock it off, you two."

Muttering low curses, Blast Off slowly let go. Laughing softly to himself, Vortex sidled over to Onslaught's desk and began to rummage through his data pads. "So," he said "What're you doing?"

"Briefing," Onslaught said.

"Anything interesting?"

"Blast Off's going to the asteroid belt to collect a rare ore. Long Haul's going with him."

"I don't need him!" Blast Off clenched his fists. "I am perfectly capable of doing this mission alone, Vortex staytheslagawayfromme or I'll shoot you dead!"

"No, you're not," Onslaught said, ignoring the second part. "You need someone to load your cargo bay in alt mode."

"But why him? Why not a drone?" Blast Off kept his optics on Vortex, who was somehow contriving to look not-guilty. Well, there was no way he could ever look innocent.

"Because," Onslaught said. "You need someone who can fight, in case you run into trouble."

"Then why me?" Blast Off sniffed. "Why not Astrotrain or Octane?"

"Astrotrain's busy and Octane's about as trustworthy as Swindle. And," Onslaught raised both hands, palms out. "Megatron wants you to go, so you're going."

Blast Off slumped. Although his fuel lines burned at the thought of having a stranger ride around inside him, dirtying his upholstery with those nasty earth-bound tires, probably poking bits of him and generally causing a disturbance - the benefits were also clear. They needed to be useful to Megatron, individually as well as combined. It was up to him to help prove their worth.

But still, a Constructicon? It was humiliating.

On the desk, Vortex shuffled himself a space and lay down, arms behind his head. His armour was streaked with someone else's vital fluids. Lucky fragger, he didn't even have to try to be useful, he just was. Benefits of being glitched, Blast Off supposed.

"All right," Onslaught said, catching a datapad as it slid off the table and handing it over. "Go fuel up, you leave in half a cycle."

Long Haul was waiting for him in the hangar. "Hey," he said. Blast Off gave a curt nod and buried his optics in the data pad. No point in encouraging him, smug blasted Constructicon with his smug blasted gestalt bond.

Impatient too. Couldn't even wait for Blast Off to transform before approaching him.

"I hope your wheels are clean," Blast Off told him. He glared past the data pad, and tried not to register surprise at the impossibly shiny chrome rims and brand new tyres.

"Sure," Long Haul replied. "Ons told me you got a thing about that."

Ons? That was altogether too familiar for Blast Off's liking. The grounder better not think up a pet name for him.

"You want me to take that?" Long Haul asked.

"I'm the one who needs the locational co-ordinates," Blast Off replied, turning his attention back to the little blue screen. Over the PA system, Soundwave announced the raising of the tower.

"And you're going to hold it how exactly in alt mode?" Long Haul said. "You've got interior terminals, right? I can upload the data for you once we're airborne if you haven't had time to do it already."

Supercilious fragger, Blast Off thought; he'd better keep his mouth shut when they were in the air. The floor rumbled as the tower's gears began to turn. Why in the pit did the Constructicon look so smug? Oh yeah, they'd built the tower, hadn't they? Him and his stupid combiner team.

"That will not be necessary," Blast Off said, holding out the data pad. He didn't like the Constructicon being so close, especially not after the fallout from the Unfortunate Squishy Incident. He could still feel Hook's instruments probing his joints, the burning shame of Long Haul and Scrapper looking on in disgusted fascination as their team mate removed the decayed fragments of bone from his joints. "Stand back," he snapped. "Unless you want to be crushed."

Long Haul retreated to the wall, where he leaned back on his brand new tyres and completely failed to avert his optics.

Blast Off gave him what he hoped was a meaningful glare, then turned away. Stupid fragger; he didn't have to watch. Did he stare like that when Astrotrain transformed? And why'd he have to look so pleased about it, as though he was happy to go on this mission? It wasn't a slagging vacation.

Initiating his transformation sequence, Blast Off unfurled. It was always an uneasy few seconds; the additional weight, the new centre of gravity, the hollow growth of his passenger and cargo bays. There was a shimmer of fragmented data, as his everyday sensors became dormant and traffic began to flow through his alt mode relays.

"Impressive," Long Haul said. Blast Off huffed air through his intakes, dislodging a little dust. What an inappropriate comment. Still, he could pretend not to have heard.

He settled, equilibrium restored, and ran a quick diagnostic. Soundwave spoke over his internal PA: "Tower doors opening in five... four..."

