Title: Homeward Bound: The (Not So) Incredible Journey

Warning: Written after MTMTE#8, so if the Scavengers do reappear in the series, this story will likely contradict however they get written. Other than that, beware of Decepticons being Decepticons. Not the brightest and best, but still. Decepticons.

Rating: G

Continuity: IDW

Characters: Fulcrum, Krok, Flywheels, Misfire, Crankcase, Spinister, Grimlock

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

Motivation (Prompt): A prompt from Tumblr


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Krok - "Flywheels"

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Krok hated being laid up. The appearance of weakness meant that a Decepticon was too weak to cover it any longer. Even trapped in the medbay and covered in nanite-farm bandages, Krok had insisted on being up and active when others were present. Ranking mechs had to defend that rank against anyone looking to replace them.

Spinister knew this. Hence the reason Spinister tied him to the captain's berth.

To be fair to the surgeon, Krok wasn't very coherent at the moment. Tying him down prevented further damage, really. Mostly inflicted by passing walls and the repeated introduction of face to floor. The officer's balance had taken a short vacation elsewhere, leaving his body behind to blunder along without it.

The only way to separate soldier from generator, as it turned out, was to interrupt the circuit. Fulcrum had been unconscious and smoking lightly upon his return to the above-floor crowd, but Krok had been reeling and punchy. Reeling and punchy didn't fall under the 'Commanding Officer: Good Things' list for Crankcase, Misfire, and Spinister. Luckily for Krok's overall health, the names 'Crankcase,' 'Misfire,' and 'Spinister' were also on that list, with variations of underlining and italics. Fulcrum's name was sort of scrawled in, crossed out, and had a couple question marks by it, but he was worse off than Krok.

And thus Krok remained in command, if tied down and currently under medical advisement to, "Shut up, shut down, and rest."

"I'm fine!" he snapped back, glaring. The lolling of his helm didn't help the Authority Figure image in the least, and Spinister seemed to have moved when he wasn't looking. Not fair! "Now let me up, or so help me, I'll - "

Spinister sighed and tipped Krok's head the other direction. "Over here. Hi, Krok." He waved. This was exactly why a single strap at the waist was effectively keeping Krok pinned down. By the time he figured out how to escape the thing, he'd probably have recovered enough to not fall down in a heap somewhere. "You were saying?"

The officer blinked, taken off guard by the 'copter suddenly sitting by his side again on the berth. "There you are. It's rude to wander off when I'm talking to you. As I was saying, I'm fit for duty and perfectly able to take care of myself, so let me up immediately!"

Misfire snickered helplessly by the door, hand over his mouth and optics sparkling as Spinister hummed acknowledgement of the scolding. Acknowledgement, not agreement. The surgeon held up his finger and uncapped it to shine a light into Krok's right optic. Obviously losing his train of thought, Krok fell silent and stared dumbly into the light. Wow, that was bright. It moved up; Krok's head tipped up. So very bright. It moved down; fixated, Krok followed it. It moved to the side, but Krok kept staring downward, puzzled that the shiny thing had disappeared. Where did it go?

"Yeah, your self-repair's working on it," Spinister announced. He recapped his finger. One big hand patted his captain on the head. "Two days, tops. I'll let you up when you can tell me what the bulkhead's done to deserve being glared at like that."

After some time peering through squinted optics, Krok determined that Spinister was not, in fact, that shade of gray. Once again, his head had flopped to the side and left him angrily lecturing the wall beside his berth. Oops.

Ugh. Why did he feel so weak?

"Don't worry!" Misfire said cheerily. "We won't crash the ship. It's not the first time we've been on our own!"

That was not a statement to reassure any officer, much less this one. He seemed to be making a habit of getting himself tethered to medical berths, and that wasn't a good habit. "Fulcrum?" he asked the bulkhead tersely. If Fulcrum was riding herd on the pack of fools, maybe it'd be okay to nap for a while. He felt like restructured scrap.

"Burnt out every one of his breakers, and I'm going to have to strip and re-insulate most of his wires on the left side of his body. Shoulder's the worst, though. He must have been hanging off it, 'cause there's fracturing where weight stressed heated struts." Spinister had relocated somewhere behind him when he wasn't looking. He could hear the surgeon. Hmm. Krok debated the pros and cons of trying to turn his head but eventually settled for making a vague sound indicating he was listening. "I've got him in the medbay. He'll be okay soon as I get the parts to start on him."

