There was a truce, tentative and tangible. There were short meetings, words and silence fired rather than missiles.
There was confusion. There was longing.
There was a moment, however brief, where Rampage thought things might… work. Might turn out favorably.
He hadn’t been paying enough attention.
Or, he had been—his attention had just been focused on Depth Charge. He had zeroed in on Depth Charge’s spark now more than he ever had before, just trying to understand. He wandered outside of Predacon territory now more than ever, hoping for the briefest premonition that Depth Charge was headed his way.
It didn’t happen often. Less often now than it had when Depth Charge was trying to kill him. At times, Rampage wondered if Depth Charge would ever come looking for him again. If Rampage had been wrong after all, and Depth Charge really wanted to live his life free from him. At times, Rampage thought if he didn’t see him soon he might come apart.
But eventually, inevitably, Depth Charge returned to him. Like they were connected. Like he couldn’t stay away, as much as he wanted to. That pleased a deep part of Rampage’s spark.
This time, he was glad to be interrupted in the middle of a little fishing. He’d been on the beach in beast mode, snapping up whatever unfortunate fish happened to swim by and tossing them into a pile on the shore. Depth Charge transformed in the air and landed farther up the beach. At his approach, Rampage tossed a fish in his direction. The spoilsport he was, Depth Charge caught it mid-air and threw it back into the ocean.
“Hey,” Rampage said indignantly, even though he had been getting bored. “I caught that fair and square.”
“So did I,” Depth Charge said. He watched Rampage transform with a look on his face Rampage couldn’t quite discern. It used to help, being able to feel so starkly the emotions that roiled off him like waves. Now… Well, it wasn’t like that now.
“You’ve been scarce lately,” Rampage said as he approached. “I thought you’d forgotten about me.”
Depth Charge scoffed. “Damage control, after the stunt you pulled in that last fight,” he said. Rampage smirked to himself just thinking about it. Group battles had been interesting to navigate, since their understanding. They’d tried to avoid each other as much as they could without it looking too suspicious, and when they did find themselves face-to-face, they were… gentler.
Then there was the most recent fight. In which Rampage tackled Depth Charge to the ground because he had to, because Depth Charge had left himself wide open, and they’d struggled for a few moments, and Rampage had started a motion with a punch in mind but when he got to the end, his hand was on Depth Charge’s face, just holding it. Holding him. He hadn’t made a conscious decision to do that, but it had happened, and Rampage enjoyed it.
Depth Charge had stared up at him, a mix of shock and disbelief on his face, for a few long seconds. Then he had headbutted Rampage so hard he saw stars.
“You can’t do that in front of people,” Depth Charge snapped. “Rattrap saw, and wouldn’t leave me alone about it for days.”
In front of people. Rampage’s mind got stuck on that for a moment. “I don’t see why you don’t just kill him,” he said. “We both know you could. Or I could do it for you, so you can blame it on Predacons.”
Depth Charge’s spark flared with a cold anger that was familiar, but right now, Rampage didn’t like it very much. Depth Charge took a step forward so that he was very much in Rampage’s personal space—not that he would think to complain—and looked Rampage dead in the eye.
“You are not going to kill anyone else.” He said it slowly, emphasizing every word, and Rampage was transfixed. There was no spoken threat, but he could feel the gravity anyway.
Part of him wanted to agree with Depth Charge. Part of him thought that might be asking a bit much of him, to stop doing what he’d been created for. No one had ever told him that. Most of the scientists working on him didn’t talk to him much. But Rampage wasn’t stupid.
“Okay,” he said. He might have been lying. He wasn’t sure yet.
They were standing very close to one another. And Depth Charge had been gone for so long… It was almost automatic, when Rampage lifted his his hand to touch him. Sometimes he longed for thrown fists like before, but when Depth Charge was in front of him…
Depth Charge caught his wrist mid-air. “I mean it, X,” he said. “If you kill someone…”
“You’ll do what?” It wasn’t a provocation—Rampage wanted to know. He wanted to be able to weigh the pros and cons.
Depth Charge didn’t answer immediately, but he never broke eye contact. “Don’t do it,” he said finally.