"You gonna let me in or what?" Long Haul prompted.

Blast Off waited until the last possible moment, then grudgingly opened his cargo hold door.

"Good turn of speed," Long Haul commented. Oh for Primus' sake, they were hardly out of Earth's atmosphere and already he was talking.

Blast Off made a noncommittal noise over the commlink. That was the second thing the Constructicon had said that could be construed as a compliment. It wasn't, of course, and future comments would probably reveal the barbs. Best not to respond, it would only encourage him.

"Nice view." Long Haul said. "Always good to see the dirtball behind you." There was a strange sensation as he shuffled on his seat, followed by a long silence. Blast Off watched Long Haul via his internal cameras; the Constructicon appeared agitated, tapping his foot and absently spinning his shoulder wheels. It was annoying. But not as annoying as when the grounder again shattered the peace.

"Don't say much, do you?" he commented.

"Not if I can help it," Blast Off replied. There, he thought, that enough of a hint for you?

"Oh," Long Haul said. "OK." He sounded vaguely disappointed, but at least the idea seemed to sink in this time.

Blessed peace and quiet, at last. Blast Off checked his trajectory against the co-ordinates and thrust contentedly into the cold silence of space.

Long Haul was laughing, soundless with the lack of atmosphere. His lips curved up and his shoulders shook, bouncing his tyres against the back of his seat. Blast Off refocused the cargo bay cameras and tried to work out what it meant.

"Is something funny?" he demanded over internal comms. It better not be me, he thought. He swept the cameras over the rest of the interior, checking for defects. The Constructicon continued to laugh.

Could always just open the cargo bay door. Who would know? Well, everyone, once the dumptruck finally found his way back to Earth, but that would take a while, and in the meantime Blast Off could complete the mission alone and unaided. In peace.

"Yeah, sorry," Long Haul said. "Something Scrapper heard. I forgot that you guys don't... y'know." He shrugged, looking up at the camera.

Don't what? Blast Off stopped himself before the thought could be vocalised. It was about the gestalt bond, wasn't it? It was always about the gestalt bond. The silence lingered, but this time it wasn't so comfortable.

Well, if the Constructicon didn't want to tell him what was so pit-spawned funny, Blast Off certainly wasn't about to ask a second time.

Asteroids. Eugh.

Horribly fragmented blobby things, moving too fast for an easy, safe landing, but just slow enough to get in the way. Blast Off jettisoned Long Haul, and spiralled down into his root mode. He'd have to get the drones to clean out his innards when he got back to the Nemesis. Tire marks, disgusting. He probably stank of new rubber too.

"Well, we're here." Long Haul activated his thrusters and began to explore. "Hey look, carbon!"

Blast Off resisted applying his fist to his own forehead. Congratulations, he thought, you've identified the most common element on the most common type of asteroid this system has to offer. "Just don't walk in it," he muttered.

"Hey, Blast Off!" Long Haul's voice crackled over the comm link. Moron; who else could he be talking to out here? "You gotta see this!"

Blast Off sighed. He severely doubted there could be anything he 'gotta' see out here. "What's wrong?" he said, giving himself just enough of a boost to drift slowly in Long Haul's direction.

"Nothing," Long Haul replied. "Just look at this."

Rounding yet another asteroid, Blast Off's thrusters stuttered and he had to grip the pocked, grey-black surface to steady himself. Long Haul crouched in the centre of a wreck, a twisted mass of cables and splintered metal. Debris floated around him, snagged in a web of slender wires which gleamed with the light from his optics.

"Neat, huh?"

"That's..." Blast Off began. That's what? he thought. Beautiful? Stupid? Just another pile of space junk? "Is that a Quintesson?"

"Yeah," Long Haul replied. To Blast Off's disgust, the Constructicon actually picked up one of the limp, dead tentacles and waved it at him. "Gross," he commented. The rest of the Quintesson was in pieces, tangled in the wreckage.

"Then don't touch it," Blast Off said. "Looks like a one-person scout vehicle." He moved closer, then ducked down to peer underneath. "Hull's only compromised topside," he said. "It's in remarkably good condition."

"Salvage?" Long Haul suggested. "Could have tech we can use."

Blast Off made a face under his battle mask. Megatron would be pleased, but still... "You expect me to carry that... thing back to Earth?"

Long Haul shrugged, still holding the tentacle; it flopped around, gelatinous and wholly repulsive. It was probably slimy too. "You could tow it," he suggested. "I can rig something up. We still need your cargo space for the ore."

