Chapter 25

Optimus looked up from his desk, then did a clear double take as Ratchet entered his office. His oldest friend was moving with a bounce in his stride that Optimus hadn't seen in a very long time.

"Good morning," he said, smiling in reaction to Ratchet's obvious good mood.

"You're going to kill me," Ratchet predicted, but his gloomy prediction was spoiled by the smile that played around his lipplates.

Optimus feigned nonchalance. "You merged with Soundwave and you liked what you saw?"

"A bit much." Ratchet propped his hip against the edge of Optimus's desk. "Let's just say Soundwave's loyalty will never be in question as long as mine isn't."

"I take it congratulations are in order, then," Optimus rose from his desk.

"Oh, Primus, here comes the hug ..." Ratchet feigned indignation as Optimus wrapped him in a brotherly embrace. "Yes, yes, yes ... well! Stop it, you're going to clog my intakes with lint from the warm fuzzies!"

Optimus, laughing, let Ratchet loose. "How does it feel?"

"Slagging wonderful." Ratchet admitted, grinning. "How much trouble am I in?"

"I assume you will consider your bond classified for now," Optimus said, seriously. "Soundwave would be an easy target."

"Probably not as much as you'd expect." Ratchet had no desire to see Soundwave in combat, but the carrier was a wily old soldier who was already figuring out ways to work around his physical limitations. He wasn't as vulnerable as most mecha would assume.

"Nonethless, I would prefer your status not be widely known, to protect you and Soundwave both. However, there was concern about Soundwave's loyalty, and this eliminates that worry. Prowl and Jazz will be pleased. On a personal level, you know that I am delighted for you."

"Yeah," Ratchet said, a little uncomfortably. "Optimus, I never thought I'd have this. And if I did, I never thought it would be with someone whose first instinct is to defer to me. But ... but both of us are happy."

"He may be beta coded," Optimus said, with a small, amused smile, "but I have a feeling he is no meek, submissive servant."

"No." Ratchet grunted. "He's strong."

"My friend," Optimus said, growing serious, and a little sad. "I wish we could celebrate this occasion as it deserves. It pains me to ask you to be discrete. However, you have my full congratulations and joy that you have found happiness. I believe that Soundwave is a good mech, and Primus willing, you will enjoy a very long life together."

"Thanks, Prime," he said, voice rough with emotion he tried and failed to hide.

Soundwave settled into the chair in his office. He was unused to having furniture that actually fit his tall frame well, but Grapple had come up with a chair that was a perfect fit and an unaccustomed luxury.

The desk was at exactly the right height, and wrapped around him in a "U" shape. He had a vid screen as big as Prime's, as well as the same sound system. When he turned the sound system on, he discovered some thorough and thoughtful person had translated the operating system into English. He was able to quickly find and play one of his favorite pre-war Vosian ballads.

Frenzy had a desk on a shelf on the wall, between the vid screen and sound system. Frenzy had his own monitor, as well as a stack of human-style literal paperwork waiting for him. Soundwave glanced at it, and realized that Prime had put Frenzy on the task of sourcing human-made supplies and raw materials that both the allied Decepticon forces and the Autobots needed. Frenzy's desk had an internet connection, a fax machine, and a human sized phone. His symbiont, always social, was enjoying the work.

When he logged into his own terminal, it displayed a queue of messages sent via simple email. Soundwave, remembering Grapple's sour attitude, quickly sent him a thank you note. The architect clearly felt he was under-appreciated and his skills often overlooked. Soundwave wanted to make sure that Grapple knew that at least one mech had noticed his talents. That task done, he began to read his email.

Prowl wanted a list of the Decepticons that Starscream knew were on earth, and which faction they'd sided with - he'd cc'd Soundwave.

Grapple wanted a breakdown of the Nemesis's structural issues and a list of supplies needed for repairs, a request he had cc'd to both Starscream and Wheeljack. Starscream had responded to that request by forwarding it to the Constructicons, adding to the Constructicons, "I don't care which faction you decide to ally with, just answer his questions. We need to make the Nemesis flight worthy again and neither side will benefit if it rusts to pieces under our feet."

Jazz had sent him notification that both his and Frenzy's security clearance had been drastically bumped up; they now had almost unlimited security access. However, for the time being, Red Alert would be monitoring what they accessed to make sure it was need-to-know. Jazz added, to both he and Frenzy, "Don't abuse it. Also, hurt Ratchet and you will regret it."

Frenzy had already replied, in Cybertronian. Soundwave couldn't read the glyphs and suspected he wasn't supposed to, but he knew instinctively that Frenzy's reply to Jazz had been (A) rude and (B) a reminder that he'd never had a problem accessing classified information, with or without a security clearance.

Jazz replied back in English, "Yes, but it means you can sparkfrag Jaws and not get him in trouble, so be nice."

Frenzy had shot back a reply that was all glyphs, and likely profane. Soundwave, reasonably sure that Jazz and Frenzy were a match made in the Well (or possibly the Pit, but in either case, a perfect match) simply sipped his morning energon.

"Good morning," Steeljaw said, from Soundwave's open office door. The cat padded through it, then easily leaped up onto Soundwave's desk. "I heard the news from Frenzy. Congratulations."

"News, classified."

"Yeah, I figured. I won't tell anyone. You and Ratchet made Frenzy really happy, you know."

Soundwave absently reached out to stroke Steeljaw's head. "Many people, happy."

"Including you." Steeljaw rested his head against Soundwave's fingers briefly. "I've got to report for my shift, but I just wanted to stop in and tell you how happy I am for you."

After Steeljaw had left, Soundwave turned his focus to the queue of messages and requests. Most were very mundane; it seemed the bulk of his job would be administrative. This suited him perfectly well. After a quick check with Prime on the exact parameters of his authority, he authorized the transfer of forty-five standard cubes of solar energon to Starscream, along with four tons of of armor grade duryllium and an assortment of medical supplies.

Grapple protested, in an all-caps email that Soundwave struggled to decipher. He relied on visual recognition of words, and the capitalization of every letter rendered the words unrecognizable. A few minutes after Grapple's angry email, Ratchet sent him a "translation" with proper capitalization - and CC'd him on a reprimanding email to Grapple, which reminded him both of Soundwave's limitations and Soundwave's new authority as the point of contact between Decepticons and Autobots.

A few moments after that, Ratchet appeared in his doorway. Soundwave, who felt like he'd gotten very little done, reacted with a flare of irritation at the interruption. Ratchet clearly felt the emotion, because Soundwave caught a very strong response from his new bondmate - concern, annoyance, and a trace of uncertainty at the perceived rejection, which quickly flared into just a tiny bit of anger.

"I can come back later," Ratchet grunted, but he sounded hurt.

Soundwave, far more experienced with bonds than Ratchet, rose, walked past Ratchet, crossed the room, and shut and locked the door with a swipe of his fingers over the touch-sensitive panel. Nothing was more important than soothing Ratchet's sudden upset.

"Not upset at your presence," Soundwave explained. "Bonds show ... emotion ... but not always context. Ratchet, always welcome, always loved. Work, slow, due to my damage. Reaction, simple frustration at any delay. Not a rejection of you."

Ratchet huffed. "I'm not hurt. I'm a big bot. I've got work to do too."

Soundwave caught Ratchet's arm, bent over, and kissed him gently on his helm. "Not rejecting you. Never. Soundwave, however, mortal. Irritation at interruption, normal. Even if cause of interruption is bondmate."

"I imagine I'll throw a few emotions your way you'd rather not feel," Ratchet allowed, finally, with another huff. "It's just so new. I can feel you. Constantly."

"Good or bad?" Soundwave could only feel confusion coming from Ratchet. He asked the question in an attempt to get Ratchet to clarify his own feelings.

"Different." Ratchet rested his helm against Soundwave's shoulder. "This is going to take some getting used to. I've always been alone in my head."

Soundwave admitted, "I was not twenty vorns, bonded with Ravage."

Ratchet jerked his head back, looking up at Soundwave's visored features. "I heard Killa say something about that. You were a minor?"

"Almost adult. Close enough." Soundwave felt the outraged shock spreading through Ratchet's spark, and smiled. He let Ratchet feel his amusement; everyone reacted that way, even other carriers, but Soundwave had never regretted his bond with the ancient cybercat. "It was a good bonding. You, I, the same. Good bonding. We will be fine."

Ratchet settled. "You were happy with him."

"Affirmative. Very. Will be happy with Ratchet, also."

"Yeah." Ratchet agreed. "How much work do you have to do?"

"Enough administrative work busy all day."

"Figures. My med bay's full of Decepticon casualties."

"Contact me, if assistance needed."

"No, I want you to get your work done on time." Ratchet looked up at him, normally hard optics softening. "We will be together tonight."

Soundwave found himself busy the entire day, and welcomed the work - despite a quiet longing to curl into his new bondmate's arms and just luxuriate in the presence of that strong, assertive spark that was now a part of his very being.

However, he was being useful, and that was important too.

The Decepticons, it turned out, still feared him. His status as damaged wasn't yet widely known among the troops, and all it took was his image on a vid screen and Frenzy's accurate imitation of his Cybertronian voice, and Starscream's troops were instantly on their best behavior.

Frenzy, out of sight of the vid screen's pickup, finished a terse order to Six Shot to submit to repairs with Ratchet, then grinned when the screen went blank. "Daaayum. I want to hack the med bay's security feed. That's gonna be like the immovable object meets the unstoppable force."

Unconcerned, Soundwave said, "Six Shot, will behave."

"He's not loyal to Starscream," Frenzy fidgeted a bit at his desk. "He just hates Astrotrain more."

