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Corona of Light

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Kaon was so old that at this point, what it was built on was mostly itself. Underground Kaon steadily unfurled into a lightless labyrinth known only to society's most desperate and estranged; any wall knocked down at the right place opened up the mouth of a tunnel deep into the city's forgotten history. In a basement that had been buried by the growth of the city several thousand years ago, beneath tons of packed rubble and the full weight of a modern garbage disposal center, there was fomenting a revolution. 

Rung had never had to consider, before, how difficult it might be to find one large, inconspicuous, un-surveilled location in a major Cybertronian city. It simply isn’t the kind of thing one thinks about when one is scheduling a rota of patients in a corner office overlooking the Boulevard of Swords, or quietly compiling one's next research paper. But it was his life, now.

Rung wobbled with his arms precariously stacked with seditious literature. The texts were scribbled with whatever material the writers could get their hands on—broken bits of body parts, construction debris, spray paint. The weight of injustice was heavy, and unfortunately for Rung, also full of a lot of pointy edges and broken off screws. Rung maneuvered around the bodies of other bots and the ragged, mismatched furniture, not able to see all that much with his one optic and his arms full of literature.

Rung was often lost in the press of larger frames as he navigated these spaces below the planet’s surface. He was below eye level for most of the manual frametypes who made up Megatron’s movement. It was dim down here, the jury rigged lighting dimmed to conserve energon, and, well… Rung had never been a noticeable figure, even before he started putting himself in spaces full of brawlers, haulers, and gladiators. None of them would mean to kick him over, probably, but…

Someone’s elbow clipped Rung’s stack of seditious literature—the whole thing gave a terrible wobble, tipping tipping tipping, and he had a moment of spiking dread before a huge grey hand closed around the top of the stack and forced it still. Immediately, Rung sagged with relief.

“Megatron,” he said, “thank you, I thought for sure I was going to lose everything there.”

Broad and dark and nearly twice the size of Rung, Megatron blocked the whole aisle between desks, leaving them both alone in a bubble of momentary stillness.

Megatron, he had found, was not much of a smiler. A smirker and a snarler, most certainly, but rarely a smiler. Megatron was as forbidding as charismatic, with a voice in a mouth like some dark and terrible truth hidden beneath his glossa. Whatever he had seen in that fateful prison cell, in that labor camp, it had left him with the gravitational pull of a black hole. When Rung had arrived on his metaphorical doorstep, glitching from the overtaxed sensory suite that he knew was the common result of empurata, Megatron had pulled him into that orbit as surely as any cold star.

“We’ve met before,” Megatron had said, when Rung offered his—his claw—in greeting that night. “Maccadam’s, in Rodion. You were thrown onto my table.”

“Oh,” Rung had said, wishing he still had glasses to fiddle with. “Yes, that was—of course that was you. I didn’t think you would remember.”

Megatron arched a brow. “You didn’t think I would remember.”

“I’ve never been particularly memorable,” Rung replied, flustered. “And there’s significantly… less of me… to recognize, these days.”

In the dark red glow of Megatron’s attention, Rung felt all at once more than just noticed—he felt autopsied, peeled apart and examined inch by inch. It was a familiar feeling, after years of evaluations and surgeries at the Functionists’ hands. But unlike every other set of eyes that had laid Rung out under their microscopes, this gaze did not seem to find him wanting. If anything, Megatron seemed to light with anticipation as he drank Rung in, every inadequate and imperfect inch of him. 

“I found you exceedingly memorable,” Megatron had purred, and just like that, Rung felt his future waiting to snap into place underneath Megatron’s work-scarred fingers. Some part of him had shivered at the sheer weight of Megatron’s presence.

No, Megatron wasn’t much of a smiler. But at times there was a twitch of facial plates that signaled amusement, and a kind of low warmth in the light of his optics. Each time Rung was privy to it, the ache in him grew more severe.

Megatron lifted a paint-scribbled chunk of alloy from the top of Rung’s stack, turning it over in his hands with vague interest. “I like to see my soldiers busy,” he remarked, “but perhaps you should refrain from biting off more than you can chew.”

“I’m not a soldier, Megatron,” Rung said, lightly. “And this isn’t an army.”

“Not yet,” Megatron said, with one of his telling twitches of amusement. “Let me help you with those. What are we reading today?”

Rung allowed the larger mech to scoop up two thirds of his load. Some of the others around here were quite sensitive about their perceived strength and would have bristled at the offer to share the strain, but Rung never minded. Quite the opposite actually. 

Of course it was only… practical, but. Even so. When Megatron did little things like that for him—holding open doors, carrying his books, things that he didn’t seem to even consider doing for his other, more able followers—Rung felt more than noticed. He felt almost cared for.

