There was the start of their game—soon after Omicron, but long enough to establish a pattern. Protoform X would run, Depth Charge would chase him, they would fight, and when that got boring, X would take off for somewhere else.
There was a holding pattern. They spent a long time running, chasing and fighting. The pattern never got stale. Not to X.
Then, there was Nix.
Running from your arch nemesis and waiting for him to find you was a great way to see the galaxy, it turned out. X hadn’t put much thought into the choice to head for the little planetoid. There was a Predacon stockpile of energon there, minimally guarded, which was nice. X didn’t need it, but being out of energy was an incredibly uncomfortable feeling, and his ship did require fuel. And the fact that it belonged to the Predacons meant Depth Charge would have no qualms fighting over it with him.
Depth Charge had been hot on his heels lately. X never had long to wait, and probably wouldn’t this time, either, despite the blaster shot he’d gotten through Depth Charge’s ship’s engine. He would have to set up shop quickly if he wanted to finish before he had company.
The thought sent a thrill through him—it was the anticipation, the not knowing, that was the exciting part.
Of course, there were plenty of exciting parts that came after.
X set a course to Nix, aiming for the opposite side of the planet from the energon stockpile. They saw him anyway, and fired plasma cannon shots at him, but he made it to his planned destination relatively unscathed. No doubt they would send a detachment after him before long. It would be a good warmup.
First, he took the time to hide his ship as best he could inside a secluded cave in a cliff face. Sometimes Depth Charge went after his ship in an attempt to keep him from escaping, and X didn’t like reassembling them or bootstrapping another solution when he felt it was time to go.
He started off in the direction of the stockpile in tank mode, blasting away rocks that were in his way. It was easy, relaxing work. There wasn’t much to the planetoid. No organic life he could see, and no Cybertronian innovation as far as he could see, save for the stockpile he’d spotted from space. The light from the nearest star lit up this side of the planet, but the atmosphere was flimsy and the temperature low. X would have to keep moving if he didn’t want to get stuck. And he hated feeling stuck.
It took some time to get to the stockpile, but not much—Nix really was barely big enough to warrant having a name. As expected, there was a squad of Predacons there to meet him. X went in guns blazing, then transformed after picking off a few to finish them off more personally, laughing to himself all the while. It really did never get old, watching the face of someone who shot or stabbed him fatally, only for the wound to heal in seconds. X so relished the shift in expression from triumph to horror—before he smashed their heads into the ground—that sometimes he left himself open on purpose.
These guards put up a fight, but they didn’t last long. X stepped over pieces of corpses to examine the door to the stockpile.
Very high-tech. Most of it seemed to be below ground. Only the door and a small holding room was visible above the surface. X stepped back and levelled his strongest gun at it—it left barely a dent. He would have to get creative, it seemed.
As if on cue, he heard footsteps behind him. He grinned to himself. He loved it when Depth Charge was right on time.
“X,” Depth Charge greeted, as usual. “Didn’t know you had it out for Predacons.”
“Depth Charge!” X returned, turning to face him. “I thought I’d shake things up. This is what you Maximals wanted me to do, isn’t it?”
“The only thing I want you to do is die,” Depth Charge said, and lunged at him.
X loved this part—the first bits of the fight, when they were both fully energized and had been waiting, usually cooped up in small spaces, to beat the other within an inch of their lives. Depth Charge fought as fiercely as he always had, and X returned in kind. He laughed whenever something particularly delighted him, like when Depth Charge broke his sword after getting it caught in X’s abdomen, or when X pushed Depth Charge over a drop he wasn’t expecting and he lost his balance.
He always lost track of time in fights like theses, when they were on fairly equal footing. The pain and excitement were wonderful distractions, and X would happily stay in moments like these forever if given the option. So he didn’t notice the sun setting. And they were both so worked up that the steady drop in temperature didn’t phase X.
He only noticed it when he realized Depth Charge was shivering. “Aw, are you cold?” X asked. “Here, let me help.”