A useful surgeon was a happy surgeon, but that didn't make the people around that surgeon very happy. Krok much preferred when his surgeon was bored and itching to kill. It meant the rest of his crew was intact. He liked having his crew intact. They were his responsibility. He was supposed to be the one taking care of them. Control issues a decent officer did make. Control obsession, not so much, but Krok believed in having enough control over his unit to prevent them nosediving into trouble.

Well, he tried, anyway. These Scavengers were dead set on dragging him along into the Pit.

"Meantime, you're on your own." A pat fell on his shoulder. "You rest. I'll be back in a while to check on you."

Metal clanked as Spinister stood up and headed for the door. A war-whoop that had to belong to Misfire bounced out of hearing right before the door cut it off mid-excitement. That was a sound to chill an officer's tanks any day.

"Get back here so I can yell at you!" Krok shouted, resetting his optics. No matter which way he looked, he couldn't seem to find his malfunctioning, insubordinate gearheads to give a properly scathing talking-to. It didn't matter that his neck could only twitch in feeble spasms. Spinister must have sedated him. Turned him on his side to curl up facing the wall, and sedated him. Yes, that was the obvious problem here. Surgeons getting above themselves. Spinister wasn't even a medic, he was a surgeon, and what the frag, surgeons weren't the same as an actual medic. Spinister probably didn't have a clue what to do. Blind luck the lunatic hadn't misdiagnosed anyone and killed them all yet.

Defeated, he turned his optics off and rootled about on the berth to ease the worst of his aches. Disgruntled muttering followed Krok into the blankness of recharge.

Flywheels was there when he woke up again. Krok reset his optics and fuzzily pushed aside a barrage of self-repair reports. No wonder he felt like recycled junk.

When he reset his optics the final time to clear his HUD, Flywheels was still there. For some reason that struck him as slightly wrong, but mostly Krok was just irritated. "Spinister send you to watch over me?" the officer asked bitterly. He grumped about on the berth in an attempt to find a comfortable spot. "Not an invalid. Don't need a nurse."

A thermal insulator floofed down over him. Krok flailed weakly under it, trying to resurface. "Spinister didn't send me," he heard Flywheels say, and he calmed himself. Right. Dignified Decepticon officers did not flail. They just batted at the blanket until an opening was found. That was far more dignified. Primus, he was in pathetic shape right now. He couldn't even lift a slagging piece of insulation.

Huh. He hadn't realized his self-repair had sapped energy from his systems until the external insulator started bringing his body back up to temperature. External help was necessary, apparently.

That didn't mean he had to be gracious about accepting it. He stuck his head out the opening he eventually located and leveled a suppressive look in Flywheels' direction. The mech studiously continued to read his religious text. Yeah, he'd better keep reading. Krok tamped the blanket down under his chin and set about tucking the edges in as he found them. He couldn't move his arms enough to untie the strap over his waist, but he had enough freedom to make being smothered look purposeful instead of imposed. If it'd get him off this berth any faster, he'd accept his blanket-burrito fate.

When things were as smoothed as he could make them, he spoke again with painful dignity. "If Spinister didn't send you, why are you here?" Flywheels had never shown an inclination toward preying on the weak, not since he found religion. That automatically made Krok suspicious. Religious Decepticons tended to be the most militant under the right circumstances.

A red visor looked over the top of the datapad. "Thought you'd like the company."

Well, what could he say to that? He was on berth-rest until somebody came to untie him, and it didn't look like Flywheels would help him with that. "…appreciated," he said a tad sullenly. "Just don't read to me. I've had all I can take of NeoPrimalism."

Flywheels put down his text and grinned. "Don't be like that, Krok. You just got started on the wrong foot."

"Wrong foot, my scuffed aft! Have you seen the engine room? It's like someone went slap-happy with iconography in there!" Krok squirmed aside on the berth, making room for the person standing next to Flywheels to sit. When had all these people arrived? He'd worry about his inability to remember the door opening, but since they were all familiar and belonged here, he concentrated more on focusing his optics. He hated zoning out like this, but his self-repair sapped him of energy. "That's not even counting the prayers. How can you say stuff like that? It's all about debasing yourself. It's depressing."