“Testimonials. Whistleblowers, mostly,” Rung said. “Dropped off this morning at the waste facility and brought down. Screwshine was thinking they’d make a good distribution, if we can actually decipher them. I’ll admit I’m having a bit of trouble reading some of the handwriting.”

“Penmanship is not generally a skill the work force are taught,” Megatron agreed, and gestured for Rung to lead the way. "Most come online with rudimentary typist patches, if that. Minimal ability to communicate is preferable in a laborer."

The bustle of the dim floor parted for Megatron in a way that it never did for Rung alone. People fell over themselves to make room. If Megatron noticed, it didn't appear to perturb him.

“I wish I could lead a workshop,” Rung said, the ache in his spark flaring. “Being able to express oneself is very… empowering. I used to have my patients keep journals. A hardcopy journal has a certain kind of inherent privacy that a digital document simply can’t match. Not to mention it would make things like this easier for us all.”

He could feel Megatron’s eyes on him. “If you want to do something like that, I could have one of the east side basements cleared out for you. You only need to ask.”

Rung shifted uncomfortably, his pace towards the side door speeding up. “How would I instruct? I can barely hold a cube these days, let alone manipulate a pen.”

“If anyone can find a way,” Megatron said, “I have confidence that it will be you.” And he reached over Rung’s head to hold the door open.

His quarters, for a generous definition of the word, had been a clerk’s office in its previous life. These days it was both Rung’s living space and his working space, an uncomfortable but necessary concession to circumstance. One of the good things about working for the movement was being allowed to use party resources. Rung had been evicted from the property that he’d rented since the silver age the moment he turned up again missing his hands and most of his face. He’d been homeless until he had washed up here.

“The offer stands,” Megatron said, and laid down his share of the stack on Rung’s desk, the legs of which had been reclaimed for three other mismatching pieces of furniture. 

“Thank you,” Rung said, figuratively swallowing down a sensation of corrosive inadequacy. “I won’t keep you, I know you have…”

Megatron leaned his hip against the chimera desk and crossed his powerful arms.

“...Better things to do,” Rung finished.

There it was again, that mysterious warmth, that faint pull of the mouth. 

“My dear Rung,” Megatron said, his faint Tarnish accent like coal dust on the lips, “your contribution to the movement has been incalculable in the scant years you’ve been with me. I have as much time for you as you might require.”

Rung brought his curled hand up against his not-face and looked away, knowing that his biolights were glowing now.

Not many years ago--less than a moment ago in the length of either of their lifetimes--Rung arrived on the doorstep of the movement that had only just begun to refer to itself as decepticon, and had asked for work. “I want to help,” he had said, to the bot that peered at him suspiciously through the cracked door. He hoped they would take him. He had to help someone, and there was no one left who would accept his help save, perhaps, here.

“Go away,” the bot had said, at the same moment that Megatron was passing behind him inside the facility. And in that split second, Megatron and Rung had locked optics, and the world had gone quiet.

Now, in the room that Megatron had given him, at the heart of the uprising, Rung said, “Of course. Yes. I’m always pleased to contribute.”

“I know you are,” Megatron said, his optics glowing like a dim, intimate fire. “You’re a dedicated mech, doctor.”

“Please,” Rung said, shifting his weight against the low flat table that had been repurposed to serve as his berth. “I’m not a doctor anymore. I was disbarred, you know that. We certainly can’t allow the mentally aberrant to meddle with the minds of the citizenry.”

Megatron’s expression screwed up in revulsion. “Please, not even in jest.”

Rung gave him a wan curve of the optic. “I wonder sometimes what I’m good for now. Hundreds of thousands of years honing a craft, and now I can’t even use it for the people who need it most.”

“You mustn’t undervalue your other contributions,” Megatron said. “Unglamorous labor is the oil that keeps this machine running. Without a mech like you to hold the line, we would collapse under the weight of every dissident grasping onto us like a lifeline. How many mouths are fed because you kept your records timely and detailed?” He held up one of the paint-stained debris for emphasis, the broken chest piece of what was probably once a waste disposal frame. “How many of the shackled are handed the keys to their oppression because you put in the time to transcribe a letter, or arrange a distribution? I need you, even as you are.”

Rung’s spark flared with that familiar ache. He longed to—to—

He ran the edge of a claw over what had been the palm of his hand. “I wish I could do more. For the other victims, for the movement… for you.”

“I require nothing of you save your continued dedication.”

Rung cast a glance across the room. “Truly,” he said. “If there’s anything I can do for you, any comfort I can offer you—you know you only need ask.” 

There was a moment of pause, of Megatron watching him with his piercing, calculating gaze. Rung steeled himself. He used to be better at this, but he was out of practice now and more disadvantaged than ever. It used to be that he was merely forgettable, though not objectionable once he had someone’s attention. Now, he was—well. 

