Playing with Daniel; Galvatron, chains of neverending agony; Pulling off a miracle.
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Title: Words Unspoken
Warning: References to interfacing.
Continuity: G1, Season 3
Characters: Rodimus Prime, Daniel Witwicky
Disclaimer: The theatre doesn't own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.
Motivation (Prompt): Playing with Daniel; Galvatron, chains of neverending agony; Pulling off a miracle.
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Some things in the universe remained constant.
Kup remained the oldest, grouchiest source of balderdash this side of the cosmos. Sparkplug told stories of Autobot exploits that grew more expansive with every telling. Taxes were more difficult to file this year than the last.
The bright red automobile pulled up outside Daniel's home and beeped his horn, and Daniel opened the door with a grin. "Just a minute!"
"One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand…"
"Okay, five minutes!"
The human ducked back inside to grab fishing gear stuffed into a closet waiting for just this moment, and he dashed outside still tying one sneaker as the Autobot sing-songed the count, "Two hundred ninety-five one thousand, you're gonna be la~ate, Danny, two hundred ninety — "
"I'm here, I'm here! Sheesh." He hopped down the sidewalk and didn't even think to look. He knew the door was open and waiting. He slid in without thinking, the door closed, and it was as it always was. Just a boy and his car; just a car and his boy. It didn't matter that it had been months since they'd seen each other. It didn't matter that the boy was years too old to drop everything on a moment's notice, and the car was actually the Autobot Prime disguised as a Winnebago. For today, Daniel would leave the papers on his desk and let the phone ring unanswered. Rodimus Prime was tuning out any communication attempt that didn't have "Galvatron's attacking!" as the first words. This was their time, grabbed out of nowhere, and they would take it because — and sadly, they knew this all too well — the universe would interrupt any scheduled time they made for each other.
Hot Rod or Rodimus Prime, Danny or Daniel, they would never change. If they looked a little more ridiculous every time, the two of them didn't care. They still used the old arts-n-crafts hard-shell carrier Spike Witwicky had given his son before leaving Earth with the Autobot resistance back in 2003. Various lures in fluorescent colors and fluffiness inhabited it, although they preferred the white-and-red ball-bobbers. The fishing poles were meant for children, simple sticks with fishing line, and that was good enough for them.
Daniel lived close to Autobot City, but not too close. Far enough away for them to find a gravel road that a Winnebago shouldn't have taken at 90 MPH, but close enough that the police didn't chase down brightly-colored cars that ignored speed limits. Rodimus shrieked like a little girl as pebbles tinked off his windshield, and the man in his front seat hung onto the steering wheel to keep from bouncing up high enough to hit the cabin roof as all four of the Autobot's tires left the ground off the peak of one steep hilltop. Neither could remember the last time Daniel actually wore a seat belt inside him. If asked, the human wouldn't have been able to say why. Rodimus might have been able to fumble a passable excuse about the number of times being able to pitch Daniel clear during a fight had saved the human's life.
Truth was, they both just knew the safest place for Daniel to be was inside Rodimus Prime. Seatbelts were garnish on the cake of life: a nice thought, but unnecessary. Not for Roddy's Danny.
Rodimus snuck past the Autobots currently on patrol — who kindly heeded Red Alert's notice to Not See their delinquent Prime — and made a (transparently obvious because of all the security cameras, but Red Alert looked the other way) break for the lake while Daniel hung one arm and his head out the window and whooped into the wind. When the road came to the boating ramp and dirt turn-about, the Prime hit the brakes and skidded his wide rear end in a donut. Daniel clutched his wheel with one hand and the dashboard with the other, yelling with excitement that had never ebbed. This would never change.
When they finally tired of donuts, or Rodimus got so dizzy he cut the corner too close and started to tilt over, the Autobot braked to a halt. "Heavy in the aft," Daniel started, but Rodimus dumped his passenger out and transformed, stretching with an exaggerated sigh.
Daniel kicked him in the foot repeatedly while the Prime did his best absent-minded Kup impression and pretended to forget where his tiny friend was. "Now, where did I put him..?" the Autobot leader mumbled, scratching his helm and studiously looking around at every spot except where Daniel stood.
"I'll put a wrench up your fat bumper, Roddy!"
"Not if you can't catch me!"
They raced to find their fishing spot, Daniel's more agile sneakers versus Rodimus' larger stride. This time, the sucking mud at the edge of the lake won the battle, and the Autobot tumbled sidelong into the water. He turned just enough to make it a massive bellyflop. Daniel laughed himself off balance and acquired mud all over the seat of his pants when he sat down hard. Two golden spoiler tips surfaced, and a gurgled version of the Jaws theme began from under the water. Daniel scrambled back to his feet and took off as the giant mutant Autobot 'shark' chased him. It would have been menacing if the soundtrack to their little chase scene didn't sound like Seaspray trying not to laugh: "Du-du, du-du, du-du-du-du-du-du-DU-DU-DU!"
"I win!" Daniel proclaimed, racing up the slope to the bank where they fished. A moment later, Rodimus Prime surged out of the water with a great big grin and even bigger wave of water. "…I lose," Daniel said, his voice the only dry thing currently about him.
"You betcha," Rodimus agreed.