"It's not so bad. You just have to have the perspective that we're all very small and next to nothing when compared to Primus."

"Religious claptrap," Krok dismissed him. "Sit! I'm not lying like this because it's fun! Slag, do I have to write an invitation?" Someone said something. "Not you. You. Yeah. If you're going to stand there and talk to me, have the decency to not stand over me like you've about to slit my fuel lines." The other mech sat on the edge of the berth where he'd made room, and a sense of well-being and satisfaction flooded him. Good. That was - that was good.

A pointed inquiry after his health made him cough a laugh. "What's it look like? I'm a torpedo short of a brace." Someone else spoke, and he squinted. Processor errors popped up on his HUD, giving him a headache, but he had the odd impression that there were more mechs in the room than should have been physically possible. He considered that for a moment before deciding it didn't matter. "Haven't seen you for a while," he said instead. "Where have you been hiding?"

Broad shoulders shrugged, and the answer teased on the edge of hearing before Krok's attention bent away again. There were familiar mechs milling through the room, investigating his desk with curious hands and talking in the background. "Get out of there!" he ordered, and laughter burst out over by the desk as mechs threw up their hands. Caught! Sorry, sir, won't happen again, sir. "Yeah, right, I know better. Stay away from my things."

"Relax," Flywheels said, still grinning. "I'll keep them in line."

Krok eyed him warily, but Flywheels was a good soldier. Misled in terms of religion - Dark Lord of the engine block, anyone? - but otherwise dependable. Not that he distrusted these folks. He knew them all. They were a solid unit. Good Decepticon grunts, all of them.

"I'm holding you to that," he said, but his voice came out burred as his vocalizer slowly cycled down. Just a short nap. He was so tired. "Keep them…"

Panic abruptly chilled his lines, frosting his spark in glitters of agitation and meaningless fear, and he thrashed against the tie around his waist. Wait, there was something really important he had to say! "You're in charge until I'm back on my feet! Keep them close," he finished, urgent even in a sleep-blurred voice. "Keep them here. Got that? Keep them here. Stay…close."

The surge of energy petered out, but the sense of urgency remained. Krok forced his optics to stay online.

His mech looked down at him and nodded, but as the officer stared at him, his vision played a weird trick on him. The red of Flywheels' visor retracted, going from a wide band to a pinprick, and the silver-white of his smile smearing into a wider color scheme of reds and purples that gradually faded back, away from the berth. "We'll stay here with you, Krok," Flywheels said in many voices, voices Krok recognized but couldn't put names to, just like he couldn't put faces to the mechs standing by his berth. They were so familiar it frustrated him, but at the same time, he felt obscurely comforted by their presence. A nagging thought far back in the haze of his drained mind said that he was better off unable to see their faces. "Don't worry, sir. We'll stand watch for a while."

"Better not be here when I wake up," he slurred. "Got duties. Go do 'em."

That burst of laughter again, like he'd caught them doing something they weren't supposed to, but only jokingly. He had the urge to scold the whole unit. Always getting into trouble. "Will do," someone who sounded like Flywheels said, but when Krok brought one optic online, all he saw was the red ready-light of the door controls and the maroon of the wall beside it.

He grunted and turned over. It took real effort. A hand or two might have helped him, but he couldn't tell who they belonged to through the thermal insulator, which they tucked up behind him. His vents sputtered faint protest to the gesture. Decepticon officers didn't need to be tucked in. Decepticon officers were self-sufficient, cold-sparked killers who ate glitches like these to feed their repair nanites.

Regardless of his mumbled protests, the slightly-fried officer didn't object over-much to the cocooning. He was cold.

The wrongness of the situation drifted through his mind, picking at the edges of his thoughts while he slept. Flywheels…something about Flywheels. And all those other Decepticons hanging out in his quarters like they belonged around him. He didn't understand.

Perhaps aided by the slow work of his self-repair system, his processor threw flashes of memory recall into the forefront of his mind. Old, filed, blocked memories gurgled by under conscious thought, pressing up like they'd break through, but Krok was injured. He recharged restless but deep, fingers closing on nothing and knees drawing up. Troubled dreams chased his memories as his processor imagined and connected random facts.

He woke less disoriented this time but aware that his systems were still compromised. The gray of the bulkhead in front of his optics wavered as he cautiously reset his color filters. "Hmm."