Who wanted to rendezvous with a hacked-up crime scene? There was very little he could do now to sweeten the package, without hands or even a mouth. He was thoroughly acquainted with his own limitations now, after the last time Megatron had casually lifted him onto a desk in order to make way for some piece of furniture being moved through the office and Rung had gone back to his room almost shaking with lust, knees wobbly, valve twitching and cycling behind his overheated modesty panel. 

His mind had tortured him for hours with the vision of Megatron picking him up again, this time to pull him onto his hard spike, spreading calipers ring after ring until finally the head locked against Rung’s dataport. The thickness inside of him might finally satisfy that low, endless ache. Rung had tried talking to himself as if he were his own patient: now is what you want really interface? Would interface with anyone be satisfactory, or is it specifically Megatron? Is there something else you can do to satisfy your need for intimacy?

But it was so difficult to parse the need for Megatron’s good regard from the way his frame lighted at the first sign of a passing touch. And they had taken more than just his hands and his mouth from him, when they took him. Insult to injury? There was no reason to remove a mech’s spike except to satisfy some hunger for cruelty that Rung truly could not fathom. The sheer concept of empurata was an exercise in sadism to begin with—perhaps he shouldn’t be surprised that they took it beyond the pale with so little hesitation.

The great irony of trauma is that knowing how it works doesn’t necessarily prepare one for the reality of it. Rung treated a number of empurata victims prior to his own… treatment. He knows that beauty is not an indicator of worth. He knows that the sense of betrayal he feels shouldn’t dictate his ability to form and maintain relationships with new people. But it is hard. It’s hard to look at his lack of a face and see worthless, functionless, unwanted as if it’s being scrolled across the bottom of his mirror like a Functionist Council Approved Memorandum.

And Megatron was so arresting. Megatron had such a mind, such a fire, and he had been so good to Rung since the moment he stepped out onto that doorstep and offered his enormous hand in greeting. Rung longed to be touched by someone, by anyone, who would see him and still touch him gently. By Megatron, most of all.

If nothing else, he told himself, you are a warm body with a wet valve. You’re easy. How objectionable can that possibly be?

Rung slid just slightly closer along the edge of the makeshift berth. “You work like a mech possessed,” he said. “You take care of everything around here. You take care of me. Who takes care of Megatron?”

The revolutionary stared at Rung, not the slightest twitch of his frame betraying his mind. And then he stood, all his powerful pistons whirring to life as his weight shifted. “I don’t need anyone to look after me,” he said. “I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.”

He passed in front of Rung, who watched him go with a foolish hope that only finally extinguished when the door closed behind him.

Rung sagged in the darkness, biolights hot with shame. Perhaps there was someone out there who manufactured interface toys suitable for empuratee claws. If only there was someone he could ask about it, he would.

 

 

"Something is coming," Rung's patient had said one morning, not long before it happened. He'd been standing huddled into himself at the window overlooking the city while Rung waited patiently for him to explain the reason for the sudden appointment. Temporary purple paint was still caught in the cracks of his chassis, not fully scrubbed out; his single yellow optic had been dim and pale with lack of recharge. "Everything matters. Guard your heart, and watch the wind..."

And he had turned to Rung, who was sitting on the edge of his desk, and he had said, "I mean you. Guard your heart-" he turned back to the window, "-watch the wind."

He had said other things. But that was what Rung remembered.

They came for him while he was in his office. That was perhaps the thing that disturbed him most. In the middle of a work day, in cheerful uptown Rodion, as one of his regular patients was just signing out for the day—they came for him. He doesn’t remember if he fought. He doesn’t remember anything except the sound of ceramic shattering as he shot to his feet behind the desk, the red and white shattered pieces on the floor beside his head as the cuffs snapped into place behind his back, the voice of someone saying (their mouth full of the candy Rung kept on his desk for visitors), “This is the guy they want?”

To this day he couldn’t decide if the facility where he’d been taken was the same facility where he’d been poked and prodded during the census many centuries ago, or if it was only compounded trauma playing tricks on his processor.

“If you’re such a hack-job lover,” one of the enforcers had laughed, as he dragged Rung into the operating room, “why don’t you try the look on for size yourself?”

No one knew who exactly ordered empurata for people like Rung. It was commonly held to be the senate, but whether it was the entire senate or just a few sitting senators, or whether there was more than one group doing the ordering—well, nobody knew that. When Shockwave had disappeared during the clampdown, only to reappear almost unrecognizable, terror had rippled through the streets of the planet. Even a senator, now? Was anyone safe? Could anyone be safe?

That said, Rung had… suspicions. He knew exactly who was responsible for his ongoing vivisections during the census, and he wouldn’t put any of this covert powerplay beyond them.

When they were done with him, whoever they were, they had tossed him in the refuse of an Iacon alley and left him to find his own way home. The train had turned him away, its conductor recoiling in disgust and fear, and it was only then that Rung had fully understood what had been done to him. He remembers the train speeding away from him, a flash of blue steel against the clear sky, feeling his awareness of his own body snap into place for the first time in he had no idea how many hours.

