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Title: Implicit Promises

Warning to Audience: Vague robot sex description.

Show Rating: PG-13?

Continuity: G1, Season 3

Characters: Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime, Daniel

Disclaimer: The theatre doesn't own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.

Motivation (Prompt): Comment Party Prompt - "Rodimus Prime, Daniel: grown up stuff."

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Optimus Prime had been unreachable. Daniel's first memories of all the Autobots were humongous shiny walls of bright colors that he'd wanted so badly to touch, but somehow, Optimus had never been among those vague memories. All the other Autobots, Daniel had reached sticky-fingered hands out to. Greedy, grasping hands under a beaming, toothless smile, completely fearless when facing beings who wouldn't even notice if they stepped on him, and even the most stand-offish Autobot had been charmed by the blatant eagerness shown by Spike's new little human.

Sideswipe had knelt down at Carly's side to get a closer look and offered the infant a finger. Daniel had promptly grabbed it and tried to stuff the oversized metal digit in his mouth to gum on, and Sideswipe's smile had softened as if the frontliner were lost in long-gone memories of other first meetings. "He's staying with us, yeah?" he'd joked, and behind him, Sunstreaker had seemed offended by the idea of a filthy human bitlet staying in Autobot City near him. He'd stiffened into a metal statue and narrowed his optics down at them all as if imagining drool seeping into unmentionable areas.

A moment later, Carly had confided to Spike, she'd felt terrible for even thinking that as Sunstreaker smacked Sideswipe upside the helm. "You don't take children away from their parents!"

"Why not?" Sideswipe had asked, eminently reasonable. "Humans do it for cats."

"Humans aren't pets!"

"That seems like a weird distinction to make - owww~w, okay, okay, no adopting the kitten-human!"

"Baby, you cretin!" Sunstreaker had hauled the red frontline up by one sensor horn and pushed him down the hall. For all the yellow Lamborgini's apparent fury on humanity's behalf, the motion had been as practiced as a rancher herding cattle.

And, like a particularly rebellious cow, Sideswipe had kept trying to get around the barrier of Sunstreaker's interference to get back to meeting that fascinatingly unafraid and wonderfully affectionate baby. "Alright, so it's a — "

*clang!* "He. Seriously, do you even have manners?"

She'd been afraid the noise would frighten Daniel, but her son had watched Sunstreaker chivvy Sideswipe away with delight. It didn't matter how alien their behavior or loud the Autobots were; Daniel just wasn't afraid. Spike had introduced Ratchet to his son while the medic had Wheeljack's leg on the floor and was working on one arm, which had resulted in a briefly startling moment when the medic waved hello with three hands. The engineer had flashed his headfins at the baby, who hadn't even been phased by the lightshow. Jazz had tried to find Daniel's favorite music in one prolonged, noisy test, and Daniel had met the cacophony with high-pitched shrieks of glee. Jazz helpfully gave him a piston pin and a dented armor plate to try and bang a rhythm on for the rest of the day, an act which had done nothing to endear the Autobot to Daniel's parents. Grimlock had actually transformed to meet the tiny human baby, tyrannosaurus head dipping its chin all the way to the floor until the closest Autobots began to look — just a bit — nervous. Daniel had reached out with his sticky hands and slapped the palms against Grimlock's nose like a strange hybrid of petting and gleeful, over-excited hello. The notoriously temperamental Dinobot had hesitated before gravely and ever-so-gently nudging a greeting back.

"I can't believe that worked," Ratchet had murmured to Wheeljack.

"I don't think anyone's ever tried it," Wheeljack had said back.

Daniel didn't remember most of those first meetings, although the Autobots treasured them. Humans had fuzzy memories early on. There was one memory that stood out amidst all the loud sounds and bright colors those first years among the Autobots: meeting Optimus Prime. Instead of blur, the Autobot leader had a crisp-edged scene preserved among those early memories. The deep voice said words that were nothing but bass rumble to a small child, but the sheen of glass windshields remained clear. His father had always pointed Optimus Prime out to him as the ultimate Good Guy, but even as a tiny tot, Daniel had stuck his fist in his mouth and sucked instead of trying to speak as the gargantuan Autobot kindly greeted him. His eyes had been awestruck and wide as he took in the towering leader of the Autobots, and he never reached out for a hug, a hello, or even just to touch all those appealingly brilliant colors.

Age never changed that. When one's adored-but-busy parents pointed out his own hero, a child had no choice but to worship that hero from afar. Said hero was, in a sadly similar way to his parents, adored but busy. His parents loved Daniel, but they owed their world and their friends much of their time. Optimus Prime had even more demands on his time. There was love, but it was distant, and from a distance, he loved them back. He didn't know why the distance was there, but it was grown-up stuff. He was too little to know yet.