He tackled Depth Charge to the ground and landed a fist in his face, cracking an optic and denting his helm in the process. Depth Charge growled at him and thrashed, but X had him pretty well pinned. “What’s wrong? Don’t want me messing up your pretty face?” X asked, and chuckled, absolutely pleased with how this particular encounter was going.
“Eat slag,” Depth Charge growled, and got a well-aimed kick in on the bit of internal wiring he’d exposed when he ripped off a piece of X’s plating.
X grimaced in pain, and then—there was a rip in one of Depth Charge’s stupid giant wings, so he grabbed hold of it and tugged until it was completely torn away, then threw it to the ground behind him. Depth Charge’s groans of pain were music to his audials.
In that time, Depth Charge had managed to free an arm, and used it to grab a still-holstered gun and level a blast point blank at X’s face.
The shock of it and the damage it caused gave Depth Charge plenty of time to wriggle out from beneath X and crawl away. X wasn’t aware of anything in the time it took for his head to come back together—he was vulnerable, which was why he hated taking hits like that.
He couldn’t tell how long he had been out. He could still barely see in the darkness. When he finally regained his sense of sight, he found that Depth Charge hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunity. Rather, he had crawled closer to the stockpile door and then seemed to have collapsed. He had what was left of his wings pulled close around him and wasn’t moving.
For one spark-stopping moment, X thought he was already dead.
But no. X looked closer and spotted the same shivering as before. He looked down at himself and realized he was doing it, too.
X pulled himself upright, carefully so as not to topple over, and took slow, measured steps to Depth Charge and the stockpile door. He could see, now, that Depth Charge was watching him, but was powerless to do anything else.
“I think this means I win this one,” X wheezed, gleeful despite the circumstances. He was having to support himself by grabbing onto the door of the stockpile, but he was still doing much better than Depth Charge was. “You’re getting sloppy, friend.”
“And you just keep getting stupider,” Depth Charge snapped back, but it was weaker than it usually would be. “You aren’t immune to cold.”
X grinned to himself, and then squatted down so that Depth Charge could get a good look at him between the light of each of their optics. “No. But it won’t kill me. Looks to me like you’re already on your way out,” X chuckled.
He stood back upright and turned his attention to the door. There was probably a panel or something he could pry off and use to gain access to the stockpile. He groped around for one, but the cold had already crept into his extremities. He couldn’t feel much through them or move his digits. Not one to give in to pain or discomfort, he kept searching fruitlessly, until he felt like he was in danger of losing his balance and falling over.
He sat down instead, his back to the door, which was also freezing. There wasn’t a lot of shelter out here.
Depth Charge said nothing, but did chuckle. X looked down at him in annoyance. “You’re not dead yet?”
“Disappointed?” Depth Charge muttered.
Well. Clearly it wouldn’t be long now. X hadn’t expected this today, but he had just about won their game. The protoform-chilling cold would last for a few cycles yet, and that would be more than enough to kill Depth Charge. X would freeze for now, and would thaw when the light of Nix’s star returned. He would break into the stockpile, take all the energon he could carry, and then...
X realized he didn’t know.
He was not in the business of feeling fear. Causing it in others, absolutely, but not feeling it himself. If Depth Charge died here, X did not know what he would do with himself afterwards. And the thought terrified him.
He stared at Depth Charge, lying there helpless beside him, and felt a pang of rage. Depth Charge could not kill him, no matter how he tried. And without Depth Charge.....
What was the point of a game no one could win?
He couldn’t get back to the ship—it was too far, and X wouldn’t be able to make it there himself, to say nothing of dragging Depth Charge behind him. The Maximal’s ship would be around here somewhere, but he had no idea where, and his internal scanners had shut down from the cold. Only absolutely necessary functions were still going now, and even some of those had started to give out. Depth Charge likely had it worse.
Giving in, Xe did the only thing he could think to do. He slid down to the ground, and once he lay facing Depth Charge, he reached out and grabbed his nemesis, pulling him towards himself.
Depth Charge was too stiff to react outwardly. “What are you doing?” he snarled, surprisingly venomous for someone who was dying. X expected nothing less.