"Feeling better?"

"Somewhat." He felt surprised by his lack of surprise. Taking in a heavy in-vent, he risked the monumental task of turning over on his own. Oof. Yes, hello, the room was still full of mechs. More importantly, that fragging strap across his waist had to go at some point. Round-about when he could determine how to remove it, likely. Until then, he'd just push at it with his hands and call the weak attempt good enough.

That tactic was more effective with the thermal insulators attempting to strangle him. "Stop putting these on me," he ordered crankily. There had to be five of the things piled on him. "Slagging Pit, no wonder I'm so hot. Get these off me!"

Flywheels looked at him over his datapad. "I didn't put them on you. Spinister did."

"Why would he do that? Idiot's going to send me into system melt-down at this rate."

The mech sitting on the end of the berth pointed out that if he'd take three seconds to check his temperature regulator history, he'd see why. Krok shot him a glare but figured the suggestion couldn't hurt.

Oh.

He dug down among the insulation layers to find the cool-paks some wise-aft surgeon who was smarter than he looked had cracked and slipped in with him. Right. Thermal insulation worked just as well to keep a mech cool as they did to warm him up. He'd just - wrap himself up tighter to keep the cold in, now. "How long have I been overheating?"

"Since your self-repair started generating wire coating out of internal excess. He'll be back soon to shove some material supplements in your storage for the nanites." Flywheels handed another blanket to the mech sitting on the end of the berth, and Krok almost recognized him. Almost knew him.

He tolerated the addition to his nest. At this rate, he'd be able to lurk amidst the insulation like some sort of strange mechanical beast. He probably looked like Fulcrum did when Grimlock curled up around him.

But he really was overheating like crazy, so he slid his arms back into place in the burrito of blankets and settled down as best he could. That involved packing the cool-paks against his midriff, which provoked a hiss. He was burning up! "How's life support? Can Crankcase tweak the temperature down a degree or ten in here?"

"Blinking in and out, so no," Flywheels reported. "You're stuck like this until your body evens out."

He didn't want to hear that. Krok glowered from the hole his concerned crew had kindly for left his optics. The rest of him was firmly bound up in insulation, including his head. "Fulcrum?"

Flywheels was mumbling along with a prayer on his datapad, and one of the others took over reporting the status of his unit. Krok listened hard, he knew he did, but he couldn't recall a single thing he'd been told a moment later. Yet he could clearly remember that Fulcrum was fine, Misfire had started an electrical fire, and Crankcase had tied the jet to Grimlock's back until further notice. None of the words registered in his mind, but when he hesitated, vaguely disturbed by his lack of clarity, he found the distant, watery memory of Spinister's voice behind another mech's reporting style. A familiar style. He should know that way of snapping to attention and blurting out a rush of information, and it wasn't Misfire's style because of the respect. This mech respected him, and he respected -

In a blinding flash of information, Krok suddenly remembered what he'd thought of while dreaming. "Flywheels."

"Huh?" Flywheels looked up, blinking. "What?"

If he moved too quickly, the red of the visor became a blinking ready light, the red and purple plating the far wall. That made sense, suddenly. "…you're dead," Krok said, quiet. He reset his optics and saw no one in the chair, an empty room, and no one sitting by his feet. For half a second he stared, strangely pained, before he lost his concentration.

The smudges where colors bled into pixels grew shadows and edges, and the room was full again.

Flywheels sat in the chair, a lopsided smile on his face. "Yeah, Krok. Got it in one."

Krok breathed in and out, pulling in cool air and pushing out hot. The inside of his head felt odd and fragile. "Miracle? Zombie?"

"Nah."

He'd have freed a hand if exhaustion didn't trap his arms at his sides. Lethargic but not alarmed, he nestled further down into the cool interior of the cocoon. "Ghost?"

Flywheels snorted a laugh. "Sure. Let's go with that."

That made a kind of sense. Ghosts were supposed to haunt mechs, although Krok had never run across any proof of their existence. "Am I hallucinating?" he tried.

Someone chuckled. A wave of half-sparked salutes went around the room. There were also several crude suggestions for what he should envision next, if this was what he saw when injured enough. Some of them were quite inventive, if against officer regulations and the laws of physics.

"Alright, alright." He shrugged. "So you're ghosts. Should I be alarmed?"