Blast Off gaped. That was a... sensible suggestion. Practical, workable and, best of all, it didn't involve him having to touch a dead Quintesson. "All right then," he said. "I'll do it."

It was, of course, Long Haul who found the ore. It was Long Haul who rigged up the explosives to split the asteroid into manageable chunks, and it was Long Haul who stacked those chunks, carefully and neatly, in Blast off's cargo hold.

Blast Off watched him over the security cameras, noting the way that he brushed the carbon off his tyres before he stepped aboard; the way he pushed each load in slowly, as though taking care not to scratch the metal floor and walls. It was a strange sensation. His team mates never took such care; they were boisterous, loud, kicking and shoving and touching, always touching. Especially Vortex. But Long Haul only touched what he had to, and then with a professional detachment that was, well, not exactly pleasant, but certainly not abhorrent.

He even secured the load properly - something the Combaticons were haphazard about at best - and tested the various straps and portions of netting before giving Blast Off the signal that he was done.

When they flew back to the crash site, it didn't feel quite right that Long Haul was sitting in the cargo bay.

"We're almost done," Long Haul said. He floated behind the shuttle, fussing with the Quintesson wreck. Blast Off idled, getting used to the feel of the harness. The Constructicon had done a good job, and quickly. It wasn't surprising, Blast Off thought, his team had built Crystal City, after all. This was a bit of a step down for them, all things considered.

His internal comm. pinged again. "You lived in Kaon, right," Long Haul said. "Before the war?"

Blast Off fought the urge to fire his thrusters. Flying away wouldn't help, and besides, it was just a question; maybe Long Haul was simply curious?

"Yes?" Blast Off replied. He watched the Constructicon through his external security relay; Long Haul was clinging to the underside of the wreck, tightening a cable.

"So, what did you do?" he said.

What did I do, what? Blast Off thought. In Kaon? For a living? To get put in prison? There were so many ways to end that sentence. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"Just, y'know, I built stuff; what did you do?" Long Haul gave him a quick glance over a fragment of twisted metal.

Blast Off was glad that his alt mode was so inexpressive; in root mode, he would have winced. "Xenological research," he said, stiffly. "For a while." Frag, why couldn't he just have lied? It wasn't as though it mattered any more.

"Yeah?" Long Haul prompted. Oh great, he was expected to expound on that?

He considered his next words carefully; no point in making things sound worse than they were. "After leaving the institute, I ran logistics for Onslaught."

"So you guys knew each other?" Long Haul sounded pleased.

Blast Off sighed. Suddenly, he could see where all this was going. "Not well," he said. Except for Onslaught and Vortex, he thought. And Brawl. Really it was just him and Swindle out there on the fringes. "It's difficult," he snapped. "We weren't built for each other." Where in the pit had that come from? Well, he knew where it had come from, but why had he said it? Stupid, stupid glitch. Blast Off wondered if his thrusters would burn hot enough to incinerate Long Haul; eradicate all trace of having said something so ridiculous, so intimate. So true.

"Eh," Long Haul said, as though it was nothing. "Neither were we."

"Huh?" Blast Off zoomed in with the cameras, trying to get a glimpse of Long Haul's expression, but his face was hidden under the crumpled hull.

"Took us ages to get it together," Long Haul said. "Sure, we knew each other, but these things take time. And we didn't have Swindle."

Ugh, Swindle. Yeah. Lucky fraggers. "Wish I didn't have Swindle."

"The universe wishes it didn't have Swindle," Long Haul replied. "Still, he's got to have at least one redeeming feature."

"Only if he can be exchanged for goods or services," Blast Off suggested, a bitter taste in his fuel gauge. "Redeem away. No refunds." He bristled; Long Haul was laughing. Well, that was a lesson to keep his vocaliser on mute.

"Ha, good one," Long Haul said. He pulled himself around the wreck and patted the buckled metal. "Right, I think it's secure. You wanna pull forward a bit and see how it holds?"

It was a strange sensation, towing one load while another floated, tethered, inside him. Blast Off re-calibrated his fuel flow, and sent a slightly revised flight plan back to Soundwave on the Nemesis. He would take it slowly, relatively speaking. ETA was four hours later than anticipated.

Oddly enough, the prospect of a delay didn't chafe. An extra four hours in Long Haul's company couldn't be that bad. After all, the Constructicon had laughed at something he'd said, and not because it made him look aloof or ridiculous.