“Okay,” Rampage said again. He might have meant it a little more this time. Depth Charge didn’t let go of his wrist, but his grip did loosen. Rampage moved to rest his hand on Depth Charge’s chest, and thumbed over the edge of a piece of plating close to Depth Charge’s neck. And Depth Charge didn’t reciprocate, but he didn’t move away. “Did you miss me?”
“No,” Depth Charge said. Rampage just laughed.
All his attention had been taken up with Depth Charge—with his movements, with dissecting what he said, with picking apart each fluctuation of his spark and using them to search for answers to questions Rampage didn’t himself understand yet.
He didn’t notice anyone else approach until it was too late.
The moment before, he felt something wasn’t right. Just a nano-klik—not enough time to even step away before his spark was wracked with piercing, familiar pain. He was barely aware of Depth Charge jerking away from him before he ended up on the ground, writhing.
Rampage tried to find something to hold onto, some point in his surroundings he could focus on and close off the part of him that hurt. He saw laserfire, and couldn’t determine the source. He was having a hard time keeping his optic sensors on.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, it let up. Rampage lay very still, staring up at the sky, waiting for his frame to recover. Before he was there, two figures stepped into his line of sight. For only a moment, Rampage thought one might be Depth Charge, but no. One was Inferno, his flame gun at the ready. The other was Quickstrike, looking down at him a little sheepishly. Notably, neither were Megatron.
“Where is that slagging—” Rampage ground out, but was interrupted.
“I wouldn’t start that if I were you,” said Megatron, but his voice sounded tinny and distant. Moments later, a disk entered his line of sight, projecting forth an image of Megatron’s head. “You’re already in deep trouble.”
“Couldn’t come tell me that yourself?” Rampage asked. Oh, he felt bad. Every one of his systems felt like it was rioting.
“Believe me, we’ll be seeing a lot of each other very soon, yes,” Megatron said. “I don’t appreciate those who are unfaithful to the Predacon cause, Rampage.”
Well. Rampage could see where this was going—badly. That was about the sum of it. Rampage was going to get something out of it. “Go frag yourself,” he spat.
The pain that hit him then was immense, like Megatron had put the box holding Rampage’s spark on the ground and stepped on it. But it only lasted for a moment.
After that moment, Rampage’s core consciousness shut down.
Depth Charge had tried.
As soon as he understood what was happening, he had tried. His gun was in his hand in an instant, firing off a barrage of approaching Predacons. On their own he could have taken them easily, but here he was outnumbered three to one. He still managed to shoot Waspinator out of the sky, but by that point, one of them had gotten a lucky shot to connect with his hip, and that made it hard to maneuver. He was being overwhelmed.
Depth Charge didn’t have a choice. He had to fall back.
Ignoring the pain, Depth Charge transformed and flew away. The Predacons didn’t follow him. He stopped not far away, and watched as Rampage went limp and was dragged away.
In that moment, he wanted to destroy them. He wanted to rip them apart or level a shot right between their eyes. The anger he felt burned like the energon flowing through his tubing at an intensity he hadn’t felt since—
Depth Charge forced himself to stop. The Predacons were gone. He was frustrated. He was angry, at himself and Rampage and Megatron. He was injured. He wasn’t accomplishing anything standing around by himself, hurt and burning with rage.
That flight back to the Ark was the longest he’d ever experienced. The whole way, Depth Charge’s mind raced around in circles.
He should have stopped it. He should have been able to do something, but now Rampage was back in Megatron’s claws, and he knew (what was there to know?), and there was no telling what he’d do.
Depth Charge had known about Rampage’s artificially split spark, and the thought had always brought up dark memories, but he’d never seen it. He’d never seen it used against Rampage. Now Depth Charge was furious at Megatron, and angry at himself, and ultimately helpless.
He hadn’t been able to fight off three Predacons. There was no way he would be able to storm their ship. Not by himself. And convincing the Maximals to help would be… a tremendous task. Depth Charge would have to explain himself, put his actions and reasoning into words, and Depth Charge didn’t think he could do that. It was bad enough he knew them. And anyway, why would Optimus and his little band of friends care? All Megatron was doing was taking back one of his own…
He’d been able to feel it. With Rampage’s hand on his chestplate, Depth Charge had been able to feel the shockwaves coursing through him. He couldn’t even imagine how much worse they must be for Rampage himself.
