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Under Two Moons

Chapter Text

Prologue-Sky Hunger

Wind rippled soothingly over his skin. The summertime twilight was late and warm and glorious, the buzz of electricity in the air a deliriously wonderful omen of the storm to come. Crickets whistled around every corner, and heat seemed to radiate from the very air.

Sam kicked off harder against the grass, bare toes half-stubbed on the hard ground, lungs straining as he shakily gasped in more nighttime air, craving the hidden lightning in every breath. His heart almost skipped a beat, endorphins rushing through his blood as the creeping shudder of excitement inched across his skin.

Gripping the ropes a little harder, his shoulders scuffed the crusted cords hard enough to make blood rise to the surface of his skin in a flush of pink, aggravated skin almost stinging in the not-quite-hot wind.

He leaned forward, feeling his stomach lurch at the brief weightlessness.

Crashing back against the wooden plank, he winced at the creak of the old dry wood. His breath rushed out as he swung backwards.

He twisted his hips and back, sending the swing careening dangerously close to the oak tree the swing arced out from under.

Breath catching, he flung his legs out, throwing back his head. The view, then, was perfect. He could see neither the tree nor the ropes nor even the earth below, nothing before him but the open blue sky and hope.

His hands slipped.

Thud.

Freedom stolen, he lay flat out in the grass, palms stinging from the loss of grip and the air ripped from his lungs. The cloying scent of damp earth loomed up around him, the ground seeming to cling to his back, holding him down, and the branches of the tree blotted out the sky.

The swing drifted by, forlorn and riderless as the sun finally slipped over the horizon.

Sam stood, dusted off his jeans, and went inside.

He didn't look back.

Chapter Text

Mission City, Nevada

2:34PM

The landscape was a mess of crushed buildings and corpses, blood and Energon and broken glass and dusty bricks scattered across the crumpled blacktop.

Bumblebee wailed somewhere nearby, hurt and afraid, and Sam's heart lurched painfully in his chest. The sick weight in his stomach was evidence enough- Sam was terrified, for himself and for his friends, and for the soldiers and even the random people occasionally running screaming from one collapsing building to another in hopes of finding safety.

He watched with a sort of numb horror.

Soldiers shouted and cursed and scrambled through the wreckage as they fought for their lives, but even as Sam listened, one shout was abruptly cut off in a crunch of stone and metal, and, no doubt, flesh and blood and bone.

Megatron's furious roar echoed over the battlefield.

But Sam didn't hear it.

It seemed unimportant.

Between one breath and the next, Sam was scrambling, running towards the combatants, both locked in place.

Optimus looked at him, expectant, sorrowful, brave, ever prepared to be the martyr-

Sam's lips curled in a feral snarl as the warmth of Jazz's spark faded completely out of the world. He knew, somehow, that the faint light left in Jazz's optics had long since disappeared. No glow shimmered behind that visor, the vibrant spark and cheery, fun Autobot long gone.

Lunging, leaping, scrabbling, he thrust the cube forward, feeling the mix of grief and determination rise to choke him. He bent his back to the task, and shoved the Allspark into Megatron's chest with all the force he could muster.

The roar of agony was even louder than the furious sound of only moments before, but Sam still wasn't listening.

He was blind and deaf to his surroundings.

The world.

His companions.

The soldiers.

The Autobots.

Mikaela.

Jazz.

Bumblebee.

White-hot lightning arced from the cube to the High Lord Protectorate's Spark, extinguishing it in a desperate, deliberate perversion of the life-giving artifact's original purpose. And yet, in taking Megatron's life and sacrificing its own, the Allspark was still granting life to its remaining children.

Sam decided it wasn't enough.

Bumblebee's spark wavered and faltered.

Mikaela staggered in pain and exhaustion.

Jazz's shell began to cool.

It never should have been this way, Sam snarled, wrapped in the blazing blue corona. Lightning curled out over him, not unlike wings, and flickered and snapped like the angry bolts of a crossed god.

No, it was never meant to be like this, the Cube whispered back, sorrowful, ashamed. I loved my children. I gave them life, presented them with miracles, healed them, gave them strength, carried their hopes and dreams in times of peace and made them well in times of sorrow. I needed no thanks. Their happiness was reward enough. I was protected. They were content. And then the world changed.

Images flickered by behind Sam's eyelids, of bots whose armor rusted off their frames, of hungry sparklings left alone to cry, unnecessary battles, betrayals, back-biting politicians and desperate bots, faded hopes, crushed dreams, gutters stained with Energon, burning ruins and the sound of combat overhead.

Cybertron decayed from the inside out.

The vehemence of the former whisper startled Sam, and he briefly expanded his awareness to the area around him. Nothing had changed.

Time stood still.

How can I fix it? Sam asked at last, cradling the cracking, half-melted, crystal carcass.

And the Allspark responded.

It wept for its world, for its children and their home, for its long-lost faith and hope, and Sam reached out to it. Surely, even if it was all he could do, providing the Allspark comfort in these last moments was worth something?

Yes, something whispered back. It is worth much to me, little champion. Now...

Return.

What? Sam's breath caught at the new voice, eyes widening with shock.

Return.

And then Sam felt nothing.

Chapter Text

Waking up was... somewhat disappointing.

He was lying, it seemed, on a beanbag. It was a disturbing, psychedelic conglomeration of random paint swirls and what looked like artistic interpretations of...

Something. Yeah, something. Maybe some kind of alien fungus. Did aliens have fungi? Or were they just a human thing? Earth thing. Hmm...

Glancing around, he almost did a double-take at the massive, dark void, dotted only faintly with tiny silver pin pricks- stars. “I'd better not be fragging dead,” he grumbled, sitting up.

“Don't worry; you're not.”

Head snapping around so sharply it gave him a crick in his neck, Sam narrowed his eyes at the dais. It had steps, but a beanbag where a throne probably ought to have been.

Instead, there was a person.

“Hello, Samuel,” it began, in an incongruously thunderous voice. “I have a proposition for you.”

Sam twitched. “Uh...”

“Don't worry so much!” it waved off. “I'm not offended at all. It's obvious my spectacular brilliance has struck you speechless. I can wait.”

Sam scrubbed a hand over his face. “Kids, this is your brain on drugs,” he mumbled to himself, trying to make sense of the situation.

The... thing just hummed a jaunty tune, kicking its legs with carefree abandon.

“What am I doing here? And where is here?” Sam decided on, trying not to offend whatever it was.

“I'm not a whatever! Or an it!” it- he, Sam corrected- protested, and Sam winced.

“Uh, sorry?”

“That's okay. I'm Primus!” the apparently unconcerned deity chirruped. “No one seems to recognize me in this form. It's fun! Anyway, we're in the Matrix, which is normally where the sparks of off-lined bots return to for rebirth.”

Sam just stared.

“So, I have a bit of an idea that I wanted to talk to you about, saving the universe and all that, you know,” he prattled onward, not seeming to notice the disbelieving look of dawning horror on Sam's face.

Recalling all the cautionary tales from Ratchet about respecting deities, Sam tried to come up with something respectful to do to greet the 'god'. His body moved almost on autopilot, a hand over his heart as he sketched a bow.

Silence.

“You have good instincts, don't you?” murmured Primus, gaze suddenly sharp.

“Um...” His mind worked furiously. Where had that gesture come from?

“That'll make a lovely prompt for your frame design!” he continued.

“Wait, what are you talking about?”

Primus smiled, and Sam went very, very still.

“My plans for you, of course. You agree, don't you, that this is not how things should have turned out?” He waved a hand, causing the gory flickers of Mission City to replace the stars for a moment.

“Well, yeah-”

“And you helped my darling Allspark, didn't you?”

“Sure, but-”

“You do want your friends to live better, safer, happier lives, do you not?”

“Of course I do! Why-”

“Then it's settled!” the deity shouted with excited finality, almost vibrating in place. “I'll just turn you into one of my children- really, the process isn't half as excruciating as people like to say. Such ungrateful little creatures. After all, I would know, wouldn't I? I invented it! In any case, I'll make you a Cybertronian, or as you like to call them in your head, a Giant Alien Robot, all capitals and trademarked, and then I'll send you to Cybertron by express mail so fast, it'll seem like time's going backwards!”

He paused, as if waiting for Sam to respond somehow, and barreled on when nothing was said. “Get it? Then you can keep the war from ever happening, thereby creating a peace, love, and YOLO-based utopia much like human cartoons, where no one dies and everything is perfect all the time. Yeah?”

“No!” shouted Sam, throwing his arms up in a combination of frustration and bewilderment. “What the pit are you talking about?”

“Oops,” mumbled Primus. “Ahem. Right.” He straightened, looking slightly less psychotic. “Well. Um. Oh! That's right, that's what it was. Okay, I'll square with you, squishy little pink flesh bag of organic squish. We're gonna- um, pull a Kafka,” he supplied. “And- uh, use the Tardis, and, hmmm... Do a Harry Potter.”

Silence fell.

Sam didn't like the idea. Turning into a Giant Alien Robot (and yes, the capitals were entirely necessary) had never been high on his 'Life Goals' list, and he was finding himself rather thrown by the disgustingly perky deity smiling blandly at him from its perch on a large (and imaginary) smiley-face patterned bean bag throne.

He scowled. "Let me get this straight," Sam began. "You are Primus."

"Yep."

"Divine being, creator of Cybertron, brother of Unicron, master of the Allspark?"

"Yep."

"And you want me to do... what, exactly?"

"Turn into a giant alien robot, go back in time, save the universe, and become the new vessel of one of my sacred artifacts?" it suggested hopefully. The wide blue eyes and cowlick of the small human body it was imitating made the effect even more disturbing.

Sam sighed. "Mm-hm. Is that so? Listen buddy, messing with under-medicated organic beings well-known throughout the multi-verse for creating weapons capable of blowing up their own fragging planet is not a good idea. Asking one to save Cybertron is even worse."

"I'm not asking you to save Cybertron," Primus waved off, exasperated. "I'm asking you to save the universe!"

"Oh, joy."

Chapter Text

There was something twisted and strange about transferring bodies, Sam decided. Not only had the deity refused to allow him to have any input on whether he actually accepted the 'quest', as it were, Primus had also decided that he was going to personally design Sam's frame from scratch. Which meant Sam didn't get to choose, Sam didn't get to see it, and Sam was most certainly not happy about that.

Basically, the nutjob trapped him in a pocket dimension and went on with saving the world- ahem, universe- in his twisted, warped, nonsensical, illogical, fail-at-classic-fiction way.

Sam was, of course, less than pleased.

So for the rest of the eternity he seemed to spend trapped in Primus' personal, existential playground, Sam willed Sharpies into being and started drawing on the beautiful, evil, invisible walls of his hellish, tiny cell.

He was not amused in the least by the creator of Cybertron's apparent lack of hospitality, social skills, or even just plain sanity.

Sam was a very angry squishy, and proceeded to will his way out of his cell and into the general area of the throne- uh, bean bag- room.

Taking advantage of the opportunity while he still could, Sam decided that desecrating the place of residence of a deity, while not necessarily a good idea, was fun. (Plus, he was pretty sure Primus needed him as a victim, and therefore would have to be not just insane, but really, really stupid to kill him off.)

So he felt a little bit better about the whole thing when the gut-wrenching yank on his innards knocked the wind out of him, ripping what made him himself from his body.

And he didn't resist, not when his heart stopped, not when his blood suddenly cooled, not when the world around him faded into darkness and most certainly not when a quicksilver hum of light and energy suddenly blazed out around him.

He sighed, a soft, low sound, and relaxed into the dark.

Then the pain hit for real.

It felt like every fiber of his being was being simultaneously scorched, dragged through a bed of broken glass, and sandblasted with tiny fragments of ice. It was white hot, burning cold, and just obscenely, ridiculously, stupidly painful.

(Sam was going to kill that god if he ever saw him again. Never mind immortality- he'd figure out a way.)

A weird collection of memories flashed by inside his mind. Not his whole life, not moments with his friends or family, but bits and pieces of seemingly random things that Primus seemed to be using as the foundation of the whole endeavor.

Staring up at the sky.

Rolling in the snow.

Yelling back at Trent.

His father driving through the Porsche lot.

Bumblebee's comforting croon.

The feel of the Allspark beneath his fingers.

Staring desperately out the window of his second grade classroom, the latch securing the glass raising a strange ache in his chest.

And then it was over.

Chapter Text

This time, Sam didn't wake up.

He on-lined.

Unrecognizable glyphs scrolled across his vision, but nothing else was visible. After a moment, he realized his optics were shuttered.

Wait.

What?

Panic spiked in his chest at the sight of strange, almost glassy metal buildings, massive roads and bridges and tunnels, huge spires of shimmering crystal- he recoiled, vision shrinking down to the immediate area, and breathed a sigh of relief.

He remembered what had spooked him, and glanced down at himself warily.

Metal.

He felt the whir as his fans kicked on, keeping his circuits from melting as thought after thought raced through his- processor?

Yes.

He froze as memory came rushing back to him, the single word from the Allspark enough to bring everything crashing down on him.