That was the way of the world. He grew up knowing that.

Hot Rod was close. There wasn't distance there. Hot Rod wasn't the adored hero or busy parents, and he was the one to go to with anything and everything. Daniel knew this was the unwavering faith of a toddler raised among legions of primary-colored robots. Optimus Prime was huge and brightly colored, and in the midst of Daniel's forlorn search for an attainable father figure, a freshly painted soldier had almost stepped on him.

The newly transferred Hot Rod had nearly had vapors at his abrupt introduction to the tiniest of humans allowed into Autobot City. The toddler just stood there looking up at him, unafraid and interested, one fist holding a tattered old nursery blanket that trailed on the floor. Hot Rod had leaned against the nearest wall and wheezed, intakes stuttering as he recovered from the after-effects of watching his career and the Earth-Autobot alliance collapse in front of his mind's eye. When he felt steady enough to walk, he'd gamely picked up Daniel, correctly deducing that no one this small should be allowed to wander alone in a potentially dangerous world. New to Earth as Hot Rod — and also, Daniel — was, everything was potentially dangerous. It was also a potential source of entertainment and wonder.

It would be an abiding bond between them: protection and exploration.

Daniel had gone looking for a father and a hero but unintentionally found a friend. Returned to his parents, he toddled off again in search of the wonderfully shiny and not-so-looming Autobot who, helplessly amused by the baby clinging to his thumb and/or helm, kept returning him. The cycle continued until, not unlike that Christmas present Aunt Bertha gave Carly every year, tolerance and affection built up and the return attempts turned into permanent keeping.

"Well, we got to keep him," Sideswipe had said, watching Hot Rod chase his surprisingly agile charge among the forest of table legs in the common room. Gears and Ultra Magnus didn't even seem to notice when Daniel darted, giggling like only a hyperactive two-year-old could, across their feet. Both Autobots shifted out of the way as Hot Rod scrambled across the floor in pursuit, however. "Think we should get him a collar?"

Bluestreaker took his turn smacking the tactless frontliner upside the helm.

It should be noted that the suggestion of a leash got a moment's consideration.

So to the Autobots went the small assorted trials of tending a growing child. Daniel teethed on Sunstreaker's synthetic leather seats, drew in crayon on Track's dashboard, listened to Kup's bedtime stories, and drove Red Alert and Metroxplex half up the wall checking when he insisted Ravage was hiding under his bed. The Dinobots could often be seen gathered into a herd, the fondly exasperated looks common to half the base on their faces as they were directed through the halls by an imperious toddler whose favorite book was Dinotopia. Mirage, Jazz, and Hound spent their few minutes of free time playing hide-and-go-seek with him as if a child could ever realistically catch them if they weren't letting him. Blaster was nap-time supervisor, letting the constant babble of a busy city wash through the communication tower like a sea of soothing sound as the growing boy slept on a blanket on his lap, one hand loosely curled under his chin and soft, baby-toothed mouth drooping open in total, trusting relaxation. These Autobots gathered the moments with him like precious seconds they never wanted to forget, even the obnoxious pink paint-handprint ones.

Humans lived such short lives. They aged so quickly, and then one day they were gone, leaving nothing to hold onto but the memories. Nonetheless, those memories were worth all the pain of loss that accompanied them. The Autobots reached for Daniel as eagerly as the tiny tot grasped at them. Sparkplug Witwicky's grandson never lacked for babysitters, but they were only temporary and they knew it. Once Hot Rod was off shift, Autobot City's tiny mascot would be taken away without a glance back.

Fathers and heroes were great, but friends had more in common. Daniel wouldn't dare ask Optimus Prime question, and his father and mother were too busy (although it saddened his parents greatly when they realized he thought so) to ask. So to the Autobots went the growing pains, and to Hot Rod went the incessant questions of the Terrible Twos, and then the Tripled Threes, and onward through the various charmingly-named and pain-in-the-aft childhood years.

They weren't always inane Why? Whyzat? Whynot? Butwhy? questions common to all curious children, however. When Daniel had only been five years old, he'd gone to Hot Rod with a question. The determined, tiny human patted the much larger Autobot on the foot, and Hot Rod bent closer to pay resigned, pleased attention to whatever his charge wanted to say.

"Sp'nger an' Arcee-cee," Daniel was still getting the hang of this English thing, which occasionally prompted quick get-aways in Hot Rod's altmode when Ratchet overheard the kid speak and wanted to examine him for software errors, "got their ches's open an' there's pretwy fi'eworks. Wanna try!"