It led naturally to more amiable bickering as Rodimus brought out the fishing gear and they began fumbling for squishy little worms in the dirt. All the while, they deliberately turned their backs on the distant hum of Autobot City and all associated responsibilities. Both of them had things they wanted to escape, and that was what this was for. Just a boy and his car; a car and his boy. No one else, and no pressures from war, or duty, or responsibilities that came from when one finally grew up. No matter what they looked like today, they were just themselves here: Danny and Roddy.
"You know, I remember this being a lot easier to do," Rodimus said, good-naturedly handing his bait-bobber to Daniel to get a worm attached.
"Uh-huh," Daniel humored him, ruthlessly impaling an earthworm and handing the mess back. "That's what Kup always says, anyway. Were Decepticons not such pansies in these memories of yours? Did the recruits respect you more?"
"Are you saying I'm old?"
"And heavy in the aft."
"Y'know, I do kind of feel like I've gotten bigger lately…"
They cast their lines out and got comfortable. Rodimus Prime propped himself up on his arms and crossed his legs, and Daniel, as ever, perched on his knee, leaning back against the Prime's chest. Back when they'd really been Danny and Hot Rod, not Daniel and Rodimus pretending, the ground hadn't been so far away. Rodimus had gotten quite a bit larger as a Prime. Then again, Daniel had been smaller back then. Kids grew up, human or not. The important thing was that they'd changed together, and that's what they remembered here and now.
They relaxed slowly, the pile of stubbornly unacknowledged things slipping away to be dealt with some other time. The silence smothered them in a damp wave of humid summer heat, as comfortable as an old blanket laundered to frayed edges and fond memories. The grass on the slope had never seen a lawn mower. It had recovered with time from the long-ago battle, growing more vigorously than ever before. The huge dirt divots from combat and the massive burnt scars from the grassfire had been covered by a tangled mat of sun-browned weeds that buzzed with life. The sounds were dulled by the heavy air, noisy but weirdly silent. Bees hummed among the wildflowers, and grasshoppers chirped. As the stillness lasted, only the red bobbers moving out on the lake, the birds returned to cheep and flit. They were mostly small birds with brown marks on their feathers, chasing insects and spiders and seeds. Daniel had once mentioned that he was curious what species they were, but neither Autobot nor human had looked them up.
Some mysteries only meant something until they were solved. Both man and mech treasured what little, innocent pieces of childhood ignorance they could hide here in this place. Maybe it was why they kept returning, holding onto their frozen, unchanging piece of the universe.
Just a boy and his car; a car and his boy. Roddy and Danny, fishing together.
"Hmm?" The Autobot had his head thrown back, a long blade of grass that seemed laughably short to someone his size stuck in the corner of his mouth. Like the best traditions, it made him look like an idiot.
Daniel was chewing on his own grass blade, and he tilted his head up to look up past the flame decals at his friend. "Why do you do it?"
If Rodimus knew what he was asking, he didn't seem to mind. But then, he didn't really know what his friend was asking. "Why do I do what, Danny? Because Springer doesn't have the negatives anymore, and I've got an alibi."
The human smiled involuntarily, but his face fell to more sober lines. "Why do you go back to Galvatron?"
The silence returned, no longer a comforting thing. It wasn't a tense thing, either, but it was more tangible. Instead of the comfortable lightness of temporary freedom, this silence had the fragile weight of ashes settling, waiting for a breath to disturb the smooth surface and smear everything grey. Rodimus' optics lit a dark, brooding blue, staring up at the sky like he searched for an answer. Daniel waited, staring up at his car, his friend, his - and if he felt impatient or disappointed at the silence, he didn't show it. But then, he didn't really know what he was asking.
For all he thought he knew, he didn't know. There were things the Autobots didn't tell the humans. There were things Rodimus Prime couldn't tell Daniel Witwicky, even when Roddy wanted to include Danny. Even when Roddy really needed Danny. Because Rodimus Prime and Roddy often had to be separate mechs, just as Danny the boy and Daniel Witwicky, Human Ambassador, had to be different people. Neither wanted to be, and they both needed each other with a sort of clinginess only outsiders realized was unusual. At the same time, they knew they had to put up that separation. It was part of their jobs. Just because both of them ducked out of their respective jobs today like Ferris Bueller dodging classes didn't mean that any secrets could be revealed. Rodimus knew that Daniel — humankind - kept secrets from him, and from the Autobots. Daniel also knew, as Ambassador, that the Autobots didn't tell humankind everything. Rodimus couldn't tell Daniel everything.
The reality of the Autobot-Decepticon treaty was one of those secrets. The two factions controlled two territories, Cybertron and Chaar. In exchange, the Autobot Prime frequently traveled into Decepticon, and therefore hostile, territory. That, the humans knew. They just didn't know exactly why.
Some mysteries would mean a lot when they were solved. Maybe it wouldn't mean that much to humankind as a whole, although the Autobots judged the species a little too immature to handle the truth yet, but to Daniel? Rodimus couldn't do that to his friend. He wanted to cling to the bits of innocence they had left. He wanted this sanctuary to last just a little longer.
But…Daniel had asked. Danny had asked.
Rodimus Prime reeled in his fishing line slowly, sitting up just enough that he could look down easily at the human. Daniel looked back at him. It was odd to realize how the pressure to speak wasn't oppressive. If it had been anyone else waiting, Rodimus would have felt his stress levels start rising immediately.