Calm yourself.

A soothing wave of reassurance swept over him. At the very least, wherever- no, whenever he was- he wasn't alone.

He tried a few steps, jamming the fear down into a corner of his processor.

Looking down, he noted that his feet- no, peds- were oddly shaped. Rather than the large, blocky shape several of the Autobots favored, he had reversed, multi-jointed legs and claws, much like the hind legs of a cat. Helm cocking curiously to the side, he took a step, then another. The cables stretched and flexed delightfully, turning a step that could have been jarring into a smooth, almost rocking bounce as it absorbed the energy of the movement.

Something moved, something important, and his legs shifted, suddenly twisting the foot to an entirely different shape. The peds flattened out during the transition, leaving him on something more normal. They were shaped more like the Autobots peds, with blocky, square-topped toes and a wide, round sole. The black, curved metal flattened and rounded when he leaned more or less weight on it.

To be entirely honest, they seemed to resemble animal prints rather than human feet.

“I will not freak out,” he muttered to himself.

Whirring in annoyance at the strange, almost comical build, he took another step. The toes spread when he shifted his weight, balancing him. His steps were significantly quieter than he remembered the Autobots' or the Decepticons' being, and he cocked his helm to the side in interest.

A display skittered across his processor, explaining the phenomenon, and he relaxed. Apparently, when he 'engaged stealth mode' he could change from the claws to the toes.

Triggering the change again, he returned to the clawed form, noticing an immediate drop in the amount of Energon he was expending.

Apparently the cat legs with the claws were a little easier on his energy supply.

He took a few more steps, moving back and forth in the alleyway. His processor ran the calculations, and soon it was as easy as breathing- you know, if he'd still needed to breathe.

Pleased he wouldn't look quite so much like an idiot, he still stumbled a bit when the Allspark- downloaded? - something straight into his processor.

Social castes, from Alphas to Gammas.

Maps.

Language packs.

Sam dug his claws into the wall and waited for the dizzying flow of raw data to slow, and finally stop.

The whole process took only 6.3 nanokliks, according to the chronometer running in one darkened corner of his somewhat scrambled processor, but it felt like much, much longer than... however much that tiny unit of measurement was used to express.

He poked around a little in his processor, careful not to touch anything that looked fragile, complicated, or really important. Gears turned, cogs twisted, wires shifted and rippled with each movement- and Sam started to wonder if he counted as naked.

The amusement coming off the Allspark said 'yes, yes you are naked. Nice guess, dumbaft.'

Huffing at the (this time) imaginary voice, he worked on stretching out his limbs, loosening up the cables within them. Careful movement allowed him to keep his balance, but the ridiculous amount of sensory information coming through the panels on his back made him spin dazedly around in a circle like a dog chasing its tail in a perpetual, circular haze of stupidity trying to see what was back there.

Well, apparently Cybertronians- or at least Sam- could not rotate their heads at a full 360 degrees like giant robotic alien owls. All Sam received for his efforts was a weird, almost buzzing version of what he supposed was pain from his neck until he relaxed it again and faced forwards.

Frowning, he wondered just a little too much about the sensory data.

A file opened.

Schematics!

The specifications, while probably a little much for his rather frazzled mind, would be very helpful for trying to figure out his new body.

According to one of the simpler list, a set of classification stats used for 'pinging' other Cybertronians from a distance to confirm identity, he was...

Um...

Hissing angrily, he fell silent, startled. Then he made the noise again. And again.

Deciding not to think about it, he booted up the downloaded language packs and started installing them. It was really more like trying to look at something while simultaneously jabbing it with a mental finger with as much authority as he could internally muster, but it got the job done.

The symbols in his processor suddenly began to make much more sense. He began to understand individual glyphs, then syntax, then structure and formatting.

Sorting through the jumbled mash of data in his processor was a long enough process that he 'sat' back down, bowed legs folding the other way again to allow him a more human sitting position. Namely, the infamous crisscross applesauce. Ah, kindergarten...

Refocusing, he jabbed at the file labeled 'Social Castes and Hierarchy'.

There wasn't much in it.

87% of the included data was corrupted, but the 13% he had access to was useful enough. It was a short introduction to the social castes, Alpha being the highest, down through Beta, ending in Gamma. There were subclasses, footnotes, explanations- but those were all part of the corrupted data. The Table of Contents, such as it were, was all Sam was able to read.

He still thought it sounded stupid.

He moved on to the maps, charting his current position through some kind of locator program and looking over the neighboring territories.

He was in...

A fragged-up little settlement in the weird red dust of the Sonic Canyons, on the edge of the Sea of Mercury.

Looking around, he scowled. The pretty, glassy buildings he'd been 'looking' at were... not here.

Well, they had to be somewhere. He tried to bring up the memory, resulting in the execution of another file.

Iacon. He'd seen Iacon. From a filthy alleyway in a filthy settlement full of criminals and pleasure-bots on the opposite side of the world.

But wait. When exactly was he? Primus had pretty much said he'd be popping in before the war, but he'd yet to see any evidence either way.

Sam's processor ground to a painful, screeching halt as a mech walked by.

With a Decepticon symbol on a plate of his shoulder armor.

Sam glitched.

Chapter Text

When he on-lined again, Sam discovered a series of little red boxes floating around in his processor.

Distressed, he tried to focus on one, only for it to blare the noise and light of a klaxon alarm.

Yelping, he tried the mental equivalent of slapping the snooze button, relaxing only when the light level lowered and the sound cut off.

His processor ached.

Sam tried to read the warning, and found that he was able to do so now. Apparently, he had a- battle computer?

It was... Supposed to help him come up with 'strategically advanced solutions' by allowing 'expansive statistical calculations on probability'.

Basically, he figured it meant he had some extra brain power for figuring out how to fight stuff. It ran little simulations and equations he sort of understood from the mental kick the Allspark had given him, and he found that he sort of liked being able to predict how people might react to him, how the world around him responded to each of his fumbling explorations as he blundered into the world, a newspark in a youngling frame.

It would likely give him a significant advantage, as well as a possible excuse for why he wouldn't be able to answer most questions or obey any commands given to him by other Cybertronians. (Then again, the latter was hardly a problem. Sam had always been wildly defiant, sometimes aloud, other times in a quiet, passive-aggressive manner that his father was mildly terrified of.)

Except, as the little manual informed him, extreme emotion or intensely illogical situations would overload it and make him glitch.

Sam did not like this. 'Extreme emotion' summed up the condition of his frantic, spastic existence, and 'intensely illogical' described his entire life up to this point, and probably for the foreseeable future.

Nor did he understand anything past this delightful little introduction. It was full of big words and terms that he'd never heard before, much like the Biology homework he no longer needed to complete. In time, he could probably decipher at least some of the basic concepts, but at the moment he had neither the time nor the willingness to expend such effort on the hellish and possibly redundant task.

Deciding to just leave it and the thoughts that had originally crashed him alone for now, he gingerly reached for the list of schematics again. They loaded quickly, and he flicked through them. The classifications tab was where he started again, but this time he could actually read the data in each slot.

Designation: Unknown
Affiliation: Neutral
Weight Class: Inapplicable
Frame Type: Seeker

Panicking, Sam yanked sharply on the schematics, spinning them to reveal the chunk of himself he was most interested in. He almost crashed when he saw them.

His wings.

He had wings.

And all sorts of other kibble, but the wings were what he was really interested in. Oh Primus, what if he looked like Starscream? That guy brought 'Decepticreep' to a whole new level.

(And he looked a little like a Dorito.)

Shuddering, Sam reached back to touch the tip of one wing.

Sensors lit up all over the surface of the panel.

Startled, he pulled away. He could see the edge of it without turning to far.

It was a sleek, shiny black.

Adjust his optics to a more human level, he switched back and forth between looking himself over and studying the schematics.

He was larger than Bumblebee, though not by much. Maybe he was a minibot? But the tag had said inapplicable... What if his age had carried over, and he was in a smaller frame than he would be at full grown?

But he had wings, which, despite the coil of panic he was desperately trying to suppress, was a pretty cool deal.

He'd always wanted to fly.

Frowning at the layer of red dust over his nice black paint, he set it aside to figure out something far more important.

Carefully, he triggered a small-scale transformation file in the 'Recent' section. His claws smoothed out into square toes and thin, rounded fingers, much easier to work with. His wings folded inward against his spinal strut, collapsing over themselves and hiding some of the associated kibble within subspace pockets.

It looked like armor. But it was only on his back and wings, so he figured that didn't exactly count as clothing.

Which really fragged him off.

I mean, come on, he thought. Couldn't that jerk of a god at least put me in armor? There's armor on my back and wings, so am I basically running around naked except for a jacket? What the hell?

Turning tail (oh thank Primus, he didn't have one) he headed for a large heap of scrap metal. At the very least, his supercomputer brain should help him find some bits of decent armor, right?

Wrong.

Sam spent two of the larger units of time- orns? - rooting through the pile for pieces, disappearing into the dark gaps between the battered buildings whenever someone passed by. Most of it was unpainted, and very little was appropriately sized, but he cut and bent and curved and crimped to the best of his ability, and soon had an almost painfully plain set of homemade armor.

Hey, at least he wasn't naked. It wasn't much better, and it probably wasn't the smartest thing to focus on first, but it did help keep him from going absolutely nuts. If anything, he thought his mental health was worth the extra effort, even if it could be counted as a waste of time by practical standards.

In the meantime, his processor also informed him that he was in a 'youngling' frame, the midpoint between sparkling and adult. He was in his seventh, to be more specific, the one the manual in his brain affectionately referred to as 'The Pitspawn Stage'. So yes, he was a teenage giant alien robot.

But he wasn't a baby giant alien robot.

Which was good.

He started moving more freely then, out through the canyons and over the landscape, ranging from the town to the cliffs without stopping to talk to a single bot. Orn in and orn out, just wandering, getting used to the feel of his new body and the things that it could and couldn't do.

He avoided any outside stimulus for the moment.

He wasn't sure he'd be able to prevent the glitch.

But eventually, he went back to those thoughts. The bad ones. The ones that told him that Primus had messed up.

Big time.

It started when he remembered the Decepticon glyph.

And ended abruptly at the implications.

And restarted when he pried his faceplate out of the sand and rebooted his processor.

That's when he started cursing the name of the god.

“Primus, you pit-spawned, slag-headed, fragged-up waste of Energon, you answer me right now you spawn of a glitch!”

Well, now that's just rude, crooned the god's voice, echoing across his processor.

“Where the slag am I?”

A minor settlement on the edge of the Sonic canyons, frequented by bandits, pirates, convicts, and pleasure-bots, the God proceeded to inform him.

“I already fragging knew that!”

Then why did you ask?

Sam fumed. “I meant when!”

Well, why didn't you just say so?

Sam's jaw locked, denta grinding. Oh, he was pissed.

You are currently on Cybertron, sure, but I over-estimated myself and dropped you several million years sooner than I intended. Oopsies!

“Oopsies my fragging aft,” Sam snarled. “I will kill you. Somehow. I don't know how, but I will manage it.”

That's nice.

“Are you even listening?”

Uh-huh. That's nice.

“PRIMUS!” he shouted, patience snapping. “When the frag am I?”

No clue. The factions are already divided, but none of the battles seem to have happened yet. So, you're sitting around in the early days, when insignias were pretty much the equivalent of Democratic or Republican bumper stickers you humans are so fond of sticking on your vehicles like tramp stamps. Just so you know, I probably won't be able to contact you again after this. It takes too much of my strength, and the temporal ripples are already beginning.

“You're just going to leave me here on my own?” demanded Sam, fear spiking.

Sorry about that. I'll talk to you... Well, never, but it's the thought that counts, right? Bye-bye! Oh, here's the Allspark!

Sam's CPU gave a pitiful whine, processors grinding to a halt, and everything went dark.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7- The Tables Turn

When Sam roused himself, a little under half an orn later, he discovered that the bits of his armor were scattered all around him.

Frowning, confused, he reached up to touch one shoulder, startled to realize he wasn't feeling the air flow over his protoform without the armor.

His fingers touched a smooth metal plate.

Stilling himself, he listened to his fans click on, and carefully calmed himself down.

When he was sure he wouldn't glitch, he pulled up his internal systems menu again, hoping the changes, whatever they were, would be visible on his schematics.

They were.

His wings were different. Significantly lighter, they were long and tapered to wicked points, the winglets slightly less intimidating. Apparently they twitched, too. Which was not only cool, but awesome, because it proved that his wings were actually jointed, not at all like Starscream's Dorito-like Earth form.

Examining himself, he found that he had several new or different features, all done in the same almost candy coated look.

Each perfect, shining piece of metal belied the grit in his gears and the scuffs of his protoform. He had a chassis now, but not the large square one most mechs were known for. Thankfully, it wasn't the round one of a femme either.

It was small, but stream-lined. Sleek angles made him feel a little better about himself as he examined himself. As Sam, he had been scrawny, with bright eyes and a small, grinning mouth, halfway between plain and pretty, and not half as attractive as he thought he might look now. Some of the self-consciousness he'd always had before eased off.