"Six Shot, not stupid. Enjoys fighting. Enjoys winning, more. Has injuries. Will not damage only medic qualified to work on him."


"Prime, told him already that he will be outcast, no fuel, no weapons, no repairs, if he causes any trouble with Autobots. Six Shot, understands parameters surrounding repairs. Also, respects Prime."

"That's true."

Soundwave added, "Ratchet, able to defend self."

"That's also true. How many times did we try to assassinate him?"

"Nine." Soundwave recalled, with no trace of guilt. It had been war, after all. What had happened then had no bearing on now. Also, Ratchet was quite smugly proud of his ability to survive attempts on his life. Six Shot had been the assassin on one of those attempts, and Ratchet had managed to destroy Six Shot's t-cog with an incredibly accurate strike with a laser scalpel. Six Shot had been lucky to survive that encounter, and viewed Ratchet with an extremely healthy degree of respect.

"Still want surveillance video."

Soundwave said, firmly, "Other tasks, more important. Hacking video, not allowed."

"Yeah, yeah." Frenzy turned to his pile of paperwork. He scowled. "Hook's asking for a plasma welder. For the Nemesis."

"Forward request, Wheeljack. Welding equipment on Nemesis, inferior, poor condition. Fair request."

"You know the 'Cons could take all this stuff we're giving them and then turn against us."

"Starscream, will not." Soundwave was confident of that. "Starscream, desires power. Greatest power at Prime's side."

"Think the 'structicons will go back to Starscream?"

"Prime has asked them to return to the Nemesis. Needed more, Nemesis than Ark. Starscream, agreed, with assurances of safety, better quarters, wages in US dollars."

"Heh. He bribed 'em back."

"Affirmative." Soundwave reached out absently to stroke Frenzy's head. It felt so good to sit and work with his symbiont.

A knock sounded at the door, at barely knee height to the tall carrier. Frenzy, who'd apparently received a comm, said, "It's Killa."

Frenzy opened the door with a quick transmission and the taller mechling padded in. "Hey, Prime said to see if you two need help."

Soundwave reached down and picked Killaglitch up. His old friend nestled trustingly into his lap in a way that Frenzy never would have considered. It had been so many eons, yet he still remembered being a child and curling up, alone and scared, with a much younger Killa. "Frenzy, could use assistance with inventory and verification of today's deliveries from human vendors. Once completed, shift done."

Killaglitch leaned back against Soundwave's solid chassis for a moment, relaxing. "Damn, I've missed you, big guy. - Hey, Bumblebee and Daniel Witwicky have invited me into town for a movie. Frenzy, maybe you and that cybercat of yours could come along?"

Frenzy hesitated. "I don't know, Killa."

"Bee and Daniel seem friendly enough." Killaglitch, missing eons of context, said with some confusion.

"To you." Frenzy frowned at his monitor. "I tried to kill Daniel once."

"What? Why!?" Killaglitch demanded, shocked.

"War," Soundwave said, simply. He boosted Killaglitch up onto the edge of his desk and said seriously, "Many things, difficult. Including friendships between factions."

"I like Daniel." Killaglitch sighed. "I didn't realize ..." he trailed off.

"I like him too," Frenzy admitted, in a small voice. "Maybe ... maybe if I asked his mom? If she okay'd it? And if Steeljaw and Bee are along. Maybe she'd be okay with it."

"Permission, granted." Soundwave nodded. Once, not too long ago, Frenzy would have simply done as he wished, with a snicker and a sneer at anyone who stood in his way. He'd changed so much in such a short period of time.

"That's a good idea, though the human is legally an adult." Killaglitch said. "He said he was fine with you coming."

"I'll go talk to her now," Frenzy said, to Soundwave, then added to Killaglitch, "Yeah, Daniel's an adult, but have you met his mom? She's kinda cool with me but, umm ... yeah, I want to talk to her first."

Carly Witwicky peered through a jeweler's loupe at a badly charred tangle of circuitry. She found herself missing Soundwave's infinite patience - fixing mangled circuits had been the sort of task they'd assigned to him before Prime had drafted him for administrative work. "Ratch, you think I could swap with Soundwave? I'll be happy to push paperwork all day if it means I don't need to repair even one more optic array ..."

Ratchet's grunt of amusement made her smile back. Ratchet had been hunched over his tool bench for most of the afternoon, rebuilding Six Shot's transformation circuits. Personally, she thought they should just leave the menacing monster stuck in quadrupedal mode for the rest of his existence, but Prime had insisted they repair him fully. He'd tangled with most of Astrotrain's forces, and had come away with fried circuits and his face plates half melted away. Apparently, he'd done far worse to the rebels.

Six Shot lay on his chest on a berth, staring flatly at Ratchet with his one functioning optic.

The door slid open. Six Shot's head jerked swiftly in the direction of the door, and he half rose. His capacitors whined to life as battle routines fired.

"Hey, Sixer, it's just me." Frenzy padded through. He gave the six changer a very nervous smile.

"The traitor."

"Annnnnd ... look who's taking up a berth in the Autobot med bay." Frenzy shot back, though Carly noted he didn't do so until he was standing in Ratchet's literal shadow.

"Only until I can slay those who betrayed Megatron." Carly wondered if that was veiled threat at Frenzy.

If it was, however, it seemed to go over Frenzy's head. The little symbiont said cheerfully, "Not like you to get injured. What'd you do, have a bad day?"

"Astrotrain used a thermonuclear device in lunar orbit." Ratchet soldered a nerve wire into place. "There's not a lot that will damage a six changer, but that did it."

"Still managed to get back under my own power." Six Shot snapped.

"Umm, yeah." Frenzy regarded Six Shot for a long moment. "Anyway, I'm sure the docbot will have you up and killing things real soon now."

"That I will." Ratchet grunted. "Six Shot's scaring all my usual customers away."

"I'm good at that." Six Shot smirked.

"Something I can do for you, kid?" Ratchet glanced down at Frenzy. "Otherwise, I can put you to work ..."

"No, no, my shift's over!" Frenzy held his hands up defensively. "Actually, I just wanna talk to Carly so she doesn't go all mama-bear on me."

Carly, suspiciously, said, "What did you do?"

"Nothing!" Frenzy exclaimed defensively. "And I want to keep it nothing. Slag it, woman, I'm on your side now!"

Six Shot rumbled on his berth.

Ratchet growled something threatening, but not quite fully audible.

The six changer subsided, with a low glower at the medic.

"What?" Carly said.

"Just ... well, I guess Daniel'n Bee n' Killaglitch are going to the movies, and they asked if me'n Steeljaw wanted to come. And before I said yes I wanted to make sure it was okay with you. Because I know you don't have any reason to trust me, and I didn't want you to worry, because I won't hurt your son, and ..."

She stared at the symbiont. He was a few inches taller than she was, but he seemed smaller somehow, in this moment. His optics were fiercely bright and his expression intensely earnest. However, as she looked at him, he crossed his arms over his chest and halfway turned away. "Or not. I unnnerstand if ya don't trust me yet. I got a lot of proving to do ... but I promise, I just want to be friends with everyone. I'm tired of fighting. And I like your son. He's cool. Pit, I even like you, woman."

Ratchet said softly, "He's telling the truth, Carly. He just wants to be friends. And ... he needs friends."

"I think my brain is going to explode."

"Do not get brain matter on my plating," Sixshot said, recoiling.

They ignored him.

Carly slipped off her stool and approached the symbiont. Frenzy looked like he wanted to run away, but he held his ground. At close range, she could hear his capacitors whining with stress. His jaw was tense.

"I can't speak for everyone," Carly said, with a smile, "but I can say for me, welcome to the team, Frenzy. C'mere."

Frenzy squawked when she hugged him, a startled blat of static. He smelled of solvent and soap, the faint tang of energon, hot metal, and grease. He was rigid for the first second, then to her surprise, melted and hugged her back. His optics were a new kind of bright when he stepped back. "Umm. Thank you."

"Uh-huh. Steeljaw's been my friend since I was a teenager. Any friend of his is a friend of mine." She swallowed down her nervousness at the thought of this friend hanging out with her precious son. Between Steeljaw and Bee, Frenzy wouldn't stand a chance of hurting Daniel. She was actually a little more worried about Killaglitch, who was a total unknown factor, than Frenzy. Frenzy had been nothing but polite and (relatively) respectful since his arrival at the Ark.

Six Shot made a disgusted noise, and was completely ignored.

"Th-thank you, Mrs. Witwicky." Frenzy rested a hand on her arm. "I ... thank you for trusting me."

"Mmhmm. Now scram, before Six Shot's fuel lines get all plugged up from the sweetness of the moment." She gave him a little shove in the direction of the door.

He saluted her then headed out at a trot. As soon as the doors slid shut, Ratchet said, "Carly, thank you. Frenzy won't disappoint you."

Six Shot's growl of revulsion was a little louder.

Hands on her hips, Carly addressed the six changer. "You know, you too could have friends like that. All it would take would be a complete personality transplant ..."

Six Shot leveled a one-eyed look at her. "Are you aware how quickly I could flatten you into grease on the floor?"

In exactly the same tone of voice, Ratchet said, "Are you aware Starscream gave me your kill codes?"

Carly waved her hand dismissively. "He doesn't scare me. He's repulsed by squishies. He wouldn't flatten me, he'd get blood on his armor."

Ratchet snorted. "Actually, I think he's made of sterner stuff than most 'cons. You should meet his friends. Which he does have, by the way."

Six Shot gave the medic a sharp look.

"What? I've got the security clearance to read your file." Ratchet smirked at him.

Six Shot grunted again and put his head down on his paws, clearly lacking any desire for further discussion.

