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Title: After Atlantis, Part 24
Author: [personal profile] anon_decepticon
Rating: M
Pairing or Character(s): Wheeljack, Trailbreaker, Hoist, Optimus Prime, Hound
Disclaimer: I don’t own Transformers. Part 1 references scenes from the G1 Season 2 episode “Atlantis, Arise!” Part 4 references scenes from the next episode, “Day of the Machines.” Parts 5 and 6 reference scenes and quote some dialogue from ”Enter the Nightbird.” Part 9 references scenes from “Dinobot Island, Parts 1 & 2”. Part 11 references scenes from “The Master Builder” and “Auto Berserk.” Part 12 references scenes from “Microbots,” (as does Part 13, briefly) and gives minor nods to “Heavy Metal War” and “Prime Target.” Part 14 references scenes from the two-part episode “Megatron’s Master Plan,” and gives a teeny nod to “The Ultimate Doom.” Parts 16 and 17 reference scenes and quote dialogue from the two-part G1 cartoon episode “Desertion of the Dinobots.” Part 18 contains oblique references to “S.O.S. Dinobots,” “Traitor,” “The Ultimate Doom” (part one) and “City of Steel” (namely the bits w/Autobots on water skis.) Part 20 references scenes and quotes dialogue from “Blaster Blues.” Part 21 references “The Golden Lagoon.” These portions of the fic are not mine.
Warning(s): PTSD angst, references to rape, references to sex.
Summary: Raped by Starscream, Wheeljack struggles to cope.
Author's Note: If you've gotten this far, you already know the backstory. Original Kink Meme prompt. Previous installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18 (1/2), Part 18 (2/2), Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23. Also available on FFN. It took me forever to write this, so thanks to everyone for being so incredibly patient. Thanks especially to [profile] kookaburra1701 for urging me to at least try to prod my muse into cooperating. This chapter was supposed to be the last one, but it ended up running so long I had to split it into two, so there will be one more to wrap things up. Thanks for reading!



You're going to enjoy this.

Starscream’s jack was in his port, his hands moving over his frame, his presence invading his CPU.

That's it, just a little more...

He was everywhere. He was inside him, he was making him feel

Come on, Autobot. Give it up, give it up for me...

Wheeljack’s optics snapped online, a choked sound escaping his vocalizer as his vents hitched and stalled. A violent tremor ran through his frame, making his servos twitch in tiny spasms. For a moment he struggled with his own systems, fighting to draw air through his intakes, terror coursing through his circuits like a living thing.

“Wheeljack?”

He sat up sharply, turning toward the voice even as he flinched away from it, propelling himself backward instinctively as every circuit and servo screamed for him to flee.

“Easy,” Trailbreaker said, holding up his hands, his voice gentle. “It’s all right. You’re on the Ark. You’re safe.”

His backstrut struck the wall behind him with a jolt, forcing air through his vents in a harsh gasp.

“It’s all right,” Trailbreaker said again. “It’s just me.”

Wheeljack slumped forward, panting through his intakes, relief coursing through him as he realized he was in his own quarters, his own berth.

Trailbreaker sat up slowly, regarding him with troubled optics. “Sensor echo?” he asked after a moment.

He nodded helplessly, unable to speak, still trembling in reaction. It had been a bad one, a near-literal reiteration of Starscream’s assault, right down to the mocking laughter that seemed to echo in his audials.

Trailbreaker reached out hesitantly, his fingertips brushing Wheeljack’s arm in a light, uncertain touch.

“I keep seeing it,” he said, his vocalizer raw with static. “No matter what I do, I just keep seeing it.”

Trailbreaker made a pained noise, gathering him into his arms and crushing him tight against his chestplate.

“I don’t want to see it anymore,” Wheeljack said, huddling into his embrace, clinging to him like a lifeline. “I don’t want to feel him anymore.”

“Talk to me,” Trailbreaker said, his deep voice gentle. “Tell me what you need.”

“I don’t know,” he said despairingly. “I don’t know how to fix it. I just want it to stop.”

“I wish there was something I could do to help,” Trailbreaker said.

Wheeljack straightened, meeting his optics. “You do help,” he said. “Just you being here helps. The echoes aren’t as bad when I recharge with you. They only come when something reminds me –”

He trailed off as Trailbreaker drew back suddenly, staring down at him with a frown on his faceplate. “Is that why you stayed with me?” he asked. “Why you kept letting me ‘face you? So you wouldn’t get sensor ghosts?”