He had thrusters along the bottom of his wings, all made of solidified, altered mercury. His claws were even thinner now, and ridiculously shiny. Whether he changed to stealth mode or back to his normal form, the evidence of his swim was obvious in his kibble and armor.

Yes, armor. Not only did he have proper chest plates over his Sparkchamber, but he had layers of armor over his belly and down both arms and both legs. He experimented, and discovered he could slide a thinner under-layer of armor out from beneath the main shell to cover the exposed wiring between the plates, something he hadn't seen any of the Autobots do.

Curious, he found it sealed against intrusion of any kind and deployed it immediately to keep anymore sand and filth out of his systems. It thinned the original plate armor and ate his power reserves faster, but it was worth the extra environmental protection it afforded him until he could figure out exactly what was harmful and what was just annoying.

Moving out of the cave and up the beach, he started testing things. His thrusters flickered on and off several times before he could gain control of them, and then it still took several breems to learn how to control more than one at a time.

By the time he felt confident, his tanks were so hollow it hurt and his energy levels were dipping into a kind of red zone that he suspected wouldn't be very healthy for him. Decision made for him, Sam scrabbled back up the cliff and headed back towards the settlement.

Maybe someone would feed him, if he got very, very lucky.

Sam didn't suspect it would happen, and he was right.

No matter how pathetic he looked, not one of the town's residents so much as batted an optic at his deprived state. They walked around him, looked past him, and just generally seemed disinterested in his welfare.

So Sam checked his maps and started heading north. He went back to the beach, and pushed off into the waves. Because he didn't have to breath, he could stay under the mercury for far longer than he could hold his breath under water as a human.

And he did.

Swimming as a Giant Alien Robot in a sea of Mercury was weird. Very weird.

But he didn't have enough energy to fly for more than maybe a moment or two before he would simply drop into recharge, so he spread his oddly flexible wings out over the surface of the sea to help himself stay near the surface. He switched his claws for toes despite the added drain- it was small enough, and the blunter, wider peds were far better for treading the viscous liquid with.

The thrusters flickered on a few times when he got frustrated, but for the most part he just took advantage of the surface currents. Staying atop the waves, where visibility was good, he forced his frame to comply with what he demanded of it. He rested often, letting the waves carry him and making corrections to his course through the strange, internal GPS he seemed to have.

The gunmetal gray protoform was soon covered by a thick layer of armor as his system absorbed the mercury he was soaking in, adding what little extra metal he could produce with the added base material.

Sam wasn't quite sure what it was, but he liked it. It rang softly when tapped, was quite flexible, and weighed far less than his original armor.

He had no way to look at his face, and he figured the schematics weren't a good enough representation to warrant looking at.

(Honestly, he was a little afraid of what he might find.)

So he pushed onward, through the Sea of Mercury and to the edge of Kaon.

Kaon was rough.

It was a large, southern region full of huge, glass cities (complete with seedy underbellies) and ramshackle, filthy mini-settlements scattered in the wastelands in between.

It was in one of those cities that he found himself now, wandering aimlessly through never-ending streets. The capital of the region, sharing its name with the entire southern sector of Cybertron, Kaon was full of opportunities for Sam to make credits without giving up even his designation. He kept his claws tucked away and his wings hidden (such a handy trick, subspace), not about to offer the opportunity for victimization to the shadier bots he spent most of his time near.

They were even more interesting than they were scary, though.

Eventually, Sam started to rent a room, no questions asked. He still didn't have access to whatever Cybertronians used for bathing, or a medic, but he had somewhere to sleep (the battered berth) and the occasional cube of low quality mid-grade, which tended to be thin due to the watered-down (what kind of substitutes did Cybertronians use?) nature of the cheap substance, or gritty due to cheap grinding equipment and mass produced Energon.

Sometimes, it was both.

Other times, he was forced to drink machine-grade, something never intended for Cybertronian consumption. It clogged up his filters, making it hard to process what he did manage to consume, and even the cheap filter cleaner he could afford didn't put much of a dent in it.

It was gross as slag, but it was what he had.

He downloaded information packets where ever he could find them, discovering something a little like a public library, and earned credits in some of the less vicious fighting rings.

The first time Quicksilver went into a pit fight, he didn't have a choice. A mech twice his size had grabbed him by the wing and dragged him down an alleyway, one arm hooked around his shoulder to prevent him from discharging his plasma cannons in close proximity. Trapped, pinned, and being dragged rather enthusiastically, Quicksilver stopped wasting the energy he'd been formerly using to struggle, seeing the futility of such actions, and instead redirected it to his armor.

Plates slid over his more vulnerable circuits, earning a startled curse from the bot dragging him, and then a laugh. “Slag, you're a feisty little fragger, ain'tcha? This is gonna be fun, glitch!”

Snarling like a chainsaw, Quicksilver made particularly sure to get in a few good swipes with his now-unsheathed claws, ripping through plating and drawing Energon to the surface of the techno-organic dermal plating. Trickles of iridescent liquid, pink and gold and blue, seeped through and ran over, dripping to the ground as Quicksilver was finally thrown free.

Tumbling helm over thrusters, he came up in a sitting position, legs splayed, in the middle of a pit of... Sand. “Really?!?” he shouted up at the now-bleeding mech that had thrown him in. “Sand!?! Really!?! Frag you, you slagging spawn of a glitch! I just got out of the fragging desert, I don't wanna see more sand! I hope you rust!”

Laughter roared through what Quicksilver was now realizing was a stadium. Shoddy, half-scrapped attempts at benches were full of all sort of unsavory looking mechs and femmes and neutrals, and most of them, no, all of them were grounders. Not a pair of wings, or even a pair of doorwings, was visible in the crowd.

Quicksilver's helm snapped sharply to the side as he registered the open and subsequent close of the gate on the other side of the large, walled-in pit of sand. Deep, and square, it was a little like an old-fashioned boxing ring, and he frowned at the thought.

Oh, he was in deep slag now.

He stood quickly, balancing himself out as he rocked back and forth a bit on the rounded pads of his peds. Cables stretched, and he vented once as he focused down on the looming figure of the mech in the ring with him.

He was taller than Quicksilver, and broader too, deep in the chassis and wide in the shoulders, with a large amount of the bulk of cables and such that constituted the Cybertronian equivalent of muscle. He was scarred, too, and grizzly, with rough, weathered paint and the evidence of many fights scattered across his plating.

His armor was thick, and sturdy, but rough and not necessarily the most well-fitting. Orange optics reminded Quicksilver of streetlights- they were just as dim.

When the first blow came, he wasn't quite expecting it yet, despite the breem he'd spent gawking at his opponent.

It clipped the side of his helm, made his audios ring, but didn't do any damage worse than a slight scrape.

Countering on reflex, Quicksilver slammed his own fist into the mech's faceplate, despite the fact that he had to stretch his legs to the snapping point to reach the higher target.

Darting back and bouncing out of the way, he slipped in the sand a bit before he got his balance back. Sidestepping back and forth like a nervous Earth horse, he scrambled out of the way of the next wild hay maker swing.

The larger mech's peds sunk in the sand, and Quicksilver's heart soared as his tactical computer and logic circuits finally fired in a way he could properly understand.

“Predation!” Quicksilver shouted at the top of his non-existent lungs, leaping at the mech's faceplate while he was unbalanced.

Trajectory equations flickered across the inside of his optics, and he landed squarely on the mech's front, claws catching and holding in between the plates at the joining of chassis and arm, not sharp yet, simply holding him up as he grabbed the mech's audio horns with small, grasping servos.

The mech shouted and cursed, sensory data overloading into a staticky, painful burst as pain spiked through his helm.

Quicksilver leaned with his hips, following through with his initial momentum and neatly toppling the startled, flailing mech.

Lying on the ground, the behemoth wasn't such a difficult target. Stunned, flat on his aft, his entire frame within the easy reach of questing fingers.

Moving frantically, he popped a handful of wires at a time, quickly and easily disengaging a number of systems.

So focused was he on his insistent bid for survival, he didn't notice the second entry, a neutral with a decidedly masculine spiked helm, until he slammed into him with the force of a freight train, ramming him clear off his current victim.

He hit the ground hard enough to jar his sensitive wings, and half-screamed as pain and miscellaneous sensory data nearly disable him. The overwhelming wave of sheer feeling took a moment to get over, and by the time he did, the neutral above him was swinging punches into his faceplate.

One optic shattered, sending a barrage of error messages and a shock of pain into his system, this time enough to make him scream for real.

Thrashing wildly, he arched, digging his rapidly sharpening claws in between the seams of the neutral's armor and heaving with every inch of his frame.

Cables strained, struts creaked under the weight, but he kept pushing, desperate to inflict the level of damage necessary to remove the threat, the cause of his current, burning pain.

The neutral roared, the timbre of his voice doubly deep compared to the gravelly creak of the first mech, and redoubled his efforts to beat Quicksilver to death with just his fists.

With one desperate, last-ditch effort, Quicksilver summoned the strength to tighten his claws straight through cables, wires, and tubing, cutting down to the struts and he screamed, screamed, screamed, until Energon was running down his arms in rivulets and the neutral himself was screaming, screaming, screaming.

The incapacitated neutral rolled off of Quicksilver, crumpling limply into the sand and dirt and dust, Energon soaking into the sand around him.

Quicksilver heaved himself up onto his peds, compensating for the shattered optic by increasing the sensor levels of his wings, despite the additional pain that option presented.

He stood, quivering, splattered with Energon, staring up at the mech that had brought him, one working optic meeting two functional, stunned, disbelieving ones.

The combination of whatever passed as Cybertronian adrenaline and pain left him shaky, but the outrage started to boil up from within, his spark pulsing furiously in his chassis. He bared his denta in a snarl, flared his wings out to their fullest width, and roared.

Considering his comparably slender form, it was an impressively deep sound.

Then the applause started.

From a few claps, to a set of wing waggles, to a wolf whistle and then to a screech of excitement, the applause spread into shouts and claps and whistle and hoots and even a few cat-calls, a rising wall of sound overriding the ringmaster's attempts to get the crowd under control again.

No one knew who started it, but soon a chant went up, the pit name for this new fighter decided in the very instant.

“Beast! Beast! Beast!” the cry went up, sending Quicksilver's spark into wild palpitations. More of that accursed, beloved not-adrenaline flooded his system, and he barely felt the flush of coolant lowering his core temperature to acceptable conditions for self-repair.

He heard a slight ping as a dent popped out to the proper angle, and bared his denta in what might have bee a grin if he wan;t so furious, defiant optics flashing back to the mech in the stands. “Hey!” he shouted. “Don't I get paid, you aft-hole!?!”

Laughter went up around the ring next, calmer than the cheers, and Quicksilver felt himself settle as the gate was finally opened.

He practically strutted out of the ring, trying to look like he knew what was going on or what he was doing, as if he'd done it before. Fake it til you make it, he thought.

He grinned wickedly at the currently fuming mech that had dragged him into the club and pitched him helm first into the ring, feeling more than a little smug that not only had he survived, but he had won and was now returning to collect the chunk of change the spawn of a glitch now owed him.

And had to give, now that every patron in the ring had made clear exactly who was their new favorite.

He gritted his denta and narrowed his optics, but eventually handed over the fistful of credits, even dropping them into Quicksilver's conspicuously smaller servos with a slight jingle of metal on metal.

Quicksilver sauntered out of the club, down one large amount of stress and up one night's illegal income, with little more to show for the affair than a shattered optic and a few dents and scratches that were already working themselves out as his self-repair nanites kicked into gear.

Later, as he got better at fighting in the strange body, he moved to harder fights and crueler crowds, raking in handfuls of credits on the odd nights someone wanted him in the pit.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8- And Then There Were Two

His tanks hovered a little over empty, he ached for the sky, and he was really feeling the wear and tear. He learned to repair what he could, but the hunger and the exhaustion and the loneliness didn't leave.

Refusing to give up like the other Gammas in the slums, he kept working, fighting, moving.

Fifteen orns into his stay in Kaon, he finally got a good look at himself in the mirrored side of a building.

He had a jaw, denta, two optics, a detachable visor- he looked, not human, but at least not horrendously warped. The visor itself was tinted so darkly it was nearly black, protecting his luminous green optics from Kaon's light pollution. His face was angled sharply, but lacked the wicked spikes most Decepticons seemed to bear. The helm was silver, rounded, and he found himself wishing for some other color, not that he could afford it. He was stuck in mirror-bright silver, which wasn't much good for blending in and showed the dirt horribly.

He wasn't overly blocky, like an actual robot, or curvy like a femme, something he found great relief in.

Little did he know, the word most Cybertronians around him would have used was 'androgynous'.

(Sam's manly pride certainly would not have survived.)

Other than his craving for a new paint job, he'd only discovered a few things about his frame.

Subspace, for one.

The other?

Weapons.

Streamlined along the back of his wings, he had sleek plasma cannons that made gentle curves, almost ripples, in the shimmering metal. The seams in his wings disappeared when he unfolded them, and the combination of cannons and thrusters was perfectly symmetrical.