A few days later, Soundwave entered his office to find that Grapple and Killaglitch were constructing a second desk. Soundwave regarded them for a moment - Grapple was ignoring him, and Killa greeted him with a bright and cheery wave.

"Query: Objective of second desk?"

"Oh, aren't you a fountain of good manners." Grapple didn't even look at him. "Not good morning. Not thank you for building me a chair that fits perfectly. Not even how are you doing. Just, 'What are you doing?'"

Killaglitch rolled his optics behind Grapple's back, and also shrugged. Clearly, he didn't know what was up.

"Query remains," Soundwave snapped, irritated at the surly architect. "Answer please."

"Well, if you must know, it's Prowl's orders. Apparently," this was said with a sneer, "you don't rate an office all your own."

Soundwave considered sending a text message to Prowl, but it was early, and the officer was not on duty yet. Technically, neither was Soundwave, but he had a pitload of administrative paperwork to wade through before a meeting in the afternoon with Thundercracker (who was settling into a role as Starscream's de facto second in command), Jazz, Wheeljack, and the Constructicons.

He simply said, "Soundwave, retrieving energon. Have you fueled yet?"

"Like I'd take fuel from you," Grapple snapped.

"Oh, chill, man." Steeljaw padded through the open doorway. "If Soundwave wanted you dead, I'm sure he could figure out half a dozen ways less traceable than poisoning your energon. Decepticon spymaster, remember?"

Killaglich, who had been staring in open-mouthed shock at Grapple, now snickered.

"Soundwave, does not desire Grapple dead," Soundwave said, stiffly.

Steeljaw affectionately stropped the length of his body against Soundwave's calf as he passed, a full-body caress of support. The cybercat said, as he leaped effortlessly onto Soundwave's desk, "Really? Because I think every Autobot on earth has wanted to kill Grapple at one point or another. Don't let him get to you, Soundwave. - And if you're going to the rec, I'll take some plain midgrade. I haven't fueled yet."

"Me too," Killaglitch said, after a long stare at the architect who was his assigned supervisor. His optics were narrowed with obvious dislike.

Soundwave touched Killaglitch on the arm, drawing his attention. He texted the symbiont's comm unit with the brief message, "No trouble with Grapple, please."

Killaglitch gave him a short nod of acknowledgement, but the symbiont's jaw was still tight with anger. Soundwave patted him on the back, stroked Steeljaw's head once without a second thought, and then went to get the energon.

The halls were almost empty as the graveyard shift hadn't yet changed over to morning. When he reached the rec room, he walked across it with the energon dispenser as his sole goal. The rec was empty aside from a gaggle of mecha fueling rapidly before an early patrol. They were all minibots, and not, he thought, a threat. He ignored them.

He was tired, but it was honest exhaustion that came from a necessary lack of recharge. He was pleased that the Autobots were putting him to work. It felt so good to be useful, and to make a difference.

Last night he had joined a command-staff meeting with Prime, the Autobot ranking officers, and Starscream. The meeting had run very late, and neither he nor Ratchet had possessed the energy to do more than collapse as soon as they'd gotten to their quarters. Still, he'd slipped into recharge with a deep sense of contentment in his spark, while spooned around Ratchet.

He filled two cubes of energon - one for himself and one for Killa, Steeljaw, and Frenzy to share - and turned back to the door. Momentarily, he was focused entirely on staying upright with his cane in one hand and two stacked cubes of energon balanced on the palm of the other, and he focused his vision on his HUD's attitude displays. Though it appeared to outsiders that his coordination had improved, his vertigo was still very bad. It took concentration to move with any degree of grace.

Flame red and orange filled his visor's vision. He blinked, shifting his focus from the HUD to the mech standing directly in front of him. When the identity of the Autobot registered, he tensed - and dropped the energon cubes. The Autobot soldier grabbed both cubes before they could hit the floor, one in each hand, and Soundwave lifted his cane defensively at the sudden movement.

Wide blue optics stared up at him. Hot Rod clutched at the cubes, nearly as off-balance as Soundwave. The mech's blue eyes shifted to the cane and he remained frozen in alarm. Their last encounter had not gone well, and Soundwave wasn't about to let the Autobot have a second chance at him.

"I would probably deserve it if you hit me with that thing." Hot Rod - slowly - stood up. "Uh, how much damage can you do with a piece of angle iron, anyway?"

"Considerable," Soundwave assured the young soldier. Hot Rod's armor was flashy but relatively thin, and Soundwave had already assessed his weak points.

Hot Rod subspaced the cubes, and then sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "I'll bet. Look, I didn't mean to startle you. Prowl said I'm supposed to help you out. Like, until he says otherwise. I'm supposed to be your assistant, chauffeur, bodyguard, whatever. Didn't he say anything to you?"

"No." And that, Soundwave suspected, was probably deliberate. The Autobot officers seemed to have a policy of trust-but-verify when it came to him and Frenzy. He was almost certainly being watched on the monitors by Prowl or Jazz, and his actions in this encounter dissected and discussed. They were still trying to verify he wasn't evil, and unexpectedly throwing him together with a potentially hostile Autobot was exactly like something Jazz would think up.

Impatiently, he sent a quick text message to Prowl. It was still early, but the tactician was known for rising early and working late. "Query: Hot Rod assigned as assistant?"

"Affirmative. And thank you for not hitting him." Prowl's response was so swift it was clear he had not been recharging.

"You are welcome." He turned his attention back to Hot Rod, who was studying him suspiciously - it had taken a few moments to exchange texts with Prowl.

"You're not glitching, are you?" Hot Rod said. Apparently, his silence had stretched on too long.

"No. Methods of communication, very slow. Verifying orders with Prowl. Obtain cube for yourself." He gestured at the dispenser.

"Are you going to drink two by yourself?" Hot Rod asked, curiously.

"One is for symbionts."

"Oh." Hot Rod subspaced the third cube after quickly filling it. "Why didn't ya send them to get your fuel? Aren't they your servants?"

"Frenzy, my bonded symbiont. Not servant." He corrected, with a strictly internal sigh. "Frenzy, busy at moment with Skyfire. Steeljaw, Blaster's symbiont. Assisting me with communication difficulties and with technical issues with Decepticon housing. Steeljaw, was architect on Cybertron long ago. Killaglitch, unattached symbiont. Friend. Assigned to Grapple. Killa is building extra desk in my office this morning."

And now he knew why Grapple had come by to add another desk to his office. There was room for it, but the surly mech had simply informed him it was Prowl's orders when he'd asked why they were adding a desk. Grapple had certainly known who the desk was for, as he would have needed Hot Rod's dimensions to make it ergonomically correct. The mech could have mentioned that sometime between the command meeting last night and this morning, Prowl had decided he needed an assistant.


"Come." Soundwave headed for his office. Now that he was headed in a straight line, he was easily able to move at a pace that kept Hot Rod hurrying to keep up. The mech wasn't a minibot, but he was a few feet shorter than Ratchet.

He sent a message to Prowl, suspicious that the mech was still awake, rather than rising early. :Thank you for assistant. You recharge any?:

Prowl's response was, :Recharge is for the weak.:

:I, tell Ratchet you said that.: Ratchet grumbled about Prowl's recharge habits on a regular basis.

:You, my friend, are scary.:

:This, known.:

:And for the record, Jazz is covering for me while I catch some recharge this morning. The situation's so chaotic that one of us needs to be awake at all times.:

He was finding that Prowl's sense of humor was compatible with his own. He smiled briefly behind his mask. He'd had very few friends in his life, but it seemed like the tactician might become one.

"Umm." Hot Rod said, after they left the rec and descended the ramp down into the fortified tunnels. "You're too quiet! You're not still mad at me about the thing that happened between us, right? Prowl said you'd be okay and he wants me to work with you as punishment because I screwed up."

"Harm Frenzy," Soundwave assured him, "I will harm you."

"Uh, right. You go all Mama Bear if anyone touches your symbionts. Got that. Really got that. But you gonna be okay with me?"

"My actions, dependent on your behavior." Soundwave said, then decided he should probably give the kid a break. "I am capable of forgiveness. I do not forget."

"Ah, okay. Fair enough." Hot Rod fell silent for a brief moment, but the quiet didn't last. "So, umm, is it true what they're saying? That you and the doc are an item?"

"Ratchet and I are lovers, yes." They had decided they couldn't hide their affection for one another, but their status as bondmates was classified information.

"Wow. That's ... wow."

"This surprises you, why?"

"I guess ... it's Ratchet. He's like, um, scary."

"Yes," Soundwave agreed. "He is skilled. Nine assassination attempts planned by myself. He survived all. I am grateful for that. Also, impressed."

"I kinda meant his temper."

"I am not afraid of his temper."

"He throws things."

"Soundwave, possesses sturdy armor."

Hot Rod barked a surprised laugh, then sobered and peered at Soundwave. "Was that meant to be a joke? Because that sure sounded like a joke."

Soundwave, who had been joking, replied, "Soundwave, not known for a sense of humor."

"Damn. And here I thought you might actually be cool."

"Soundwave's normal average core temperature averages 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit below typical Cybetronian average due to small power plant to size ratio," he said.

"Umm, actually I meant ..." Hot Rod stopped, and stared suspiciously at Soundwave. "You're giving me shit. I think."

"I do not possess any organic excrement."

Hot Rod laughed now, finally certain that Soundwave was joking. "Right, Spock-bot."He visibly relaxed and walked more easily at Soundwave's side.