Danny was waiting, but Roddy knew that if he didn't answer, there wouldn't be spiteful comments and bitter feelings. Maybe some hurt feelings, of course, but nothing like if Bluestreak or Jazz or Ms. Ellington from the Seattle Board of Governance had asked him this question. They would ask, not demand, but they wouldn't respond well to evasion. It was almost as if everyone else felt that they were entitled to Rodimus Prime and everything he was. A Prime was public property.
Danny didn't own Roddy. He just was there for him, and he'd asked something of him with no expectation but honesty. Rodimus Prime had known Springer and Arcee for millennia, yet it was to this human he sped when he had the chance. Of everything in the universe he could ask for, he wanted this place and this time with Daniel Witwicky to never end. There were so many things between Autobot and human that they'd never said. They'd saved each other's lives so often it'd become a running joke. They'd called each other at absurd hours for serious and sputteringly-silly reasons. They'd been irresponsible and utter children together, driving Kup up the wall as he tried to corral them both. The comparatively tiny human was a flash of light in the wider spectrum of a Cybertronian's life, but that light burned all the more brilliantly for its brevity.
So Rodimus looked out over the lake with its lack of witnesses, and the fishing rod was laid aside. Inside, Rodimus transformed as best he could, carefully folding himself up tight and neat like a bedsheet creased flat, and he tucked the Prime away into a storage closet in his mind. When he looked down at the human on his knee, an adult but still so Danny, it was Hot Rod looking out of somber optics.
"That's a difficult question," Roddy said. "Lemme think a second, okay?"
Danny squinted against the mid-afternoon, some of his friend's graveness infecting him. He bypassed the obvious comment on Roddy's difficulties thinking and just nodded. "It's okay."
No, it really wasn't. That was the problem, wasn't it? Roddy frowned in a mixture of sadness and determination as he sorted out what he didn't have to - but wanted to, and that made all the difference - explain. Humankind tended to like placing things into two categories: black or white, good or bad, friend or foe. It showed up especially in their propaganda. It wasn't always a bad thing, but it did lead to extremism. Introduce the possibility of the categories being wrong, or being artificially imposed, and suddenly supporters on both ends of the spectrum were left reeling. Sometimes, humans reacted to the shades of gray with violence instead of curiosity, condemnation instead of understanding.
For years, the categories had been clear-cut on Earth: Decepticon = bad, Autobot = good.
Recently, the separation between the two groups had narrowed. Blurred, even. Some erasure, a few iffy Autobots, a couple Decepticons who turned out be — not nice, precisely, but definitely not stone-cold killers. There had been traitors, defections, cooperation, hesitant co-existence, and now the treaty. Humankind was baffled, and Roddy didn't quite know how to explain that sometimes…well, sometimes, the bad guys were just doing the best they could with what had been forced on them.
Galvatron had been born into chains.
A flowery phrase to sum up a twisted being, and that right there was wrong, wasn't it? A mistaken beginning from the get-go. Nothing about Galvatron invited fancy terminology, and no euphemism could possibly convey the crazed tyrant. Break out the heavy-handed words, because only descriptions like blunt objects knocked the reality of the situation in.
Galvatron had not been born; he had been forged. Properly recycled metal was folded and heat-treated until every weakness was purged and all impurities were burnt out. The bubbles and flaws were pressed and smoothed and hammered until they disappeared. The slag was skimmed and cast aside. Only acceptable elements were taken from the crucible to use again.
Unicron had not recycled Megatron properly. It turned out that not even the Unmaker could skip that stage without consequences. The Autobots were only beginning to discover what those consequences were. They had the distinct feeling that they had never been supposed to do so. First Aid got a positively gleeful charge out of spiting Unicron's will every time he released a new system-wide announcement on the Unicronians' multitude of errors and how the Autobots should handle them.
Galvatron, however hard he appeared on the battlefield, was brittle in the way that uncured armor plating fresh out of the casting mold was: hit it wrong, and — unannealed — it shattered in a thousand pieces. His mind and body would have never survived so long if not for their Unicron-touched properties. Those defied physics. In fact, Unicron's touch made mockery of safe practices and perversions of natural law. Unicron had taken Megatron's dying body and remade him, mind and body. That did not mean that the Unmaker had done so with the intention of the result being any sort of finished product. There was no permanence in Unicron's work, nor any intention of stability. The Chaos Bringer had melted down Megatron's damage, not repaired it, and the pain had been rendered into Galvatron as deeply as power-lust and righteous fury.
Every joint and gear came from damaged material, and from there came the metaphorical chains. They weren't physical scars, but a neverending agony clawing through Galvatron's circuits. His body was an open wound that would not - could never — heal.
It was no wonder he was mad. Even if his mind had been rebuilt correctly, the pain would have driven him to the brink eventually.
Understanding that didn't make Galvatron any less crazy, but it was harder to blindly blame the Unicronians for their behavior once the Autobots realized how ferociously driven they were by pain and inbuilt compulsion. It had taken longer for the Autobots to realize that the Unicronians were fighting the Unmaker's coercion. Even if the fight, er, manifested in strange ways.
This came out in slow, painstaking words. Roddy had never been that good with diplomacy, and he ended the explanation mutely looking down at the human with an unconsciously imploring expression on his face.
The human seemed to consider for an ominously long time. Eventually, as if carefully feeling out the words, Danny asked, "Fighting how?"