It was amazing the way that people treated empurata as if it was catching. In a way, Rung could understand it. No one knew why it happened or who was responsible for it—perhaps guilt by association was all the impetus necessary to ruin a life. He himself, as best as he could understand it, had committed the grave sin of having cared for his patients indiscriminately. When the enforcers had come asking for patient records for a suspected decepticon sympathizer, Rung had turned them away. His patient was a decepticon sympathizer, as a matter of fact, but even if he had been innocent Rung still wouldn’t have furnished those records to the dubious mercy of some quasi-governmental thugs. He refused. And then only days later, he had looked up into his own face reflected for the last time in the scalpel of a cold-eyed surgeon.

But even as he could understand it, in theory, the effect was… disorienting. At times Rung’s temper still got the best of him. It wasn’t as if he was armed, or even vaguely threatening. He was just trying to buy a drink—just trying to catch a train, walk to work, live a life as best he could. Even the ones who weren’t afraid of him seemed to treat him like something lodged in a gutter, something onerous to touch.

Like—like with Starscream.

Rung arrived at the night’s gladiatorial arena around the time of sunset, compartments packed with signal dampeners he’d picked up from a black market dealer in the manufacture district. The wind whipped across the demolished lot, tearing flyers and trash from the hollows between broken cement chunks. Just beyond the peak of the rubble, the girders for the arena were going up. Starscream was standing in the shadow of it, impatiently tapping away on a communication pad with the sharp tips of his fingers.

Megatron’s secretary was very beautiful, if you could forget his personality. He’d been with the Decepticons since the move to Kaon, and he ran Megatron’s schedule with the iron fist of a born tyrant, sneering coolly at the suggestion that anyone else could possibly be worth Megatron’s time.

“Starscream, hello,” Rung said, and then waited the necessary several kliks of posturing time, in which Starscream made it absolutely clear that he didn’t have to respond to anyone or anything, but he was going to in this case, and you had better be grateful for it.

“Oh,” Starscream said, and only then looked up. “You.”

“Have you seen Soundwave yet?” Rung asked. “I picked up his order for him, and these should probably be distributed as soon as possible.”

Starscream curled his lip. “I’m sure he’s around here somewhere,” he said, “I’ve got more important things to keep track of. Find him yourself, if you’re so eager. Or can you, with that headlight you call an optic?”

Rung wondered if it was fear. With the wrong word at the wrong time, it would be so easy for any of them to find themselves snatched off the street in a quiet moment, dragged down into an operation room, and unmade. Starscream was proud and terribly vain; perhaps he had more to lose than Rung did.

Starscream paused, and then fixed his attention on something behind Rung. Immediately, his whole frame oozed into the shape of a brazen invitation, and he pushed Rung out of his way.

“Megatron,” he purred, tucking his pad against his hip. “You’re looking positively brutish. Going to headline again tonight?”

“Starscream,” Megatron acknowledged. “If I told you now, half of Iacon would know by the time the first match started.”

“As your humble servant, I’m wounded,” Starscream said, pressing his claw to his cockpit. “Absolutely wounded. When have I ever done anything without your leave?”

Megatron just cocked an amused brow at him.

“You’re going to let me fight tonight, aren’t you?” Starscream said. “That would go a long way toward making it up to me.  I’m dying to show you what I’m made of, sir.”

“I need you coordinating,” Megatron said, “you’ll have your chance—Rung, you’re here tonight?”

Rung startled, stepping automatically out of the shadow of a broken support column. Starscream turned, fangs bared, and for a moment Rung saw something almost feral in his expression.

And then, as if nothing had transpired, Starscream said quite casually: “Oh, he’s just running errands for Soundwave. Don’t worry about him.”

Megatron didn’t even look at Starscream. “Would you like an escort?” he asked Rung, paldrons and plates gleaming in the dying light. “The constructicons aren’t known for looking out below while they work.”

“Nonsense,” Starscream said, taking Megatron by the arm. “You don’t need to waste your time nannying Rung when you’ve got a match to prep for. I’ll take him to Soundwave.”

Starscream pulled him away from Rung, pushing him down the footpath in the rubble towards the rising construction. Megatron gave Starscream a look, but it was as difficult to decipher as any of his looks. Starscream smiled brightly and nodded, making playful shooing motions until Megatron finally turned and descended out of sight.

“You’re not really going to take me to Soundwave, are you?” Rung asked, resigned to his fate.

Starscream whirled on him. “Like I’d do anything for you, you glorified little spikesleeve,” he hissed, optics blazing.

If Rung had had a mouth, it would have popped open. “Excuse me?” he said.