Also, he could sharpen the edge of his claws down to a blade even finer than a razor but much, much sturdier.

He found that his sensitive optics could pick up even the tiniest bits of light, explaining why he'd simply appeared with the visor.

A few thin green stripes appeared over time, as well as black detailing, as a local artist sought him out specifically. The femme had even offered him a discount, considering him walking advertising. He'd been beyond embarrassed, but the nice little boost to his ego made his unthinkable task and unbearable situation a little easier to swallow.

But his injuries ached. He fixed what he could, but it certainly wasn't enough. Orn after orn, he lived servo-to-mouth. Keeping his tanks from completely bottoming out was nearly impossible, and the tiny room only afforded him so much protection against the regular vagabonds of the lower levels.

He'd spent nearly a vorn slumming around before he found a companion.

The wail of a sparkling was like a stab through the spark, driving him up the crumbling shell of a condemned building, easily ten times his height. He scrabbled upward, claws scraping, cables straining, until he could carefully roll onto the roof.

Programming he didn't know he had kicked into overdrive, surpassing his processor and even his battle computer's crisp calculations in the rush.

Tiny, without armor, tanks empty, faceplate streaked with Energon tears, an infant Cybertronian flailed miserably.

Unable to help itself, it wailed desperately for someone, anyone to fix whatever was hurting it.

It was so tiny, so fragile- a single misstep by a larger bot would kill it instantly, and Sam felt like he would suffocate at the crushing fear that poured through his spark at the thought.

It would need round-the-clock care, more Energon than Sam himself consumed on a regular basis and would reduce his recharge to a few breems at a time.

Sam fell in love the minute he saw it.

He scooped it up off the roof, cradling it close against his spark, clicking soothingly to it all the while. The wails quieted some, and Sam searched desperately through his data banks.

What the slag did he feed this thing?

The query was apparently a strong enough thought to get his processor's attention, and a little file in a miscellaneous heap of data told him that there was a kind of Energon called sparkling-grade that was made specifically for- you guessed it- sparklings.

Which meant Sam had a problem. He could hardly handle machine grade; there was no way he was giving that slag to a baby.

As it was, his filters were gummed, he purged more than he used, and he was rapidly heading downhill in terms of personal care.

But this Sparkling needed him, depended on him for everything- Energon, warmth, grooming, protection, supplement metals- and Sam kind of liked that. There was something that made his spark ache about the idea of leaving her.

And after being alone for so very long, longer than he might've ever lived as a human but barely the blink of an eye in the optics of those around him, he thought giving up his only chance at companionship might just offline him for good.

So he didn't. He brought her (he'd checked, with no small amount of embarrassment despite the difference in methods) with him wherever he went, hid her away from the rough bots of Kaon in the carrying hold below his spark chamber, and picked up sparkling grade at cheap corner shops where no one would ask questions.

Eventually he set up a large basin, and using mild cleaning solution scrubbed her helm to peds. She'd liked that, he knew, and when her protoform was free of filth he discovered a warm, candy orange undercoat on her dermal plating, one without shine or polish or even the protective liquid coating used to keep color on.

Her plating was soft, and she had no armor, so he took her with him out of Kaon, back to the edge of the Sea of Mercury. He went swimming again, loading up his armor and dermal plating with as much excess weight as he could absorb in the span of a few joors.

When he returned to Kaon, he started thinning his very outer panels. The metal shavings, he mixed with the sparkling's Energon. She would need the extra metal. Much like how human babies' bones hardened over time, sparklings absorbed metal usually from their Carriers to strengthen their own defenses.

Because the little femme (he'd had to check) wasn't his, he had to provide for her in other ways.

And that was how Sam figured out what to name her.

If there was one thing his sparkling liked, it was playing games.

Whereas many sparklings had programs downloaded for them by their Creators, Sam didn't exactly know how to do that. As far as he could tell, she had a program for basic motor function, but she couldn't yet talk or walk.

So he set about fixing that.

Because they were living beings and not mere machines, Cybertronians were capable of learning outside of downloads and data packets. Sam took advantage of this fact, teaching her how to manipulate her limbs better than just clumsy flails, and helping her understand signals or words, even if she wasn't yet to the stage where she could return them.

Soon enough, she was crawling and rolling around. The light played off her mirror-bright plating, and he began to call her by the only name that described her endless energy, the way she darted in and out of his vision, how she reflected the shadows to hide and the light when playing out in the open.

Flickerflit.

He recharged a lot more, and hibernated whenever he was still for more than a few breems. Anything he could do to cut corners and save energy, he did, and that extra energy meant he had more credits to spare for sparkling-grade. Not many, still, but more.

He made the mistake once of going to a local clinic for a check-up with her. The medic had been polite, but as soon as Sam had started to relax, the mech had come at him with accusations of all sorts, trying to force him to turn Flickerflit over to the authorities so that someone in a better position to care for her could.

Sam knew he wasn't a great caretaker. He was young, a fighter, broke-aft broke, had never so much as held a sparkling before Flickerflit, and was -most of all- originally human.

But Flickerflit understood the shouting, and wailed as loudly as she could. Her spark reached out against Sam's. Something caught and warmth flooded his chest.

The medic had watched the spontaneous bonding of sparkling and Creator with wide optics, but had tried to state that it changed nothing. Then, instead of trying to convince Sam, he was telling him.

The bond would be severed, Flickerflit would be numbered and put into the system, and Sam would be sent to a work-camp nearby for 'troubled' younglings.

Sam refused point blank.

And when the medic tried to call the security in for reinforcements, Sam returned Flickerflit to his hold (along with some pilfered bedding) and kicked out a window, clambering down the side of the massive building with his mercury claws.

Apparently, instead of providing lower-class citizens with supplies, they took their offspring.

Just slaggin' great. What a treat this planet was turning out to be.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9- Paradigm Shift

When Sam met Prowl and Jazz for the first time, he had Flickerflit stowed away in his sparkling chamber, the carrying hold the only place where he'd never thinned his armor.

(He pointedly avoided thinking about his possible gender-identity issues and the baby alien crawling around in his guts.)

He came suddenly face-to-face with the Security officer when he had a box of stolen sparkling-grade Energon under his arm and his claws out. He'd heard the name shouted by someone further down the road, connected it to the officer, and proceeded to run like hell.

Terror spiked sharply through his system, and he bolted, springing straight over the larger bot's head in a massive leap that sent him careening past the silver minibot that was apparently his partner. His battle computer working on a thousand possibilities at once, he dodged and darted around the other bots following behind the two, audios tuning sharply on the sound of the Praxian officer's voice as he shouted after him.

Sam fled.

He leaped from the tops of buildings and bridges, wove through traffic, ducked down alleys, skulked through the shadows-

It wasn't enough.

When he finally slowed, optics flickering as his empty tanks and wild sprint caught up with him, he found himself cornered.

The building behind him was too smooth and hard for his claws to get a grip, he had no idea how to use his wings properly even if he did unfold them, he was a breem from dropping straight into recharge, and the first two bots had him properly trapped.

“Oh, come on!” Sam snapped. “There were plenty of actual criminals in that mess! Why chase me over half the slagging city for a crate of Energon! You've got more!”

Feeling cagey, he bounced back and forth, claws skittering across the rough metal ground.

“All criminals must be apprehended,” Prowl intoned blandly, earning a snort from his partner.

“Ah'm sorry, but it looks like we gotta bring ya in,” the other agreed, edging closer.

Sam bucked backward, startled. Jazz.

Stuffing the recognition down deep, he still staggered when he was hit by a barrage of warnings on his Energon levels.

The last thing he saw before he slipped into forced recharge was the silver minibot's alarmed expression as he lunged to catch him.

Jazz lowered the offline little neutral to the pavement, Prowl moving up beside him. “Prowler, this mech was starvin',” he murmured, examining the thin armor, the filth, the damage.

“He was still a criminal.”

But Prowl's voice didn't agree with his words, and Jazz let the comment slide.

A soft scuffling noise made Prowl raise a hand, tilting his helm. “What is that?”

Jazz leaned down towards the other minibot, optics snapping wide behind his visor. “Sparkling,” he breathed.

His fingers worked quickly to open the armor, improperly locked, revealing the sparkling chamber.

Making soft, distressed noises, a tiny sparkling less than a vorn old slumbered, nestled in scraps of softer metals and some fluffy, gray plant life. Tiny, silvered wing nubs revealed it to be a flier of some kind, though it was still too early to tell exactly which one.

Even in its sleep, it seemed to know that its caretaker was in some sort of peril.

Jazz groaned. “We're takin' 'im ta Ratchet, ain't we?”

Prowl nodded. “Would you rather be wrenched?”

“No,” the saboteur agreed. “No Ah would not.”

“Then we take him.” Prowl said it like it was the simplest thing in the world, and to him, it probably was, Jazz reflected.

Shaking his helm, he slid the panels closed, latching them carefully, and scooped the mercury-armored bot off the ground. “Ah got 'im.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 10- Of Politics, Personal Hygiene, and Prowl

Sam booted up in mid-combat program, rolling off the berth and jamming his claws into the floor to catch himself, armor sliding into place within a nanoklik.

A servo brushed his back, and he jerked away, Flickerflit's startled chirp both soothing and terrifying.

Soothing because she was still there, terrifying because she was with him in a room he'd never seen with bots he'd never met.

He put his back to the wall, keeping the berth between himself and the startled painted bot painted in yellow and orange. “Whoa,” the mech waved off. “It's cool, buddy. You okay?”

Sam paused, unsure who exactly he was addressing at the moment. “...Sure.”

He narrowed his optics at the answer, obviously curious, but kept his line of questioning somewhat polite despite his apparent frustration. Something about it set off alarm bells in Sam's helm.
“What's your dez?”

“Huh?”

“Designation,” he clarified.

“Don't have one,” Sam supplied, somewhat truthfully. 'Sam' was the name of a squishy little human on an organic backwater planet in the far future.

It also didn't translate into Cybertronian.

“Really? I'm Blaster. What are you doing here? I mean, it's mostly Autobots and Decepticons right now. Megatron and the Prime are busy duking out all this political slag right now, but I kinda didn't expect to see a neutral on the Autobot side of the compound. I mean, I guess it's not like a military base or anything, but you don't look like a politician or even a guard...” He trailed off, fishing rather obviously for information.

“Uh... Jazz brought me,” Sam decided on, deciding not to reveal exactly how that particular string of events had come into play.

Blaster raised an optic ridge, surprised, and started to size him up.

Sam immediately took the opportunity to do the same, and catalogued the mech's various mild injuries, curious about the colored streaks on his formerly bright paint job. Though mostly just scuffs, it was still an impressive number.

The door to the med bay swooshed open, and Sam tensed, legs arching and tensing in preparation for the possible threat. His fingers folded quietly into claws, elongating and sharpening, and he waited quietly, keeping an optic on Blaster even as he watched the entrance.

His first, last, and only visit to a medic was fresh in his processor, bringing several combat initiative programs to the forefront of his processor, much like hot-keys. Even if Jazz had brought him in, he had no idea where he was or who he was around.

The two bots from before appeared, both looking startled to see him online and mobile.

Then another mech elbowed between them, grumbling loudly about all the idiots in his med bay. That was Ratchet alright.

Sam kept his silence, not letting even a flicker of recognition pass to his features, despite the fact that it would have been obscured by his visor and battle mask anyway.

“You!” he snapped sharply, making Sam startle again. His voice didn't so much as soften. “You're so low on Energon it's appalling! What do you think you're doing up?”

Sam lowered his head and hissed, and the medic backed off a little seeming to realize something was wrong.

“None of us are going to hurt you, you dumb-aft,” Ratchet groused. “My designation is Ratchet. What's yours?”

“He doesn't have one,” Blaster chimed in from the next berth over. Sam shot him a glare. He could answer for himself, thank you very much.

“Well, we'll just have to fix that, won't we?” Ratchet muttered. “What about that sparkling? How old is it? Mech or femme? Designation?”

Sam almost recoiled at the rapid-fire questions, and it was only the somewhat innocent nature of them that kept him from making a break for it right then.

“She was only an orn or two old when I found her, a newspark somebot just couldn't or wouldn't take care of, I think, and she's been with me for less than a vorn...” Sam supplied. “Femme,” he continued. “I call her Flickerflit.”

“Why don't you let me get a look at her?”

Sam stiffened, optics scanning the other bots in the room He wanted to trust Ratchet, he did... But this wasn't his Ratchet. This was a younger Ratchet, less experienced and perhaps less wise, and Sam wasn't sold on accepting Autobot help.

Slag that medic.

“I'd guessed that'd be too much to ask for,” Ratchet admitted in the silence. “How about letting me get a look at you instead? Jazz demanded I just let you recharge before I started work, and he had a pretty decent argument, I suppose. That armor's nothing to laugh at.”

“It's thinner than usual,” Sam admitted, feeling like he had to supply some kind of information. “Flickerflit's plating is still soft. I'm trying, but...” he shrugged, and sidestepped a bit, nervous. His regular urge to babble was struggling against his worry about giving away information.

