I reread this the other day, and when I pulled up the doc, I remembered I had a lot of the story outlined, so it wasn't too hard to dive back in. I'm not sure when there will be another update, but I can at least say I do have plans for it. I hope you can enjoy this chapter, at the very least and I am sorry about the wait (and for how this chapter ends, I'm sorry for that, too).

My Transformers muse just isn't there like it used to be (because I'm not super active in TFs right now), but on the bright side, this is AU enough that I don't feel obligated to be deep in the source material before writing, which means there might be another update yet.

Last note, I should mention this fic will have Character Death. There's a certain person who I always planned to die in this (he dies in canon, too, so it shouldn't be too much of a shock), but I forgot to add the tag. It's coming up soon so I figured I should do that. Thanks for reading!

Chapter 13

"That is not what I meant, Hot Rod," Springer said to himself, staring at the text on his phone. He noted the location of the diner where Hot Rod was going to with Deadlock and shoved his phone in his back pocket. He was going to head over there and give Hot Rod a piece of his mind and explain more clearly about what it meant to stay away from hired killers. Then he'd punch Deadlock in the nose and make sure it stayed broken. Springer shook his head. "That boy."

"What has you looking like Megatron wished you good morning?" Kup asked, looking over his paper from the desk. The open police room buzzed with Wreckers heading in and out, laughing and joking with each other as they waited for their next assignment. He waved his finger to call Springer over and pulled up his cigar from it's resting place on the ash tray. "You look angry."

"Nothing I want to talk about, but I'm taking my lunch break early," Springer said. He grabbed his coat and shrugged it on. "I'll be back in an hour."

"You going to see Hot Rod?" Kup asked.

Springer stopped and looked over his shoulder with a raised brow.

"You only get this worked up when it's about Hot Rod," Kup said. He pointed his finger at the chair across from his desk and said, "Sit down."

"Look, Kup. I don't have time for this." Springer glanced at the people who had paused to stare at their conversation. He glared right back and they all whipped their heads to the side, going back to their own business. "I need to leave."

"Sit down before I make it an order," Kup said.

Springer sat.

Kup leaned forward and shoved his cigar into the ashtray. "What happened?"

"I got a text from Hot Rod saying he was meeting up with Deadlock again in Iacon," Springer said.

"Tell him to text you in an hour, and if he doesn't, then you can go." Kup kicked his feet up under his desk. "In the meantime, cool your head."

Springer leaned forward, hissing under his breath. "I can't leave Hot Rod alone with a killer, Kup!"

"He's been alone with that killer a whole lot before now," Kup said. He rubbed the side of his head and rubbed his thumb against his wrinkles. He felt too old to be dealing with all these kids. "Hot Rod has his own issues he needs to work out with that man, and you need to learn to trust him. He's a good kid, Springer."

"But he's still a kid," Springer said. "He's only seventeen!"

"And in a year he'll be eighteen," Kup said. He sighed heavily and shook his head. "I know you're worried, I get it. But you have to let Hot Rod start making some of his own decisions, even if they're wrong."

"A wrong decision in this case will get him killed, Kup."

"I don't think it will," Kup said. He sat back in his chair, staring hard at Springer. "Call it Wrecker instinct, but I did have a talk with Hot Rod about this, and I want to trust his instincts."

"This is a mistake," Springer said.

"Trust your brother," Kup said. He pulled out a second cigar and lit it. "And if he doesn't call back in an hour, then I'll go down there with you and knock that Deadlock's head in for you."

Springer took out his phone and sent the text, his fingers hitting the phone pad harder than he should have. "I'm holding you to that."

"We've got an hour before Springer decides I've been kidnapped," Hot Rod said, putting his phone face down on the table. Deadlock circled a straw around in his cup, swirling the leftovers of a softly melting milkshake. "So, we should probably talk while we can."

Deadlock still hummed inside, glad that Hot Rod still wanted to see him. Things couldn't be better! Deadlock stole a fry from Hot Rod's plate. "What do you want to know?"

"Do you kill people?" Hot Rod asked, rubbing the inside of his palm under the table with his thumb. His head was still a mess with what he should do, but there was a large part of him that knew the answer (even if Hot Rod didn't like it). So he asked, already knowing the answer. "Is what Springer said true?"

"Yes," Deadlock said. There wasn't much point in lying about it now. That certainly wouldn't win over any favors with the kid, and he didn't want to ruin this moment with lies. Not when Hot Rod might actually accept him. He got up from his side of the bench and scooted in on Hot Rod's side so he could lower his voice. He threw an arm around Hot Rod's shoulder and leaned in. "I'm a cleaner. Which means I 'clean up' loose ends that threaten the group, in addition to literally cleaning the scenes."