Soundwave, who had been studying the way that the Autobots interacted with one another for weeks, felt a thrill of triumph. Perhaps it would be possible to fit in among at least some of these mecha. He knew he had security as Ratchet's bondmate and a friend of the Prime, but to be part of the Autobots ... to be one of them ... it would be a very good feeling.

As they entered Soundwave's office, Killaglitch looked up from attaching cables to a monitor on Hot Rod's desk. He smiled brightly. Despite the age that marked his features and the scarring and wear to his armor, Killa still seemed to be the bright, optimistic mechling that Soundwave had always known. Killa was a reminder of a time when Soundwave had been part of a clan, when he had known his place and had the security of knowing he was loved by at least most of the people around him.

Soundwave nodded a greeting back, regretting his blast mask. He couldn't return Killa's smile. It had served its purpose among the Decepticons, but was a liability now.

He remembered Hot Rod's uncertainty, and sighed. He needed to change his behavior, and indeed the very essence of how he presented himself to the world, in order to fit in here. The mask hid his expression, and that had served to keep him a dangerous mystery among Decepticons. But now he needed to be something else - not a mystery, but to these mechs, a comrade.

Decision made, he retracted the blast mask, baring his face to the world. It slid into the sides of his helm with a soft click of metal sliding past metal. Only Steeljaw looked up at the sound, and his optics narrowed in surprised consideration.

Soundwave, attempting to appear casual, booted his terminal and, while his notes for the day loaded, also turned on the sound system. The rich, vibrant notes of a golden age ballad immediately filled the room.

"Eww, old-mech music!" Hot Rod protested.

"Get used to it, Flame-butt," Frenzy advised him. "Soundwave is an old mech."

"Yabut, he's not that old." Hot Rod scowled at Frenzy. "That's like from Nova Prime's time."

"Older than Nova." Soundwave said. "Your music preference?"

"Not. That."

Frenzy hopped down from his wall-mounted desk, walked across Soundwave's, and said, "With your permission, boss?"


Frenzy fiddled with the sound system for a moment, creating a play list of modern earth music. Very quickly, classic rock and roll was pouring out of the speakers. The music was lively, and everyone else in the room seemed to be pleased with Frenzy's choice. Soundwave nodded. "That is acceptable."

"That works," Hot Rod said, sounding surprised.

Soundwave forced a smile to his face. It felt faked, but Hot Rod answered it with a quick, and almost shy, smile back. "So," the young mech said, "what do you want me to do?"

Frenzy, after a quick look at Soundwave, grabbed a datapad from a pile on the Soundwave's desk and transmitted the contents to Hot Rod's terminal with several swift taps of the controls. "These are the supplies we need for the Nemesis's structural repairs, and these are a list of potential suppliers. Start making some phone calls and get some quotes. I need to get back to engineering."

"Uhh ..." Hot Rod blinked, clearly unsure if he should be taking orders from Frenzy, of all mechs.

Steeljaw said, "You do know how to connect to the human phone network via your comm, correct?"

"... right." Hot Rod sighed. "... Yep, I'll get right on this."

Clearly, he was not a mech who liked to sit still. Soundwave smiled briefly. Neither was Frenzy, though Frenzy was willing to do desk work when needed. Hot Rod was both younger and less disciplined. He reminded Soundwave a great deal of Frenzy when he had been a high-spirited youngling.

He sent Steeljaw a quick text message. "Frenzy and Hot Rod, potential conflict."

"Yep, I'll run interference." Steeljaw stretched out his long frame on Soundwave's desk, pushing aside a few stray datapads. "Don't worry. Roddy will behave himself, as long as Frenzy does."

"Frenzy will behave."

"Yeah." Steeljaw rolled onto his chest. "Soundwave's, Frenzy's really doing a lot better. He likes Killa, too - that's a good mech. You planning to court him? It would be good for Frenzy to have some siblings again."

"Undecided, regarding Killaglitch."

"Mmm. He's still sizing you up too. But you two are sympatico, my friend."


"Hmm." Frenzy studied the schematic of the Nemesis's port engine. "Wheeljack, I think I can fit through this vent here ..." he tapped an air conduit indicated on the design, "and fish the replacement electrical lines into the reaction chamber by hand once I'm in the engine."

Wheeljack gave him a skeptical look. "Your frame can't handle the compression values at the Nemesis's current depth. Your spark chamber would crush like a grape."

"Lovely image." Frenzy gave the engineer a scowling look back. "Do you have another suggestion? Because I think lifting the Nemesis to shallower water would be easier than completely dismantling that engine just to rewire it."

"He does have a point," Skyfire said, with a chuckle. "Once we finish the structural repairs, the ship's integrity should be good enough to allow us to tow it into shallow water, or even onto shore. That would certainly make repairs easier."

"Point." Wheeljack agreed, easily enough. "And if we can get the Nemesis into a dry dock somewhere, we could have several of you little guys get in and clean the worm tubes out of the generator outlets, too."

The Nemesis's onboard generators created tremendous amounts of heat, and the vents had become clogged with native deep-water fauna that normally colonized hydrothermal vents. The entire ship was crusted with native organic life, but the warm areas were definitely the worst. Frenzy rolled his eyes. "Yeah, Megatron used to send the Stunticons in as far as they could get for cleaning. Their force fields could handle the pressure. They weren't very thorough, though, and they couldn't reach into the smaller spaces."

"My circuits just glitched," Wheeljack said, dryly, "at the thought of Wildrider chipping worm tubes off fan blades."

"It was a punishment detail," Frenzy explained. "Fortunately, the Stunties got lots of punishment details. Those worms grow damned quick."

"Did he actually have the attention span?" Wheeljack asked, incredulously.

"Eh. If he didn't do it right, some officer just smacked him a couple of times and then sent him back out again."

Both Autobots chuckled. Wheeljack said wryly, "Now there's a solution to discipline we never considered ..."

"Hey, big boss." Frenzy trotted into Prime's office with a cube of energon in his arms. "Ratch said to bring you this."

Optimus looked over the edge of his desk, then reached down for the fuel. "Thank you, Frenzy."

"Welcome. Need anything else?"

Optimus smiled kindly. "No, though I do want to compliment you on the reports I am hearing from my staff. You have made yourself quite useful."

Frenzy felt a thrill of pride surge through his spark. He grinned broadly. "Thanks, sir."

"How are you doing?" Optimus asked, sounding genuinely interested. "I know Ratchet can be difficult to get along with. If you have any issues ..."

"Ah, Ratch is fine." Frenzy scrambled up onto a chair, then onto Optimus's desk. "He's a good mech."

"That he is." Optimus nodded. "Still, if anything comes up ..."

"I'll be fine."

"Mm. How did your movie with Bumblebee and Daniel go?"

"You know about that?"

"Carly told me." Optimus's smile was kindly.

"Oh. Did she want us tailed or something?"

"No, she merely mentioned it in passing conversation. I would not have authorized surveillance, in any case, even had she asked. I don't believe there is any need."

"Oh. Thanks. Umm. It went well. The movie was lame, but the company was good. We went out for a hike in the desert after the movie. That was kinda fun."

"That is good to hear. Are you having any problems with any other mecha?"

"Hazing, you mean?" Frenzy smirked. "Boss bot, I can give as good as I get."

"I have no doubt." Optimus's smile was genuine. "However, if you do experience any trouble that you can't handle, please let me or Ratchet know."

"Gotcha." Frenzy, a veteran of Decepticon pranking, highly doubted there was anything that the Autobots could do that would make him tattle to the Prime. "Hey, would you mind if I went shopping at a mall or something?"

Optimus blinked. "My only objection is that your presence might create an unwarranted fuss."

"I'll bet. Bee should be able to fit through the doors and the humans know and trust him, right?"

"For the most part, yes. What did you have in mind?"

"Spending some of my salary." Frenzy shrugged. "Seriously, that's all. There's a comic book store at the Clearpark Mall I've always wanted to check out. Figured I'd take Steeljaw and maybe Eject and Sandflower with me, and Bee, of course, if he'll drive us."

"Then go, and with my blessings. - Frenzy, one of my dearest goals is to integrate our people with humanity. What you propose is exactly the sort of activity that will assist in desensitizing humans to our presence. And, particularly, yours."

"Pit, I'm not trying to be a hero or anything. Just wanted to get a couple graphic novels. I like the art." He shifted from foot to foot for a second. He wasn't exactly keen on hanging out with squishies (though Daniel was surprisingly tolerable) but he'd found a few things he wanted to purchase. "There's an art supply store in the mall I might go by too. Kinda want to get some markers. And paper. I want to feel it before I buy it. It's expensive."

Optimus nodded. "Just remember that you are representing all of our people. Hero or not, they will judge us all by your behavior."

"Yeah, yeah, I won't squish the squishies."

"Please take Daniel with you, as well." Optimus said, after a moment's thought. "Not because I do not trust you, but because it will make the humans more comfortable if you have another human with you."

Music pounded from Blaster's quarters as Frenzy approached. The door, now keyed to his biosigns, slid open at his approach and revealed a scene that made Frenzy smile.

Blaster was seated on his couch, clapping his hands and playing a lively dance beat. Sandflower and Ramhorn were bouncing in time to the music. Sandflower seemed to have a good grasp of rhythm and she was trying to guide Ramhorn into some dance steps that the four-legged cyber-rhino just couldn't quite get. Ramhorn was not noted for his coordination.

Steeljaw was sprawled lazily on the couch beside Blaster, chin on Blaster's knee. Eject was pounding a counter tempo to the beat on Steeljaw's flank; Steeljaw tolerated being used as a drum set by his young sibling with benign indifference. Bumblebee, seated crosslegged on the floor, was bobbing his head and grinning.