“She's been feeding off you?” Ratchet asked shrewdly. “Blaster, make yourself useful. Get two cubes of medium-grade and one of sparkling grade, with a feeding tube.”

Blaster hopped up immediately, humming to himself, and made for the shelves, but Ratchet stayed put, watching Sam. “While we wait for the idiot, what kind of designation should we give you?”

“Somethin' fast,” Jazz put in, buzzing with excitement. “If Ah hadn' known ya were low, Ah'd o' given up on chasin' ya.”

Prowl nodded. “Perhaps something related to your claws,” he suggested. “They seem an integral part of your systems.”

“You're not really a minibot, are you?” Ratchet suddenly realized, head cocked to the side. “You've got kibble I see on fliers. You're a youngling?”

Sam ducked his helm, hearing startled intakes from Jazz and Prowl. “Um, yeah.”

“What frame, and what type? I've only seen legs like those once or twice, and certainly not with claws like that.”

Deciding to take the risk, Sam released the tight-clenched plating across his back, unfolding his narrow, angled, silver wings. “Seventh, seeker.”

“A seeker?” squawked Jazz.

“Why did you not attempt to escape through the air?” queried Prowl.

“Can't fly,” Sam shrugged off, forcefully nonchalant. “Never got a chance to learn. Me and Flickerflit still gotta refuel sometime. Wasting Energon trying to figure out how to fly right isn't exactly an option. It's not even on the table,” he snorted.

“Wasting...” mouthed Jazz disbelievingly.

“What about sky hunger?” snapped Ratchet. “You're a seeker- a real one, despite your smaller size. You ought to have a trine, and you ought to be airborne!”

“I don't know if I have a trine,” Sam defended. “I've got about a vorn of memories, if that, and I've been in this frame, on my own, for all of them. I've never so much as met another Seeker. I knew a couple of fliers, but we were all in one of the rationed sectors of Kaon, so we were all grounded. Not flying hurts,” he managed, hand pressing to his spark at the thought. “But- the sparkling's gotta refuel,” he decided firmly, defending his choice.

Ratchet scowled, but dropped the topic for the moment, perhaps sensing how close Sam was to making a break for the door.

“Something noble,” declared a femme's voice in the doorway.

Sam locked eyes with the intimidating femme, wings flicking in agitation, but didn't move from his spot or otherwise respond.

“Elita-One,” Ratchet greeted. “What were you saying?”

“His designation,” she repeated. “Something noble. “

Prowl tilted his head to the side, finally speaking up when curiosity got the better of him. “Where did you get your armor?”

“I swam the Sea of Mercury to get to Kaon.”

“You what?” demanded Blaster, returning. “How?”

“I spread my wings on the surface and flailed around from one current to another,” Sam shrugged off. “My systems absorbed the mercury and, as far as I can tell, altered it. What I'm wearing is all a high-density isotope.” That at least, he'd been able to figure out after a couple orns of study.

“That level of adaptation is, quite frankly, disturbing,” Ratchet said bluntly. “Is the isotopic mercury what Flickerflit's plating and winglets are made of?”

Sam nodded. “All I had to offer. It's even harder to get decent metal than Energon.” Blaster took the hint and hurriedly handed him a cube, setting the other things down on the edge of the berth.

Sam cracked the corner with his denta and sucked down the whole cube in a few nanokliks. Shaking his helm at the sudden buzz, he didn't bother changing his servos from claws to fingers. Flickerflit had never been hurt before, and he doubted she would be now. Releasing several of the locks on his armor and pointedly ignoring Ratchet's not-so-subtle scanning, he moved farther back into the corner.

The false armor slid away, and he scooped Flickerflit out of his hold. Closing the space up again, he didn't latch it, waiting for the split-second in which he'd have to hide her away to protect her.

It didn't come.

Carefully, he slit the corner of the sparkling-grade cube with one claw, cradling Flickerflit with the other servo. Inserting the feeding tube, he ended up with something that reminded him almost of one of the strange, fruity drinks used in vacation commercials.

Almost laughing at the erroneous thought, he just poked the tip of the tube into the corner of Flickerflit's mouth and let her do the rest.

She finished the cube in record time for a sparkling her size and age, making the gaping maw of guilt loom darkly in Sam's heart. Cooing, sensing his apprehension, she stared up at him with wide optics and patted his chassis with one tiny servo. Her little frame, orange and silver, was contrasted by the blue optics, the same shade the Autobot faction would take later, in the war that was still to come.

As soon as she finished refueling, Quicksilver returned Flickerflit to the carrying hold, feeling intensely uncomfortable under Ratchet's wary scrutiny.

Knocking back the second cube, he felt stronger and more aware than he had since he'd first on-lined in the Canyons, though still rather awkward about the other bots surrounding him. The staring was admittedly less than welcome, even if he was somewhat familiar with the bots doing it.

“I can't work around this filth,” Ratchet grumbled, breaking the awkward tension. “Jazz! Take the brat down to clean up! NOW!”

Jazz was careful in his approach, staying casual, happy, almost lackadaisical, and Sam didn't so much as jump when the ridiculously cheerful Autobot slipped his arm through Sam's own and half-dragged him down the hall.

Then things got really strange, and Sam began a deeper, more intense, and much less mature kind of freak out than the ones he'd had so far.

Starscream was standing in the middle of the hall, looking over a data pad. This, in itself, was not unusual.

(Despite having divided into their factions, as apparent by the faction symbols, it seemed hostilities had not yet escalated to a point at which combat was necessary, or even thought of in most cases of conflict. For now, it seemed only political jockeying constituted 'battle'.)

What was unusual was that he looked up.

Standing there, wings blocking most of the hall, data pad held loosely in one servo, Starscream made Sam feel more than a little bit nervous, to the point of actual intimidation. This wasn't a bulky idiot like Trent, this was someone who, according to the other bots, was both crazy and ridiculously intelligent, and had blown Bumblebee's legs off.

Violet optics scanned his smaller frame, and as Flickerflit rolled over in his hold, Starscream's audios twitched. His optics dropped to the armor over Sam's sparkling chamber before returning to his faceplate.

“Designation?” His voice was surprisingly mild.

“Don't have one,” Jazz informed the Seeker, noting the way violet optics scrutinized the youngling.

“Hm. I presume you are headed for the wash racks?” Starscream queried.

“Uh, yeah,” Sam agreed quietly, a little embarrassed and a little unsettled.

Turning to Jazz, he dismissed the Autobot. “I will take it from here. I doubt a grounder would be able to provide adequate care to a single Seeker anyway, let alone one with a sparkling.” He sniffed, turning his olfactory sensor up at Jazz's non-flier status.

Sam shot Jazz a panicked look as Starscream ushered him down the hall, but the Autobot only laughed at him.

Apparently, even Starscream's snobbery and Decepticon status wasn't enough to get Jazz to take him seriously, so Sam guessed that he was at least probably not going to be deactivated for fun. If anything, he thought the bot before him was... Nice, almost. A little petty, maybe, or just naturally snarky, but not by any means malicious.

The wash racks were essentially giant shower stalls, and all of Sam's hesitance about bathing with someone else disappeared the second Starscream pressed a single claw into one of his vents, digging the grit out. “O-oh,” he vented, going limp against Starscream's shoulder.

The older Seeker crooned, waking something in Sam's programming that made him curl closer. This was... Nice.

Really nice.

Standing in a dry stall with Starscream's claws under his armor shouldn't have felt safe, but it did. There was nothing invasive or uncomfortable about it, and Sam nearly slipped into recharge under the ministrations.

“No one's ever done this for you,” Starscream observed, voice still mild.

“Nuh-uh...” Sam mumbled, pliant under Starscream's servos.

“Where are your Creators?” he pressed. “They should have been in charge of your care.”

“Gone,” Sam murmured, suddenly missing his parents. “Gone so far away... I can't see them anymore. I miss them.”

Starscream took this to mean that his Creators had passed into the Matrix, and hummed softly. “And you have no mate?”

Sam shook his helm, optics shuttering automatically.

“And no trine?” Something in Starscream's voice was different now, slightly disbelieving and definitely angry.

“No,” Sam responded promptly. “I've never had one.”

“Which frame is this?”

“Seventh,” Sam admitted. “I'm a youngling.”

“Yet you have a sparkling of your own.” Starscream's voice held not accusation, but sorrow.

Sam rose to awareness again, turning to look up at Starscream even as he tilted his chassis away. “I found her when she was just a newspark, and she made the creator bond when someone tried to take her away from me.”

It was more than he'd told the Autobots, but Sam suddenly felt the pressing need to explain, to justify his actions, to somehow admit and release the stress he'd been under since Primus had dropped him off here, alone. The sad violet optics made him feel... like he had to reassure the mech.

Starscream cut him off before he could progress further by leaning over him to turn on the 'shower', but he didn't mind a bit. The pressurized jets of cleaning solution were hot enough to scour the dust and grit from his plates, sweeping away the gunk that Starscream had loosened manually. Red sand, silver mercury, and the pale tan dust of lower Kaon were caked into his gears, but swept away, dissolved, rinsed free with every swish of spray.

Starscream popped the latch on a shoulder plate, letting the armor sit under the spray, and Sam helped him work free the other pieces, most of which were stuck in place.

Starscream looked upset, but not disgusted, something that made Sam feel relieved. The seeker seemed to understand that Sam probably hadn't had any other options, and he refrained from commenting on Sam's status other than to rant about the Autobots, his subordinates, and a long list of bots he seemed to blame for Sam's condition.

It took almost a solid joor in the wash racks before Starscream deemed him clean enough to go, and Sam could feel the difference in his movements. His joints moved freer, the gritty discomfort gone, and his wings were free to twitch and sway and flick without the ground up particulate hampering the joints.

The jet also took him to another room, this one with the same symbol for 'Med bay' on the door, and spent a few breems rattling through drawers before he found what he wanted.

Sam got his filters changed. The gummed-up, choking filters that grew worse and worse with each passing orn and every cube of machine grade, clogged and ruined by the chunks, scum, and poor quality of the Energon he was consuming. Starscream didn't ask how they'd gotten that way, but he did seem fairly disturbed by them, so Sam figured most bots didn't have to have their filters swapped out completely like his.

It didn't hurt at all, despite the mild invasiveness of the repairs, and Starscream seemed content to do this and nothing else. Maybe he didn't want to slag off Ratchet.

After that, Starscream helped him set up a station and explained what kind of cleaning solutions were okay for sparklings and why, and Flickerflit got a much-needed bath.

She seemed to like Starscream, clinging to his fingers and cooing up at him, and he was surprisingly gentle with her.

Sam figured it was a good sign.

As Starscream dried and buffed the tiny plates of armor, examining the difference between the orange undercoat and newer plates and armor, done in mercury, Sam replaced all of the bedding in his carrying hold.

Starscream gave Flickerflit a full check-up before returning her to Sam's hold, including several bits of advice for sparkling care and the warning that she'd need to go to her second frame soon, so that she could learn to walk and talk properly and at the correct stage in her mental development.

Ratchet, apparently, was more than capable of constructing said frame.

“Her winglets are coming in nicely,” Starscream said. “Although they're mostly for getting her used to the change in balance for now. Where'd you get the metal?”

Sam shrugged. “Shaved it off the inside of my armor.”

Starscream's helm snapped around, optics wide. “You what?”

“Is that wrong? Ratchet didn't say anything about it...” Sam asked awkwardly, worried. “I didn't hurt her, did I?”

“No, no,” Starscream soothed. “Of course not. In fact, she's growing magnificently. Most mechs wouldn't be willing to give up their armor, though. Given the times we live in...”

Sam was annoyed now. “What else am I supposed to give her? Nothing I can get is good enough for her to build wings out of! And my armor will thicken up if I get some more metal, so it's not that big a deal. I just have to get back to the Sea again.”

“Your armor regenerates?”

“Um, yeah. I got it in the first place because I swam the Sea of Mercury to get over here. Every time I go back, I pick up more metal. So I've made trips back when I could, but she needs a lot and it takes lot of Energon to travel that far.”

Starscream poked at Flickerflit's wings, examining them and the hardening plating of her protoform. Tiny slivers of armor were beginning to form. “She has your ability, then. Not all bots can make their own armor. Many simply purchase it, or are given it at the beginning of whatever frame phase they are in. Because it is only attached through latches or magnetic threads,” he continued, scientist showing through, “-it is not technically a part of our body. Some have adapted to perform this feat, but not all.”

Sam nodded, accepting the explanation. “Isn't her dermal plating supposed to firm up? That's why I'm supposed to give her metal, I thought. The armor thing just kind of seemed like a bonus.”

“You are correct,” assured Starscream. “But apparently you've provided well enough for her that she has excess metal in her system, which means she can now make her own armor on top of firming up her plating. This is not usual, as armor generally only begins to become a concern in the second or third frame, depending on the sparkling, but it is advantageous. Most new-sparks in their first frame can basically make noises and flail around. What else is she doing?”

