He was finally seeing Rung. It had been nearly two months now since his last visit, and he was finally going to see the shrink.

Fortress Maximus hesitated at the closed office door. The last time he'd been here things hadn't gone well. Adding to that, Ultra Magnus was obviously against the two of them meeting. Hell, the entire ship was opposed to the idea and Maximus really didn't need nor want any more trouble either. But... but none of that changed the fact that Rung had asked for him.

Maximus's hand hovered in the air awkwardly, poised halfway between knocking and ringing the chime.

People weren't going to like this. They'd talk – not that he cared – but they'd talk, and more than a few felt protective towards the tiny, pathetically weak and under-armed doctor. Then there was Hot Rod and Whirl to think about...

Maximus reminded himself again that he was only here because Rung had asked. If this was what the doctor wanted – no matter what he had to say – if this was the first step towards making amends, then so be it. Everyone else could go and get themselves melted down.

Drawing his hand back to finally knock properly, the door slid open before his knuckles could even touch the metal. Directly across the room, Rung looked up from where he'd been idly running his fingers over a model ship.

Maximus stared, watching the doctor harmlessly watching him back. Eventually Rung cleared his throat, smiled, and said, "Come in."

Suddenly aware of himself, Maximus was embarrassed by how long he'd been standing there, thrown off by something as simple as a door opening before he was ready. But since there was no point in dragging it out, he squared his shoulders and walked in.

Rung rose, crossing around his desk to meet him. "I'm glad you came," he said with another smile, sounding genuine. "Why don't you have a seat so we can get started?"

Not even noticing that he'd backed his legs into the patient slab kept in the room until he felt the collision against his calves, Maximus instinctively sat down. Seated, Rung had looked the way he always had; Ratchet's reconstruction proving to be nothing short of as legendary as praised. The psychotherapist had been fully rebuilt right down to his ridiculous eyebrows.

Standing, however, revealed that the repairs hadn't put him back completely the same after all.

There was just one small change: the clear reinforced window over Rung's spark was now protected by a stronger opaque metal casing. Maximus wasn't sure why this surprised him. Of course Rung would have seen some changes. The damage had been extensive. Still, it was startling how much less vulnerable that simple modification made the doctor look – even though nothing had really changed and Maximus could have still broken him in half with one hand. Somehow something as stupid as the loss of such an obvious vulnerability made Maximus all the more reluctant to talk with the therapist. Without that familiar glow spilling out his chest, Rung's eyes seemed overbright, as if his spark light was trying to find another outlet to escape his small body.

"So," Maximus said, deliberately setting his hands loose and open on his knees, "how do you want to do this?"

Rung perched himself on the edge of a chair beside the slab. "Why don't we just talk for a bit first? About how you're doing," Rung suggested, resting one hand over the hull of the tiny ship now sitting in his lap. "Have you been integrating back in with the rest of the crew?"

"That hasn't really been a priority," Maximus answered, trying not to sound mulish.

"Do you want to rejoin them?"

Fortress Maximus couldn't have cared less, but he was so tired of being tired, so tired of shying away from a certain paint scheme or a certain optic colour – or at the worst, his own reflection in a window when caught in the periphery of his vision.

"Think that would help? Can't say the crew's in all that much of a hurry to forgive me." The words were difficult to say, but he tried.

"You shouldn't close yourself off from people, Maximus. It might help, too, after what happened to Pipes, and Dogfight, and the rest. I don't want to rush you, and you should certainly go at your own pace, but it's important that you do interact with the others. Have you talked to anyone recently, or heard anything that's unsettled you?"

Maximus thought briefly of Whirl and his accusatory glare, and then back further to Red Alert and the rumour that something had been lost from the medibay.

"Nothing that really jumps out at me."

"Why don't we talk about how you've been doing in a more immediate scope," Rung said, and while it might have been phrased like a question, Maximus knew better. "Forget the crew. Have you been refuelling and resting adequately?"

"Yeah," Maximus said, the truth drying up in his mouth. Frustrated, he added, "If you don't mind, I'd rather we just skip the small talk and get to the point. Go ahead and ask me your questions about the Garrus. I'm ready; I'll answer them this time."

Rung smiled placidly. "You don't like to talk," he said, sounding somewhat apologetic. "It was my mistake for pushing you before. I understand that now."

Maximus wanted to interrupt, to say Rung was more than forgiven. It might not have been true, but Rung wasn't at fault here, not really. Not entirely. Instead, he kept quiet.

"I think we should try something else today."

"Tonight," Maximus blurted, not just to be contrary, and not just to fill the air with some sort of noise because he didn't like the way the silence around the doctor was both expectant and hungry. It was the kind of silence that wanted to take your thoughts and shape them into ugly things. But no, that wasn't why he'd spoken up. He'd honestly felt it necessary to point out that it really was a bit unusual – now that he'd checked the time – to meet this late, no matter how strange the schedule Rung kept for himself.

"We're in space," Rung pointed out patiently. "Day and night are artificial constructs now."

Maximus didn't mention that they didn't call it a 'night shift' for nothing. He could already see the end of that argument and it didn't finish with him winning. "Sure," he said instead. "What did you have in mind?" He tried not to sound suspicious. He trusted Rung; he really did. He... he knew better now.

"Alright," Rung said, giving his ship a last touch before placing it back down in his lap so the screens at his back could unfold and curl around to the front of his body. "I've got a list here, and I'd like you to listen as I read it out. There's no other demands of you, Max; you only need to listen. Just stop me whenever you hear something that needs to be corrected. Can you do that for me?"

Maximus nodded, surprised but relieved right down to his spark that Rung wasn't going to bring up what had happened the last time they'd seen each other. It wasn't that he didn't think about it. He did. Constantly. But he was relieved Rung was enough of a professional not to dwell, or to force the issue, because that was one more thing he wasn't sure he was ready to talk about. Boxed in by the four walls of the familiar office, it was hard to ignore the memories splattered and soaked right into the very metal of the room. The smell of burnt circuitry and energon began to come back to him, and Fortress Maximus forced his engine to turn over, trying to focus on the very alive, very whole Rung beside him.

Listening would be easier; he could do that. It was better than being asked questions.

The compromise of Rung sparing him that yawning silence of a question waiting to be answeredwasn't something to be taken for granted, and Maximus felt a shock of affectionate appreciation for the tiny doctor. Rung was right; he understood things now.

They could do this.

"What're you going to read, then?" Maximus asked, more at ease than he'd been since he first stepped into the room.

Rung didn't answer immediately, too busy calling something up on a couple of his screens. When he'd finished, he turned, fixed Maximus with one of his kind, open smiles and said earnestly, "I'm glad you're cooperating."




What would I do for a Crit?
More like what wouldn't I do.

Comments are always good too~.