"C'mon, Bee, your turn!" Sandflower turned to the much taller minibot and grabbed his hand. He squawked a blat of static in protest, but she ignored that, and pulled him to his feet. Frenzy watched, grinning, as the youngling femme convinced Bumblebee to dance with her. The top of her head only came up to his thigh, but they made it work for a moment before Eject jumped up and cut in.

Frenzy, amused, hopped up onto the couch beside Steeljaw. :Courting?:

:The kid? Nah. She's too young. Anyway, Blaster doesn't want to add any more to the family, and I tend to agree. She's just a lot of fun. And you should hear her sing - she's got a voice like an angel.:

:Should I be jealous?:

Steeljaw smirked at him. :I dunno. Can you sing?:

:Only if you want your audio sensors damaged.:

Steeljaw reached a paw out and half-wrestled Frenzy into a playful embrace. Frenzy shrieked a startled protest, disrupting the music, and Blaster gave them an indulgent smile. "You all had better hurry if you want to get to the mall with time to shop."

"Yeah, he's right." Bumblebee rose. "We should get going."

Daniel claimed the driver's seat with a whoop, leaving the rest of them to jostle for position. Sandflower, smaller and faster, darted under Frenzy's arm to grab shotgun. That left Frenzy and Steeljaw the VW Bug's back seat - which was not an arrangement that Frenzy exactly objected to.

Then Eject launched himself over Steeljaw's large frame and claimed the middle back seat. He decisively buckled the seatbelt around his narrow waist.

Frenzy and Steeljaw both glared at the younger mechling who had seated himself between them.

"What?" Eject said, "I'm just keeping you from giving the kid an education she's not ready for yet."

"Hey!" Sandflower protested from the seat. "I do, in fact, know how tab A fits in slot B."

"Who said I was talking about you?" Eject said, smugly. "How old are you, Bee?"

"Watch it, shorty." Bumblebee responded, as they left the base behind.

Eject bounced in his seat exuberantly. "Hey, did any of you catch the Dodgers game last night?"

"No," Frenzy said, firmly.

"What about that the golf game ..."

"No." Everyone in the car chorused.

"Nobody loves me," Eject said, in a mock-pitiful voice.

"Yeah, everybody hates you, so go eat worms," Frenzy elbowed him. Eject whacked him back. A playful wrestling match, limited by the constraints of their seatbelts, erupted in the back seat.

"Hey, hey, you guys better tone it down or I'm pulling this car over right now," Bee said.

Daniel and the Autobots cracked up. Frenzy, not quite getting the context, laughed a little hesitantly.

Steeljaw explained, :Perfect imitation of Daniel's mom.:


"Mercy, mercy, I'll behave!" Eject held his hands up in submission.

The good-natured rowdiness continued all the way to the mall. Frenzy, mindful of Optimus's admonition to behave, said as they pulled into the parking lot, "We probably should tone it down in public. Set a good example and all that."

"Errm." Daniel twisted around in the seat and stared at him. "Can't believe I just heard that from you, Frenzy."

"Hey." Frenzy protested. "I'm not stupid."

"He is right," Steeljaw said, tone a bit reluctant. In the same sober, dejected tone, he suggested, "Eject, maybe that means we should leave you outside."

Whatever Eject said to Steeljaw across their sibling bond made the cybercat laugh openly and sling a paw around Eject's shoulder in a playful hug before they climbed out of Bee.

All of them were still chuckling, and in a good mood, as they approached the mall entrance. As Optimus had predicted, their presence drew stares. A few daring individuals even ran up to ask for autographs once they saw the Autobot sigils on the majority of the mechs. Bee knelt beside the symbionts for a moment as they indulged the crowd. Fortunately, there were very few shoppers about, and fewer who were bold enough to approach the (slightly less than giant) group of alien robots - the city had recently been torn apart by a war between Decepticon factions, and things were far from normal for the humans.

Bumblebee crouched and crawled on his hands and knees through the mall entrance, then was followed by the symbionts. A veteran of interacting with humans in human environments, he paused to attach rubber-soled treads to the bottom of his metal feet to prevent damaged to the tile floor, then straightened up. He had plenty of head room inside.

The symbionts, smaller and lighter, scurried ahead of him. Only Frenzy held back, feeling suddenly intimidated.

"Are you okay?" Bee asked, voice kindly. He casually rested a hand on Frenzy's shoulder, and bent over a bit so he could look Frenzy in the optics.

"It's ..." Frenzy paused, and shook his head as if to rattle his disorganized thoughts into coherency. "Bumblebee, our people are at war. And we're going shopping."

"And life goes on," Bumblebee observed. "On Cybertron, when the war began ... the officers made sure we always had leave. It should be the same here. All of us need leave to get away from the fighting. Optimus makes sure we have time to be normal, to interact with civilians, to leave the fighting behind for a little while. Also, it's good for the humans to see Cybertronians that aren't a threat. I've tried really hard myself to make friends with a lot of humans."

"Megatron never let us leave base. Ever. For, uh, obvious reasons. Mecha snuck out or got into trouble on missions, but we weren't supposed to go out without a good reason. No recreation. Not like this."

"For obvious reasons," Bumblebee agreed.

"Though the image is pretty funny ... I can just see the results of Megatron giving some of our warriors shore leave."

Bee snickered. "I can imagine."

Frenzy was surprised by the easy camaraderie he felt with the young scout. They'd been enemies for so long. Now, they were sharing a private joke as if they'd been friends for a very long time. Bee's blue optics were guileless and his grin genuine.

They had a lot in common, Frenzy realized. He and Bee were nearly the same age. Both were spies, scouts, and saboteurs. Bumblebee was small and easily damaged and yet had survived a savage war relatively undamaged ... mostly because he was a far more savage fighter than his appearance would indicate. Frenzy ranked Bumblebee up there with Ratchet, Jazz, Prowl, and Mirage on his short list of mecha he preferred not to tangle with in a fight.

Up ahead, Sandflower and Eject had reached a fountain in the middle of an intersection of several mall corridors. Eject produced a handful of coins from his subspace and gave them to the youngling to throw into the water. Then he said something to her that made her double over with helpless laughter, hands over her face. When she straightened up, she whacked him and he danced back, hands held up in mock defense.

"That would explain a lot about the infighting between you guys. Not being allowed to go outside, I mean." Bumblebee observed, sounding thoughtful. "I'd kill someone if I was stuck in a base with no leave time outside."

"You? Kill someone? Never." Frenzy elbowed him in the thigh with a clunk. "You're the most harmless Autobot ever. I've never, ever, been in fear of my life from you. Not once."

Bumblebee laughed aloud. Frenzy, a bit of a skip in his stride, walked cheerfully beside the minibot.

The comic book store was located in a little-traveled corner of the mall. Bee couldn't easily fit inside, but he sat down on the ground and began to provide autographs and converse with the thin crowd of humans. Many had nervous questions about the war, and the Decepticons, and the recent fighting in California, and Frenzy was glad to flee into the store and avoid that discussion with the squishies.

The Autobots had set him up with a debit card, and he had two months' worth of salary in the account - which was several thousand dollars. He was pleasantly surprised by how far the money would stretch when all his and Soundwave's basic needs were being taken care of by the Autobots, and his main desires were art supplies and comic books. He quickly loaded up on an armload of graphic novels and comic books from varying genres, both ones he was personally interested in and several that Eject and Steeljaw suggested. The Autobots, likewise, picked out generous selections of her own.

Sandflower produced a twenty dollar bill from her subspace, studied it for a moment (Frenzy sensed her accessing the internet, and supposed she was researching how American currency worked) and then, after considerable deliberation, picked out two manga novels.

:She doesn't have much money of her own, I bet,: Steeljaw said, in a very encrypted transmission to Frenzy. :They just got to Earth last week.

:Soundwave slipped her father some cash until he could get work or officially get on the Autobot payroll. And they sold some precious metals and alien art they brought with them - the bosses apparently suggested what sorts of small stuff they could bring to sell for cash. But you're right - they don't have a lot of money, given they're civilian refugees and the plan is for them to integrate with human society.: Frenzy looked down at his thick stack of books, then at the manga that Sandflower was perusing. :Is there an ATM around here?:

:Just around the corner. If you want to get some more cash for her, I'll keep her occupied until you get back.: Steeljaw gave Frenzy a wolfish grin.

:Awesome, thanks.: Frenzy ran a hand down Steeljaw's shoulder, fingers sliding between the chinks of Steeljaw's armor in a casual way that promised more to come later. Steeljaw briefly leaned into his hand, and shot him a much more serious smile.

The group of humans surrounding Bumblebee had grown to about twenty. Bee sat crosslegged on the ground. He was posing for a photograph with two kids in his lap and their father next to his shoulder. Frenzy, glad the humans were distracted, slipped out of the store in search of the ATM.

He found it quickly, resisted the absent thought that he could hack it for all its money in a few moments, and withdrew a hundred bucks. He had ample funds (and then some) in his account. He turned, money in hand, to discover that a pair of humans were heading in his direction. Both were men, burly and powerful.

"Hey!" One called. "You're Frenzy, aren't you?"

"That's my name. How'd you know it?" He snapped, a bit defensively. He just didn't feel comfortable around humans.

"Recognized you from the internet." The man gave him bright grin. "Decepticon, right?"

"I was." He shifted the queue of objects in his subspace around, bringing his spear forward in case he needed to grab it quickly. "Neutral, now."

"Yeah, that's what we heard." The man came closer. He seemed confident, and fearless. "Hey, can I get a photograph with you?"