“You think you’re entitled to my time just because Megatron’s using you like a pay by the hour hotel?” Starscream’s wings vibrated at his back. “But that’s all you’re good for now, isn’t it?”

“I’m what?” Rung asked, too bewildered at the moment to be offended. He mentally backtracked. “Megatron and I aren’t doing anything of that nature.”

“Why else would he even look at you when I’m right! Here!” Starscream said, slamming the pad against his chest for emphasis. The screen split down the middle with a faint fizzle.

“I could think of several reasons,” Rung said, warily. “Perhaps he isn’t interested in you. You are very beautiful, but it does happen sometimes.”

“Hah!” Starscream snarled. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you. The whole slagging base has seen the way he looks at you. You may have a tight little valve for now, but that won’t last forever! One of these days he’s gonna wear you out, and then we’ll see how much time he wants to spend carrying your damn books for you then, you gutted little abomination!”

Rung stared at him. He was panting, auxiliary venting systems running at full power, turbines whining.

“Are you done?” Rung asked, after the silence had stretched out a moment.

“Get rusted,” Starscream said, and jabbed one wicked finger at Rung’s remaining face. “I’m gonna be number one around here! Me! Stop muscling in on my territory and get some self respect!”

“...Thank you for your suggestion,” Rung said, taking a step back. “I’ll take it under advisement.”

And then he disengaged from the situation, before Starscream could escalate it any further.

Behind him, Starscream let out a screech of rage—probably, Rung thought, at the sight of the ruined pad screen.

 

 

Rung considered it for several weeks, stalling and revving at the brush of hips and elbows, twisting his claws until the joint mechanisms started to stick. 

Starscream was clearly speaking from a place of insecurity and bitterness, but there could still be something worth considering in the gist of his tirade. If Starscream thought it was possible for Megatron to be interested, given his own demonstrably close relationship with Megatron, perhaps there was something to it.

Just once. He would ask, just once, and if the answer was no, he would accept it with grace.

Rung had learned, and then learned again the hard way, not to simply settle for the whims of a stranger when his frame was yearning for attention. In his other life, Rung had been a bit of a bar fly. Discreet private clubs, familiar regular clientele, welcoming one-night berths. And then a few million years ago, he had sworn off sleeping with anyone who couldn’t remember his name after a first meeting. That had cut down his potential liaisons to a bare fraction, but it had demonstrably improved his peace of mind. There was nothing quite so tank-churning as turning to greet someone with whom he had spent a quite pleasurable evening, and finding that he needed to re-introduce himself.

He would have done better to remember that, after the surgery left him disoriented and distressed, isolated to a new and terrifying degree even for him, who had been an island among the rocks as far back as he could remember. If he had remembered that, the night that he was nursing his drink in the only bar in the neighborhood that would accept his patronage, he would not have found himself looking up into the smirking mouth of a mech who had just called him disgusting little gutter slut.

In a perverse way, Rung was proud of how well he faked an overload that night. Anything to get out of that room and away from that mouth, which was still telling him he could come back and get his tanks filled anytime, sweetspark, even as he was slamming the door behind him.

He hadn’t dared rise to any interest since then. He felt like some cavern creature baited with a lure, hungry for the light at the end of the line but knowing that if he bit down, he would be hauled up and torn apart for his components. The only ones willing to risk their livelihoods were either in love with the risk, or hunting after something they couldn’t get from a whole and unbroken body. There were too many strange hungers, down in these depths.

He did not think Megatron would call him disgusting. For all that Megatron had his own flaws—he was only the same circuits and parts as anyone—Rung did not think this would be one of them. He couldn’t help but wonder... what was Megatron hungry for?

It was night, even beneath the surface. Most of the regular volunteers were returning to their berths, or else on their way to clock in for the evening’s shift, leaving the cellar as quiet as a mouth shaping a whisper. Megatron was still at the back wall, the wheels within wheels of his churning processors fixed on whatever he had chalked out in carbon against the faded blue plaster. Before he came here Rung hadn’t seen a blackboard since the dark ages, when the War of the Primes had devastated the planet to the point where only the most essential technology was kept running—recharge slabs, hospital equipment, refineries—and lightboards simply hadn’t been among the essentials. In those days even the universities had been reduced to marking on plaster.

Megatron and his people had found that it was simpler to go for the medium that couldn’t be hacked or erased or traced back to a distributor. Notes on carbon paper that could be smudged out or, at worst, eaten. Plaster boards that could be washed clean or painted over.

Rung observed him for a long time, as the last of the decepticon machine dispersed into the moonlit surface world above them. It wouldn’t be so bad, he thought, to have Megatron strip him for parts. If anyone was going to do it, he would prefer it to be Megatron.

“I think that’s probably enough for tonight,” he said, rapping the back of his claw against the wall, just at the edge of a complicated geometric calculation. “Even if you figure it out, you’ll have no one to tell it to.”