“No!” he replied hastily. Trailbreaker gave him a hurt, dubious look. “I mean…maybe. Kind of,” he admitted, ducking his helm.

Trailbreaker vented a sigh. “I guess I always knew it wasn’t really me you wanted.”

A sudden flare of panic gripped Wheeljack’s spark. “I do want you,” he said, raising his helm to meet Trailbreaker’s gaze, pleading with his optics for him to understand. “I need you.”

“For recharge,” Trailbreaker replied bitterly, shaking his helm.

“No,” he insisted, seizing hold of Trailbreaker’s arms when he tried to look away. “For everything. The echoes don't come when I’m with you because I'm with you! Because it is you.”

Trailbreaker turned back to meet his optics, his expression conflicted. “I’m no medic,” he said. “I’m just a standard-issue mech. There’s nothing special about me.”

“You – you make me feel…safe,” he said, struggling to find the right words to explain, to force them past the crackle of static invading his vocalizer. “Like – like maybe everything’s gonna be okay. Like I’m gonna be okay. Because you’re –” he broke off abruptly, interrupted by a burst of static.

Trailbreaker laid a hand on Wheeljack’s shoulder strut, regarding him sadly. “I want to believe you,” he said. “It’s just…how can I be sure? I mean, all this time you’ve been ‘facing me, and you didn’t even want to.”

“I did want to,” he admitted, shame eating through his circuits. “I liked ‘facing with you.”

Trailbreaker gave him a look that was at once sad, worried and dubious. “It scared you,” he said softly. “I scared you.”

Wheeljack shook his helm. “I scared me,” he said.”Because I wanted – I liked it when you ‘faced me.” He bowed his helm, too ashamed to look Trailbreaker in the optic. “But I shouldn’t, right? After…after that? I shouldn’t want to.”

“I’m no medic,” Trailbreaker said again. “I don’t know if you should or not. Maybe that’s normal.”

“What if it isn’t?” he asked softly, his spark pulsing with dread. “What if…what if there’s something really wrong with me? What if he made me…wrong?

Trailbreaker’s grip on his shoulder strut tightened. “You’re not defective, Wheeljack,” he said sternly. “You got hurt. Starscream hurt you. What he did to you…that’d shake anyone. I feel sick just thinking about it.”

Wheeljack’s helm shot up at that, his spark clenching.

“Not about you,” Trailbreaker said hastily. “About him doing that to you. You having to go through all that.”

Wheeljack nodded mutely, his hydraulics depressurizing.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you,” Trailbreaker continued. “I mean, you’ve been through something awful, but...you’re still you.” He huffed a little, looking abashed. “I still think you’re amazing, and I still want to be with you. I just don’t want to make things harder for you, or make you feel like you can’t talk to me.”

Wheeljack looked at him, feeling strangely apologetic. “I’m not really good at…talking,” he admitted.

“You’re talking now,” Trailbreaker pointed out. “And I get why you didn’t before. You were scared. Scared of what I might say.”

There was a time when Wheeljack would have bristled at the suggestion that he was actually afraid of something, but this time he simply nodded. “Yeah,” he said.

“Must’ve been hard, keeping all that to yourself for so long,” Trailbreaker said. “But I guess you talked to Ratchet about it.”

Wheeljack shook his helm. “Not really.”

Trailbreaker cocked his helm in surprise. “You didn't? Why not?”

“‘Cause he’s Ratchet,” Wheeljack replied with an awkward shrug.

“I thought Ratchet was your best friend,” Trailbreaker said, frowning in confusion.

“He is,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t want him to know.” He huffed through his vents. “He found out anyway.”

“Does anyone else know?” Trailbreaker asked.

Wheeljack shook his helm. “Just Optimus. Ratchet told him. He had to report it; it’s a rule.”

“Optimus Prime knows?” Trailbreaker asked. “What’d he say when he found out?”

“He took me off active duty,” he said quietly.

“Oh,” Trailbreaker said. “I guess that makes sense.” But then he frowned. “Wait – if you were off active duty, how come you came along with us yesterday? Did Optimus change his mind?”

“I asked him to put me back on,” he said, shrugging awkwardly. “I didn’t want him to think I was useless.”