When he got back to the Ark, everything was too much. There were too many of his “teammates” milling around between himself and the CR chamber. He went straight to the empty corner of the ship he’d claimed as his own instead, to wait them out.
He laid on his sorry excuse for a berth and stared up at the ceiling, ignoring the pulsing pain in his hip.
A part of him wanted to pretend this had never happened. To go before their truce, and ignore everything after. Rampage was a Predacon. They were going to fight regardless. And for the things Rampage had done, he deserved this.
But not from Megatron. That thought rose to the surface above all others—Megatron had no right.
Depth Charge would get him back. He would rip Rampage’s spark out of that slag-eater’s hands. He knew this, above all else, just as strongly as he’d once known he was going to track Protoform X down and bring him in. He’d done that. He would manage this too.
It wasn’t all that long until Depth Charge saw Rampage again. He was too valuable for Megatron to keep him off the field.
This time, it was a canyon that already looked like it’d been shot to the pit and back. Depth Charge didn’t know the details—he’d been called in last minute while scouting. When he arrived the fight was already in full force.
His attention immediately focused on Rampage. He had a squirming and disarmed Rattrap in his grip, trying to connect a fist or a foot with something, but Rampage held him too far away from his body. Elsewhere on the battlefield, Depth Charge saw Silverbolt lying unmoving on the ground with one of his wings fully detached from his body, and Rhinox had evidently run out of bullets as he was using his fists to fight now.
Depth Charge transformed and landed in the middle of the battlefield. As soon as he made contact with the ground, Rampage spotted him. They locked eyes, for just a moment. Don’t, he tried to communicate. If Rampage killed Rattrap, any plan Depth Charge might have had went out the window. Optimus Primal’s team was sentimental. They wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Rampage looked back at Rattrap, then heaved him back and tossed him into a rock. It would hurt, but Rattrap would be fine.
Then, Depth Charge was bowled over from behind by Quickstrike. That took up all his attention for a few good cycles—the fuzor was small but powerful, and he’d taken Depth Charge by surprise. He got a few good hits in before Depth Charge was able to take care of him, including a bite from his snake hand to Depth Charge’s shoulder joint. That one continued to sting and restrict his arm’s movement long after he’d kicked Quickstrike away from him.
Depth Charge got to his feet and saw that while he’d been on the ground the battlefield had shifted somewhat. He was farther away from Optimus Primal now, and close enough for Megatron to notice the damage he’d sustained.
He could hear Megatron cackle. “Rampage, I believe someone is waiting for you,” he called.
Rampage disengaged immediately from his fight with Cheetor and Blackarachnia trying to keep him away from Silverbolt’s unconscious body, but he didn’t advance on Depth Charge right away. He just looked at him.
“Rampage,” Megatron said testily.
He was just going to get Megatron angry at him. Depth Charge didn’t give him more time to dawdle—he went for Rampage himself.
It was easy, fighting with him. It was easy to get into a rhythm. “Where is it?” he whispered in Rampage’s audial while holding him in a headlock.
“You know what,” Depth Charge growled.
Rampage threw him off. The next time they were close enough to speak without being overheard, Rampage had a knee digging painfully into Depth Charge’s back. “He keeps it with him all the time,” Rampage said. “I’ve tried to take it back…”
“You aren’t trying hard enough!” Megatron shouted, his voice threatening. For a moment, Rampage froze up and cried out in pain, and Depth Charge felt it, which meant—
“Kill him, or I will,” Megatron ordered. Depth Charge craned his neck, and sure enough—there it was. Half of Rampage’s spark, trapped in a box, displayed for all to see. Only a movement to reduce the Maximals’ failed experiment into a writhing mess on the ground.
Well, not for much longer. Not if Depth Charge had anything to say about it.