There was a whirr and a click as Megatron pulled back and shook off his fugue. He turned to Rung, a half smirk curving his lips. “You’re no one, now, are you?”

“Well,” Rung said, intending to deflect, and then didn’t say anything else.

Megatron gave him one of his impenetrable looks. After a moment, he said, “I suppose I should bid you goodnight after all. It will be easier for you to sleep if there isn’t someone out here scribbling on the walls.” He looked up, thoughtful. “I’m sure I can find something to do upstairs until dawn.”

Rung hesitated. “You don’t intend to recharge?” he asked.

“In the mines, we did all our defragging in one shift on our day off,” he said, putting away the carbon marker. “I’ve kept up the habit.”

“That’s terrible for your processor,” Rung said, and would have frowned if he could have. “You’ll develop sublevel knots that not even a double shift of defrag will be able to untangle. You need to be doing it every day, or at least every other day, to keep errors from piling up.”

Megatron smirked full now, before stretching his powerful arms above his head and sighing. “I’ll take it under advisement, doctor.”

Rung’s biolights flushed hot. His processor generated for him the hopeful image of Megatron like that, stretched out underneath him on a berth, all his terrifying physical power submitting to—

He wrestled himself back under control with some difficulty. He had better do it now. It would have to be now, or it would be never. “If you’ll pardon my presumption,” he said, trying for a light and casual tone, “I’m certain my berth would manage your size. You could defrag tonight. With me.”

Megatron froze. “With you,” he repeated, pronouncing the words as carefully as a tactician charting out the topography of a minefield.

“Yes,” Rung said. “With me.”

“I’m not tired,” Megatron said, still somewhat warily. “Thank you.”

Rung uncrossed his legs and swung up from his seat. “I imagine we could think of a way to tire you out.”

Megatron looked from him to the door of the office. “Rung,” he said, a note of warning in his voice.

Rung had never been one for prayer. Even now, he wouldn’t call the dreadful mantra in the back of his processor a prayer, exactly. Rung slid closer, approaching Megatron like a mechanimal in the wilderness. “It doesn’t have to mean anything,” he said although heaven knew he wanted it to. By the Pious Pools, he wanted it to. “Not if you don’t want.”

Megatron’s jaw worked silently. Rung couldn’t tell if that was a good sign or a bad one.

“I won’t tell anyone,” he went on. “You can have it however you want it. I’m—I’m easy.”

Rung reached for him and caught him by the hips, wishing he had fingers to tuck into the seams there, to reach inside of Megatron and reel him in by the pelvic plates.

Megatron broke his stare, mouth tight. “Don’t say those sorts of things,” he said.

“Surely I’m not that bad to look at,” Rung said, on the verge of despair. His claws pressed harder against the hard angle of Megatron’s chassis. “Starscream seemed to think there was something about me you wanted.”

Megatron’s lip curled. “Starscream,” he muttered, “of course.”

“He said you’ve been looking at me. Was he right?”

Megatron took a step back. Rung followed. “I don’t know what I’ve done to injure your faith in me, if you think I would ask that of you—of anyone here—”

Rung’s engine caught. “Oh,” Rung said, voice static with wonder, “Megatron, you don’t understand. You don’t understand at all.”

“I’m not fresh out of the protoform mold, doctor,” Megatron said, tersely, “I realize what you’re alluding to.”

“No, Megatron, you don’t understand,” Rung said, warmly now, leaning up closer. “I want you. I want you very badly.”

Megatron regarded him as if he were a live bomb, leaning away as much as possible under the circumstances. Rung simply pressed closer.

“If you don’t want me,” Rung said, “of course, you need only say so. I know how to accept a rejection with dignity. But if you want me—if even the littlest part of you wants me—if you would—” and here he felt his claims to dignity dissolving like cheap chalk, “—if you would find anything about me worth having, just for a few hours, just until the sun comes up—”

All at once Megatron wasn’t retreating anymore. His hands caught Rung’s claws, pulling them up, holding them still against his broad, rumbling chest plate.

“Stop,” he said. So Rung stopped. Well that was it, then. A cool drip of misery ran down Rung’s spinal strut, like the itch of condensation. He supposed he should have known better—Megatron could have anyone he pleased; it was foolish to hope that Rung might be within that number. His claws were still held tight. He wished Megatron would let him go, so that he could recover with some level of grace.

“You are entirely worth having, Rung,” Megatron said. His expression was grim. “If I knew of anyone who would offer to take you for a night on the condition of denying afterward that it ever happened, I would tear his jaw from his face before he could even open his mouth.”

Rung reset his single optic several times, at a loss.

“This isn’t like you,” Megatron said. “You talk about yourself like you’re some hack salesman’s discounted surplus. Where is the mech who walked from Iacon to Kaon just to find an organization he had only heard about in rumors? Where is the mech who stood his ground when the hounds of the government demanded he kneel at their feet?"