“Optimus would never think that,” Trailbreaker said.

“I know,” he said. “He even told me as much.” He fidgeted uncomfortably, rubbing his neck cables. “But he didn’t want to let me back into combat,” he admitted. “He said I wasn’t ready.”

“Do you think you are?” Trailbreaker asked cautiously.

Wheeljack wanted to insist that he was, that yesterday’s battle had just been a glitch, but he knew in his spark it would be a lie. “...no,” he said finally. “Optimus was right. I'm not ready.”

“That doesn’t make you useless though,” Trailbreaker said. “Fighting the ‘Cons isn’t the only thing you can do. Pit, it’s not even the most important thing – you invent new weapons, fix us when we get hurt –”

“I know,” he said, cutting him off. “It’s no big deal. It’s just…I just hate it.”

“Hate what?” Trailbreaker asked.

“The way everyone acts when they find out,” he said. “Like they have to be careful with me. Like I’m…broken.”

Trailbreaker pulled him into his arms, hugging him close. “You’re not broken,” he said. “A little dented, maybe. You’re still one of the bravest mechs I know.”

Wheeljack cycled a sigh, resting his helm against Trailbreaker’s chestplate and slipping his arms around his waist components, drawing comfort from his embrace. Trailbreaker’s plating was warm, the steady hum of his systems familiar and reassuring.

He wished he could stay like this forever, safe and secure in Trailbreaker’s arms, but he knew it couldn't last. Trailbreaker would have to report for duty in a few kliks, and so would he – and he still needed to talk to Optimus Prime.

He was about to ask if Trailbreaker wanted to go for some energon when he realized there was a message waiting in his queue.

It was from Ratchet.

‘Jack –

You’re probably already in recharge by now, but I wanted to let you know I’ve put you on the damaged roster for tomorrow and set up an appointment for you with Hoist. I’ll brief him first thing in the morning so he’ll be ready to meet with you in the afternoon. Enjoy your day off.

If you need anything else, just ping me.

– Ratchet


Trailbreaker must have noticed the sudden increase of tension in his servos, because he drew back slightly, looking down at him with concerned optics. “Are you all right?” he asked. “Do you need me to let go?”

“No, I’m okay,” he said, straightening to meet his gaze. “Ratchet left me a message – he put me on medical leave for the day, and made me an appointment with Hoist.”

“But that’s a good thing, right?” Trailbreaker asked. “You talking to Hoist?”

“I guess,” he replied with little enthusiasm.

“You’ll do fine,” Trailbreaker said reassuringly. “If you want, you can tell me how it went when I get back from patrol tonight. We can meet in the common room for energon.”

“Sounds good,” he said. “I’ll save us a table.”

**

Wheeljack tried not to feel apprehensive as he made his way down the corridor that led to Optimus Prime’s office. He’d sent an appointment request to Prime shortly after Trailbreaker had left to report in to Prowl, retrieving the cube of energon left over from the night before from his subspace as he transmitted the message.

It was accepted before he’d finished refueling.

Wheeljack tried not to dwell too long on the implications of that, on the fact that Optimus had obviously been waiting to hear from him. He concentrated solely on putting one foot in front of the other, and tried not to think about what would happen once he got there.

His resolve lasted right up until he reached Optimus Prime’s door.

I have to do this, he told himself firmly. I gave him my word.

It felt like failure, like admitting defeat. You were right, Wheeljack would tell him. I can’t handle going into battle if there’s a chance he might be there. I can’t handle it at all.

His fuel tank churned at the thought.

Cycling a deep draught of air through his intakes, he drew himself up to his full height, and transmitted his query ping.

“Come in,” Prime’s voice called.

Gathering his courage, Wheeljack squared his shoulder-struts and went inside.

“Good morning, Wheeljack,” Optimus Prime said as he entered. Optimus was seated behind his desk, surrounded by stacks of datapads awaiting his perusal – reports from the Ark’s other officers, no doubt. Wheeljack wondered briefly if Ratchet’s was among them.

“Morning, Optimus,” he replied, not quite meeting his gaze. “Thanks for taking the time to see me.”

“Of course, Wheeljack,” Optimus said, inclining his helm cordially. “How are you feeling?”

Wheeljack resisted the urge to wince. Optimus Prime was never one to mince words. “Fine,” he said.