“Crawling,” Sam admitted. “We play games. I didn't know how to teach her, or where to get information on stuff like that, so I tried to play games with her that would help her with her coordination, keep her from getting bored, and show her basic stuff like shapes and colors and numbers and some of the glyphs I thought were really important, like ‘danger’ and ‘food’ and her name.”

Starscream seemed a little impressed by that, and definitely pleased, and soon enough he allowed Sam to return Flickerflit to his carrying hold.

When Flickerflit was finally napping behind his armor, Sam was lead through the mixed-faction base by Starscream, who stopped abruptly at the edge of a courtyard. “Can you fly?”

“No.” Embarrassment crawled across his plating in an uncomfortable flush of heat.

“I didn't think so. Your wings seem... Brittle. And your EM field radiates claustrophobia. Come, we'll have a lesson.”

“Uh, I had two cubes today,” Sam warned him. “I'm still pretty much running on low. And it was just mid-grade, not jet fuel.”

Starscream hissed, annoyed. “The Hatchet is slipping.”

“Actually, I think he just didn't want me to contaminate his med bay or kill any of his patients if they made a wrong move,” Sam admitted nervously. “I was sort of acting like I was glitched in the helm. He didn't really get to do much other than just scan me- like I said, I was acting like I was glitched.”

“Nonetheless, I will obtain proper fuel for you. Besides the cubes today, how often, how much, and what grade have you been consuming?”

“Every couple orns, a cube, and machine grade,” Sam answered quickly. “That's why my filters were all...” he trailed off, waving a servo in an all-encompassing gesture.

Starscream hissed again, louder, sharper, and Sam cringed, wings folding in a bit.

The jet regained control of himself in time to prevent Sam from bolting, darting back through the door and storming down the hall fast enough that Sam had to focus to catch up with him again.

The Decepticon burst into the cafeteria, earning several startled looks, and promptly got a grip on Sam at the back of his neck, fingers hooking into something that let him steer the younger Seeker to a table occupied by several other bots. Starscream pushed him down into a seat. “Stay,” he ordered.

Sam was left sitting at the table with a bunch of bots that he may or may not have known, optics wide and claws invisible as he subtly morphed his servos into the less threatening, blunted fingers. They were still long and thin, but at least he looked less like he was going to rip someone's throat out, now.

His wings weren't stiff like Starscream's, and he let them twist on the hinge to lie across his back, tips pointed at the floor. They were less of a target this way, though they looked, quite frankly, like the large shards of a broken fun-house mirror. It wasn't quite so glassy, but it was definitely unusual.

The other bots at the table stared back at him, making things even more awkward. But Prowl and Jazz were there, and the laid back saboteur and intelligent Praxian were good at defusing situations.

“Quicksilver,” Prowl provided, earning two confused looks.

“Huh?”

“For your designation.” Prowl said it without inflection, but something told Sam the bot was a little embarrassed.

Sam mouthed it several times, testing the sound of it. “Why?” he asked at last.

“It is another name for mercury, which is what gives you your unusual appearance,” began Prowl. “Furthermore, it is notoriously difficult to contain, as exemplified by your nearly outrunning Jazz and I. Last, it is... catchy.”

Jazz gawked openly at Prowl's use of a 'slang' word, making the mech shift uncomfortably.

“Quicksilver,” Sam said aloud. “Quicksilver, Quicksilver, Quicksilver.” He grinned at Prowl. “I like it.”

“Good,” snapped Starscream, appearing behind him. “It is unfitting for a seeker to remain without designation.”

The second cube of sparkling-grade the newly-dubbed Quicksilver had seen that day was set beside him on the table, followed by several other cubes.

Sam popped the seal on one cube, checking the color, and glanced at Starscream. “Additional filter cleaner, to prevent such issues in the future,” the jet explained. “Machine grade is not meant for consumption.” His words were half matter-of-fact, half scolding, and Quicksilver ducked his helm.

Other bots at the table seemed concerned by the conversation as Starscream pointed out a number of medicines and supplements added to individual cubes. Besides which, there were a large number of cubes present.

It was difficult to tell how low a bot was just by looking at them, but the way Quicksilver prioritized some cubes over others without slowing his consumption even slightly was a fair indicator of his Energon deficiency.

Even more frightening, his optics brightened, no longer concealed by the subspaced visor. Optic light-level shifts were indicative of massive energy level changes, and the fact that Quicksilver's were luminous by the second cube was proof enough that he'd been running on a low-power program, roughly equivalent to the 'sleep mode' of a computer.

Quicksilver finished the fifth cube, but hesitated to feed Flickerflit.

His optics scanned the staring bots and the more discreet ones, but Prowl was beside him and Starscream was busy glaring at the idiots who were more optics than processors.

He guessed it seemed okay...

Prowl was just... Safe.

Maybe it was because he didn't seem the type to put up with his subordinates' slag-headed ideas, or because he was both larger and older than Quicksilver, or even because Prowl had picked his name and Quicksilver was feeling irrationally attached, but with Prowl lurking beside him he felt confident enough to tip Flickerflit out of his hold and into his servo.

Cradling the sparkling with ease, he gave her most of the control. He set up the feeding tube, and held the cube for her. Her own servos were still too shaky and uncoordinated to properly grip an object so large, but she could sit up and hold her head up properly in addition to crawling and rolling.

Quicksilver hadn't been able to download anything sparkling development data, and had only Starscream's likely biased opinion on her, so he simply observed the other bots' reactions.

A femme at the next table over cooed, and Flickerflit flapped her little winglets angrily. It wasn't something most sparkling seeklets did, given their lack of coordination and flexibility, but she had the same numerous joints that Quicksilver did. Whether she'd imprinted on him like the baby bird she sounded like or it was a coincidence, she shared many of his features.

And she looked sweet in candy orange and mirror bright silver.

When she finished, he tapped her back gently, removing the air bubbles from her tanks.

She whirred at him, annoyed, and he clicked back soothingly. Holding her servos out, she demanded to be picked up, and he obliged, getting her by the scruff bar and setting her atop the joint of his wing. She slid down into a gap in his plating just under the joint and snuggled in.

Quicksilver felt nervous about leaving her out of the hold, but he knew she needed the air, even if she was hiding under his wing.

“Now, about that flying lesson-” Starscream started.

Of course, this was when the alarm went off.

The blaring klaxon and flashing lights startled everyone, and Quicksilver sealed his armor in the nanoklik it took to register the situation.

“We're under attack! Everybot to their stations!” ordered Prowl. “Quicksilver, stay near me.”

And of course, with Quicksilver's track record in bad luck, this was impossible. But rather than telling Prowl that, Quicksilver tried to stay near the protective Praxian.

Starscream was leading the defense, and pit if Quicksilver knew who would attack a base like this, but he let his claws go loose and folded his wing carefully over Flickerflit's hiding place, lacking the time to return her to the hold like he wished he had done in the cafeteria.

Hurrying after Prowl, he focused the magnets in his armor to lock the wing in place and kept moving.

It only took two breems to separate Quicksilver from Prowl in the rush of frantic bots. Somehow, the invaders had breached the defenses of the compound, and without Optimus Prime, Megatron, Ironhide, or a number of other heavy-hitters that were suspiciously out on missions, it was left to smaller, more specialized bots to hunt down and deactivate each of the invaders, one at a time, in the long, winding halls that darkened when the lights flickered.

So there were enemies in the halls.

Quicksilver tried to avoid every bot he didn't recognize (most of them), but eventually he was corner by a tall mech with dark armor and wicked, crazed optics.

His plating crawled.

There was something about this mech that just set him on edge.

Flickerflit, too young to know better, made a displeased blat of static noise when she was shaken by Quicksilver's frightened shiver.

The optics widened, and interest appeared on the mech's faceplate.

“Ah, the unusual arrival I heard about this morning,” he murmured. “You'll make a fine toy, won't you?”

The condescension in the voice was bad enough, but the words pouring from this mech's vocal processor made Quicksilver want to rip his faceplate off and gouge out his optics.

“After all, two for the price of one seems like a very good deal, don't you agree? Pleased to meet you, I'm Charger. We'll be getting to know each other very well soon enough.”

Snap.

And there went what was left of Quicksilver's sanity.

The built-up stress and tension culminated into a homicidal rage that ripped an incoherent screech of raw fury from his vocals, and he lunged straight for the mech, intent on making him bleed, bleed, bleed!

Energon splattered the walls when Quicksilver hit the mech in the chassis, digging his claws into the struts and cables of Charger's neck even as he kicked his bent, clawed legs hard, ripping through the armor on Charger's front in all the right places, battle computer crunching the numbers to provide him with accurate, critical attacks. He imagined, in a corner of his processor, that he probably looked like Miles' cat Beeper when he decided the death of a rug was the only way he could bring himself to continue to exist.

He gouged and screeched and yanked and scrabbled at the seams between the armor plates, ignoring the blows that rained down on him as Charger tried to get free. Quicksilver only paid enough attention to them to redirect them to better-armored sections of his body, his battle computer alerting him to the fact that the only way to win this fight was to cause fatal damage before Charger had a chance to gather himself.

Blinded by his urge to destroy the slagger that had threatened Flickerflit, goaded on by his instincts, aided by his battle computer, he dug in hard and started moving slower, digging his back claws deeper into Charger's chassis. He ripped, kicking away chunks of armor and crushing machinery between his claws until his talons skittered over something slippery.

Snarling, he bent his back to the task. Pushing hard, he gouged open the front of Charger's spark chamber. A particularly harsh blow snapped his helm to the side, but it was too late.

His legs jerked hard, and Charger was completely gutted, internals and Energon and spark shards scattered around.

He went still, and only then did Quicksilver scramble away, keening sharply as he processed what he'd done to another living being. The seeker in him screamed for retribution, told him to keep tearing and smashing and terminating until every one of the invaders was nothing more than a pile of mulched metal, lying in a puddle of Energon.

The part of him that was still Sam, had always been Sam, was the child without parents, was terrified of what he was capable of. He'd never killed before, even in the pit fights, and he almost purged his tanks.

“Oh, slag,” someone cursed behind him.

Jazz.

Oh, thank Primus.

The saboteur pulled him away from Charger's shell, held him close, covered his optics until he could turn the younger bot's faceplate away from the scene, and talked softly to him all the while. “Come on Quicksilvah, let's just go down the hall. Ah want ya t'follow me, 'kay?” He kept up a soothing stream of amiable chatter as he guided Quicksilver around the corner.

Jazz relaxed a little more then, relieved to at least be out of sight of the grisly scene, but kept talking, kept walking, trying to find someone better equipped to deal with the shaking youngling.

When he found Prowl in the meeting room turned emergency shelter, he almost collapsed with relief. He promptly shoved the Energon-splattered, still in combat-mode seekerlet into Prowl's servos, knowing the Security Officer would catch him.

“I just deactivated someone,” Quicksilver croaked dazedly at Prowl's confused expression. “Think I'm gonna glitch.”

“What?” asked Prowl, optics snapping wide.

Quicksilver pitched forward, going limp in the officer's hold. Prowl snarled under his breath, the same growl every Praxian was so well-known for.

“Ratchet!” he roared, shifting the youngling's weight to one shoulder. He heard a wail, muffled, and Quicksilver's wing slid to the side, revealing the hiding place now that he was unconscious and unable to control the magnetic threads.

Flickerflit was promptly handed off to Elita-One, and Ratchet herded them all back into the corner of the room where his tools were lying, snarling viciously. “I didn't even get to repair him this morning!” he snapped at them. “Now he's got new injuries on top of old ones! What happened?”

“We were separated,” Prowl admitted, shoulders hunching slightly. “There were many bots in the halls, and one of the larger invaders had an... interest in Praxians.” His doorwings flicked unhappily, but stilled as the movement caused him stabbing pains. The hurt ran like fire across the sensitive panels, even when he tried to dial back the sensory range of the laser-scored appendages.

“He gutted a pretty big mech in th'hall. Abso-fraggin-lutely gutted him,” Jazz continued. “It's gonna take a major clean-up crew ta get rid of the mess. There's... Parts. Everywhere. An' a lotta Energon. Ah dunno how he did it, but that bot's completely slagged, mechs.”

“I don't believe it,” protested one of the guards, shaking his helm. “There's no way that little neutral took out one of those guys- they were, like, bandits or something! Pros. Pirates. They had fusion cannons, energy blades, stasis cuffs! And he's so tiny!”

“That's what you think,” sneered Starscream. “And for your information, it is looking increasingly likely that this attack was organized and perpetrated by rebel forces, the same such forces we have been combating through the Enforcers and standard security units up until now. They appear to be bandits because they were, on this occasion, intent on looting this base. It is possible that they were unaware of the mixed-faction regulations within this compound, and were expecting us to be separated by some distance, at least. It is statistically probable that the attacker engaged one of the protector programs embedded in Quicksilver's processor by threatening the sparkling. This, coupled with his unusual weaponry, is more than enough to get an edge over a mech, even if it was a larger mech as Jazz says. Very likely, he wasn't expecting an attack of such savagery.”