Hot Rod flinched under Deadlock's hold. The man was so nonchalant about it; like he didn't even care he was talking about ending lives. The contrast with how emotional he could get over little things like whether or not Hot Rod liked him was surreal. Hot Rod shrunk under the man's weight. "And you do that a lot?"

"More than the others," Deadlock said. He slumped in the chair, weighing how he said it. Hot Rod had gone very quiet, and he had a feeling the boy wasn't quite on board with Deadlock's favorite pastime just yet. His good feeling started to slip away, leaving Deadlock feeling empty. "I'm good at it, so I get more work."

Hod Rod pushed his basket of food away, not sure he could eat any more. He pressed his lips together and breathed in through his nose. "How did you get that job?"

"I told you," Deadlock said, shifting. He tapped his fingers on the table, licking the edge of his lip. This wasn't going quite where he wanted it to. He was hoping for a good conversation, but Hot Rod was still so quiet and Deadlock stopped. He had to remember what Gasket said. He had to be good. "People would make me angry, and I'd kill them, and someone noticed how good I was at it, and decided to pay me for it."

"Have you killed people since we met?" Hot Rod asked, something stuck in his throat.

"I don't think you're going to like my answer," Deadlock said, pulling his arm back. He slid down in his seat and put his hands in his lap. "But yes."

Hot Rod swallowed and picked up his tray. "We should probably say the rest outside."

That was not what Deadlock wanted to hear, but he followed Hot Rod outside of the restaurant with a stone dropping in his gut. Going outside meant words were going to be said that would make a scene if someone lost their temper (read: if Deadlock lost his temper). He repeated what Gasket said, over and over and over in his head.

He had to be good.

Hot Rod sat on the edge of the curb near Deadlock's car, his backpack leaning on his side and his phone in his hand. The wind blew through his hair and the other man remained standing, his hand flexing in and out of a fist in an agitated tick.

"I like you, Deadlock," Hot Rod started. He had to do this. Hot Rod breathed out with a shuttered breath, looking up to meet his gaze. "But if you're killing people, I can't be around you."

Deadlock's heart fell to his knees.

"I'm sorry," Hot Rod said. He crossed his arms, grabbing his elbows. He didn't look away from Deadlock's widening eyes; he couldn't. Hot Rod couldn't be a coward and run away. "What you're doing is wrong, and sooner or later, I'm going to be around when you do it and I'll have to turn you in, and I don't want to do that either."

"You've been looking the other way for a while now for the drug stuff," Deadlock tried, voice weak. "Can't it be the same?"

Hot Rod shook his head, heart heavy. "No, not for this."

Deadlock sat on the sidewalk next to Hot Rod and dropped his arms between his legs as he spread them out. He leaned back and ignored how his heart was pounding. "So we can't see each other any more."

It sounded so final when he said it.

"I'm sorry," Hot Rod said. "But I can't be friends with you as long as you keep doing that job."

Deadlock dropped his head down, loose bangs falling in his face. He didn't have anything else. That job was all he had and he couldn't give it up, not even for Hot Rod. What choice did he even have? As long as he was alive, Deadlock was only good for one thing. He laughed into his chest. "We can't see each other any more."

"Are you going to be okay?" Hot Rod asked, unable to help himself. Deadlock had gone very still, and even though this had to happen, he still felt bad. Part of him wanted to take it all back, but Hot Rod had to see this through. He couldn't be around someone who killed people. "I mean, you're obviously not right now, but do you think you'll be okay later?"

"Don't argue, don't put up a fight, just walk away," Deadlock whispered. Hot Rod tilted his head in confusion and Deadlock laughed louder. He smiled, staring at those big blue eyes, and that too young face and it sunk into his chest how wrong he'd been. Hot Rod was never going to kill people with him. They were never going to work together. This, this wasn't going to work. "I'll be okay."

Hot Rod's phone beeped, and he checked it. "Springer'll be here in about ten minutes."

"Then I should leave," Deadlock said. He got up from the curb and looked over his shoulder. He reached down and ruffled Hot Rod's hair, biting the edge of his lip hard until it bled. Deadlock licked away the drip of it and shoved his hands in his pockets as he stood up. "Goodbye, Hot Rod. I'm, I'm really glad you were my friend."

"Take care of yourself, Deadlock," Hot Rod said, standing up to meet him. He waited a beat before hugging Deadlock. The man flinched, but hugged him back a second later. Hot Rod stepped back when it was finished and tried to smile. "Don't get into trouble."

"If I could promise that, we could stay friends," Deadlock said. He chuckled under his breath, yanking his keys out of his pocket. He looked at the ground, and back at Hot Rod. He wanted another hug. He wanted to stay. He wanted, he wanted. He had to walk away before he did something stupid. Deadlock licked his lip and turned his back to Hot Rod. "Goodbye."