Prime nodded, regarding him expectantly.

He huffed through his vents. “I guess you already know why I’m here.”

“I have an idea,” Optimus replied. "Is this about yesterday's battle?"

“Yeah,” Wheeljack said, flexing his shoulder-struts uneasily.

“Have a seat,” Optimus said, gesturing toward a chair. “I was busy with Megatron, so I didn’t see what happened. Was it Starscream?”

“Yeah,” he said, taking a seat in the chair Prime had indicated. Remember what Trailbreaker said, he reminded himself. Combat isn’t everything. You have other skills.

“Ratchet and I were hanging back, like you ordered,” he said. “Cliffjumper got hit, and Ratchet went to help him, and I was – I was trying to cover them, but then I saw Starscream attacking Trailbreaker. He was, uh, going after the humans, and Trailbreaker was trying to protect them. He was in trouble.”

“I see,” Optimus said, a look of comprehension dawning in his optics. “So you went to assist him.”

“Yeah,” he said, trying to shake off the uneasy feeling that Optimus was looking right through him. “I hit Starscream with one of my gyro-inhibitor shells and he crashed, but he, uh…he didn’t offline.”

Optimus nodded. “Go on.”

Wheeljack shifted uncomfortably, avoiding Prime’s optics. He didn’t want to repeat all the horrible things Starscream had said to him, the way he’d mocked him in front of Trailbreaker and the humans. “He couldn’t fight, after that,” he explained. “He couldn’t even stand. So instead he…he started talking to me.” He cycled air through his intakes, forcing his vocalizer to transmit the words. “He said I...h-he said...”

“The details aren't necessary, Wheeljack,” Optimus interrupted gently. “Just tell me what happened next.”

Wheeljack lifted his helm in surprise, startled by the unexpected reprieve. “I locked up,” he admitted. “I wanted to – I wanted to shoot him, but I couldn’t move.”

“I understand,” Optimus said. “Then what happened?”

“Jazz blew up the energon stockpile,” he said. “I heard Megatron calling for a retreat, and then Ramjet and Dirge came to get Starscream. They shot at us, but Trailbreaker shielded us all with his force field, so they gave up and flew off.”

“I see,” Optimus said again.

“You were right all along,” he concluded, bowing his helm, his vocalizer barely rising above a whisper. “I couldn’t handle it.”

“You came to the aid of a comrade in trouble, and helped defend a group of innocent humans,” Optimus pointed out. “All things considered, I’d say you handled things quite well.”

Wheeljack’s helm jerked up in surprise, meeting Prime’s optics squarely for the first time since he’d entered the room. Even with a mask, Wheeljack could tell Optimus Prime was smiling.

“I still locked up,” he said, lowering his helm again. “If Trailbreaker hadn’t been there…”

“You wouldn't have needed to confront Starscream,” Optimus finished for him. “You chose to put another Autobot’s safety before your own, just as you always have.”

Wheeljack fidgeted in his seat, his circuits heating in response to the unexpected praise. Did Optimus know that he and Trailbreaker were involved? Would he think less of Wheeljack’s “courage” if he did?

“I take it you’re here to ask to be removed from active duty again,” Optimus said. “Would that be an accurate assumption?”

“Yeah,” he said softly. “I’m sorry, Optimus.”

“There’s no need for apologies, Wheeljack,” Optimus Prime said. “Your recovery is my primary concern.”

He nodded, unable to find words for a suitable reply.

“For what it’s worth, I think you’ve made the right decision,” Optimus said, regarding him with an uncharacteristically candid expression. “I’ve been…concerned about you. I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible.”

“It’s not your fault, Optimus,” he said. “Someone has to give the orders.”

“True,” Optimus said. “But it’s more than that, Wheeljack. I fear I’ve set a bad example, made you feel you had no choice but to live up to my expectations, regardless of the cost to yourself. I never wanted that. I'm relieved you've chosen to take the time that you need.”

Wheeljack stared at him, startled by the sincerity of Prime’s tone, at the hint of guilt lingering in his optics. He’d always known Optimus cared about the mechs under his command, but somehow he’d never considered the possibility that Optimus Prime might be worried about him.

“I’m going to be all right, I think,” he said. “Maybe things will be better now. I mean, I hope they will be.”