He didn’t have a good answer to the question. He just wrapped his arms around Depth Charge’s back, cradling him close to his chest.
It… helped. It took some time, but the heat shared between them made a difference. X could feel his core temperature ever-so-slowly rise.
Depth Charge seemed to be feeling the same positive effects, as he found the energy to make another comment. “What is this... some new kind of torture?”
X chuckled. He wouldn’t know, but he was pretty sure it was called a hug. Surely Depth Charge had had one. “And what are you going to do about it?”
Depth Charge grunted, attempting to shift forward in a kick, but he barely had the energy to make contact. X had never seen Depth Charge so pathetic. It was nice.
Actually… once he ignored the all-consuming cold, this whole situation was alright. Depth Charge was here and powerless to hurt him. His arms were folded up behind his wigs, and X squeezed him tighter to himself so that, when the planet warmed up, he wouldn’t be able to easily wriggle free and stab X. Where his digits were pressed to those wings, they started to regain a little bit of feeling, and he began absently running the tips of his claws over the smooth metal. It felt good. Relaxing.
They’d been this close before, but only in the course of trying to kill each other.
“Why… are you doing this?” Depth Charge ground out, trying to wriggle so that his face wasn’t pressed into X’s chestplate. X grinned and tightened his grip further.
“It’s cold,” he answered simply.
“It won’t kill you,” Depth Charge answered, repeating his own words back at him. “Just me.”
“Well, maybe I’m not done with you yet,” X said. “I do like my food to be fresh.”
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you… it’s rude to play with your food?”
No. “Some food is just too good to eat,” X whispered, and cackled at Depth Charge’s low growl. There was absolutely nothing Depth Charge could do to him right now, and X loved it.
He quieted down after that, probably seeing the futility in struggling. Or maybe he was just gathering strength to make some sort of attack against X. He was welcome to try.
The night was long. X tried not to think about much of anything—of his realization, or of anything that might come after the moment he currently occupied. But the closer daylight came, the more X realized he was dreading it.
The slow, steady return of warmth to his limbs was a relief, at least.
Depth Charge began to stir again. X realized with amusement that he may have fallen into recharge at some point during the night. Now, suddenly, he was awake and alert, and it didn’t take long for the exhausted wiggling to turn into thrashing in earnest.
X just tightened his grip. It seemed like the easiest solution.
“Let go of me,” Depth Charge growled at him as he tried to free his arms from beneath his wings.
“But we were having such a nice time!”
Depth Charge reared back as best he could and headbutted X in the face. It hurt, but not enough to cause X to lose his grip. “That wasn’t very nice,” he tutted. “I saved your life.”
“Why?” Depth Charge demanded. “You killed everyone else! You could have just finished the job!”
And then where would he be?
X was saved finding a retort by Depth Charge headbutting him again, this time with an added kick that was much stronger than the last. X’s involuntary jerk allowed Depth Charge to free a wing and arm, and then they were back to wrestling. Usually that would be fine. X liked fighting, and he especially liked fighting Depth Charge. But.
In the end, X didn’t bother with the energon stockpile. There would be more energon elsewhere, and the boulder he’d trapped Depth Charge under wouldn’t hold him for long. Usually they stayed in one place longer than this, but for the first time in a long time, X didn’t feel up to a long drawn-out battle.
As he set a new course into his ship’s computer, X watched the little planetoid disappear into the distance and tried to ignore the cold that had seeped into his protoform and stayed there.
Then, not long after, there was Earth.
But first, there was Cybertron.
X was in stasis. Finally. Finally Depth Charge had stopped him, had made sure he would never hurt anyone else. He hadn’t been able to kill him, and the fact that the Maximal high command wouldn’t was—
It was infuriating. It was sickening.
But Depth Charge had done his part. It took four stellar cycles, but he had avenged Omicron, had avenged Starship Rugby, and had put X in a lot of pain in the process.
The Maximal high command referred him to a psychiatrist. Depth Charge refused to go.
They promoted him, and gave him a position on Cybertron that was more important than guarding prisoners on a colony world.