“Who cares?” snarled Ratchet. “The brat's got dents, gouges, several wires split, his right wing-joint mangled, and apparently he's been hiding a battle computer in that helm of his because his CPU fries to a crisp the same way Prowl's does! I've never seen such irresponsibility!”

“He is a youngling without creators, a trine, or even a sparkmate,” Starscream snapped back. “Exactly what do you expect from him? He has never even flown before, and he has clearly lacked the means to so much as refuel. It was not irresponsibility; it was a lack of knowledge of his own programming. Furthermore, he lacks serious injury and the sparkling is completely unharmed. Clearly, he was at least partially aware of his actions and conducted himself in a manner befitting any Seeker. He defended his Creation with the lethal force that is his Primus-given right.”

Prowl's EM field, reigned in tightly now, shuddered violently as Starscream rattled off his litany, cursing himself for his failure to protect the younger mech in this situation. Guilt surged at his inadequacy.

“Ya didn't see the mess!” Jazz interjected, scowling at them all. “If he hadn't gouged the mech's spark out, he prob'ly would o' ripped his helm right off 'is shoulders! He got a little dinged up, but Quicksilver put that mech down hard.”

Ratchet waved his wrench menacingly. “All of you, out!”

“Ratchet, we're not even in the med bay!” complained Blaster. “You can't just kick us out of the meeting room!”

“I can and I am. Out!”

Grumbling to himself, Ratchet set about his work. He banged the dents out of Quicksilver's armor, rewired places that were ripped through, and realigned everything knocked out of place. It only took a few breems, and Ratchet was, in all honesty, a little surprised. He'd expected far more damage to be visible when the plates of armor were removed, but apparently even the thinned shells were enough to prevent the blows from reaching the protoform underneath.

Frowning, he set aside a sliver of one shoulder plate for later analysis.

Is this really just isotopic mercury? If so, I'll have to investigate its properties later on. Perhaps it could be used for dermal plating grafts...

Quicksilver rebooted about a joor after crashing, and was promptly ejected from the meeting room. He ended up beside Prowl again, groggy, upset, dazed, and missing Flickerflit, who Elita-One was pointedly holding away from him.

He wasn't sure exactly what her problem was, but he was definitely going to a have a problem with her in a few breems if she didn't give his sparkling back.

Ignoring the debriefing going on, oblivious to the injured bots and invaders' shells, he glared at Elita-One for the better part of two breems before someone noticed.

“Quicksilvah, what exactly are ya doin'?” asked Jazz flatly, looking back and forth between the little neutral and the Autobot femme.

“Mine.”

“What?”

Starscream looked up from his pile of security footage data pads. “He wants Elita-One to give Flickerflit back. You should make sure she does, or she'll go the same way as that mech in the hall,” he translated, voice still impressively bland despite the homicidal implications.

Jazz quickly looked back at Quicksilver, venting in relief when he realized the bot hadn't been listening. Judging from his earlier reaction, this had been his first time deactivating another bot, and Jazz wasn't up to dealing the hysteria again.

(Prowl would probably dodge this time, and make him take care of the situation. He'd say something about Jazz's ability to be responsible, challenge him, and then Jazz would end up doing it anyway, either to prove Prowl wrong or because the neurotic bundle of stress that was his best friend sometimes needed a break.)

Moving across the room, he removed Flickerflit from Elita-One's servos and hurried the sparkling back over to Quicksilver, avoiding the confrontation that was about to take place, judging by the claw marks in the metal floor of the reinforced hallway. Elita-One made a noise of protest, faceplate twisting as she made to scold Jazz for his rude behavior, but Quicksilver hissed and shuffled over to Jazz's side, and she fell silent.

Prowl returned as often as he could to check on the youngling, feeling helpless and not liking it, and when at last he could actually stay with him, Quicksilver leaned into his side. He thought maybe Prowl could use the comfort as much as he himself could. Hugs were always nice, but Quicksilver thought maybe Prowl would freak out if he got hugged.

Plus, it was a human thing. He wasn't sure if the gesture translated into Cybertronian or if he'd be challenging Prowl to an unarmed, unarmored duel to the death in some archaic language.

So he leaned against Prowl, cradled Flickerflit to his spark, and tried not to think about what was going on.

Every time his thoughts started to cycle back to what he'd done, he shook a little harder, until he was trembling enough to rattle his armor. Flickerflit tossed and turn in her recharge, restless and unhappy even in the safety she'd sought in recharge, and he tried to still himself, but the rising horror was either going to make him purge his tanks or burst into tears, and it continued to grow with each errant thought.

Being able to think a lot in a short period of time was not necessarily a good thing.

Prowl tried to soften his own EM field, and Quicksilver relaxed into the silently offered comfort, appreciating Prowl's efforts. Several bots looked over at the building field shift, the two feeding off each other's feelings to create a sort of emotional safe zone.

Quicksilver felt a little like Sam again. Prowl had him, though, and as homesick as it made Quicksilver feel, it was also really, really nice.

Eventually, though, his independent teenager streak reared its head, and he sat up straighter, gathering himself. “So...” he rasped, voice staticky. “Who'd I slag? Said his designation was Charger.”

Jazz shrugged. “Not a clue. Ah'm lookin' into it. Looks like we got hit up by a buncha terrorists. Good ones, though, maybe mercenaries. Had a lotta tech we just ain't seein' on reg'lar crooks. Weird though, 'cuz they went after Autobots and Decepticons. Mebbe they jus' don' like politicians.”

Quicksilver nodded. “Okay, so... Bad guys. I feel a little less like purging my tanks until my internals come out,” he admitted. “Okay, bad guys.” He steadied himself, feeling an attack of spastic babble coming on and trying to suppress it.

Then the security bots started organizing the mess the base had become, and Quicksilver was shuffled off to some absent mech's berth like he was one of the bots meant to be on base.

Ah, bureaucracy.

Hey, at least no one had kicked him out yet.

Chapter Text

Quicksilver decided to stay on base for as long as he could before someone noticed he was freeloading.

Within a few orns he was popping into Prowl's office to remind him to recharge and to bring him a cube when he suspected the bot hadn't refueled.

He didn't like what he saw, though.

Prowl worked himself into the ground, falling into recharge faceplate down on his desk, forgetting to refuel or recharge or take any breaks for anything but those two needs, and those only when Jazz or Quicksilver pushed him. His doorwings were constantly pinned high on his back, stiff with stress and tension, tips drooping with exhaustion, and he spent joors at a time trying to improve whatever plans his battle computer and tactical network churned out.

And no one appreciated it.

Bots cursed his name for the missions he designed when their friends didn't make it back, insulted him for his composure by claiming he was emotionally stunted, a drone even, and verbally abused him at every opportunity.

He was cursed by his superiors for arguing with them to protect his inferiors, and cursed by his inferiors for failing to save them all as they conveniently forgot he had his own superiors.

Quicksilver helped with the paperwork where he could, lurked in Prowl's office when he couldn't, and did what he could to minimize the damage.

He didn't think he was helping. It sucked, mostly because now he felt guilty for freeloading off of someone with so much on their plate.

It came to a head one orn, when Ironhide was snarling in Prowl's faceplate right in the middle of the rec room, roaring about some mech that had died because of Prowl's “cold-sparked slaggin' schemes”.

Quicksilver snapped. “Mute it, you Creator-fragging spawn of a glitch!”

The room went silent as the youngling stepped between the two advisors, radiating fury. His EM field crackled violently around him. He'd known Ironhide as Sam.

That didn't make him any less angry.

“Look,” Quicksilver ground out. “I'm not optimistic enough to think this'll make any impression on a bunch of idiots like you, but I'm slagging well going to try. Orn in and orn out, Prowl works his aft off to keep you idiots safe. He minimizes whatever risks he can, runs simulations over and over until he's recharging on his peds, fights with the superiors to keep them from handing down orders that'll get us all deactivated, takes the fall out, then turns around and has to defend himself from bots glitching about whatever happened to their friends on those missions that do get through, no matter how much he's worked on them to make them safer for you all. Never mind the fact that they probably all would have been deactivated or worse if Prowl hadn't intervened, never mind the fact that he hasn't recharged in days and hasn't refueled in even longer, never mind the fact that he's never done anything but help you all!”

Quicksilver was yelling now, nearly screaming, optics white with fury.

“Oh no, because something happened, it must be Prowl's fault! It's not like he gets orders. It's not like he cares if we die. It's not like he works through every off-duty shift, pulls strings behind the scenes to keep you all activated, and literally works until he collapses and gets dragged to the med bay to be yelled at by the Hatchet for overworking himself. It's not like he ignores medical leave, days off, off-duty shifts, and common decency to keep you fraggers from getting slagged by terrorists! It's not like he's nearly worked himself into deactivation-” Quicksilver was cut off when Prowl's servo brushed against one wing, making him snap his helm around.

Prowl just looked sad, optics averted from any but Quicksilver's own vibrant green. “That's enough,” he said simply. Turning, his faceplate went completely blank, not quite making optic contact. “Ironhide, my condolences for your loss. I apologize for my inadequate work. Good orn.”

Moving smoothly, he steered a shaking Quicksilver out into the hall, leaving behind a room of stunned, silent mechs.

As soon as they stepped into Prowl's quarters, Prowl slumped into his chair, doorwings drooping with stress, exhaustion, and now upset. They jerked and twitched with his distress, and Quicksilver took two quick steps forward, deciding to just frag the culture difference and give Prowl a hug.

Slowly, shaking servos came up and rested against his back, careful of his wings. Prowl leaned forward, forehead pressed against Quicksilver's shoulder, each intake shuddering.

“Why...” he trailed off, uncomfortably vulnerable. “Why...” he tried again.

“What they do to you isn't fair,” Quicksilver snapped, practically spitting fire. “It's not fair, it's not right, and I refuse to just lay down and let it happen. Look,” he tried, patting Prowl's doorwings soothingly. “You're my friend, okay? My best friend. And I know that you and Jazz are also best friends, and I love Jazz, but you, right now, are my best friend. My closest friend. And sometimes you act like you've got a pole up your aft, and sometimes you take the rules a little too seriously. But you're not emotionally stunted. You're not a drone. You are not a bad mech, and you do not deserve to be on the receiving end of their anger. If one of those rebels killed them, blame the rebels. If their own stupidity got them, that's their fault. But none of it is yours. I've watched you work through your orn off with a screaming processor ache to increase the chance of success of a mission by less than a percent. They should know better. Appreciate it. Understand, at least, that you're doing the best you can and what they're dishing out is immature, stupid, useless, and disgraceful. In fact, I find it downright offensive. You save their afts every orn, and they don't even say thank you. They don't imply it. And they don't think it. They're a stupid bunch of ingrates, and I plan to kick their afts- don't look at me like that, I will- up and down both sides of the base. At least the Decepticons only glitch about Megatron's choices. They get that as crazy and argumentative as he is, he's the leader, not Starscream. It's not the second in command's responsibility. Frankly, if they keep this up, I'm going to stick a purple decal under your doorwings where you can't reach it. Then we'll take Jazz with us and move in with the Terrible Threesome. They won't mind. Star thinks I'm adorable, even if he doesn't admit to it.” Quicksilver just kept talking, telling the story as best he could. About how Thundercracker would jump out of his dermal plating, how he could throw things at Skywarp for warping indoors, how Barricade was really, really young, like Quicksilver's age, and fun to hang out with, on and on for the better part of a joor, until Prowl stopped shaking and relaxed against him, eventually falling into recharge.

When his optics dimmed and his doorwings relaxed, then Quicksilver removed himself. He wasn't big or strong enough to carry Prowl to his berth without waking him, so he repositioned the exhausted, recharging mech so that he'd avoid any sore panels or stiff cables.

Then he started in on the paperwork.

The nice thing about Prowl's office was that, to save himself and everybot else time, he had a stamp with his signature that Quicksilver could quietly pilfer and use. He sorted through the massive heap of data pads, leaving a pile that Prowl needed to look over, a pile that he'd already read, corrected, filed, and signed off on, and a pile that needed to be decoded before they could be dealt with.

Quicksilver wasn't willing to push his luck in the base by rifling through top-secret material.

But he could take care of receipts, order forms, medical reports, equipment requests, etc.

While Prowl would still have a considerable amount of work to do, given the recent rebel activity, at least the aggravating busywork was out of the way.

In fact, accessing Prowl's desk's files, he set up the shift schedules for the next few decaorns, sent a few inventory requests, flagged all the important tasks and files, and continued to work his way through all of the little duties Prowl was required to deal with.

He'd watched Prowl do it often enough.

It took him a few joors of work, Prowl recharging in his own office chair, but soon he had a decent head start on a reprieve in the daily work for the poor Tactical officer.

When he finished his stack of data pads, he frowned to himself in thought. Wake Prowl, or just go get him a cube?

Deciding to let the Praxian rest while he could, he hurried down to the rec room to grab a cube. Glancing around, he grabbed one for himself too, and skittered back up the hallway before anyone of importance could note what was his technically unsanctioned presence.