Optimus nodded. “So do I.”

**

“Be right with you,” Hoist called in response to his query ping.

Wheeljack waited, feeling vaguely bemused. He wasn’t early; he’d put off heading for the repair bay for as long as he dared. In another klik or two he’d be officially late.

The door to Hoist’s office slid open. “Good afternoon, Wheeljack,” Hoist greeted him affably. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Please come in.”

Hoist stepped back to allow him to enter, moving to take a seat behind his desk. He pushed aside a handful of tools and datapads as he settled into his chair, clearing a space on the cluttered surface. “I’ll just be a moment,” he said apologetically, casting a sheepish glance in Wheeljack’s direction. “Have a seat,” he added, waving a hand in the direction of one of the chairs.

Wheeljack complied, a little puzzled by Hoist’s demeanor. It wasn’t that Hoist was behaving strangely – quite the opposite. If not for Ratchet’s assurance that he would brief Hoist on his situation beforehand, Wheeljack would have wondered if Hoist was under the mistaken impression Wheeljack had come in for a standard maintenance exam.

“Sorry about that,” Hoist apologized again as he finished tidying his workstation and looked up, meeting Wheeljack’s optics. “It’s been a rather hectic day.”

“No problem,” he replied. “So, um…I guess you talked to Ratchet?”

“Yes,” Hoist confirmed. “We spoke this morning.”

“Right,” he said. “So you know about…?”

“Yes,” Hoist replied. “I must admit, I’m rather surprised Ratchet didn’t refer you to me sooner. It’s been nearly an orn since we fought the Sub-Atlanticans.” There was no rebuke in Hoist’s tone, just a hint of mild puzzlement.

“He wanted to,” Wheeljack admitted. “But I, uh…didn’t want anyone else to know.”

“Ah,” Hoist said. “That would explain it.” He gave Wheeljack a meaningful look. “You realize of course that anything we discuss here is strictly confidential? Nothing you say will leave this room without your express permission.”

Wheeljack looked up in surprise, meeting his optics. Hoist’s tone had been firm, uncompromising – Hoist clearly took his patients’ privacy very seriously – but his gaze held only calm reassurance.

But as comforting as that was, it was also somewhat alarming. Implicit in Hoist’s assurance that Wheeljack’s secrets wouldn’t be shared with the other Autobots on the Ark was the expectation that Wheeljack would be sharing them with him.

Wheeljack suppressed a shudder, recalling the way Ratchet had interrogated him about his assault, forcing him to recount every astrosecond of Starscream’s assault in humiliating detail. Whatever questions Hoist intended to ask, Wheeljack was sure they would be just as…personal.

But it was too late to back out now. He was here, and he’d agreed to go through with this.

You’ll do fine, Trailbreaker had said.

Wheeljack prayed he was right.

“So,” Hoist said. “How have you been doing lately?”

Wheeljack cocked his helm, wondering if his audials had glitched. “Fine,” he said.

“Good, good,” Hoist replied absently, reaching down to retrieve something from one of the drawers in his desk. “No maintenance issues, then? No servos out of alignment, stiffness in your rotor couplings..?”

“No, nothing like that,” Wheeljack replied. “Ratchet gave me a maintenance exam a little over a week ago. Everything checked out.”

“Excellent, very good,” Hoist said, his vocalizer sounding muffled because he was still bent over his drawer, rummaging around. After a moment he straightened, setting a full energon cube on his desk. Wheeljack stared at it in confusion.

“Forgive my manners,” Hoist said, noting his baffled look. “Have you refueled yet?”

“This morning,” he replied.

“I’ve been so busy, I completely forgot,” Hoist said. “Do you mind terribly if I take my cube while we talk? I don’t wish to be rude – I have another if you’d like to join me.”

Wheeljack almost accepted, but then remembered he’d agreed to meet Trailbreaker in the common room after his shift. “Uh…no thanks,” he said. “I promised Trailbreaker I’d refuel with him when he got back from patrol.”

“I see,” Hoist said, his optics twinkling. “Well, you certainly wouldn’t want to break that engagement.”

“W-what do you mean?” Wheeljack stammered.

“I’ve always liked Trailbreaker,” Hoist said. “He’s such a nice mech. I take it you two have worked things out?”