Long Haul performed a final round of checks, and went to settle in the cargo hold. All right, Blast Off thought, it's now or never.

"You might as well sit up front," he said, monitoring his words carefully to ensure he'd hit the right mix of casual suggestion and cool indifference. He unsealed the door to the flight deck.

"All right," Long Haul replied, in the same bright tone someone might use to say 'thanks'.

Blast Off experienced a slight twinge of concern as the Constructicon sidled through the gap between the seats, but Long Haul somehow knew what the boundaries were. He settled in the co-pilot's seat without having to be told, and kept his hands entirely to himself.

They'd been travelling for an hour, cosseted in a companionable silence, when something occurred to Blast Off.

"Um," he began. Initiating dialogue was difficult. He tried again. "Not that I want to give the impression of negativity, but how exactly are we getting this into Earth's atmosphere?"

When Long Haul only looked up at his camera, he continued, uneasily. "I mean, Quintessons are tough, but the wreck is fragile. The temperature at re-entry, the pressure… the, ah…" Stupid, should never have spoken.

"It'll be fine," Long Haul said. "I'm carrying the loose bits, so it's all good."

"You're…" Blast Off began, but couldn't bring himself to finish. The loose bits… The tiny splinters of circuitry, the jagged strips of hull… the tentacles! Had he been in root mode, he would have shuddered.

"Don't worry," Long Haul said. "It's all locked away. No spillages."

No spillages? Blast Off had a vision of alien appendages squirming around Long Haul's innards, and his tanks gurgled as though he was about to purge. No, he thought, fighting to steady himself. He's competent. If he says there will be no spillages, then there will be no spillages.

"There wasn't much, anyway," Long Haul said, as the tide of anxiety slowly ebbed away. "So…" He gazed through the windscreen, hands folded calmly on his lap. "You hear the latest about Motormaster?"

Onslaught was waiting in the hangar. Vortex thankfully wasn't.

Blast Off landed carefully, the Quintesson wreck juddering to a halt behind him. Long Haul's gestalt were ready, arms outstretched to guide the ship into a cradle of cables and struts. It was disconcerting, having them stand behind him like that, but he would endure. Not least because there was nothing he could do about it until his cargo bay had been emptied. But also because he had engaged in conversation with their team mate, and it hadn't gone wrong. It left him oddly cheerful.

"That went well," Onslaught commented. His optics flickered as he caught sight of Long Haul on the flight deck. "Fill up your hold space, eh?"

"For your information," Blast Off said. "There was ample room." He flicked open the cargo bay door just as Soundwave announced the lowering of the tower.

"Hey, Ons," Long Haul said, stepping down onto the hangar floor. "Look what we found."

What you found, Blast Off thought. But it was a… not unpleasant feeling to be part of a 'we'. It felt a little like being part of a team. A real team, not the pathetic excuse for comradeship Starscream had forced upon them.

"I see it," Onslaught commented. "Should come in useful."

Blast Off didn't respond; he watched the Constructicons greet their gestalt mate. It was a world of unselfconscious familiarity; a clink of armour as elbows briefly touched, a pat on the back, a friendly shove. Bonecrusher pulled a face as Long Haul emptied his storage compartment, Hook leaned over, intrigued; Scrapper laughed.

Not that Blast Off wanted to be patted on the back. Least of all by his so-called team mates. Belatedly, he realised that Onslaught hadn't stopped talking.

"What did you say?" he asked.

"Oh, nothing," Onslaught said. "Just an observation, that's all."

"Hmph." Judging by the direction of Onslaught's gaze, it was about Long Haul. Blast Off could do without that kind of observation.

Onslaught's visor brightened, as though he was smiling under his mask. "I merely remarked that you've done a good job," he said. "Megatron is pleased." He paused a moment, as though assessing whether or not to continue. Eventually, he said. "I've got some high grade, if you're interested. After you've been unloaded."

Blast Off glanced at the Constructicons, then down at the scuttling drones as they began to unpack the ore. That new rubber smell clung to his upholstery, but it wasn't so bad. He could wait to get clean.

"All right," he replied, and almost added: Vortex better not be there. He managed to suppress the thought. If they were going to be a team – a proper team like Long Haul and his gestalt – they needed to pull together. The mission had shown him that.

He'd find a way to deal with Vortex.