"Yessir." Finally putting down the religious text, Flywheels leaned forward as if to study his former commander. "Boo?"

Despite himself, Krok laughed. "I'm not scared of you. Aren't hauntings supposed to be more frightening?" He didn't feel frightened. He felt despicably cozy, in fact. A Decepticon should never feel this at ease around his own kind. "Are you giving me a sub-par haunting, Flywheels? I expected more of you."

Of all of them. Although he couldn't say it, and a strange muddled sense of confusion distracted him before he could think about why.

"Well, you're kind of under the sensor-range right now. It wouldn't be fair to send you screaming…flat on your face." Flywheels mimed falling out of a berth.

That was uncomfortably close to the truth. "I'm fine."

A round of snickers went around the room.

Krok deflated. Bluster wasn't much use when he was swaddled in thermal insulation and puffing hot air.

When he didn't say anything further, activity resumed around the room. Groups seemed to have formed. He recognized several games he used to play, and part of him wanted to walk up behind the one group in the corner. He could drop a warning about a common cheat that one mech in particular used to pull. When he looked directly at the group, however, the motion blur blotted them out, and there was only a wall. He stared hard at it but couldn't keep his focus long. Resetting his optics a few times dropped him back into the fuzzy stand-by of an overworked self-repair system, and mechs filled the room again. Harmlessly trapped as he was, he was content to watch for a while.

He'd missed this. He wasn't sure what or why, but he'd missed listening to these mechs talking and laughing around him.

Flywheels continued to sit by the berth and read, even when that one group dissolved into a fist fight and the featureless mech sitting by Krok's feet stood up to go break it up.

Eventually, Krok decided to say something. The words were coming out anyway; he could feel them piling up on his vocalizer. He'd rather say them voluntarily and make sure they came out right. "I'm not sorry you're dead."

A red visor that wasn't there glanced up. "Good to know," Flywheels said wryly. "Neither am I. I'm just dead."

So much for getting it right. That'd come out badly. Krok sighed and pressed his helm back into the squishy layers of insulation wrapped around him. "I meant that I find your death - regrettable," words were a struggle to find, much less say, "but I tried to stop it. Your safety was my responsibility, and I did my best. It wasn't enough against the D.J.D. You died. It wasn't in any way my fault, so I'm not sorry." There. That was slightly better.

Flywheels regarded him as if Krok were an interesting lifeform found at the bottom of a petri dish. "You don't blame yourself at all?"

Krok met that clinical gaze steadily. "No."

Guilt had tried to worm into him after leaving Clemency. He'd cut it out of himself ruthlessly. He'd done what he could, when he could. Tesarus held responsibility for Flywheels' death, not him, and he refused to bear guilt for that. He couldn't have tried harder, done more, or somehow magicked himself free of Vos. All the scenarios he constructed in his mind where he saved this mech? They hinged on the idea that he could have somehow defied reality.

At spark, he was a practical mech. He had tortured himself with 'what if?' questions for a short while, but then he had faced each question and weeded out all the possibilities until only the facts remained. In the end, Krok couldn't change what had happened. It was already over and done with, and there was no point in dwelling on guilt that wasn't his to bear. He had fulfilled his duty, and that's all Flywheels could ask of a unit commander.

Flywheels smiled a little, an out-of-place peaceful expression Krok had never seen him wear. "And that's why we're not haunting you, Krok. It wasn't your fault." The smile tugged up at the edges into a crueler look that fit his face better. "Unlike some, you don't deserve vengeful ghosts terrorizing you."

Privately, he doubted Flywheels could terrorize him. For Primus' sake, every other time he reset his optics, he saw straight through the mech. It was hard to fear someone who only existed in his processor. Or…technically it was possible that Flywheel's incorporeal spark had entered the W.A.P. and was sitting beside him. Krok could be in the captain's quarters, berth-bound and wrapped in insulation, while a bunch of dead mechs rustled about in another plane of existence around him

He wasn't sure he bought that theory. Maybe one ghost, but - there were lot of mechs. What, an entire unit came back from the dead to gather in his room? It looked like there were at least that many mechs in the room with him, and he felt like he should know them, recognize them, if he could just bring their faces into focus -

A crackle of static crawled up the side of his head as his optics narrowed on the cusp of seeing, and he jumped, shocked out of his thoughts.