Wheeljack stared at him incredulously. “You – you knew about that? That we were –”

“Difficult not to,” Hoist replied with a sheepish shrug. “I don’t like to gossip, but you know how it is. Sometimes you can’t help overhearing things.”

“Right,” he said, wondering if he’d been too hasty in his assessment of Hoist’s discretion. To be fair, what Hoist had said was true –Wheeljack didn’t like to gossip either, but he’d certainly overhead his share from the mechs who did, whether he wanted to or not.

“Have you been seeing each other long?” Hoist asked.

“About a decacycle,” he replied with a shrug.

“Ah,” Hoist said. “Were you friends before that?”

“Not really,” he said. “I mean, I knew who he was, but we didn’t, you know, hang out or anything.”

“What changed?” Hoist asked.

Wheeljack shifted slightly in his seat, not liking the way this conversation was going. Things might be different now, but when he’d first gotten involved with Trailbreaker, it hadn’t been with the best of intentions. “I guess it mainly started when I offered to come up with some mods to help increase his efficiency,” he said. “We spent some time working together and, uh, sorta hit it off.”

Hoist nodded. “Grapple and I started out as friends too.”

Wheeljack had the bewildering impression he was having the wrong conversation. “Should we really be talking about this?”

“What do you mean?” Hoist asked. “Are you uncomfortable with this topic?”

“No,” he said, which was sort of the point. “I just thought…well, aren’t you going to ask me about – about Starscream?”

Hoist cocked his helm, studying him thoughtfully. “Did you want to talk about Starscream?”

No,” he replied emphatically.

Hoist nodded. “I thought not. I imagine you’ve had quite enough of reliving it lately.”

Wheeljack stared at him in disbelief. “But…but that’s why I’m here, isn’t it? T-to talk about it?”

“You’re here to talk about whatever you need to talk about,” Hoist replied. “If you want to talk about Starscream, we will. If you don’t, we’ll talk about something else.”

Wheeljack’s hydraulics depressurized with a quiet hiss. “So…I don’t have to talk about it?”

“Only if you want to,” Hoist said. “It’s more important that we talk about how you’re feeling now. What’s been troubling you, how you’re dealing with it.”

“Oh,” he said.

“Is there anything you would like to talk about?” Hoist asked.

Wheeljack thought for a moment. “Can we talk about you?”

“Me?” Hoist sounded surprised. “That’s a bit unconventional. What exactly did you have in mind?”

“Ratchet said you had…experience with this sort of thing.”

“Oh,” Hoist said, catching on. “Yes, I have.”

“What kind of experience?” he asked. “Have you ever – did it happen to you?”

“Not to me personally, no,” Hoist replied.”But I have served as counselor for a number of mechs who’ve survived similar assaults – processor hacks, memory file alteration, forced reprogramming –”

“Back on Cybertron, you mean,” Wheeljack said, his tone making it a question. “Since the war began.” He’d heard rumors about questionable tactics being employed by both sides when the fighting first broke out, methods of retrieving information from the enemy that were highly immoral, to say the least.

Hoist hesitated. “I’m not at liberty to say.”

Wheeljack gave him a startled look. Was Hoist implying there were other ‘Bots on the Ark like him? He activated his vocalizer to ask, but Hoist cut him off before he could speak.

“I think that’s enough about me,” Hoist said. “If you have any doubts about my qualifications, I can provide you with a datafile of my credentials.”

“No, that’s okay,” he said, understanding abruptly why Hoist had deflected his question. If he answered it, Hoist would be violating the same promise of confidentiality he’d made to others that he’d offered to Wheeljack.

“In any case, we’re here to talk about you,” Hoist said, not unkindly. “So. What’s on your processor?”

Wheeljack thought for a moment, then asked the first question that came to mind. “How long does this sort of thing usually take to fix?”

Hoist shook his helm, seeming almost amused. “Engineers,” he said. Meeting Wheeljack’s gaze, he replied, “It will take precisely as long as you need it to take. Every mech is different. Every situation is different.”

“Does it ever…not work?” he asked hesitantly.

A look of concern flickered across Hoist’s faceplate. “What do you mean?”

He lowered his helm, avoiding Hoist’s optics. “Is the damage ever….you know, permanent?”

Hoist seemed puzzled. “To what damage are you referring? Your medical file indicated you’d been fully repaired.”

Wheeljack shrugged, not raising his helm.