Roddy almost collapsed with a whoosh of air; curiosity was a good sign! He'd done his level best to pick the right words, but as well as he knew Danny, humans surprised the Autobots on a near-daily basis. Danny had never reacted to unusual ideas with unreasonable anger, but…he was also Daniel Witwicky, Human Ambassador. Roddy couldn't always predict how that responsibility would make his friend react.
"Like…" His hands opened and closed on empty air, searching for the right way to put into words what most of the Autobots knew by observation and still couldn't articulate without it sounding patently ridiculous. "Okay, so," Roddy started at last, "First Aid says that the urge to destroy is code-deep in all of them. I mean, down to the struts. Peace isn't supposed to something they can even think. They shouldn't be able to do more than kill. But you know that if the Sweeps capture me, the first thing they're going to do is make sure I don't die. Right?"
Brown eyes blinked, going from conservative consideration to bafflement in a moment, because it had been so long since Daniel worried about Rodimus Prime going up against Scourge or the Sweeps that it seemed a little off to even think about it anymore. Which was the point, and Daniel had to stop and think about why exactly he wasn't worried. "Well, yeah. I think #3's even gotten some medical training from Hook lately." And once he said that, the sheer oddity stood out like a red flag. Why would a Sweep get medical training?
"Yep," Roddy confirmed. "And lemme tell you, it is seriously nerve-wracking getting field repairs on your fuel pump from a Sweep. Good bedside manner, though. Said he wouldn't gut me if I didn't move."
"When did that happen?"
"Few months ago. Didn't I tell you about it?" Daniel was giving him a frankly angry look for leaving out that bit of vital information, and the Autobot shrugged uncomfortably. "Computron drop-kicked Galvatron into a crater a minute later, and I was busy chasing the Predacons down for the rest of the day. I think you were busy with the election results that week?" He gave his friend his best puppy optics, hoping for forgiveness. "It's not like I was in any danger. The Decepticons won't let me die."
Daniel's glare promised that there would be more talking later, but he nodded almost reluctantly. The next words pushed through like an epiphany: "Because Galvatron wants you for himself."
"Yeah?" Roddy's helm cocked in open challenge, daring him to follow that epiphany to wherever it led, however strange unprepared humankind might find it. "You know that for sure?"
"Yeeeaah." The word dragged out, and Daniel's eyes were narrowing as he thought. If Unicron had made his heralds to be mindless killers, the Sweeps should far more menacing than they were. But they weren't. They were a screeching, blood-thirsty swarm of flyers that retreated when confronted by good defensive tactics. Two of them regularly bought pallets of birdseed from Cost Co. They'd apparently pushed one of their smarter members into rudimentary field repair training, too. "That's…kinda weird, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is." Roddy shifted his seat, and the birds stopped chirping for a second. All that could be heard was the soft slough of wind over the grass, but the insects chimed in when the Autobot stopped moving. "What about Cyclonus? He's had me down and out a few times, and you've seen what happens."
"You're not dead yet."
It really was weird the more Daniel thought about it, and not just because Cyclonus was a Unicronian. Decepticons didn't show mercy. Decepticons didn't stop pounding on someone in order to tie him up like a birthday present, especially when he was the enemies' leader. Daniel had actually seen Scourge and the Sweeps plough into the Prime in the middle of pitched battle, and then lift off like a flock of startled birds when they had him helplessly pinned. It wasn't as if they couldn't kill him; it was as if the killing blow physically repelled them. Cyclonus would haul Rodimus into the air like an eagle carrying home prey, but if confronted by a defensive line of Autobots, he'd choose to drop the Prime in order to fight rather than kill him and flee. Also, everyone knew that the best way to distract Galvatron from anything — beating on his own troops, shooting at the Autobots, trying to blow up a planet — was to point in Rodimus Prime's general direction.
Daniel had seen it on the news. Better yet, he'd witnessed it happen in person. He'd stood there on the battlefield catcalling at Galvatron that Rodimus was over that-a-way, punching Soundwave in the faceplates. If the highest priority Unicron had programmed into his heralds had been destruction, why the drop-everything obsession with Rodimus? For that matter, how did that factor into Galvatron's various…peculiarities?
Galvatron had possessiveness issues. He'd been known to grab Cyclonus by the antenna and interface with him in full view of the galaxy if he thought — for whatever insane reason, because everyone knew that Cyclonus would never do so — that his second-in-command was looking at someone else. Scourge and his Sweeps would snap to attention and scramble into ranks at their leader's back if the warlord so much as grunted in a certain way. Galvatron regarded other people as mobile bits of scenery, and his overbearing dominance over them was a natural extension since he ruled the universe. The other Unicronians, in turn, had responded by being fiercely possessive of their particular 'bits of universe' as pertaining to him. They would go through anyone who got in their way to remain at his side or at his back, and Primus help any poor Decepticon currently occupying the position they favored. It was kind of funny watching the Decepticons dive for cover when Galvatron twitched or grimaced, paranoid optics flicking around for his troops.
Yet the crazed warlord bent on universal dominion let his bitter rival escape again and again. Not easily, and definitely not without injury, but Rodimus Prime had faced down Galvatron more times than should have been possible. More importantly, he'd faced down all of the Unicronians. Unicronians who, according to First Aid - and Daniel had every faith in First Aid's abilities as a medic - couldn't help being murderous. They couldn't even contemplate living any other way, something that boggled Daniel's mind.
Actually, he was kind of all-around boggled right now.