He used the moment to knock Rampage off balance and throw him a few feet away. Depth Charge had been trying to avoid ranged weapons for the purposes of getting close enough to Rampage to talk to him, but he pulled out his gun now. Before he got a chance to use it, Rampage collided with him from the side. After a prolonged struggle, Rampage pried the gun out of Depth Charge’s hand. Instinctively, Depth Charge pulled out a knife.
“What are you doing?” he rumbled, just loud enough for Rampage to hear.
“He’ll kill you,” Rampage hissed back.
Or you will, Depth Charge thought. But no. He didn’t think so. It seemed Rampage had a plan. It was just conflicting with Depth Charge’s own.
They collided again, Rampage using Depth Charge’s gun as a blunt object and Depth Charge trying to defend himself with a knife without actually inflicting a large amount of damage. It was going fine until a stray shot from someone else’s fight nailed Depth Charge in the leg. He went down, and Rampage went down with him.
The struggle came down to this—Depth Charge on the ground, the point of his knife hovering just below Rampage’s chestplate. Rampage on his knees on top of him, propped up on his elbow, pressing his arm against Depth Charge’s neck, keeping him in place. Rampage, with a gun to Depth Charge’s head, and for just a moment, Depth Charge thought he was actually going to do it.
But no. He was frozen, absolutely still. Staring. For a moment, time narrowed down to this—Depth Charge couldn’t even hear the rest of the battle anymore.
He could hear Megatron.
“Finish him,” Megatron snarled. Rampage twitched, shifted his head just slightly. Rampage could barely even see Megatron over Rampage’s bulk.
Depth Charge heard a soft click. He looked down and was shocked to find Rampage’s spark casing opening up. It was frighteningly close to Depth Charge’s knife.
“Do it and run,” Rampage told him. “I’m not letting him use me.”
“Neither am I,” Depth Charge said, drawing his gaze back up to Rampage’s face. “I need you to trust me for a klik.”
Rampage just laughed. That seemed like answer enough.
Depth Charge dropped the knife, and in a split second grabbed the gun out of Rampage’s hand, took aim, and let off a shot. In that moment, more than any other in Depth Charge’s life, luck was with him—his shot collided with Megatron’s hand, causing him to drop the box. It tumbled a small distance away.
Depth Charge kept firing, not allowing Megatron time to pick it back up. Megatron growled in anger and powered up his arm cannon, but as he did so, Depth Charge had nudged Rampage’s arm away and and grabbed hold of his throat, pushing him up and onto his knees. Crouching behind him, Rampage took the brunt of Megatron’s firepower to the back. He groaned in pain, but he would be fine—Depth Charge would make sure of that.
He kept firing, drawing Megatron out until he finally got what he wanted. Rather than firing one-off shots from his cannon, he let loose one long, sustained blast.
Depth Charge jumped out from behind Rampage and made a mad dash for the box, firing all the way. Megatron’s laser followed him, but it was slow and unwieldy like this. He could feel the heat chasing behind him, but Depth Charge wasn’t thinking about that. All he could see was the box.
He dove for it, and then—it was in his hands. He had it. And Megatron was kliks away from decimating him.
Depth Charge gripped the box tight, raised it up, and then slammed it into the rocky ground so hard it shattered.
He was only briefly aware of the spark floating up and away before it felt like his legs were being melted into oblivion.
Depth Charge tried to crawl away, at least to slow the beam’s progress, but it made its way up Depth Charge’s frame, and in only moments it would be connecting with vital circuitry.
Then it stopped. Depth Charge hadn’t heard anything, too occupied with his own problems, but when he looked up, Megatron looked like he’d had an arsenal thrown at him.
Not far away, Rampage was standing. As he watched Depth Charge could see his repairs in action, faster now than they had been when he’d had only half a spark. Rampage widened his stance, weapons at the ready, and roared.
Depth Charge was losing a lot of energon. His presence of mind was in and out. He knew he saw Rampage lunge at Megatron. He was fairly certain he heard Megatron call for a retreat.
The next thing he really remembered, he had been shifted onto his back. His entire lower half hurt like the pit. And Rampage…
Rampage was crouched over him, his arms around him and his face pressed into Depth Charge’s torso plating. Idly, Depth Charge’s hand found the back of Rampage’s head and rested there.