Bumblebee had been posing with the humans. Frenzy supposed it was expected, though he was very reluctant to let the greasy, squishy, human that close to him. He forced himself agree to it anyway, because he knew Prime would expect it of him, and nodded. "Sure. You want an autograph too?"

"Yeah." The man stepped up next to Frenzy. Frenzy's plating clamped flat, despite his attempt at a friendly tone. He had to be nice to them, but at a spark-deep level he didn't like most humans.

It took Frenzy a bare nanosecond to realize the man's friend didn't have a camera in hand. By then, it was too late. The man slung his arm around Frenzy's shoulders ... and then pressed the blunt, round, cold muzzle of a large handgun to his helm. "Don't move," the man hissed, "don't fight. You might not be alive but I understand a bullet to the brain will still kill you."

At point blank range, Frenzy's armor would be insufficient to completely protect him from the projectile - he recognized a .44 magnum. He considered using his formidable strength in self defense, but the human's reflexes were probably fast enough to pull the trigger before he could move. Besides, he wasn't supposed to hurt the damned squishies. Frightened and confused, he hissed, "What do you want?"

"Walk." The man stepped back, and concealed the gun in the pocket of his jacket. His hand remained on it. "Towards the south exit. Don't contact anyone. Just walk. You try to radio anyone, I'll know it."

"Who are you?" Frenzy said, even as he completely ignored the demand not to contact anyone. He fully opened his bond and let Soundwave feel every bit of his terror. He couldn't tell Soundwave what was wrong, but Soundwave would know something had happened and could raise the alarm.

"Don't you wish you knew," the man laughed, a nasty sound.

Soundwave reacted to Frenzy's emotions with a burst of panicked static. Fast on the heels of that unintelligible response came the feeling of Ratchet's warm, confident presence. Frenzy jumped in surprise at the unexpected contact, then quickly accepted it - he'd spent most of his life sharing his spark with other mechs. Ratchet demanded, :Kid, what's wrong?:

:I'm being kidnapped.: Frenzy reported. :South exit. Guy says he'll know if I use my comms.:

Quantum bonds were undetectable. The humans obviously didn't know that.

:Where's everyone else? And play along for now, kid. We'll get you out.: Ratchet demanded. Frenzy was surprised by the amount of fury he could sense from the medic. Also, the diminutive kid had been accompanied by affection and warmth. He'd always found the nickname demeaning, but he would never again complain about it coming from Ratchet.

:Still at the mall. I went to get money from an ATM. We're leaving by the south exit.: He tried to force himself to stay calmer. Soundwave was terrified for him. Ratchet wasn't far behind.

:I just had Blaster tell Steeljaw. He'll alert the others. We're going to radio silence until we know for sure if they can detect comms or not.:

They'd reached the south exit. As they stepped through the doorway, Frenzy heard human screams. Squishies were scattering in all directions as Decepticons landed in the parking lot. Foremost among them was Astrotrain.

"What the slag do you want with me?" Frenzy demanded, even as it all clicked. He wasn't stupid. He was a good hostage, if they wanted a certain communications expert to join them ... and didn't know the extent of Soundwave's damage. Also, they were probably underestimating the level of Soundwave's anger when one of his symbionts was threatened. Soundwave was slow to anger, but he protected what was his, and right now, Frenzy was his only symbiont. The sense Frenzy was getting from Soundwave was coldly, analytically, furious.

Astrotrain closed his fist around Frenzy and hoisted him aloft. He grinned nastily. "Not you, runt. Your master."

:Pit, Ratch, I think he wants to use me as blackmail to force Soundwave to work for him.:

:Where do the humans fit in?:

:Swindle just gave 'em a wad of cash. Hired muscle. Slag, I should have fought.:

:No, you did the right thing. It would have gotten messy if the 'cons came into the mall after you.: Ratchet's words were shaken, but he was trying to be reassuring. :Don't worry, kid. I'm going to take that damned psychotic shuttle apart with my own hands.:

An hour later, Frenzy was still reporting the progress of his kidnapping to Ratchet - but had calmed considerably. Frenzy's assessment (and Prowl concurred) was that Frenzy was in little danger of permanent damage. Jazz had observed, to Frenzy's dark amusement when Ratchet relayed the comment along, that Astrotrain was probably in more danger from Frenzy than vice versa.

"How much does Astrotrain know about Soundwave's damage?" Prowl asked, as soon as they could convene a tactical meeting. The tactician's optics were cool, but Ratchet wasn't fooled. Prowl was quietly furious, in his own calculated way.

Jazz shrugged. "Ah can't rule out a bit of espionage given the entire Autobot crew knows the basics. However, Starscream says he hasn't said anything to the 'cons, even on his side."

"Do you believe him?"

"Yah, he's a lousy liar. And it's to his advantage if his faction retains their fear of Soundwave." Jazz smirked briefly, then his expression grew serious. "Prowl, if we can figure out where Astrotrain's hiding out, Mirage and ah can go in after t' runt."

Jazz, Prowl, and Optimus all looked at Ratchet. Ratchet grimaced. "Kid says they're in earth orbit again. Based on the fight they had with Six Shot and his merry band of misfits, I'm thinking they're keeping to the high ground."

"Pit." Jazz said, with feeling. "He have any intel on their fuel levels or weapons?"

"Frenzy says he's picking up low levels of gamma, enough to make him think Astrotrain has at least one nuke in his bomb bay." Ratchet said, after a quick conference with Frenzy.

Prime said, after a moment of chilled silence from all of them, "We will not be attempting direct retrieval."

"If he were to set off an airburst in low orbit ..." Ratchet trailed off, but they could all envision the havoc that the resulting EMP would cause to Earth's infrastructure. The loss of utilities, communication and transportation would result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of humans.

"How's t' kid doing?" Jazz said. "Mentally. Physically. Ah need to know what t' expect from him."

"They haven't hurt him. Hand him a gun, he'd be able to fight at your side right now." Ratchet let Frenzy know Jazz was asking about how he was feeling, and was rewarded by a burst of surprise and pleasure echoed through Soundwave's spark. "Frenzy's ... strong. Fierce. He's got a realistic level of fear. He thinks they'll kill him if they don't get what they want, and if he dies, Soundwave might go with him. But for now, he's not scared. He's a hostage and hostages aren't much use dead. He's, uh, plotting havoc as we speak, too. He's mad."

"Will you be okay?" Jazz asked, pointedly. "If the worst happens. Because we need to start planning contingencies."

"Jazz!" Prime snapped.

Ratchet shook his head. "It's okay, it's a fair question." He envisioned a world without Soundwave's steady presence in it. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with Soundwave at his side ... and a future without him in it was dark, cold, and empty. Then he looked up at Prime, who was watching him with real concern, and he knew the answer. At spark, he was pragmatic, loyal, and had lived a long, long time.

"I won't be okay. But I will be able to function." Ratchet folded his arms across his chest, daring Jazz to argue with him. "I won't forget my duties. Soundwave's ... he's something I've been looking for my entire life, but I won't leave you guys behind. I had a great life before I met him, and life would go on after if ... if something happened to him."

Optimus reached a hand across the table and rested it on Ratchet's forearm. "Ratchet, it is not just that we need you, but that we love you. We would be devastated to lose you."

"I know that," Ratchet said, and he honestly did. He didn't want to think of Prime's grief or the anger and sadness of the rest of the crew if he followed Soundwave into the Well. He couldn't hurt his friends like that. Besides, he was the best medic the Autobots had.

Soundwave would understand, he knew. Soundwave would wait for him in the Well.

Soundwave might chose to live for him, too ... the thought made him uneasy, at least partly because it would mean Soundwave would lose Frenzy, and his bondmate would be shattered by that loss. So would Ratchet. Frenzy had grown on him.

"Let's not get too morbid here," Jazz said. "Ah'm sure we can get t' little scraplet back somehow. Pit, knowing Frenzy, he might get himself out."

Jazz had a good point. Ratchet turned his thoughts inward, found the thin thread of the connection that was Frenzy, and said, :Kid. We'll do everything we can to get you back but - any odds you can get loose?:

:Sure.: Frenzy's response was sarcastic. :They've got me in a cell in Astrotrain's hold. I could bust out, but then where would I go? I'm not exactly armored for atmospheric re-entry.:


:If you could pick me up in orbit, I could be out an airlock in ten seconds flat, and leave a few viruses behind that'll keep Astrotrain out of commission for at least a vorn.: Frenzy wasn't bragging. He sounded a lot more pissed and less afraid now than he had been earlier. :Already got 'em written, and I know which dataport to use. Fragger's firewalls were written by Soundwave. You'd think it would occur to him I know where the back doors to his systems are.:

Ratchet relayed Frenzy's response to the others, with a small smirk. It was hard to feel any humor with Soundwave's apprehension and fury roiling across the bond between them, but Frenzy was definitely plotting justifiable revenge on his captors.

Jazz snorted a laugh of dark amusement. "Prowl, can ah have 'im for special ops? Please?"

Prime said mildly, "I don't believe it would be kind to Soundwave to put Frenzy into any sort of danger on a regular basis. However, we may be able to use this as an unexpected opportunity to deal a significant blow to Astrotrain's faction."

"No shit. Ratch, how well will the kid do in vacuum?" Jazz's visor was considerably brighter. If he could do as he claimed - and Ratchet had no reason to think he couldn't - it would be a tactically significant blow. "Pit, it's like Astrotrain just kidnapped a trojan horse. Ya know how we never wanted the symbionts in our holding cells 'cuz of t' damage they could do if they got loose? Ah'm so glad he's on our side now!"