“It sounds so daring when you put it that way,” Rung said, bemused. “You’re much more frightening than either of those things. You could tell me to go right now, forever, and I would have to go.”

"You're singlehandedly keeping our outreach sector running," Megatron said, dryly, "why on Cybertron would I send you away?"

"Hm." Rung tried to aim for an equally dry tone. "Because that was a truly pathetic attempt at seduction and you're embarrassed to have me on your staff?"

Megatron frowned, but even as he did so, he brought Rung’s claws each up to rest against his mouth, one after the other. “I thought you were extraordinary,” he said, “even when you were spitting static on my table, covered in engex. Do you remember how you found me under the table? Do you remember offering me a cleaning cloth, while Impactor was putting that one cadet’s head through the bar? You were the last kind thing before what was then the worst day of my life.”

“Oh,” said Rung.

“Do you really want this?” Megatron asked, fixing him with the full weight of his drill-bit stare. “Think carefully. I won’t have you if you think this is some favor you owe me in exchange for taking you in, or giving you work, or some other drivel. You and I are both free mechs. Have me as a free mech, or have me not at all.”

“Oh, Megatron, don't worry about that,” Rung said, fondly. “Believe me, if I had a mouth, I’d already be throat deep on your spike.”

Megatron’s engine made a desperate cough, which effectively ruined the cool of his practiced poker face.

“Please take me to berth now,” Rung said. “I really can’t take any more of this tête-à-tête.”

Megatron considered him for a moment. “Very well then,” he said, and scooped Rung up into his arms as easily as a cube. Rung’s spark flared with heat, his one optic all but swimming with sudden static snow as every circuit in his processor went towards mapping in real time the exact curve and firmness of Megatron’s arms, the warmth of his metal, the sound of his engine underneath Rung’s claws.

Rung hit the berth in a daze, still trying to hook Megatron’s hips against his own with one knee, only half aware of how they had gotten here.

“How do you want me?” Rung asked, just barely remembering his manners.

Megatron ran his fingertips up Rung’s thigh, a slow trace, before grabbing hold of the knee and pushing Rung’s thighs open. He nuzzled into the inside of Rung’s hip, optics dimming. “Open this,” he said. “I’ll show you what I want of you.”

Rung transformed his array open, vents stuttering at the first brush of warm lips against the rim of his valve. His claws scraped at his own chassis as he forced himself to stay still. Lingering kisses glowed hot against his frame, occasionally slickened with the lubricant drooling out of his valve—Megatron kissed the opening as if it were the mouth Rung had lost, gently tonguing the delicate mesh inside.

High, strained whimpers broke through Rung’s faltering grip on his own vocalizer. There was nothing to stuff his fingers into to muffle himself, only the sound that kept coming and coming.

Megatron drew back, lips shining wet. “This, Rung,” he said, “this is what I want of you.”

Rung, considering that he hadn’t managed an overload in several years at this point, thought he was doing quite well merely by not moaning in distress at the loss of attentive, warm mouth. His thighs clenched around Megatron’s bulk.

“Don’t you want to frag me?” Rung managed, voice hoarse with static.

“You’ve imagined this,” Megatron said, even as he curled his finger inside of Rung, rubbing inexorably at a contact point, until Rung was almost thrashing with it still curled inside of him. “What do you want? How would you have me?”

A shattered tumult of shame-tinted fantasies scattered through Rung’s processor. His options in reality were unfortunately limited in a very real way, but—

He reached up and caught Megatron by the collar faring, drawing him down. “Come down here,” he said, bucking into Megatron’s hand. “Let me ride you.”

In swift order, Rung was perched on the flat pane of those hips, the bubbling head of a spike hot against his inner thigh. He drew it carefully up against him, valve fluttering against the pressure as he leaned down into it. Megatron bit down sharply on a moan when Rung took the head. Even as much as Megatron had claimed to want to be here, he seemed to be fighting his own pleasure tooth and nail. They’d have to do something about that soon enough. That simply would not do.

Rung pushed himself down onto the girth, letting a shudder run all the way through him. “Oh,” he said, voice all but glitching out, “yes, finally…

By the time he finally seated himself tight against spike housing, his fans were whining and his spark glass was crackling with static charge. Megatron looked as good laid out beneath him in real life as he had ever in Rung’s furtive imaginings. Maybe one night, if Rung was very lucky, Megatron would consent to let him tie down those terrible fists as well. To ride him like that, edged and straining—

Megatron clasped his knee, voice raw but even as he said, “Good?”

“Wonderful,” Rung sighed. He shifted just to feel the weight inside him, the connection point between two bodies alive and straining endless towards each other. “What a miracle you are—that you exist, that you could be mine, even for a moment…”

When he looked down, Megatron was looking back up at him with an expression that—like someone who had seen the galaxy for the first time, without the grey veil of light pollution—like someone who had touched creation and grabbed on with both hands—

And then Megatron thrust up into him, shallowly, and Rung lost track of what he was supposed to be thinking.