“Wheeljack?” Hoist persisted. “In what way do you feel you are damaged?”

“I can’t fight,” he admitted. “The last time I tried, I completely locked up. I can’t work. I can’t even recharge –”

“You’ve been experiencing sensor echoes?” Hoist asked.

Wheeljack nodded. “Yeah.”

“That’s to be expected, under the circumstances,” Hoist said. “What you’re describing is quite normal for a mech in your situation.”

“Do they ever go away?” he asked.

“Eventually, yes,” Hoist said. “They’re usually at their worst immediately following the assault, but they typically decrease in frequency and intensity over time.” He tilted his helm, trying to meet Wheeljack’s optics. “They can also recur during times of emotional stress.”

“Right,” he said.

“You needn’t live with them, though,” Hoist said. “If you find they’re interfering with your ability to function normally, I can prescribe a processor inhibitor to ensure you’re able to complete a proper recharge cycle.”

Wheeljack lifted his helm to stare at him in disbelief. All this time, all he’d had to do was ask?

“Of course, it’s generally better to avoid resorting to external solutions whenever possible,” Hoist continued. “Sensor echoes like the ones you’ve been having are often a useful indicator of how well your recovery is progressing. Artificially suppressing them tends to slow the process, but it can make it easier for you to function in the short term. If you’re having genuine difficultly, it’s worth considering.”

“So it’s like a field patch,” Wheeljack said.

“Exactly,” Hoist replied.

Put like that, in terms Wheeljack could readily understand, the problem seemed a little less overwhelming. Just knowing that a means to block the sensor echoes was available if he needed it made the thought of facing them easier to bear. I haven’t been having them every night, he thought. They’re already starting to go away.

“Any other questions?” Hoist asked.

There was one question Wheeljack wanted to ask, but he balked at the thought of actually asking it. What if Hoist’s response confirmed all his fears? He glanced up, and found Hoist regarding him intently.

“There is something, isn’t there?” Hoist said.

Wheeljack shrugged uneasily. “Kind of,” he admitted. “I was wondering about…about interfacing.”

Hoist nodded. “What about it?”

“H-how long does it usually take, before, um...”

“Ah,” Hoist said, comprehension lighting his optics. “Difficult to say, really. Every individual is different.”

“Right,” he said, his vocalizer barely rising above a whisper.

“It’s quite common to feel hesitant about engaging in physical intimacy after an assault of this nature,” Hoist said, his tone gentle and reassuring. “Even with someone you trust and care about.”

“Yeah,” he said, avoiding his gaze. “That’s what I figured.”

“There’s no need to push yourself into something you’re not ready for,” Hoist said. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to wait until you feel more comfortable.”

Wheeljack shrank down into his chair, curling in on himself. I was right, he thought. There really is something wrong with me.

“Wheeljack?” Hoist said. Wheeljack could feel his optics on him, studying him thoughtfully.

“What if I don’t?” he asked quietly.

“Ah,” Hoist said with sudden understanding. “It’s also quite common to have normal urges, and to feel conflicted about them. Have you tried self-service?”

Wheeljack squirmed in his seat. “I, um…I don’t usually…” He trailed off. “Yeah,” he admitted reluctantly.

“Were you able to achieve overload?” Hoist asked.

He nodded miserably.

“And it made you uncomfortable,” Hoist guessed. “That’s not surprising. The body tends to resume normal function quite quickly – often well before the mind is ready.”

Wheeljack could feel his circuits heating with embarrassment. “So, uh…what should I do?”

“It depends on how you feel about it,” Hoist replied. “What’s most important is that you acknowledge those feelings. Allow yourself to feel conflicted. You may feel that way for some time.”

“But won’t that make it….you know, worse?” he asked.

“It may seem like it should,” Hoist said. “But giving yourself permission to be conflicted allows you to address the source of those emotions and process them in a productive way. Much like performing repairs on a device that’s malfunctioning – the first step is to identify the cause of the problem.”

That explanation sounded logical enough to Wheeljack, but he still wasn’t sure how he was supposed to put Hoist’s advice into practice. Strictly speaking, he already knew the cause of his problems. “...okay,” he said. “I’ll try to remember that.”

“We can discuss it further at our next appointment,” Hoist said. “I’m afraid we’re out of time for this one.”