It wasn’t stimulating. Depth Charge would never say he missed the previous four stellar cycles. That would feel like a betrayal to those he had been fighting for. But the adjustment was a hard one. He kept his tracker with him everywhere he went. It was a habit, and one he wasn’t sure he could squash.
When it went off again, for the first time in nearly a solar cycle… Depth Charge quickly shoved the tingle of relief back down to the depths of his processor.
And then they were back to it, as if no time had passed at all. And for X—Rampage, now—it really hadn’t. Depth Charge wished there was a way for him to be in stasis and conscious, so that he would be aware of each passing cycle, would suffer like Depth Charge had—
They fought, just like they used to, and Rampage laughed like he was enjoying himself, like the lengths Depth Charge went through to disable him and put him in stasis last time were inconsequential. He was just happy to be there, causing pain and frightening Maximals.
It was different when Megatron was around. Depth Charge didn’t see much of it, but he saw enough. Rampage retreated more than he ever would have before. He was cautious. Megatron threatened him and he backed down, or else he was reduced to writhing in pain on the ground. The longer it went on, the more Rampage seemed to sulk. Depth Charge hadn’t seen him like this since….
Well. Since he had been a prisoner on Omicron.
Good. Rampage deserved every kind of pain, and if he got some sort of perverse entertainment out of Depth Charge giving it to him, at least someone else could make it hurt.
Still... Depth Charge thought about it a lot.
The sooner he wrapped all this up, the better. Depth Charge had no interest in sticking around the primitive planet longer than absolutely necessary. So he kept a close eye on the tracker, and took every opportunity he could.
One fight in particular stuck out in his mind. He’d started with a team. Cheetor and Rhinox had been with him, and Quickstrike and Inferno with Rampage. The two of them gravitated towards each other, as usual. Rampage kicked Depth Charge so hard in the back that he flew a ways back, and they’d gotten further separated from the others from there.
That was inconsequential. He didn’t need any distractions from Optimus Primal’s team.
Depth Charge got some good hits in, but Rampage dived at him, knocking both of them off a cliff. It was a hard landing, and in the moments it took for Depth Charge to regain himself and get back up, Rampage had wrapped his arms around Depth Charge, immobilizing him. He tried to kick Rampage away, but Rampage turned and pinned his legs to the ground as well. Depth Charge could struggle, but he couldn’t move much.
Rampage couldn’t really do anything to him like this, either. All his limbs were in use keeping Depth Charge immobile. The second he faltered, Depth Charge would be able to attack.
A memory came, unbidden, and one he had spent quite some time trying to forget. Depth Charge had been close to death plenty of times, but it was something else to lay there, immobile, feeling your systems shut down one by one. Depth Charge hadn’t thought he would make it off that planetoid. And then…
Rampage had saved him. Rampage, the same mech who had slaughtered Omicron, had killed and ingested Depth Charge’s friends. He’d saved Depth Charge’s life, and Depth Charge could not understand why no matter how hard he tried.
He could still remember how it felt, when the procession of death coming upon him stopped, then reverse. He could remember regaining feeling in his body, only to experience Rampage’s arms around him, and claws on his wings, for once, doing no damage.
He’d tried to forget it. Now, here they were again. Except this time, Depth Charge was not dying. And as soon as Rampage made the wrong move, Depth Charge would end him.
“This feels familiar, doesn’t it?” Rampage laughed.
Great. The last thing Depth Charge wanted to do was discuss this. “You should have killed me while you had the chance,” he growled, punctuating it with an unsuccessful attempt to free an arm or a leg.
“But think of all the fun we wouldn’t have had,” Rampage chuckled. He shifted so that he was putting a lot of weight on one of Depth Charge’s shoulder joint, which was going to be a problem if it continued for much longer.
“It sounds like you’re having a lot of fun with Megatron,” Depth Charge said, and smirked when he felt Rampage stiffen.
“I like you better,” Rampage muttered.
That threw Depth Charge off. “You know what I liked better?” he asked, and bit back a groan as the pressure on his shoulder joint grew. “My life without you in it.”