Ratchet shook his head, even as he queried Frenzy to verify what he already knew as a medic. "The good news is, he's got a ton of experience working on orbital platforms. That'll help. However, he's just not big enough to support all the mods needed to operate fully independently in space. He doesn't have the thermal shielding needed for survival. His power plant and thrusters also won't run without a catalyst, and he's configured for an oxygen atmosphere right now. He's got an oxygen tank on board, but it's only good for a couple hours - or a few minutes of powered flight. After that he's on battery power, with no thrusters, and his batteries are only good for about an earth day. If he's sheltered from the sun, he might survive two days at most, assuming his energon tanks and lines hold pressure and don't start to leak. If he's exposed to to direct sunlight in low earth orbit ... I'd give him fifteen minutes, tops. Maybe a bit more if he transforms into cassette form and presents the least amount of surface area to the sun. He's got onboard gyros for attitude control."

"Ugly way to die," Jazz ran a hand over his face.

"Yes." Ratchet said. "On the bright side, Soundwave used him and his brother to maintain communication satellites. With the right external oxy tanks and some form of thermal shielding, he'd do okay."

Jazz ran a hand over his face. "We need to get a cloaked ship within jumping distance of Astrotrain, then."

"Could Mirage extend his shield to cover Cosmos if we had Wheeljack and Skyfire provide him with a secondary power source?" Prime asked.

"Maybe, but it'd take a power plant bigger than he could physically carry to do it and it'd risk blowing his mods out. You think Ratch has a temper? You should hear Wheeljack when he has to fix 'Raj's mods." Jazz rubbed his nasal ridge under his visor with two fingers. "'It's the mass of what he's shielding, not the size, that matters. He'd have to hook into the equivalent of a small nuclear generator and hiding the thermal emissions from that would just add to the power drain. Cosmos masses almost as much as Astrotrain, even if he subspaces ninety percent of it when he transforms. Honestly? It'd be better to use Hound, and have him cast a hologram on Cosmos of something suitable - we could probably disguise Cosmos as a large communications satellite. The humans have put some pretty big ones into orbit."

"Neither Hound nor Mirage is well equipped for orbital operations," Prowl objected. "And there's still the question of how we would get them into orbit. Skyfire is not subtle when he launches and Cosmos is currently en route from Mars. They can't miss his approach. They will know when he is on Earth, and keep appropriate tabs on his location."

"Well, Pit." Ratchet growled. "There has to be some option."

Prowl said slowly, "We could turn Soundwave over to Astrotrain."

"No!" Optimus snapped before Ratchet could voice his own objection. "We will not betray his trust."

Jazz shook his head. "We should ask Soundwave what he wants. Ah think ah'm following Prowl's plans, though. Astrotrain just wants Soundwave because he's a useful tactician, engineer, and comms officer and he's dumb enough to think he can control him if he keeps Frenzy as a hostage. What Astrotrain doesn't know - what nobody outside this room should know - is that Soundwave's bonded to Ratchet. On Soundwave's part, ah have no concerns about Soundwave's loyalty even if he wasn't bonded to Ratch.

"Soundwave's motivations are a hell of a lot more complex, ah think, than most credit him for ..." Jazz glanced at Ratchet, who nodded agreement, "but at his core, his primary motivation is survival of his symbionts - symbiont - and threatening Frenzy is not the way to earn his loyalty. Being the biggest power around and treating him and Frenzy well is the way to get to his spark. And once he gives his loyalty to someone, it's permanent unless ya really screw up. That's hardcoded behavior, all beta carriers I've ever met are like that. Ah've seen how he looks at you, Prime. Ya got a fan, and by fan, ah mean he's glommed on t' ya as his new master."

"I am no one's master."

"Tell that t' the fragger's coding. He'd die for yah - and ah think he'd live for Ratchet, if it came down t' that."

Ratchet winced. "Jazz, I don't want to think of what losing Frenzy would do to him. Frenzy is his world."

"Yah, well, then he's a moon in a complicated orbit around two worlds and you're number two." Jazz shrugged. "Just sayin', he bonded t' yah, Ratch. That means a lot. Means he's got something t' live for. Means he's loyal to us, because yer loyal t' us. Anyone who doubts Ratchet's loyalty, raise their hand now ... yeah, thought so."

Prime and Prowl both frowned at Jazz's passionate defense. While they likely agreed, Jazz had gone on a bit long in his defense of Soundwave.

"Anyway. I say we send Soundwave in after Frenzy. We extract 'em later when we got a better chance at success. In the meantime, Frenzy and Soundwave can feed Ratchet all sorts of useful intel." Jazz, head of special ops, shrugged. "It's a good opportunity. And when they leave, they can try to take out Astrotrain and anyone else they can get hack, blast, or blow up on the way out."

"That's too dangerous!" Ratchet protested, rising from his chair.

Prime quelled Ratchet's explosion with a calm but pointed look. "It is ... not a bad plan, provided Soundwave is willing. Ratchet, with Frenzy's assistance, could Soundwave pass for reasonably normal over an extended period?"

"Probably," Ratchet said, in a low, reluctant, voice. "If he also had Steeljaw's help. Are we going to send Jaws in too?"

Jazz and Prowl exchanged a look. Ratchet was reasonably sure the two weren't bonded, but you could see an unspoken, non-verbal moment of communication between them.

"That's not a bad idea," Jazz said. "And, ah, give t' kids full permission to bond if they feel t' urge. That'll give us one more untraceable quantum link for inside intel."

"You can't suggest they bond just because it's convenient for espionage!" Ratchet slapped the palm of his hand down on the table. Prime and Prowl jumped; Jazz didn't.

"No, but ah can suggest that it's a dangerous mission and they might want to bond because it might be t' only chance they get. Also, if something happens to Soundwave ..." Jazz trailed off, visor dimming. "Honestly? Ah like Frenzy. Ah don't want to lose him. Jaws has already told me he'll do anything it takes to keep the little fragger with us."

Prime sighed, but nodded. "I agree with Jazz's logic. They will have my blessings."

"Wait, wait a second. You can't seriously be considering sending Soundwave into ..."

Ratchet's protest was cut off by Jazz. "Ratch, ah'd send m'own sparklings into the Pit if it helped the chances of ending the war. Giving Soundwave to Astrotrain's like convincing a Sharkticon that a solar bomb's an energon treat."

Prowl nodded slowly. "And Soundwave is far more capable than one would expect, given his damage."

"... yeah." Ratchet said, reluctantly. "And you are right, between Soundwave and Frenzy - and Steeljaw - Astrotrain's faction won't stand a chance. But how are we going to convince Astrotrain that Steeljaw defected?"

In perfect imitation of Soundwave, Jazz said, "Steeljaw, now Soundwave's symbiont."

Prowl nodded slowly. "So the scenario we present is that Soundwave heard Frenzy screaming for help, escaped from our control, comm'd Astrotrain for pickup - and along the way, snatched Steeljaw and force-bonded him. I believe that Astrotrain will find that plausible, given Astrotrain's core psychological makeup."

"Anyone who knows anything of carrier culture would be skeptical, but Astrotrain isn't exactly the most cultured of mecha." Ratchet agreed, running a hand over his optics.

Optimus said, "Do the rest of you agree with the plan?"

The others concurred, Ratchet very reluctantly. Ratchet added, "... tomorrow morning. I want to give Soundwave a complete physical ..."

Jazz leered. Prime scowled at Jazz.

"... because he's still very vulnerable to systems issues and he's going to be a long way from help." Ratchet concluded. "He also needs to be equipped with weapons and supplies."

Prowl steepled his fingers together. "I will apprise Starscream of these developments."

Optimus nodded. "... And Ratchet, make sure that both Soundwave and Frenzy know they are not expendable and we want them back alive."

"I think they already know that," Ratchet said, quietly. "But I'll tell them you said so."

Optimus inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Let's call Soundwave in and discuss the details with him."

"Plan, understood," Soundwave said, voice confident and posture steady, but spark spinning with fear that only Ratchet could detect. He sat upright in a chair, hands folded on the table before him, and for all the world looked like he was discussing the simple requisition of supplies.

"Soon as we get a chance to get you out," Prowl said, "We will."

"And then you can go back to your paperwork." Ratchet said, teasing Soundwave a bit.

"Soundwave, will appreciate that."

"Wait, wait, he likes paperwork?" Jazz blinked his visor in mock astonishment. "Can ah have him, Prime? Please?"

Optimus smiled kindly at Soundwave. "I believe he's already taken, Jazz."

Ratchet snorted a laugh. He also felt Soundwave's apprehension lighten just a little at Optimus's gently teasing words that acknowledged Soundwave's bond with Ratchet. Ratchet felt a sense of fierce loyalty to Prime coming from Soundwave. Jazz was right. There was no doubt in Ratchet's mind that Optimus had, perhaps unintentionally, done something to trigger Soundwave's beta coding into seeing the Prime as a master. Soundwave, fortunately, was smart enough not to let Optimus know the depth of his devotion, and Ratchet wasn't about to clue Optimus in, even if Jazz had tried already. Optimus, who believed in the right of free will for all sentient beings, would take it badly.

Ratchet was just glad that Soundwave's beta coding was no longer fixated on him.

"Ah might steal him." Jazz smirked. "Ratch better watch out."

Soundwave turned to Ratchet and said, "Jazz acceptable for a bondmate, but Frenzy and Jazz in secondary bond would be problematic. Pranking level, possibly objectionable. Your opinion?"

"My opinion is hands off," Ratchet growled at Jazz. "I don't share."

"Ah just wanted 'im for paperwork!"

Soundwave said precisely, "Soundwave observe, Prowl more suitable for Jazz's ... paperwork assistance."

Soundwave was scared for Frenzy, but Ratchet loved him for his ability to maintain his composure. Now that they had a plan of action, Soundwave was calm enough to banter with the officers.