Wheeljack looked at him in surprise. “You mean…we’re done?”

Hoist nodded, seeming amused. “For this session, yes. If you’d like to arrange for a longer one next time, I can see what openings I have available.”

"No, no, this is fine," Wheeljack replied quickly.

Hoist chuckled. “Then I’ll see you next week.”

**

By the time Wheeljack left the repair bay, it was nearly time for Trailbreaker to return from patrol, so he headed straight for the common room, intent on securing a table and rations for the two of them before the evening rush began. He chose one on the far side of the room, taking the seat facing the door so he’d be able to see Trailbreaker the moment he came in.

A few ‘Bots had greeted him along the way, and several others stopped by his table to say hello while he waited. Some inquired after his condition, but to Wheeljack’s relief, they all seemed to be under the impression that the damage he’d suffered was a result of being hit by Starscream’s null ray, an event common enough to be considered unremarkable. His secret was safe, at least for now.

Apart from that, Wheeljack was left alone, which gave him time to think. Foremost in his thoughts was his appointment with Hoist. Overall, it hadn’t been bad. Hoist hadn’t made him talk about what happened, or asked how he felt about it. He’d simply answered Wheeljack’s questions and offered his advice. Hoist hadn’t acted like he pitied him, or treated Wheeljack as if he were somehow fragile. He’d acted…normal.

The traffic in the common room had just begun to pick up when Trailbreaker arrived. Wheeljack stood and waved him over, earning himself a broad smile.

“Hey,” Wheeljack greeted him as he approached their table. “I got you a cube.”

“Thanks,” Trailbreaker replied, settling into the seat opposite him. His large frame blocked Wheeljack’s view of the door, but also shielded him from the optics of anyone else who entered, for which Wheeljack was profoundly grateful. He didn’t really feel like dealing with any more well-wishers.

“How was patrol?” he asked.

“Quiet, which means it was good,” Trailbreaker replied, picking up the cube Wheeljack had gotten for him and taking a sip. “Whatever the Decepticons were up to today, they weren’t doing it on my route.”

“They’re probably still putting themselves back together after our last battle,” he said. “It was a pretty big explosion.”

Trailbreaker chuckled. “You're the expert, I guess you would know.”

“Hey, no fair,” he retorted, more amused than annoyed. “I haven’t blown up anything lately!”

“In that case, you’re probably about due,” Trailbreaker teased. But then his expression sobered. “Actually, that reminds me…you think next time you’re working on something dangerous, you could comm me?”

“Sure, if you want,” he said. “What for?”

“So I can keep you safe,” Trailbreaker replied, as if the answer were obvious. “What good is having a force field if you can’t use it to protect someone you love?”

Wheeljack looked up at him in surprise, his vocal indicators flickering wordlessly. This is real, he thought in amazement. He loves me.

“I’d like that,” he said. No, that sounds stupid. “I mean, I’d really like that.”

Trailbreaker smiled and opened his mouth to reply, but a familiar voice interrupted him.

“‘Breaker, there you are! Sorry I’m late; I got hung up talking to – oh,” Hound said, catching sight of Wheeljack. He shifted his weight awkwardly as he glanced back and forth between them, clearly at a loss. “Um…is everything okay?”

Trailbreaker smiled fondly at Wheeljack, reaching across the table to take his hand. “Everything’s great.”

Wheeljack met his gaze, his circuits heating with an emotion that was neither embarrassment nor lust. Hound and the rest of the common room seemed to fade into the background, leaving only the look in Trailbreaker’s optics, the sensation of Trailbreaker’s hand on his. He couldn’t look away.

“Oh!” Hound said. “I just remembered, I promised Beachcomber I’d do that, uh...thing for him. Gotta roll!”

“Catch you later, Hound,” Trailbreaker replied as Hound departed, his optics never leaving Wheeljack’s.

“I guess that’s one way of telling him,” Wheeljack said.

Trailbreaker chuckled, giving his hand a gentle squeeze. “Yeah, I think he got the message.”

“So are we...okay now?” he asked.

“I’m definitely okay,” Trailbreaker said. He tilted his helm, giving Wheeljack an inquiring look. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” he said, turning his hand to take hold of Trailbreaker’s and returning his gentle grip. “I’m fine.”

For the first time in a long time, he really was.


*more to come*

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August 2012

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