Rampage growled, and pressed down hard enough to pop Depth Charge’s shoulder joint. He roared in pain, but it was exactly what he needed—Rampage was unbalanced, with almost no leverage on his legs. Depth Charge kicked them to the side and used the momentum to overturn the both of them. Rampage lost his grip on Depth Charge, who scrambled upright. His arm was of limited use now, but he had managed with worse.
Rampage was up nearly as quickly, only giving Depth Charge the time to move out of range of his claws. Rampage narrowed his optics at him, and then started to circle him, moving slowly and carefully. Depth Charge followed suit, waiting for the right moment to strike.
“You don’t mean that,” Rampage said, and continued at Depth Charge’s look of confusion. “You missed me.”
“You came to find me so quickly,” Rampage said by way of explanation, then made a feint lunge at him. “You missed me.”
A voice in Depth Charge’s processor said he was just trying to get a rise out of him. The rest of him was just furious.
He shot off a round at Rampage to knock him off-balance and punched him in the face before he could recover. “I was having the time of my life before you showed back up,” Depth Charge lied—he hoped convincingly.
Rampage kicked at his legs as he was moving back out of claw range, and Depth Charge stumbled just enough to give Rampage the opportunity to grab him by the neck cables. With his good arm, Depth Charge dug his digits in at Rampage’s elbow joint where he knew it was painful. “For years, your entire world was just me,” Rampage hissed.
“And you thought that meant something?”
Rampage stilled. His grip on Depth Charge’s neck went slack, just a little.
And then they were interrupted. Quickstrike appeared at the top of the ledge they’d fallen off of, peering down. “Rampage! C’mon, we gotta go!” he called.
“I’m busy,” Rampage growled at him.
“You’d better finish it later! The boss ain’t happy,” Quickstrike cautioned. Depth Charge wondered when he ever was.
Rampage fixed him with a long, cold glare, then pushed him to the ground, turned, and climbed back up to the ledge.
Depth Charge could have shot him, but instead, he just watched him go.
The next time they met went differently.
Some time had passed where they hadn’t seen much of each other. In fact, in big group battles, it almost felt like Rampage was… avoiding him. This had never happened before. Not even on Omicron, when Rampage was still held captive—he had always shown interest in interacting with Depth Charge.
The time had also given Depth Charge abundant opportunities to examine everything that had been said during their last fight from every angle. He hadn’t had the attention to spare on considering it during the fight, and had assumed Rampage was only trying to rile him up.
Now, he was afraid he’d been serious.
It seemed impossible. Depth Charge didn’t want it to be true. He tried to come up with numerous other explanations, but none of them seemed right.
The tracker went off. Rampage was outside the Predacon base. It was the first chance Depth Charge had gotten in ages, and he wasn’t going to let it pass him by just because he was confused. Maybe this confrontation would come with some answers.
He slipped out of the Ark unnoticed and flew the rest of the way. It took some searching to find Rampage from the air—he was halfway up a mountain, standing on a rocky clearing surrounded by trees. He didn’t seem to be doing anything… Just standing there. Depth Charge couldn’t see any evidence of other Predacons in the area, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there.
He transformed and dropped down onto the mountain and just waited for a moment, cautious.
Nothing seemed amiss. The only sounds he picked up were the wind blowing through trees and the wildlife going about its business. Nothing big enough to be a Predacon. And Rampage was still standing there, unmoving, not making a sound.
He looked scuffed up, like he’d been in a fight and hadn’t healed entirely yet. There hadn’t been a fight. Not one the Maximals had been involved in, anyway.
Well, if he didn’t realize Depth Charge was there, there was no reason to alert him. Depth Charge had had plenty of opportunities to make an entrance over the years. Right now, he wanted this fight to be over.
He pulled out his gun, aimed, and let off a shot. The sound caused Rampage to turn, but he didn’t get out of the way in time—it got him in the shoulder. Payback for their last encounter.
Rampage glared at him. “That wasn’t nice.”
“Sorry, did I hurt your feelings?” he asked, advancing with a knife in his hand.
He didn’t attack. Rampage wasn’t moving.