Hot Rod gaped. He barely noticed Daniel's chubby hands making grabby motions up at his chest, urging him to open the plating and get on with the pretty firework show. The kid was apparently under the impression that humans could open their chests like Autobots, and they'd press their opened chests together, and dear holy Primus on a pogo stick that just wasn't going to happen. The Autobots had a nice, polite download available for troops new from Cybertron, spelling out for them what the rating system on movies meant for human maturity levels and therefore what was culturally acceptable for public display. Spark interfacing, so far as Hot Rod knew, had been rated around the same level as NC-17 pornography. Springer and Arcee had just exposed Daniel to pornography.

He managed a semi-coherent answer to his young friend — something about Fireworks like that are dangerous for humans, Daniel. We'll have to wait until you grow up to, uh, let you try that with me. - while shrieking over the communication systems like a scandalized maiden aunt. Springer and Arcee responded in mortified splutters, Ironhide roared with embarrassed laughter, Bumblebee swore dire vengeance, and there was stunned, discomfited silence from the rest of the Autobots. Prime immediately laid a 15-year black-out mandate over the entire city that if their most valued human friend ever, ever brought up what he'd mistakenly seen, the Autobots would collectively change the subject or lie like a rug about Springer and Arcee's completely innocent and horribly dangerous love of fireworks and how all the Autobots had been banned from ever doing it again because of some terrible accident and therefore Daniel would never see it again oh no how sad moving on now.

While that particular drama had been hashing out over Autobot City's communication network, Prowl fell over himself apologizing to Daniel's parents. They were doing their own maidenly shrieking after the Second in Command, cringing in a way he never did in combat, awkwardly explained the situation. This involved delving into what had been successfully kept from human eyes and minds for years: the Cybertronian equivalent of sexual activity. Fortunately for Earth-Autobot relations, the Witwicky's had a lifetime tolerance to strange accidents built up. Also, Hot Rod's fiercely indignant rage on the behalf of their only child had nearly redeemed the enormous blunder.

Nearly. If not for Daniel's new fondness for Springer and Arcee, his parents would have alienated him from them by sheer glare power. But like all human children, he'd fixated on them as new friends because, in his eyes, they had a shiny thing and might someday share. He really had loved that firework show. Arcee and Springer, on the other side of the equation, felt that they owed Daniel for his inadvertent, ah, 'exposure.' They hung out more often with Hot Rod and his charge, and what began as guilt steadied into friendship easily. A friendship that hitched occasionally with embarrassment whenever the firework show question came up, but friendship.

They had all been younger, if only incrementally by Cybertronian standards, when that had all happened. The 15-year mandate had stood through the destruction of Autobot City and Optimus Prime's death. If anything, it'd actually been reinforced by Hot Rod becoming Rodimus Prime. The Matrix, at least, could be explained. One did not use the Autobot Matrix of Leadership just to give a light show, no matter how dear the human who asked. The other Autobots just loudly talked about the weather when asked why they wouldn't give Daniel a firework show.

The tiny toddler had grown up, of course, and on the way learned that humans couldn't open their chests the way Autobots could. He sometimes, a little sadly and never noticing any nearby Autobots' uncomfortable flinch, mentioned how he often wished they could do that together. Over time and frequent exposure, Rodimus Prime had controlled his slight reaction to the wish. The more time went on, in fact, the more he sometimes, quietly, just to Daniel, replied that he wished it, too.

But humans don't have sparks, he couldn't explain. And they couldn't open their chests to access them, anyway. It was just how the universe worked. "That's the way of the world," Daniel sometimes said, too, and Rodimus Prime couldn't help but agree.

"Grown up stuff, kiddos," Daniel said when the elementary school tours came through the new Autobot City, and he smiled as the little children all whined that they wanted to sit in on intergalactic meetings or go into the hangar bay or follow an injured 'bot into Medbay. "That's the way of the world."

"You grow up, and you grow up knowing there's grown up stuff to be told," Daniel told him on a day long gone, and he'd been smiling, a tiny bit hopeful but mostly just lopsidedly acknowledging what hadn't been told.

Rodimus Prime looked down at him, not so far down as way back then, and realized with a hiccup like an electric shock that he'd grown up knowing. Not anything specific, at least so every Autobot on Earth and his own parents hoped, but knowing there were grown up things to be told. Silence had been imposed a little too late to fully conceal there was something to be hidden. "We'll have to wait until you grow up…"

Daniel had waited, and waited still. Wistfully, watchfully, waiting for his friend like open hands grasping distant things he didn't know he couldn't have. At least, not the fireworks. Daniel had always loved and continually looked for fireworks between them, but Hot Rod had never opened his chest plates for him.

Rodimus Prime didn't need to. Daniel had held his spark for years.