What had he been - ? Nevermind. "Should I be worried about my unit?" he asked, grasping the oddly amused tone in Flywheels' echoing voice. The mech sounded like he was talking through a tube, but death had to be fairly far away. Krok couldn't say the voice change was the strangest thing happening right now.

Tilting his head to the side, Flywheels gave him an eerie look composed of a visor a shade too bright and a smile far too wide. Krok had the distinct feeling he wasn't talking to his dead subordinate any longer, if he ever had been. "That would depend on any weights they have on their consciences, now wouldn't it?" the ghost who wasn't said in that echoing voice. "The dead feed their anger off of guilt, and if it is there, they will come to feed."

That sounded fairly ominous. "Decepticons kill," Krok said coldly. "We're soldiers. Killing is what we do."

"Yessss," the thing wearing Flywheels' shape hissed, slow and satisfied.

"We don't feel guilty about it afterward."

Laughter boomed, and Krok weathered it unflinching. He had amused the dead. Fabulous. He could add that to the 'Commanding Officer: Good Things' list and make himself that much more irreplaceable.

"No?" Krok focused, refusing to see the form of his dead mech. These were the captain's quarters of the Weak Anthropic Principle, and they were empty. The mechs drawing in around the berth as if about to descend on him weren't really there. Flywheels' hand couldn't crush his chest down, chilly touch penetrating the insulating layers to freeze his fuel pump and sent his overheated body plummeting to the opposite end of the temperature gauge. "No guilt at all? What Primus forged cannot be so easily unmade. If it were, I could Seduce your Sparks into My Darkness, to Smelt in the Cores of Dead Stars until the Final Reckoning, when I shall Call your Cleansed Cores to do My Bidding as Heralds and - "

The shadow above him looked up suddenly, visor flaring as it drew the room's light to devour like a furnace. The crimson color was otherworldly, and Krok fought to not see it.

This wasn't real.

This was a hallucination. He'd taken damage.

Self-repair had knocked him for loop.

He could feel the blankets around him, but he could also feel the hand slowly bearing down on his chest. The room dimmed toward total darkness, shadows surrounding him in the shapes of familiar mechs, a whole unit of optics and visors he could pick out of a crowd of Decepticons, but the room was well-lit. He could see his desk. He could see the door. He could see the access panel's ready-light blinking on and off.

This wasn't real.

Red optics reset, and Krok wheezed as Flywheels stood up straight. The shadows vanished as if they'd never been. The lights illuminated everything, even the nicks and dings he hadn't realized he remembered Flywheels having. His ventilation system raced, his fuel pump hammered, and he realized the cool-paks were melted, tepid blocks against his torso.

"Perhaps you speak for yourself," Flywheels said, tone dropping from fanatical ranting to calm reason, "but not for every Decepticon." He leaned down, and Krok would have recoiled into the berth if not for the exhaustion swamping him. "Rest, Krok. You bear no guilt because you carry other burdens. Not every one of your kind can carry those, but they're as important as guilt in Primus' forging. It makes you less vulnerable than I'd like, but not lesser in the grand scheme of things."

Confused, the officer just stared up at the thing wearing Flywheels form. "Who are you?"

A small smile twisted a familiar face, the way Flywheels used to smile when Misfire cracked an inappropriate religious joke. As if he shouldn't smile but couldn't help himself. "A figment of your past."

Krok turned that around in his mind. "You told me you were a ghost."

"A ghost is a manifestation of memory and spark, feeding off the emotion of those who see it." Flywheels held his hands together in prayer. "Am I any less real for being a product of your mind? I still exist. I am whom you knew me as." His hands drew apart into a careless shrug. "I am also more, as you know Me."

He almost understood. He could almost grasp what this thing wasn't saying. "Flywheels…"

"Rests in peace, thanks to you." The not-Flywheels dipped his head in a sardonic nod. "You did your duty by me, sir." Looking up, he grinned. "Guess this is goodbye, then."

Krok could only look at him.

Through him.

And Flywheels disappeared into thin air.

He hadn't been there in the first place. Krok wouldn't believe it. It'd been a delusion. A delusion and…he had his suspicions about just who was playing games with the living using the dead.