He guessed that it was just the amount of emotional tension and stress that kept Prowl from 'noticing', so to speak, his continued presence on base, but he also suspected that the attack by those terrorists had confused the system enough to warrant his easy dismissal. Despite the attempts at investigation that had gone on, all study of the compound halted the instant the group claimed responsibility for the attack, going so far as to detail their approach to the faulty security.

Red Alert had a field day with that remark.

Quicksilver could refuel in the rec room because not everybot knew everybot, and sleep on the couch in there or hidden away in Prowl's office, and feed Flickerflit with sparkling-grade cubes quietly 'liberated' from the med bay when Ratchet was out and about.

(Quicksilver was pretty sure the CMO had noticed, but the mech hadn't said anything yet and he hoped it would stay that way.)

All in all, it was a pretty nice life.

His thoughts settled when he returned to the office, setting both cubes on the desk, and he gently shook Prowl's shoulder, rousing him. The mech onlined with a startled intake, but relaxed again when he spotted Quicksilver.

“Hey, brought ya a cube,” murmured Quicksilver, feeling a surge of almost protective affection.

Prowl looked a little fuzzy still, so he pressed the cube into his servos, knocking back his own in a few swallows. Prowl finished his cube just as fast, something uncharacteristic of him, and Quicksilver arched an optic ridge. “When was the last time you refueled?”

Prowl paused before answering, and Quicksilver cut him off. “Never mind. How are your energy levels?”

“About thirty percent,” Prowl admitted. “Why?”

“I just came out of Kaon, I'm a youngling feeding a sparkling, and I still run at about fifty percent these days,” Quicksilver said dryly. “Minimum. I think you need another cube.”

Prowl made to protest, but Quicksilver caught his wrist in one servo. “Come on, Prowl. There's no more work to do. See? I took care of it all. And the rest isn't due for ages. Let's just go, okay? For a little while, anyways. I need to feed Flickerflit,” he improvised quickly. “And I'd like it if you were around. Some of the new guys look at me funny.”

The tactician followed, but chuckled softly under his breath. “Don't think I didn't notice how you never left.”

Quicksilver startled. “Well- I don't- there's not really anywhere I can go,” he babbled. “And I kind of like it here, and I like you, and Flickerflit gets fed and so do I and its safe, well except for the rebels-” he hurried onward. “But you know I mean it was Kaon and this is great and Starscream's gonna take me flying and you're really nice and a lot of the younger mechs like me 'cuz I shouted down Ironhide and I worry that if I go Jazz might not be able to make sure you're okay and then-”

“Quicksilver,” Prowl interjected. “You are babbling.”

Intaking deeply, Quicksilver silenced himself, shifting nervously from one ped to the other. “I just- and- please don't send me away!”

Prowl frowned. “Quicksilver,” he protested, voice firm. “I will not send you away. I do not know if my superiors are accidentally or intentionally turning a blind eye to your situation, but you have remained on this base for some time, and I have come to enjoy your company. I appreciate that you worry, and I admit that if you left, I would worry for you as well.” His tone was affectionate, expression soft, and Quicksilver sniffled a little.

“Thanks,” he croaked.

Straightening himself out, he pulled the doorwinged mech after him. “Now, no more mush!” he ordered. “Just 'cuz I know you're a softy doesn't mean everyone else does! Let's go stalk the idiots that live here with us.”

Chapter Text

Quicksilver kicked Prowl in the ped, getting his attention. When the pale optics flickered his way, he jerked his helm at the knot of commotion at the other end of the mess hall.

Any idea what that's about?

None. Shall I investigate?

No, let's just see what happens.

If you say so.

In the past orns, Prowl had moved quickly up Quicksilver's list of bots he actually liked. At first appearance the tactician was cold and calculated, but when he opened up he snarked like you wouldn't believe. His morbid, dry, deadpan sense of humor often had Quicksilver in stitches, and he had a way of silently punishing infractions that kept even the wildest of bots from crossing the line.

He was also slagging hilarious.

The two were engaging in one of their favorite shared past-times, taking advantage of Flickerflit's post-feeding nap and Prowl's conspicuous lack of paperwork (Quicksilver was still feeling smug about that).

Bot-watching.

Prowl observed for the information, logging tactics and interesting reactions to add to his internal database, and Quicksilver watched because it was fun, it was interesting, and it was something to slagging do.

And it was with Prowl, who provided color commentary.

Speak of the devil.

And here comes the Hatchet and the Walking Disaster Area, Prowl commed him, voice flat even over the secure line.

And the Fragging Moron and Sunshine the Berserker, added Quicksilver, enjoying his use of the nicknames, or rather, code names Prowl had attached to the personnel files of each of the unknowing and unsuspecting slaggers under his command.

As it turned out, Prowl was simply a very private mech. After Quicksilver's outburst and their subsequent bonding time, Prowl opened up more and more. A deliberate misunderstanding here, a complaint about general stupidity there, and Quicksilver was only finding more and more to like about him.

It helped that, in Prowl's very, very, very, very, very private opinion, he was in charge of all of the punishments for whatever stupid ideas the idiots on base came up with, and therefore was their very own version of Primus and Unicron rolled into one. (Humor eased the stress, and Quicksilver's laugh was contagious.)

Quicksilver especially liked to hide under Prowl's desk and listen to him tear mental holes in the idiots that caused him trouble.

In any case, the twins seemed to be arguing with the Hatchet, with Wheeljack trying desperately but inevitably failing to negotiate some kind of temporary cease fire, even for something as important as getting refueled.

Sideswipe laughed.

Ratchet brought out his wrench.

Sunstreaker snarled.

Wheeljack whimpered.

And Quicksilver started counting down.

Five, four, three, two, one...

The whole room stilled into silence as bright peals of laughter mixed with a low chuckle.

“Did Prowl just laugh?” Sideswipe asked disbelievingly. “The world is ending! The planet-eater has resurrected!” He flailed crazily as he scurried back and forth across the room. Red Alert shrieked and dove beneath a table, and Jazz almost fell out of his seat.

Blaster gawked, and several of the mechs sitting around choked on their Energon or spilled it down their fronts.

Prowl seemed uncomfortable, turning his helm away and averting his optics from the staring mechs that filled most of the room, and Quicksilver suddenly felt sorry for him.

So, in his immature, youngling way, he provided a distraction. “Oy! Welding Harpy!” he barked, getting Ratchet's undivided attention. “Sunshine the Berserker was glitching about your bedside manner!”

It was juvenile.

It was stupid.

And it certainly shouldn't have worked.

Ratchet roared like Unicron himself, and brought the wrench down on the yellow frontliner's helm.

With a clang and yelp, the room erupted into chaos again.

Taking Prowl by the servo and leading him through the mess of plasma bolts, spilled Energon, and flying wrenches, Quicksilver flashed the older mech a reassuring grin.

Prowl's mouth twitched up at the corners.

And, like all good times, it had to be ruined.

That was when they first met the Inspector.

The mech was a little too thick around the middle for Quicksilver to take seriously, and waddled a bit on his over-sized peds when he walked, but was tall, with broad shoulders and bulky limbs. He reminded Quicksilver of an aged soldier, past his prime and still trying to soak up the glory. He was painted a drab gray, had a face only a carrier could love, and sounded like a dying petro-frog.

Quicksilver knew from the nanoklik he'd spotted the Inspector in the hall that they were all in for a rough ride.

He was right.

“What kind of tomfoolery is going on here?” ground out The Idiot Jerkfaceplate Stupidhelm, as Quicksilver had mentally dubbed him in all his glorious, dubious maturity.

Prowl tensed behind Quicksilver, and the noise in the rec room ground to a sudden, dangerous silence.

“Excuse me?” Quicksilver blurted, startled.

The bot snorted. “Impudent little slagger,” he snorted, sounding like he was trying to gargle rocks. He was either trying to sound like a drill sergeant and only managing to sound like some kind of freakish amalgamation of the Unmaker and a vibro saw, or was just the Giant Alien Robot equivalent of a chainsmoker.

Quicksilver recoiled sharply. “Hey, what's with the name-calling?” he protested. “I've never seen you before in my lifestream, you just startled me! What's your problem, anyway?”

“My problem?” sneered the portly mech. “My problem is that clearly you- you- rookies,” he spat, looking disgusted, “-you rank and file grunts, are now under my command. Mine! I can't believe I was reassigned here,” he continued, faceplate scrunching strangely. “You're not even soldiers! Security guards, pets to a Prime! It makes me sick.”

Quicksilver wanted to snap back a retort, but Prowl's servo was brushing the back of one wing soothingly, and he eased back, frowning still.

“I apologize for the inconvenience,” Prowl uttered smoothly. “But none of us were made aware of any special arrangements being made for the management of the present retinue, let alone there being an alteration in the chain of command.”

“Hmph. In that case, I am Leadfoot,” the pretentious elder introduced. “You are Prowl, Chief Tactical Officer of Iacon, presumably a member of the Autobot party, creation of Wraith and Striker?”

Expression perfectly blankly, Prowl subtly improved his posture. “Yes.”

“In the future, I prefer yes, sir. This time I'll let it slide since none of you were informed.”

Prowl nodded slowly, something the mech seemed to interpret as thanks.

“I am Inspector Leadfoot, and I was reassigned to deal with disciplinary action in the absence of the Prime and his aides,” the mech informed them. “And rest assured, I will be cleaning this base up. Immediately. Someone take me to my office!” he barked suddenly.

Prowl maneuvered smoothly in front of Quicksilver, pushing the youngling back and away in a movement every Autobot behind him could see and every one of the inspector's lackeys couldn't.

Quicksilver followed the instructions, heeding the silent warning and disappearing back into the throng of silent, watching bots, who let him slip through easily. Prowl obviously didn't want him where his presence could be questioned. He was taking a mech he probably hated on a tour like a common servant so that Quicksilver could vanish himself in time to save his couch spot and Energon access.

He wasn't going to waste the opportunity.

When they rounded the corner, Quicksilver cursed aloud. “Slag it! We're so fragged.”

“No kidding,” groused Sideswipe. “And what was with Prowl?”

“He's playing decoy,” Quicksilver informed him blandly.

Several mechs just looked at him, faceplates totally blank as they clearly and obviously demanded more information.

Quicksilver frowned. “Uh... No, I'm not going to tell you why. It's none of your business. I just feel sorry for Prowl, getting stuck with that guy... Did any of you hear about there being an Inspector on base?”

Sunstreaker only scowled. “No.”

Red Alert gibbered to himself, cycling through a long series of increasingly ludicrous conspiracy theories to explain the sudden change in the chain of command. No matter how strange they were, Quicksilver did consider the possibility that maybe Red Alert had the right idea. The guy just screamed suspicious.

Jazz was already shimmying into a vent to go investigate, and a number of mechs simply skulked out of sight, quiet steps and furtive looks betrayed by the loud swoosh of the door as it automatically opened to let them into the maintenance halls.

Ratchet grumbled ominously, and Wheeljack just pouted. “No one tells me anything!” he whined plaintively.

Quicksilver nodded, slowly, and moved to the Energon dispenser. He poured a cube, slapped a seal on it, and stuffed it in his subspace, repeating the process twice more before knocking back the fourth cube.

“Okay,” he decided, whirling around. “Jazz is already headed out, but I'm gonna disappear while I have the chance. Don't wait up, and don't say a word about me to that Leadfoot guy, okay?”

“You're technically not supposed to be on base, are you?” inquired Ratchet gruffly, sounding amused.

He winced. “Uh, yeah, something like that. Out of sight, out of processor, right? I'm gonna go bother Starscream. Or something. I’ll see you later!”

Darting out of the Rec Room with his 'liberated' supplies, he scurried right past the Decepticon side of the base and out into the grounds, darting this way and that as he hurried through the mess of halls, equipment, and supply crates.

When he finally reached the outer edge of the base, he clambered up the wall, claws clinking softly as he wriggled up the smooth metal. Tiny scrapes and chinks, little soft spots, and even minuscule scuffs provided the slight amount of texture necessary for him to get an adequate grip and support his weight. Heaving himself up over the top of the wall and onto the ridged line of metal blocks, he straightened. Popping one more cube out of his subspace, he quaffed it, watching his energy levels rise to eighty-five percent. Grinning to himself, he set his wings out straight, feeling the thrusters kick on with a whine that built to a scream.

He was going to do this right. In the split-second encounter with Leadfoot, something ugly had crawled into his spark. The walls seemed to be closing in on him, every stare from a mech was hostile, and the warmth of the heated building was cloying to the point of suffocation.

Even without an alt mode, he was still more than capable of flight. His wings tipped out to the sides, rising and locking into place across the back of his shoulders, and he let the thrusters hum louder still, rising in power and volume. Fuel lines shifted, injecting Energon straight into the system, and the heat kicked up sharply.

Quicksilver ran a quick diagnostic program, running through all of the preflight checks that Starscream had introduced him to and promptly disregarding the few exercises the seeker had found time to do with him.

Intaking slowly, he vented at the same slow, almost torturous pace, waiting.

The wind picked up.

A warm draft wafted upwards.

Quicksilver jumped off the wall.