Three
By Sinead

Author's Note: Thank you for your patience! I have a lot on my plate right now, but I wanted to finish this small trio up with something a little less panic-ridden than the prior installments. Thank you for reading, for watching, and for reviewing! I hope that this won't disappoint you!

Also, some of the formatting was lost due to being silly and dictating how many question marks or exclamation points. So in the italicized comments, if you see one punctuation mark that isn't a period, imagine that there are three there instead.

Three

They were all in separate areas of the room. Each of them was completely entrenched within their respective circles of friends, and each of them were seemingly ignoring each other. The officer watched them carefully, though. Subtle body-language was running between them. There was a conversation happening on a level that only they were able to interpret, even without watching each other. Few mechs had the sensor-setup to be able to handle this kind of interaction.

Irritation-frustration-damn-cards-ill-favor.

Amusement-try-harder-mind-good-improvise.

?-amusement-intel-need-?

Intel-good-new-round.

Affirmative.

Narrowing cautious optics over his cube of energon, the mech watched Jazz saunter up towards his side, grabbing his own cube and leaning casually against the bulkhead beside him. "So. Who're ya watchin'?"

Cheating-bad-stop.

Cheating-make-win-good-prize-Ratchet-high-grade.

Cheating-win-share-demand.

I-share-prize?

Maybe.

"Those three." He indicated the mechs with only the tip of his smallest finger, not wanting to draw too much attention to himself or to Jazz, whose own gaze was shielded by his visor.

Laughing as if he was told a great joke, Jazz shook his head, taking a swig of energon before asking, "You just now noticing them?"

"No, I'm just now noticing how complex they've woven their communication style."

"Well, it's not like they're going to get in trouble after the recent prank wars went sour and all. An' that style's been used since they've all been Sparklin's."

"Mm, true." Sipping energon again, the grey-faced mech sighed and shook his head. "I'm just curious about what they're talking about."

Cards-favor-next-round-look-high-count.

Thank-you-positive-?

Hound-bluff-positive.

Tomorrow-Quattra.

No-!

No-no-no-! Quattra-impossible-bad-processor-ache-bad-overcharge-morning-after-agony-!

Both-coward-also-Mirage-Hound-pair-together-Hound-want-Quattra-learn.

Turning his head towards the main groups of loud off-duty mechs, Jazz took his time in identifying the nonverbal signals. Snickering, he replied, "Now, I'm just a novice—"

"Oh, that's slag."

Amusement-tease-will-?

Negative-facilitate-pairing.

How-?

Shift-time-similar-schedule-shift-identical-soon.

Amusement-!-Diabolical-plan-like-Hound-encourage-will.

"Ssh, no interruptin' me! C'mon, man! I am a novice at readin' that kinda body language." He kept watching the trio as they moved, sometimes half-facing each other, but still enthralled with their current conversation-mates, sometimes facing completely away. But the constant babble between them never ceased in pace. "It's gossip and petty plotting."

Optimus Prime stared at his third in command for a long moment. Then, sighing, taking a sip of energon, he turned his gaze back upon the sole remaining Praxians and their silent conversation. "So they're gossiping?"

"And cheating. Blue just told Smokey what cards Roddie has."

"He can't even see Hot Rod's cards!"

"No, but Sideswipe can." Jazz grinned broadly.

". . . huh."

"And I think that Prowl's onto us. Yep. Yes he is." Reading the faint but precise twitching of doorwings, the hitch of a shoulder, and then the settling of them into a certain position, he chortled. "Told me to tell you that this form of communication is useless in battle, and is asking your opinion on his game of Quattra against Mirage."

"He can hear us?"

"Remember when Blue's doorwings were about blown off years ago?"

"Primus, yes. He was refusing to go into shutdown, even though the misfiring neural system must have been agony." Even the great leader never wished that sort of pain upon his worst enemies.