A few hours later, having struggled free of the confining blankets and that confounded strap at last, Krok woke from lousy dreams about his former unit. Someone was banging on the door. "Whu..? What! Frag, I hurt," he moaned quietly. One hand went to his chest and the half-fried circuitry within him, but the other automatically pulled one of the discarded thermal insulators up in lieu of a weapon. Yeah, he'd just wave any potential attackers away. That would work.

The door opened, and a pair of wide red optics peeked into the room. "Krok?"

Krok rest his optics, but the crumbly smile on Misfire's face didn't look any less scared. "What?"

"Can I, um." The jet edged into the room, optics darting toward the corners and wings flicking nervously. "Can I recharge in here?"

"What?" What. No, really: what. "Why?" He frowned.

Misfire fidgeted and offered another smile that badly covered fear. "Company? Unit solidarity?" Something clicked behind him in the officer bunks, and he nearly jumped across the room before scrambling back around to face Krok again. "Bodyguard! I'm a great bodyguard!"

"While you recharge," Krok said, letting doubt ooze off the words.

The twitchy smile froze. "…yes. I'm very talented."

He eyed the jet for a moment, then tossed the blanket at him. "Fine. But you get the floor."

Misfire didn't even question the blanket. He threw it over his head and wingtips and scurried over to sit on the floor by the head of the berth. He peered out from under the insulation at the door. "Good! Wonderful. I like the floor."

Krok looked down at him. He'd never seen Misfire so freaked out. The door pushed further open. Without even looking up, the officer grabbed another thermal insulator off the rumpled pile on his legs and held it out. "Floor."

Lips pressed together in a grim line, Crankcase stalked in and shut the door behind himself. His cracked visor dared either of the other Decepticons to say a word. Krok was still looking at Misfire quizzically, and Misfire seemed intent on staring at the shadow under the desk, so no words were said. Slightly mollified, the mechanic/pilot sidled over to sit on the other end of the berth from Misfire, acting like he was being forced at gunpoint the whole time. Krok dropped the blanket on his head. A muffled grunt came from under the insulation, which the officer chose to interpret as 'thank you' in Crankcase-ese.

Misfire was curling into a surprisingly small ball of wings and elbows. After a moment of thought, Krok shoved the rest of the pile of thermal insulators on top of him. He didn't need them any longer, and the tiny sound that came from under them indicated that his subordinate kind of did, if not for their intended insulating purpose.

He debated trying to get up, but his body vetoed that decision before he could do more than move his legs toward the edge of the berth. Instead, he laid back and idly looked up at the ceiling. "Crankcase?"

"What." Crankcase had rearranged himself to sit with his back to the berth and legs outstretched in front of him, arms folded across his chest. He'd tucked the blanket into a cushion between his helm and the berth edge.

"What did I say about theological arguments with the Dark Lord?" Krok rolled his head to the side.

If Crankcase felt guilty - and evidence pointed to the tough, grouchy Decepticon feeling it, indeed - he didn't show it at all. He didn't, however, turn his head to meet his commanding officer's recriminating gaze. "Not to have them," he bit out grudgingly.

"Mmhmm." He looked back at the ceiling. There were shadows dancing about up there. They looked like shadows to him, at least. Misfire made a small noise, and Crankcase watched the door warily. "You recall why I said that?"

Crankcase had bitten off more than he could chew, but he would slagging well choke on it before he admitted that. "Yes," he grated out, sounding like he hated the universe and everything in it. "Sir."

Just for that belated addition, he was going to make this a lesson. Lessons weren't just for unit newbies and particularly stubborn mechs, after all. Krok reached out and patted the heap of insulation formerly known as Misfire. "I'll talk to His Darkness later."

"Not now?" Oh, that must have hurt to get out. Crankcase still wouldn't look at him.

"Are you ready to apologize to His Dark Lordship yet?"

Two rules of life aboard the W.A.P.

Rule One: don't disobey Krok.

Rule Two: don't anger the NeoPrimalist Dark Lord in the engine block.

Bad Things happened when a mech broke those rules. But if a mech chose to break both those rules at once, expect no sympathy. Krok wasn't a cruel mech, but he took his responsibilities seriously.

Crankcase opened and closed his mouth, pinned between pride and Rules, and he was helpless before the lesson. Krok was a good teacher. Not a nice one, but an effective one.

The officer patted Misfire again, rolled over, and settled back into recharge.

He slept like a newspark.


[* * * * *]