In the human's defense, he'd grown up knowing that Galvatron regarded kicking Rodimus' aft around as a personal pastime. It had honestly never occurred to him to wonder why the Decepticon leader got psychotically huffy if one of the other Decepticons dared damage the Autobot leader. And he wasn't a child anymore; while Danny had once thought it was Roddy's skill and the fairness of the universe that let the Autobots win again and again, Daniel knew now that, realistically, Galvatron was physically more powerful. More powerful, more inclined to act first and think later, and not just prepared to but anticipating the kill. Yet Rodimus Prime still lived.
"Okay." He took a deep breath to steady himself, but his thoughts were still skittering about erratically. "Okay. Cyclonus and Scourge don't kill you when they can. I can sort of understand that, because they'll do anything Galvatron says — "
"First Aid says they shouldn't even be doing that."
"What, really?" Daniel's thoughts stumbled to a halt on that, because the idea of Cyclonus and Scourge disobeying Galvatron was just wrong. "Why not?"
"'Emotional attachments with positive associations are anathema to Unicronian design, causing psychosomatic symptoms,'" Roddy recited in a credible Perceptor impression, which he dropped in order to give his friend a sad interpretation: "Loyalty is a positive emotion, at least far as the Unicronians take it, and it hurts them. A lot, if First Aid's right."
"He is," Daniel said automatically, because Autobots and allies had their own kind of loyalty. Once he said it, however, Daniel could follow the logic. He'd grown up watching Galvatron's helm trail fireworks while fighting the Prime, after all. "The sparking thing?"
Roddy nodded. "Sweep #3 looked like someone was setting off flashbombs under his armor while he was working on me. They're just not made to do anything but destroy."
"But they are."
"They're trying." Roddy winced a bit. "Now that we know what we're seeing, some of us have our own sympathetic reactions. It was hard enough sending Groove into battle before we realized that just holding back from a killing blow causes Scourge's body to punish him." The Autobot pacifist had broken down in the arms of the other Protectobots after that battle, cringing because he hadn't needed to shoot a gun in order to hurt someone. What made it worse was that having the cease-fire in effect hadn't stopped the Unicronians' pain, and Rodimus had banned Groove from Decepticon contact for the foreseeable future.
"I…don't get it. I get that Unicron's an evil fragger," Daniel rushed to assure his friend, "but what does that have to do with the treaty? What does that have to do with you?" Because that was his real concern. Rodimus Prime went off into enemy territory far, far too often for comfort, and just because Galvatron hadn't killed him yet didn't mean it wouldn't happen.
"You sound like your mother when you do that," Rodimus muttered, reminded of several confessions — and promises — Daniel's mother had wrung out of him over the years as it became obvious that nothing but a lobotomy was going to separate Autobot and human child.
Daniel radiated smugness. "Who do you think I learned it from?" Roddy gave him a sour look. "Mom does the off-world diplomacy. I have to deal with the home team, and I had to learn how to do it from someone, didn't I? And it pays off." He pretended to buff his nails on his shift. "Politicians the world over don't know how to deal with my feminine wiles."
"…that sentence was all kinds of wrong." Amused despite himself, the Autobot gave him a wide-opticked look of fascination. "Teach me thy ways, oh swami!"
"First off, we'll get you a dress. Second, and this is most important," the human looked both ways in exaggerated concern for eavesdroppers, and Roddy leant down when beckoned, "I'll teach you how to not evade the subject," Daniel stage-whispered.
Ouch. Point scored.
Roddy sat back up straight with a tired laugh. "Okay, okay, you got me. Just bear with me, okay? It's not really something that I talk about a lot."
"Embarrassing?" What could possibly embarrass Roddy in front of Danny after all this time?
Clear blue optics clouded slightly, glancing away. "Not really, but it's hard to put into words. Most of the time, nobody talks about it to, well, spare my feelings." He flashed a slightly desperate grin at his friend, because it was either smile or scowl, and Danny didn't deserve misplaced frustration. It wasn't the human's fault that Roddy wasn't happy.
After a few seconds of studying the Autobot's discomfort, Danny turned to jiggle his fishing pole. When he did speak, it was carefully not an accusation. "Does this have to do with why Jazz has been running most of the Autobot City meetings lately?"
Trust the Human Ambassador to pick out a relevant and potentially problematic issue. "We weren't trying to cut Earth out of the loop!" Roddy said, then flinched because of course he sounded defensive. "He's perfectly capable of acting as a city commander, and nobody knows Earth politics better than him these days." Still too defensive, and it sounded like Roddy was trying to make excuses. Daniel still wasn't looking at him. "He was due a promotion, and Ultra Magnus is needed on Cybertron. It's not like we're shoveling Earth off on someone unprepared — " Oo, wrong word choice? "He wanted to stay on Earth, and he's good with people," Rodimus finally said bluntly. "We decided to give him a trial period, and I'm pretty sure the promotion will be permanent. You'd have been notified when it became official."
"I know he'll do a good job," Daniel said quietly. "Jazz is Jazz. If he's still settling into the position, I can even understand why the promotion hasn't been announced. I'm just wondering why you're not in command anymore."
"I'm in command!" Roddy said, instantly defensive, but he deflated not a second later. "Sorry, didn't mean to snap."
"I'm still Prime."