"Yeah. You know he gets nightmares. All the sensors are in them, an' they can run hot, which is why they're in the doorwings, separate from th' main body of sensors. Which is also why they get fussy about doors gettin' touched without permission or whatever. It's rude, overly familiar, an' can, if it's a rough touch, jostle something out of whack if the system is already precariously on edge after a battle."

Giving the languid officer a sideways glance, Optimus asked, "Now how would you know all this?"

Sighing, knowing that he wasn't going to live down the supposed pairing between himself and Prowl, Jazz replied, "Because Prowl trusts me ta watch his back an' ta know what to do if he's incapacitated and delirious with pain. Aside from you, I'm one of the few officers who can take 'im down if need be. He jus' tol' me a few ways that are faster than the conventional knock-outs. Oh. He's gettin' impatient, boss."

"That flick of the doorwings?"

"Naw, it was th' hitch before 'is doorwings flicked. That flick was him tellin' Blue t' pay attention and keep feeding Smokey intel."

Taking a moment to study the board, Optimus murmured, "It's a good game. Complex. Stunning patterns. Both he and Mirage are masters, and this proves it."

"Watch. See that dip? He said thanks."

Optimus chuckled, sipping at his energon and turning his attention to Bluestreak. "So the flicks and movements aren't just for helping those three keep their balance or when they're adjusting a sensor."

"Nope. Even Prowl's really expressive, if ya know what t' look f'r. If we had more Praxians on our crew, you'd see that the gossip mill would run twice as fast."

"You sound as if you've been there."

"Once. Long time ago." Jazz sighed, shaking his head. "Anywhos. I have a shift to catch."

Smiling, Prime nodded and stood. "And I apologize, but I have my berth. No day starts late for a leader."

"Glad that ya came outta your office f'r once, Prime. Good ta see ya in the rec room."

"What the slag?" Hot Rod slammed his cards down and glared at Smokescreen. "How the Pit did you win that round? I slaggin' had you last round!"

Prime grinned at Jazz, who was hiding his own broad grin behind his energon cube. Standing, he let it be known that he was in the room, and, of course, he had optics everywhere and saw everything. Especially when someone was acting like a Youngling, or was going to get into trouble. Noting the set of Smokescreen's doorwings, Optimus intoned, "Do we need a refresher upon Autobot policies of gambling while one should be on shift?"

"Wh-what? Oh, Primus! Slaggit!" Hot Rod yelped before groaning and darting out of the room. Sighing, Prime looked at the other four gamblers. Sunstreaker was blinking over his cards at Prime in shock, Hound was eyeballing the high grade, Smokescreen had turned in his chair and watched the leader with curious, narrowed optics, and Ratchet was grinning.

The rest of the rec room was watching him as well. He pointed to Ratchet. "Officer game tomorrow night, when we're all off. Ratchet, I have a four-million-year-old aged energon stash that I might be willing to part with a cube as entry and betting device." That would leave the rest of the 'bots shocked and not that keen to enter an officer game. Sometimes, the stakes were just too high.

He left his troops staring after him, but right before the door shut, he heard someone ask, "Did anyone see Prime even come in?"

Prowl's voice replied, "Ask any officer, scientist or long-term scout, and we could give you the exact time that Prime entered. Oh. Mirage? Quattra."

"Wait. Wait. You . . . oh Primus, you slagger. Damn, you even did that artfully!"

Smiling, Prime closed the door and left the troops behind him, thanking Primus for the difficult, unique, tight-knit crew. He didn't know where he would be without them. And as he looked over his shoulder, he saw Prowl exiting the rec room, turn towards him, and smile. Smiling and raising a hand over his shoulder, he saw the tactician dip his head and walk in the other direction, frame held tightly and precisely, doorwings balancing high and proud upon his back. As Jazz walked out beside the other black and white, it was clear to see that Prowl relaxed just a hair.

Maybe someday, Prowl would be able to relax completely in public. Until that day, though, they would fight.

Prime turned towards his berth, frame weary, but Spark energized, the after-image of doorwings dipping in a phrase burned into his memory.

Thank you.