There was movement in the corner of his eye. He turned his head just enough to see Optimus Primal and those of his crew that were still standing cautiously approach. At this point, it was just him, Rattrap and Rhinox.
Rampage growled, his plating flaring up protectively. “Stop,” Depth Charge ordered weakly, and tapped his head for emphasis.
Optimus, at the head of the group, stopped a respectable distance away. “Are you alright, Depth Charge?”
“I’ve been better,” Depth Charge managed.
“You look like crap,” Rattrap said, which was almost funny coming from him just then. Rampage sure had done a number on him. Depth Charge didn’t have the strength to say so, but Rattrap still got a few glares leveled in his direction, both from his teammates and from Rampage.
“We need to get you to a CR chamber,” Optimus said calmly. Depth Charge nodded, so Optimus took a step forward.
Rampage rose up on his knees, wanting to appear more formidable but not willing to let go of Depth Charge completely. “I’m taking him,” he said.
“Where?” Optimus asked, his voice level.
“To the CR chamber,” Rampage clarified, as if it were obvious.
“Oh, no. If you think we’re lettin’ a Predacon into the Ark you’ve got another thing coming, crablegs,” Rattrap said.
“He’s not a Predacon,” Depth Charge said, his voice as firm as he could make it. “Not anymore.”
Depth Charge watched as Optimus and Rhinox exchanged worried glances. For a moment, Depth Charge worried this would be it. He did need a CR chamber, as soon as possible, but he didn’t have the energy or the spark to convince Rampage to let him go without him. Not after what had just happened.
“Alright,” Optimus said, surprising Depth Charge and Rampage both. “If you promise not to do any harm.”
Depth Charge got the feeling Rampage was probably grinning. “I promise,” he said. Depth Charge didn’t know what was more unlikely—Optimus Primal allowing Rampage into the Ark, or Rampage promising to be on his best behavior.
Rampage got to his feet, and the next thing Depth Charge knew, he was being lifted, gently, gently, into Rampage’s arms. It was a little unwieldy, with his wings, but Depth Charge wasn’t conscious long enough to notice that. The last thing he remembered was Rampage holding him tight.
Rampage stood by the CR chamber the entire time Depth Charge was inside.
The Maximals watched him. The ones that weren’t in CR chambers themselves, anyway. They weren’t pointing weapons at him outright, but they kept a close eye on him. Any time he shifted, they jumped. It was almost funny. Almost enough for him to keep doing it on purpose.
He had other things on his mind.
Rampage was still having trouble believing it. He adapted—it was what he did. But learning to live with half a spark had been excruciating. Now everything was different. Now he was whole again, and Megatron couldn’t touch him, and it was all thanks to Depth Charge.
He’d had been in there for a long time. It felt like a long time. Rampage had never had to use a CR chamber himself, so maybe he didn’t know. It seemed inconvenient. Rampage was impatient. He wanted to talk to Depth Charge. He wanted to hold him, feel that he was alright. He’d seen Depth Charge hurt before—had hurt him himself, plenty of times—but… it was different, this time.
Finally, he saw Depth Charge stir. The door to the CR chamber slid open, and Depth Charge stepped out.
Automatically, Rampage’s hand clamped around Depth Charge’s arm. The Maximals rose, alarmed, but before Rampage could do a thing, Depth Charge stepped in front of him. Between him and them.
“I’ll handle this,” Depth Charge said—firm, like a warning.
“How are you feeling, Depth Charge?” Optimus asked carefully.
“Fine.” Depth Charge turned and walked away, down a hallway farther into the Ark, taking Rampage, who was still latched onto his arm, with him.
“Where are you going?” Optimus asked.
Depth Charge didn’t answer. And the Maximals didn’t follow. For a moment Rampage thought they would, and thought he would have no trouble taking them all in the condition they were still in, but no. He felt their wary energies fade away, leaving him the ability to focus solely on Depth Charge.
Not that it did much good, this time. Feeling him now was like trying to wade through murky waters. There was a lot there, tangled together in a knot, and most weren’t the feelings Rampage was most acquainted with. He would have a pit of a time trying to untangle any of them. It seemed Rampage would have to use other methods to determine what was going on in Depth Charge’s head.