"I know." Daniel watched the bobbin float, waiting to tempt a fish into biting. "I also know you haven't been governing Cybertron since Ultra Magnus went back. At the time, you said he was in a better position to judge what needed to be done, since you were needed here on Earth." At his back and under him, Rodimus' systems were cycling in a steady rumble that was more felt than heard. In Daniel's experience, this particular rhythm meant the Autobot was nervous. "Now Jazz is in charge of Autobot City. Are you going to take over command on Cybertron?"
The rumble became briefly audible, but it dropped a moment later. "No," Roddy admitted, and there was a weary depression in that admittance. Daniel leaned back against him, offering silent support. As always. And, as always, it was the little gesture that helped where all the reassuring words and aft-kicking the other Autobots gave did nothing but depress him further. "I'm never going to be Optimus Prime," Roddy said finally, and it was astonishingly painful to say aloud. "I tried the diplomacy thing. I tried being a negotiator, and I tried sitting behind a desk. I'm just no good at it. Don't," he cut Daniel off. "If it weren't you as ambassador, you know I'd have screwed up the Autobot-Earth alliance ten times over by being me. The uproar over the moon territories was bad enough, but multiply that by every new species we meet and every time there's a conflict over stupid building codes back on Cybertron. For pity's sake, two Autobots started bickering over noise regulations back at the base here last week, and I somehow turned it into a large-scale brawl in the halls by opening my mouth. You know it!"
"You're not that bad," Daniel started, but the Autobot cut him off.
"I am! Kup keeps saying I'll outgrow it, but c'mon! Truth is, I'm not made for administration. I'm not made for government." He threw up his hands. "Give me a battle, and I'll learn tactics and strategy. I can cite the stats on every soldier in the Autobot ranks, because I learned. Ask me why the Harquins refuse to sign the latest draft of the trading agreement with Cybertron, and I haven't got the slightest notion of where to even start looking. And that's after months of poring over that blasted document, paragraph by paragraph." He slumped, looking directly down at the human sitting against him. "I was doing so bad with the Pafyno ambassador that I went to First Aid because I thought maybe there was something wrong with my processor."
"Is there?" Danny asked cautiously, almost afraid but a tiny bit hopeful as well.
"No." The hope had been noticed, but Roddy only shook his head. It wasn't anyone's fault that Rodimus could never be Optimus, and there wasn't any point in getting angry over it. "Give me filework or an ambassador, and I'm hopeless. Give me a fight with Galvatron, and I'm the only one who can predict what he'll do. It's like the Matrix chose me to be Galvatron's nemesis, not the leader of the Autobots."
One hand had pressed to Rodimus' chest without Danny even being aware of it, trying to offer anything to help the leaden weariness in the Autobot's voice. "Hey, Jazz is okay. Ultra Magnus has been running Cybertron unofficially for ages anyway. The Autobots can handle you not being a great paper-pusher, but I don't think any of us could handle Galvatron without you."
"Yeah, I know," Roddy said, his smile wry and self-directed. "That's what Ultra Magnus said when he promoted Jazz."
"…he didn't even ask you?"
"Ahhh, well, I was busy at the time. Er, handling Galvatron. For, like, the ninth time in a week." Rodimus fidgeted as his friend gave him an incredulous, then outright suspicious look. "Alright, so, okay, I went to First Aid? And First Aid did look at my processors, and he kinda compared them to my processors before I got Primeified — "
"That's not a word!"
"Perceptor said it first!"
"So what? Perceptor makes up more words than Star Trek engineers!"
"Whatever. You're just sore you didn't think of it first."
"Anyway," Rodimus dragged them back on track, "he did a comparison, and in the middle of running a diagnostic, Galvatron hit Phoenix with that scorcher ray thing."
"The wha — oh, yeah. Okay, I remember." Hitting Phoenix, Arizona, with an intense ray of heat in the middle of summer had gone fairly unnoticed. That Decepticon plot obviously hadn't been fully thought through.
"Right. Well, turns out that my battle computer goes all 'Hulk smash!' when Galvatron's involved."
"It gets big, green, and angry?" Danny asked slowly, looking askance.
Roddy smirked. "It defies the laws of physics by actually getting bigger and drawing energy from nowhere. Not really 'nowhere,'" he corrected himself when his friend only stared up at him. "The Matrix connects directly to my CPU, contributes the extra mass and energy, and then reabsorbs it all after the crisis is over. It, uh, literally changes me into a Galvatron-fighting machine," he said, watching Daniel uneasily. The human's hand on his chest plate had clenched into a fist. "It doesn't do scrap-all when I'm trying to read a report, though, so Perceptor's theory is that — "
"You're not a weapon!" Daniel burst out, and Roddy's hands flew up to hover uncertainly as the much smaller man thumped him with a fist. The man was aiming for the Matrix in his chest, but it felt like an attack. "They can't just prop you up, call you Prime, and then shuffle you off to fight without — without — " The words wouldn't come, but it was so unfair! Ultra Magnus and Jazz got the responsibility and authority, but Rodimus was the one the Matrix had picked! Rodimus was the one risking his life over and over again, and they were going to make him do it without letting him lead! A puppet leader instead of a respected, honored Prime!
But that was a child's belief in a fair universe, and Daniel had grown up. He knew what Perceptor's theory was, and he hit Rodimus chest plate again in defiance of the Matrix. Why would the Matrix of Leadership choose someone to be the sacrificial lamb? Why Hot Rod? "They can't just use you like that," he forced out at last, dredging the words out of bitterness, and, despite himself, added, "It's not fair."