It felt different, when it was someone wanted very badly. Rung had suffered through enough lackluster nights to know the difference, desperate enough for contact with another living being that any touch would do. He rocked against the frame beneath him, taking his time, savoring the drag inside of him. He could do this forever. He could search for the tiny groans and twitches of Megatron under him, drawing them up, tasting them like something expensive and rare, until the stars at the end of the galaxy burned to dust.

Lubricant slicked the ridges of the spike that slipped in and out of him, spreading the rim of his valve. Charge licked eagerly at the contact point that Megatron had stroked before. Blue and red light reflected in the curves of each segment, as they disappeared into Rung again and again.

Megatron made the faintest low sound, deep in his throat, and clutched at the edges of the berth.

Rung’s dataport spun down around the head of Megatron’s spike, locking him into place, as Rung arched and bore down against it. Pleasure cascaded through his circuitry, turning every sensor in his frame for a moment into a pinprick of light. He could feel the exchange all the way up his struts, his charge bouncing back and forth between them, until at last the sensory suite simply overloaded and gave out.

In the blissful numbness later, everything tingling vaguely as Rung's frame calibrated back to standard, Rung suppressed a wave of disappointment as his data port finally unlocked. “I suppose I should get off now," he said, eyeing the berth. If he could tuck himself in against Megatron's side, that would be alright.

"I once survived being buried alive for three days under a collapsed granite shelf," Megatron said, "I can survive a few more minutes with you on top of me."

Rung rapped him with the back of a claw. Megatron let out a huff of soft laughter. He shifted, lifting Rung effortlessly, and pulled the smaller bot down onto his chest. He reached up and took an arm in each hand.

“I didn’t think you would be interested in this,” Megatron murmured, nosing his face to one of Rung’s wrists. “I thought it would be frivolous, when you had already given me so much—your mind, your words—”

“I should have asked sooner,” Rung said, with some chagrin. “It just seemed such a presumption, with what little I have to offer now…”

Megatron’s eyes flashed. “You’re doing it again,” he said.

“…I suppose I am.”

“Discard the notion that you’re undesired,” Megatron said, firmly. “Or that you’re undesirable. It’s only playing their game.”

“Mm,” Rung said. He would have to work on his self talk, actually. How did he get this deep in the hole that he couldn’t even recognize a maladaptive coping strategy when it climbed out of his own vocalizer?

He traced the lines on Megatron's chest plate. Everything matters, the distant voice drifted through his processor, something is coming. Guard your heart-

"What should I expect of you?" Rung said. "Realistically. If we're not going to pretend this didn't happen..."

The silence that followed was somewhat alarming. Rung looked up to find Megatron deep in thought, his mouth twisted down. "I don't have a plan of action for this," he admitted. "As a rule, I don’t sleep with my followers.”

"No?"

“I don’t like to encourage the idea that berthwarming is an acceptable substitute for hard work. There are too many who look at me and see… opportunities." He shrugged, more or less. "So no, I don't."

“Not even Starscream?”

Megatron’s mouth quirked up. “No, not even Starscream.”

“Then… why me?”

“Because you were beautiful,” Megatron said, “because you were unflinching. Because I wanted you.”

“Even with the—”

“Even now,” Megatron said, “as much as ever, perhaps more.”

He traced the frame of Rung's blank face, the arrow angles of his cheek guards. Rung shivered at the deftness of such powerful components, the inadequacy of his own gutted frame.

"You know what this says to me?" Megatron remarked. "When they came for you, swaggering and thumping their chests and demanding you lay down to scrape their boots, this says you stood your ground. This says they were afraid of you, afraid of what might begin with you. As they should have been." His fingers rolled Rung's antenna between them. "Because here, indeed, you are." 

"I," Rung said. "I was just... I had a duty of care. It wasn't anything remarkable."

"Of course it was," Megatron said, and smiled a full, brilliant smile. "Saying no, not here. Not today. What could be more remarkable than that?"

Rung tilted his head slightly. "It was only ordinary."

"If this world was filled with an ordinariness like yours," Megatron mused, "there would be no war to fight."

The low rumble of the engine beneath Megatron's chestplate began to slow, little by little. It was like a berth all its own, his grand chassis—Rung propped himself up on his elbows, and marveled at the way even now Megatron seemed to pull the world into himself, his dark orbit lit by a corona of light.

"We're about to shake the foundations of this world," Megatron said, with a quiet ferocity that hung almost humming in the air. "Tomorrow is coming."

Everything matters. Guard your heart and watch the wind.

"Nothing would satisfy me more," Megatron said, taking Rung's face in both his hands, "than to seat you at my side, when that dawn comes."