He should have moved.
Depth Charge had had countless fights to learn his fighting style. He should have moved, or at the very least gotten into a fighting stance. The fact that he was doing nothing at all was… concerning.
“What kind of game are you playing, X?” Depth Charge demanded, hanging back out of his swiping range, just in case. Maybe there were Predacons waiting to attack. He strained his audial sensors, but they couldn’t find anything amiss.
Rampage snorted. “It’s not a very fun game anymore,” he said. “I think I quit.”
Depth Charge wondered if his sensors were busted. “You what?”
“I’m not playing anymore,” Rampage said, as if that cleared anything up. “You can put me back in stasis.”
Depth Charge took a step back. Clearly something was very, very wrong. He’d never known Rampage to be an actor, but this couldn’t be the truth—and yet, rather than revealing a hoax, Rampage just… sat down, and turned to look back out at the skyline.
“Why?” Depth Charge demanded, uncomprehending.
“I’ll get back out eventually. Maybe in a few thousand years. I can wait Megatron out,” he said. “I’m sure you and your new friends will kill them all at some point. I can get my spark back, and you can go back to your perfect life without me.”
Depth Charge couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “And then what?” he wanted to know. What did he think was there for him in the future that was so much better than this?
Rampage turned and looked up at him. For a moment, they were both frozen in time, staring at each other in a way they really hadn’t had a chance to before. The two of them weren’t often still.
Rampage shrugged, and turned back to the skyline.
He was wide open. This was, without a doubt, the best chance Depth Charge had ever gotten. He could very well disable Rampage and take him back to a stasis pod. He could even try to kill him and have a hope of succeeding, and it would be just what the bastard deserved. Depth Charge started to do just that, but—
Depth Charge couldn’t do it. Not if Rampage wasn’t going to fight back. And it wasn’t for the noble, idealistic reasons the other Maximals might espouse. Those had been stomped out of him years ago, thanks to the very mech in front of him.
In a fit of frustration, he threw his knife to the ground. Rampage looked back up at him, a hint of confusion in his faceplates. “You waiting for something?”
Depth Charge sat rather than answering. A part of him expected Rampage to change his mind, but no blows came. They sat together in silence for awhile.
“I think I was right,” Rampage said, quiet but smug.
Depth Charge thought back to his comments during their last encounter. “Go frag yourself,” he said. Rampage just chuckled, which only made Depth Charge mad. “I used to be a good person, you know.”
And he would, wouldn’t he. Depth Charge remembered him back then, too, when the Maximal scientists had finally decided they’d made a mistake and had sent that mistake far away, where they wouldn’t have to think about him anymore. He was unstable back then, too—powerful, barely contained, and unsettling—but always so eager to talk.
“I guess this is it, then,” Depth Charge said, but he didn’t know what this was, or what it meant. He should put Rampage back in a pod. He should help Optimus Primal take down Megatron’s band of rogues and figure out a way off this planet, and see that Rampage was sent to the far reaches of space as was the plan.
He already knew he wasn’t going to do that.
“It’s almost sad,” Rampage said, then shot him a sly look. “I liked winning.”
“I won,” Depth Charge glared. “I brought you in. You’d be dead if it weren’t for the Maximal leadership.”
“Oh, I’ll start writing a thank-you note,” Rampage said.
Depth Charge actually snorted—he couldn’t remember the last time he had laughed at anything. Rampage was the last person to have anything to be thankful to the Maximals for. Even he could acknowledge that.
They grew quiet. Neither knew how to talk to each other, or what they had gotten themselves into. Depth Charge ignored a comm from his team, and added that to a growing list of things he would have to deal with at a later time. For now, the sun was setting on the primitive planet Earth, and he didn’t have it in him to do anything but watch.
Depth Charge didn’t know what his future held, any more than he had before. Nothing had changed, and everything had.
Slowly, almost hesitantly, Rampage reached out. He went for Depth Charge’s wing, his claws running gently over the surface, so like he had done on Nix.
Except now, Depth Charge wasn’t numb. He could feel it. He let it be.