"I am a weapon," Rodimus Prime said gently, and his hovering hands closed in to hold his friend. Two fingers pinched the forgotten fishing rod and set it beside the fuming man, and then the Autobot just held him. "The Matrix remade me to do a job that needs to be done. It's not the job that Optimus Prime had to do, but Prime led in war. There couldn't be different heads of state in his time because we didn't have states to head. We had an Autobot army that needed a definite leader. Now we have a galaxy with peace and war side-by-side, and the Matrix chose me for the side of war, because without me…" He hesitated, and in his hands, Daniel was listening. "Without me fighting, there wouldn't be a chance for peace. But that doesn't make me a peacetime leader."
"Do you know why I don't kill Galvatron?" the Autobot said suddenly, and Daniel blinked at the sudden subject jump. "I could, you know."
"You're an Autobot. Autobots don't kill," Daniel said, voice a little hoarse.
Blue optics looked at him solemnly. "We try not to kill. There's a difference. With all the trouble he's caused over the years, don't you think I'd risked traumatizing Bluestreak in order to put a sniper shot through Galvatron's head? Put him down, quick and easy."
"I guess…it occurred to me," the human thought aloud, "but Optimus tried that with Megatron a few times. It never worked."
"Megatron had experience, and Soundwave and a score of loyalists to defend him. Galvatron has less caution and skill than Megatron." Brute force, not subtly, was Galvatron's way. Rodimus opened his hands, letting the human get comfortable against him again. "Galvatron has complete control of the Decepticons, Danny. Megatron was always fighting sub-sects and dealing with internal politics to keep his position, but when Unicron attacked Cybertron, a lot of the Decepticon dissenters died. Galvatron's the strongest Decepticon left, and with Cyclonus and Scourge backing him, none of the remaining Decepticons dare step out of line. As long as Galvatron's alive, nobody more competent or," he grinned cheekily, "more threatening can take power. He's too possessive and paranoid to allow dissenters in the ranks."
Vividly remembering Octane and Blitzwing, Daniel nodded. "Tell me about it."
"We always knew that. So we haven't tried to assassinate Galvatron, even when we had the opportunity. The Decepticons had Chaar, and we had Earth and Cybertron, and the stalemate was going on and on because we couldn't think of a way to stop Galvatron without splintering the Decepticons off into even worse independent groups who might find someone to restart the war sometime later when we're not expecting it." The fishing rod was picked up, and Roddy idly wound the fishing line around the fingers of his right hand. The thin line glittered in the mid-afternoon sun, eventually twining around the Autobot's fingers like a web, and Roddy carefully flexed his fingers. "All the while, we're all wondering why even a crazy person couldn't see a losing battle when he was fighting it. It just didn't make sense that Galvatron would keep fighting, right? And then one day, First Aid got his hands on some scans from the Constructicons, and we find out that it's not logic, and it's not insanity, and it's not even what anyone wants so much as what Unicron is making them do."
Danny eyed the somewhat sheepish look on the Prime's face and sighed. "I'm going to make a guess here. You got an idea?"
"And…it led to this treaty. Which shouldn't be possible, according to what you say First Aid said."
"Uh-huh." Rodimus coughed, unnecessarily clearing his intakes. "Galvatron's always been fixated on me. I just found a way to, uhh um, 'encourage' that fixation. I think you'd call it — well — " He ducked his head, sheepishness dipping into a kind of shamefaced silliness, "S&M?"
"Sado-masochism." Daniel's voice was so very flat. "Oh, I can't wait to hear this."
"All of Galvatron's bonds of loyalty and — so the theory goes! — affection are directly linked to physical and mental pain," Roddy rushed to explain. "I wasn't thinking about that, not really, but I had an idea and knew what I had to do, and First Aid was able to confirm later that the Matrix was definitely involved in my decision but that was later after — yeah." A smile was trying to pull on the Prime's lips, but Roddy wouldn't look down at the human. "We had indirect evidence that the subcommanders were all willing to discuss peace, but none of the Decepticons could risk saying anything to Galvatron, and Galvatron…he doesn't even really comprehend the concept, much less grasp how it comes about. But he does know how to chase me, and once I started encouraging his attention instead of, y'know, treating it like war, he started following where I led. Sort of. It's less of a leadership thing than a distraction. Unicron ingrained him with the need to conquer, but it was actually fairly easy to figure out how to keep him happy once I started trying. He likes challenges. He always needs a fight. Everything has to be about dominance and submission, or he just doesn't understand it. He - " There was a beat of hesitation, because every time Rodimus said it, he felt like an arrogant glitch. Matrix bearer or not, it seemed snobbish. "He sees everything from a different angle, and I think I'm the only one who really gets how to interpret that into our terms."