Prime grinned. Prowl flashed Soundwave a rare smile. Jazz threw his hands up in the air. "Fine. Everyone's a comedian. You're stealin' ma show, ma mechs."

"Aaaand ... back on task." Prowl sobered. "Soundwave, Jazz and I will figure out a plausible escape plan for you tonight. Ratchet, have Frenzy tell Astrotrain that Soundwave will meet him for pickup tomorrow with Steeljaw. Jazz, follow up with Starscream and keep him apprised of the situation."

Jazz's quarters appeared to be surprisingly neat, but the walls were lined with secured cabinets. Ratchet didn't want to know what was in most of those lockers. Soundwave stood quietly behind Ratchet. Ratchet was surprised by the amount of curiosity he was picking up from the carrier's spark. To look at Soundwave right now, he appeared to have the emotions of a drone, even if he'd left his blast mask uncharacteristically open, but if Ratchet was reading him right, he was interested in Jazz as a potential ally or even friend. The carrier's mind was working hard to analyze the social situation.

"So ya need some weapons," Jazz said, leaning comfortably against his room's desk. "Ya come t' the right mech."


"He'll need manual transformation and firing triggers for the guns," Ratchet said, to Jazz. "I'll help wire them in. His targeting is also going to be iffy. We haven't had time to get him on a gun range, and I'm not expecting him to be a sharp shooter at this time."

Jazz nodded. "Ah have just the weapons in mind. Been meaning t' talk t' you two about this anyway. Now that yer bondmates, we really need to get Soundwave properly armed. Ah know ya'd carry on if something happened to him, Ratch, but ah don' wan't t' see ya in that sort of pain. And ah don't want to lose ya either, Soundwave. Ah like yah, much as it shocks me t' say that."

"Jazz's words, agreed with." Soundwave inclined his head in acknowledgement.

By rights, Ironhide should have been the one to equip Soundwave with proper weaponry, However, Ironhide had a straight-forward, explosive approach to warfare. Soundwave had a small power plant, so he couldn't power a heavy weapon, and he had multiple physical limitations that would affect his targeting ability. Jazz's keen, and admittedly evil, mind was better suited to this task.

The head of Special Ops opened one of his lockers. Ratchet purposefully did not comment on the rust gun and solar grenades in the locker, or the box of what appeared to be virus darts. Jazz lifted out three different guns, plus two knives, and then bumped the door shut with his hip.

"Gamma blaster." Jazz indicated a silver hand gun with a bell-shaped muzzle. "Make sure you don't use it around humans. It'll fry our circuits. It'll kill organics dead."

Ratchet winced. He'd had to repair gamma ray damage many times, most recently with Six Shot. The weapon Jazz had produced wasn't strictly legal, but it was effective at fritzing any circuits which weren't very well shielded. It was strictly a close-range weapon, but a very effective one.

Soundwave wordlessly subspaced the gun.

"Concussion blaster." Jazz handed over the second weapon, also a hand-held gun. "Don't use it in confined spaces, you'll do as much damage to yourself as to your target. It won't work in vacuum, either. It's got a time delay detonation sequence, though, so you can use it as a grenade if you need to blow an airlock or leave a nasty surprise for the bad guys. Works great in open air on a planet's surface."

"Soundwave, familiar with effects."

Jazz smirked at him. "Yeah, I think I knocked you out cold with this exact weapon once."


"Glad you don't hold grudges, m'mech." Jazz handed the weapon over, then held up the third weapon. "And this beauty. This is a long-duration laser blaster. Not a laser rifle. It fires a field of twenty laser beams for a period of half a second, for a shotgun effect."

Soundwave reached for the weapon. "Query: Angle of spread?"

"You can control the pattern with this dial here." Jazz said, pointing out the control after Soundwave had the weapon in his hands. "It's normally fired with a neural interface, but ah can modify it for a finger trigger. Fully charged, a power cartridge for it will fire twenty blasts. Ah've got fourteen cartridges for it, and we can wire a battery charger to your power plant so you can self-charge them. The charger should fit in one of your empty symbiont docking bays. You can subspace the cartridges."

Ratchet grunted approval. "Good weapon. Soundwave, let me see your arm. Let's get this thing mounted."

Soundwave stood still while Ratchet removed the armor on his forearm, and attached the laser blaster to his weapons mounts. Jazz dug through another cabinet while Ratchet worked, and produced the parts needed to make a hand-held trigger that also retracted under Soundwave's armor when it wasn't needed. "Safety's here." Jazz pointed out a switch.

Soundwave nodded. When Ratchet reattached his armor plating, the gun was almost invisible. He ran through a couple transformation sequences, retracting and exposing the weapon, and nodded with satisfaction. "A good weapon."

Jazz handed him both knives. "Energon blade," he indicated the shorter of the two, "and a duryllium short sword. I don't know if you have much training in martial arts ..."


"Good. Then you know not to use the energon blade around anything flammable. That duryllium sword isn't much good in a fight - the balance is lousy - but it might come in handy if you need to hack through softer metal. Get enough kinetic energy behind it, and it'll go through one inch stainless steel bars without damage to the blade."

"Thank you," Soundwave secreted both weapons in his subspace.

"And finally, my special selection of explosives. You've seen the damage ah can do. Do ya need me t' explain 'em to you?"

"Unnecessary. And thank you." Soundwave accepted several nasty devices from the saboteur. As Jazz had implied, he already knew what they could do from personal experience on the other side of the war. Jazz had given him two EMP grenades, four rust mines (Ratchet pretended not to see those; he hated rust nanytes), a ten pound brick of plastic explosive and dozen assorted triggering devices, two chemical explosive magnetic space mines, and a data chip full of nasty viruses and hacking codes. Soundwave couldn't use the last, but Frenzy could. (So could Steeljaw, but Steelie already had the latest in Autobot hacking tech uploaded into his memory already.)

Ratchet reached into his own subspace and produced several brand new laser scalpels that were robust enough to double as weapons, an extensive repair kit, a dozen emergency ration bars plus a box of energon candies and a cube of Frenzy's favorite sweetened energon, and a datapad that detailed all the manual maintenance that Soundwave required. He waved the latter in the air. "Make sure the kid follows everything on here. Or get Steeljaw to help you. Don't neglect anything or you'll regret it."

"Understood." Soundwave packed everything into his subspace.

"You might need these, too." Jazz handed him plastic vials containing the ingredients needed to make thermite, and a small metal box of full of vials of toxins, hallucinogens, and sedatives. Of the latter kit, he said, "I assume you know what to do with these."

Soundwave peered at the contents. Everything was labeled in Cybertronian, but he recognized the colors and he could get Ratchet to double-check his identification and mark them in English before he left. "Affirmative. Sedating the entire crew via the communal energon dispenser may be a viable method of escape."

"Good grammar, Soundwave," Ratchet said, flashing him a grin. "And yeah, that's a great idea."

"Thank you," Soundwave said, voice neutral but spark very pleased by the praise.

Jazz snorted. "I'd just poison the whole lot of them."

"Also a viable option."

"Prime wouldn't approve," Ratchet warned. "Neither would I. Not everyone on Astrotrain's side is incorrigibly evil. Some are just trying to survive. Some have been bullied or blackmailed, as he is attempting to do with you."

"Yes," Soundwave said, "Sometimes, war requires death of those not-evil."

"You'd know." Ratchet felt the sorrow from Soundwave's spark, and knew of the deep loss he was speaking of. He touched Soundwave's arm. "I'm off shift now. So are you."

Soundwave felt no desire from Ratchet, no lust, but as soon as they were in their quarters alone, the medic pressed his lips to Soundwave's and rested his hands on Soundwave's hips. Soundwave wrapped his arms around Ratchet and pulled him close, wordless emotions flowing between them.

Soundwave was terrified again, now that he had time to stop and think. The weapons and supplies that the Autobots had equipped him with had brought what he was about to do home.

He didn't try to hide his feelings from Ratchet. He couldn't, and, anyway, he felt no need. Once, he would have let nothing stand in his way if his symbionts were threatened. Now, however, he was damaged, weak, and desperately afraid. Ratchet understood him, was bonded to him, and he did not need to conceal anything of what he was from the medic.

The medic said shortly, "Have more faith in yourself. Have some faith in us. We'll get the scraplet back. And you. And we'll kick some afts along the way."

Soundwave pressed a kiss to Ratchet's chevron. He loved this Autobot, for all that he was cranky and brusque and impatient and perfect in all his imperfections. He was so worried, scared, but Ratchet gave him something to cling to and have faith in.

The medic's spark was full of worry too, but there was also confidence in it, and surprisingly tender concern. Ratchet kissed him again, then said, "You should recharge. It will be a long day tomorrow."

"Make love to me," he said, softly.

It was about comfort, and connection, not passion. Ratchet understood; with the bond they shared comprehension came easily between them. The medic gently guided him to the berth, and didn't hesitate when Soundwave lay back with his knees apart. He trusted Ratchet, and he gave himself entirely to his bondmate. He needed to give up all control, just for a bit.

Ratchet's hands were tender. His touch was comforting. Submitting himself entirely to his lover was reassuring in ways that Soundwave couldn't explain.

When he climaxed, it came with long, rolling waves. He didn't cry out, but rather simply clung to Ratchet. The medic shuddered to a finish, then pressed a kiss to Soundwave's cheek arch.

Soundwave keened softly, once, expressing the fear and grief he would share with no one else. Ratchet held him long into the night, as recharge eluded both of them. They simply lay together, limbs intertwined and emotions intermingled. No conversation was necessary.