He hadn’t had much practice at that.
Depth Charge led him through a ship that made even Rampage feel small, and finally into a storage room. In a corner, Depth Charge had set out a mat and a small collection of possessions, most of which looked like they’d been salvaged from what was left of his ship. Blowing it up had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now Rampage would have enjoyed being able to use it to get them off this planet and leave the Maximals and Predacons to their pointless war.
He stopped there, and turned to face Rampage. “You’re alright?”
“Me?” Rampage asked. He couldn’t remember if anyone had ever asked him that before. On the one hand, it seemed like a dumb question. He could heal himself, and he was clearly standing in front of Depth Charge.
But then… A lot had happened since they’d been dragged apart. “I’m fine,” he said.
“Good.” Depth Charge paused, then hesitated, then placed his hands on Rampage’s sides, and Rampage felt himself melt.
“You saved me,” he said. The words were out in the open before he could even think to stop them.
“Guess we’re even,” Depth Charge said. He looked away, just slightly, but Rampage took his chances and wrapped his arms around Depth Charge, practically curling around him. He felt Depth Charge slowly deflate as he released a long vent, but then his arms tightened around Rampage’s back.
It was quite possibly the best thing he’d ever experienced. This space here, in Depth Charge’s arms, the space in Depth Charge’s spark that Rampage did not understand but which wasn’t angry and wasn’t hurt and wasn’t cold. All he could think about was that he was never letting go.
“What do you think happens now?”
It took a moment for that to register. Rampage lifted his head so that he could look at Depth Charge. “What?”
“What do we do next?” Depth Charge asked, rephrasing his question somewhat. “We need a plan.”
We , Rampage’s mind repeated. But he had no answer to that question. He wasn’t used to thinking that way. The only period of his life where he’d had free will, he’d spent it on his and Depth Charge’s game. And as enjoyable as that had been while it lasted, he liked this better. He just didn’t know what happened next.
Depth Charge seemed to take pity on him, and raised his hand to Rampage’s head, nudging it to lean back on his shoulder. Rampage melted into him, burying his face in the crook of Depth Charge’s neck.
“You should stay away from the Predacons,” Depth Charge said darkly. “Optimus Primal and his team have a history of taking in strays, but I think you might be pushing it… If nothing else we can find another part of the planet to wait for all this to blow over.”
Depth Charge and Rampage, alone together on their own piece of the planet? Unbothered and free to do as they pleased? “I like that one,” Rampage purred.
“I thought you might.”
Rampage protested when Depth Charge maneuvered them to the mat on the ground, but once they were there, he liked it a lot better. Depth Charge sat, his back against the wall, and Ramage curled up on top of him. One of Depth Charge’s hands rested on Rampage’s neck, and the other on rubbed slow circles around one set of his beast mode’s legs. Rampage was never moving from this spot.
“We still have a lot we need to talk about,” Depth Charge said.
“Not now,” Rampage hoped.
“No,” Depth Charge agreed. “But you aren’t getting out of it.”
“Fine,” Rampage said. He would have agreed to anything, at this point. It must have showed, because he heard Depth Charge laugh at him. It was quiet, barely audible, but Rampage soaked in it.
A moment later, Depth Charge put one of his hands over Rampage’s eyes. Automatically, his optic sensors shut down. He heard a sound he didn’t recognize, but didn’t think much of it until he felt something soft press to the top of his head.
His optic sensors jerked back online, but he couldn’t see anything, and didn’t want to push, and when Depth Charge removed his hand, his mask was back in place like nothing had ever happened. But Rampage knew he hadn’t been imagining that. Despite all their fights, he’d never seen Depth Charge without his mask. Now he desperately wanted to.
His whole frame buzzed, but the exhaustion of recent events was quickly catching up to him. It didn’t take long at all for him to start to drift off. He’d never felt comfortable enough to recharge when anyone else was around before, but here he knew he was safe.
There were Maximals too close for comfort, but Depth Charge was here. Depth Charge wouldn’t let them near him. He believed that, now.