"Look." Rodimus held up his tangled hand, bending one finger so that the others had to follow, pulled by the fishing line. "When Galvatron's happy, he's not off killing things and is, ah, amendable to agreements, even if he doesn't quite get what the agreements are about, other than that they make me happy. Once I got him attached," the thumb moved, and the forefinger followed naturally, "he wouldn't let go. He's always been obsessed with me, but now it's become stronger. I'm somewhere between rival, equal, and some kind of cherished pet. He hates me as much as he wants me, and he's got a weird sense of concern for my well-being that's like…watching for battle damage even as he causes it." He paused, confused by his own awkward explanation, and one of Daniel's eyebrows had hitched to his hairline. "Uh, right. Since he's attached, Scourge and Cyclonus tolerate me." The middle and ring finger followed the forefinger, wrapped closely together with fishing line. "If he's in control and busy on Chaar pursuing me in every way possible, Ultra Magnus and the Decepticon subcommanders can actually negotiate boundaries and treaties. And since he's still rules the Decepticons," Rodimus' pinkie finger followed after the strongest three fingers, "none of them can step out of line without him blasting them into next week for defying him. All because I," the thumb waggled, linked more loosely to the rest of the hand but still entangled, "got involved."
"And because I'm involved," the thumb waggled again, the forefinger moving just slightly to follow, "the other Autobots," Rodimus' other hand rose to present its open palm to Daniel, "are free to be at peace."
The human stared into his open palm as if seeking meaning there. As if looking for truth. Maybe Smokescreen had been right to judge humankind too immature to know the truth about the treaty yet, but Rodimus Prime didn't want to think that about Earth. Roddy didn't want to know that about Danny.
He wanted it to be okay. He wanted the wordless acceptance he got from Sunstreaker and Sideswipe when they were redirected from bodyguarding him to taking up the same duty at Jazz's side. He wanted the punch to the shoulder from Springer, and the soft, "Good luck," from Arcee when Cyclonus met Sky Lynx at the Chaar/Cybertron space boundary. He wanted First Aid's absolute assurance that of course this is what he was meant to be doing. He wanted Daniel's brown eyes to hold that same confidence as the Autobots had, because they knew that a Prime didn't have to hold an administrative position to protect and lead them.
Daniel's slightly damp hand reached out and touched the Autobot's huge hand. "How long will it last, Roddy? How long before Galvatron gets bored, or until Sweep #3 can't fix your fuel pump? I've seen Galvatron fight. The only reason he hasn't killed you is because you fight back. What happens when you don't fight back enough one day? What happens if he can't take the pain and decided to kill you after all?" Solemn brown eyes turned up to blue optics, and something strained in Rodimus' chest broke like sunlight over the horizon to see the concern there. "You only have to be unlucky once, and then Unicron wins after all."
"Ah, funny you should say that," Roddy said, and if his voice had gone high and relieved, who could blame him? "First Aid thinks that the Matrix is still fighting Unicron. It was never this active when Optimus was fighting Megatron, and it flares every time I'm around Galvatron. I mean, every time. I didn't think that was odd until I mentioned it, and suddenly I had an entire meeting hall gaping at me like I'd taken the Matrix out and waved it at them." Perceptor and First Aid had practically tackled him in his chair, too, and the end result of that examination had led to far more enthusiastic cooperation among the Autobots with Operation: Distract Galvatron. "With the amount of energy it's putting out, we think it's actually using me to try and fix the Unicronians."
"So the more you're around Galvatron, eventually…" Daniel murmured. For a second, he seemed lost in thought. Then he snatched his hand back from Rodimus' like it had burnt him and gave the Prime the evil eye. "Is this an Autobot televangelist thing? Because if you start trying to heal people with the power of the Matrix — no, don't you dare! No no no — "
Too late; laughing, Rodimus had already scooped up his friend and risen to his feet. One hand held Daniel to his chest while he dramatically raised his fishing line-tangled hand to the sky. "By the power of the Matriiiiiiiiiiiix!" he shouted, doing a credible imitation of He-Man.
Daniel kicked his legs in the air and couldn't help but laugh. "Metroplex is not Castle Greyskull!"
"Hmm." This was given due consideration. "Autobots, Autobots, Autobots..?"
"Hooooooo~o!" echoed across the lake, startling birds into flight and crickets into dead silence.
Autobot and human collapsed laughing on the grass, tension finally beaten back. The jelly-gut feeling of relief seemed to be mutual, and it felt like something between them had just dissolved away. Rodimus laid out flat, spoiler half-buried in the thick weeds, and Daniel slid off his chest to walk out along his arm, then slide off the elbow joint onto the ground. Half-watching the clouds, half-watching his friend, Rodimus obligingly lifted his hand when Danny's searching turned up the other fishing rod under it. The man picked the line free of the simple rod, sitting down with his back to Roddy's wrist as he worked.
"What'd you think of Blaster's last concert?"
"Meh, not my style of music. Too loud and wild."
"Did they have better tunes back in your day?"
"Are you calling me old?"
"Of course not, granddad."
"See if I let you on my lawn ever again…"
They bickered back and forth, here and there, even as Daniel got up to walk around Rodimus' head — deliberately stomping on the half-buried spoiler — to his other side. The Autobot rolled his head to follow his progress, watching the human wade through the grass out to Rodimus' hand. It was still tied up with its illustrative web of fishing line. Daniel gave the four fingers a look of scant favor and began, while still talking with Roddy about how Metroplex used to transform the entry ramp so that, yes, he had in fact walked uphill both ways, to wrap the thumb with a new length of fishing line. Rodimus' voice faltered.
It failed completely when the man tied the other end around his own waist.
Brown eyes met blue optics, wide and full of things unsaid. Danny smiled; a little sad, a little resigned, but still Danny. A boy with his car. A car with his boy. No matter what they looked like today, no matter what they did tomorrow.
And when Danny took an experimental step, of course Roddy followed.