"Bye," Hot Rod said.

He watched Deadlock wander off and get into his car, the engine roaring as the white and black convertible peeled out of the parking lot. Hot Rod dropped his head into his knees and breathed out.

Springer pulled up ten minutes later, finding Hot Rod in the same place.

He hopped out of the car and walked over to sit next to his honorary baby brother and put an arm around his shoulder. "You okay?"

"No," Hot Rod said. He looked up and leaned into Springer. He closed his eyes and sighed. "I will be though."

"I know you will," Springer said. He hugged Hot Rod closer, and tugged him up. "Come on, let's get you home."

"Thanks, Springer," Hot Rod said. He hopped up into the side of Springer's passenger seat, the green SUV a welcoming sight. He leaned his head back against the top of the seat back and exhaled, holding his bag on his lap. "I appreciate the ride home."

"I'm here any time you need me, Hot Rod," Springer said, vowing to make sure that was always true. Somewhere he'd dropped the ball if Hot Rod didn't think he could talk to him before about Deadlock, and now more than ever, Springer was going to fix that. Springer asked, "Did you settle things with Deadlock?"

"I won't be seeing him again," Hot Rod said, voice tight. "He agreed."

Springer let out the breath he was holding and relaxed his shoulders. "I'm glad he took it well."

"Hey Springer," Hot Rod said, clutching his bag. "How mad do you think dad and Uncle Magnus would be if I said I didn't want to join the force after I graduated any more?"

"What makes you ask that?"

Hot Rod shifted in his seat, thinking of Deadlock's face and the thought of running into him again as a member of the Autobots. He already knew he'd never be able to arrest him. "I'm having second thoughts about it, that's all."

"Hot Rod, Optimus and Uncle Magnus are going to be proud of you no matter what you do," Springer said. He started his SUV and looked at his brother, who'd grown up far too much in the past month. "And so will I. So do what you think is right."

"Thanks, Springer," Hot Rod said.

"Any time, buddy."

"He said goodbye?" Gasket asked, looking up from his beakers. He turned off the flame and turned to face his charge. Deadlock looked like someone had jammed a knife under his ribs and left it there.

It broke Gasket's heart.

"He said goodbye," Deadlock confirmed. He sat next to Gasket and sucked in a heavy breath, eyes wet. "I didn't argue and I walked away."

"I'm so proud of you," Gasket said. He tugged Deadlock over and hugged him tight to his chest. He put the kid's head in his neck and squeezed him until he felt the boy's ribs compress. "This was for the best, even if it hurts right now."

Deadlock listened to Gasket's heartbeat; he couldn't really hear his own any more. "I know."

"You're going to be okay," Gasket said, rubbing Deadlock's back. "Not now, but soon."


"Come on," Gasket said. He pulled away, and tugged on Deadlock's arm. "I made dinner. Let's get something to eat and a drink, and you can sleep this off. You'll feel better in the morning."

"Okay, Gasket," Deadlock said, not believing him. But the man was trying; he was the only one who cared no matter what Deadlock said or did. Gasket was family. Deadlock still had this at least. "Let's get something to eat."

Deadlock followed Gasket into the small kitchen, and pulled down the cracked plates from the cabinet over the sink. He set them on the able, counting to ten over and over in his head. It was all that could keep him from thinking about sad blue eyes and how much he wanted to go right back and shake Hot Rod until he changed his mind.

But that would just make it worse (like Gasket said, he should listen to Gasket more).

"Almost done," Gasket said, pulling out a pan from the oven. "I just need to add some sauce to the top."

Deadlock sat at the table while Gasket finished, and flinched when his phone rang. He pulled the small portable out of his pocket and flipped it open. "Deadlock."

"How's my favorite killer?" Turmoil said over the line. Deadlock flinched at the nickname. "Hope he's in top shape because I've got a job for you."

"Job," Deadlock said. He saw Hot Rod when he closed his eyes, accusing and hurt. Deadlock was good at killing. He could do that job. Hot Rod already left. What was there to lose? "Yeah, job."

"You high?" Turmoil asked.

"No," Deadlock gritted. "Distracted. Gasket's making dinner."

"Cute," Turmoil said. He huffed on the other end of the line and growled. "Eat quick and get your ass over here so I can give you the portfolio. Boss wants this done tonight."

"Okay," Deadlock said. "I'll be there."

Gasket set the food down when Deadlock flipped his phone closed. "Work?"

"I need to go." Deadlock stood up, squeezing Gasket's shoulder. "Thanks for dinner, Gasket."

"Any time, kid," Gasket said.

Deadlock left without eating anything.