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Title: Dead Air
Continuity: G1 AU, follows canon up until the end of season two.
Author: [personal profile] anon_decepticon
Rating: PG-13
Pairing or Character(s): Ratchet, Red Alert, Prowl, Rumble, others mentioned in passing
Disclaimer: I don’t own Transformers.
Warning(s): Character death, oodles of angst. This is not a happy fic.
Summary: Soundwave is killed in battle, leaving his cassettes behind to pick up the pieces.
Author's Note: This fic is set during the time gap between the end of season two and TF:TM. Ratbat, Overkill, Slugfest, Rewind, Eject, Steeljaw and Ramhorn do not exist in this ‘verse. Inspiration credit goes to [personal profile] peacewish and her ongoing kink meme fic “These Games We Play” for the original plotbunny, with additional nods to TSBP's “Trapped” and L. Mouse's “An Adjustment of Plans.” Even though "Dead Air" is very different from all of these fics, they've each helped me to build my own headcanon regarding how the relationship between Soundwave and his cassettes works.




Soundwave. Megatron’s third in command. Deactivated.

Ratchet stared at the grayed-out shell that had once been one of the most feared and hated mechs in the Decepticon army, a tumult of conflicting emotions warring in his spark.

Foremost among them was relief. Soundwave had been a dangerous enemy, and had caused enough damage over the course of the war for his death to count as a victory even in the mind of a medic. Ratchet had repaired a lot of that damage personally. Some of it had been inflicted on mechs he considered his friends.

Yet he couldn’t bring himself to celebrate Soundwave’s death. The desire to save lives was coded deep into his core programming, and Ratchet knew that given the chance, he’d have tried to save Soundwave. He’d have grumbled about it, called himself a fool for trying, but he’d have done it anyway. To a medic, death was the real enemy. Every spark extinguished was a battle lost.

But being a medic was only part of it. The other part – a rather large part, if he was completely honest with himself – had less to do with Soundwave and more to do with those he’d left behind.

And that was the true source of Ratchet's ambivalence – not Soundwave’s death, but the plight of his cassettes. He knew many of the Autobots would be perfectly happy to let the Recordicons follow Soundwave to the Pit – some might even offer to help speed them along – but he also knew he wasn’t the only one with mixed feelings. He could still remember the look on Hound’s face when he’d approached him on the battlefield, carrying a limp, offline Frenzy in his arms…

~~

“What is it now?” he demanded, wondering why Hound was coming to him instead of Ironhide or Prowl. The Decepticons were finally retreating, scattered by the enormous explosion that had rocked the landscape, and as the chief medical officer he had far more pressing concerns than some pint-sized prisoner of war.

“I’m not exactly sure,” Hound said.

Something in his tone made Ratchet turn and look at him. Hound’s plating was scratched and dented, informing him at a glance that Hound had gone a few rounds against Frenzy’s piledrivers, but Hound didn’t look like a mech who’d come out the victor in a fight with the berserker half of Soundwave’s two-mech wrecking crew. He looked more shaken than Ratchet had ever seen him.

“I don’t know what happened,” Hound said, sounding vaguely apologetic. “One minute he was talking trash, trying to pound me into scrap metal like always, and the next he was grabbing his helm and screaming like…” Hound shook his head, clearly disturbed by the memory. “…and then he just dropped, like a sack of spare parts. Never seen anything like it.”

Ratchet frowned, feeling an uncharacteristic twinge of concern as he studied the offline Decepticon. Apart from a few scuffs and dings, Frenzy’s plating showed no outward signs of damage.

“I didn’t even hit him that hard,” Hound continued. “Pit, I barely hit him at all! Slagger had me pinned. You think he’s got some kinda glitch?”

“Maybe,” he said. “Couldn’t hurt to check. Any sign of Soundwave?”

“Not that I’ve seen,” Hound replied. “Guess he ditched him. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

Ratchet frowned at that. He’d never been certain of the exact nature of Soundwave’s relationship with his cassettes, but he suspected it was tantamount to slavery. The only other carrier model he’d ever encountered was Blaster, who had no cassettes of his own and seemed reluctant to discuss the topic. That alone spoke volumes as far as Ratchet was concerned.

“Take him to Ironhide or Prowl,” he said. It wasn’t standard practice for them to take fallen Decepticons prisoner after a battle, but he reasoned that Frenzy was more likely to possess useful information than the average Decepticon grunt. “I’ll have a look at him once we get back to the Ark.”

Hound nodded and moved off, and Ratchet resumed his efforts to locate and perform field repairs on any Autobot who’d suffered critical damage during the fight. Frenzy’s odd behavior aside, it wasn’t until the other ‘Bots started reporting in that he began to suspect something was seriously wrong.

The first comm came from Jazz, over an open channel. *Anyone want to buy a slightly dented bird-bot? Looks like Soundwave left ol’ Laserbeak behind.*

*Ravage too,* Trailbreaker commed back. *Just found him in a pile of rubble; he’s out for the count.*

*So’s Laserbeak,* Jazz replied. Dropped outta the sky like a rock an’ nearly conked me on the helm. Guess they don’t make Decepticons like they used to.*

Several of the ‘Bots laughed at that, but Ratchet didn’t join in. Frowning, he turned and started back in their direction – and promptly tripped over an offline Rumble. *Something’s wrong,* he commed as he bent to retrieve the smaller mech. *I just found Rumble, too.*

*Um…Ratchet?* Bluestreak interrupted before the others could respond. *I think you’d better get over here.*

*What is it, Bluestreak? Are you all right?*

*I’m fine,* Bluestreak replied, not sounding fine at all. *But I really think you need to see this. Please come.*

~~

Poor Bluestreak, Ratchet thought, shaking himself free of the memory. Why did he have to be the one to find Soundwave? Kid’s seen enough death for one lifetime.

But found him Bluestreak had, grotesquely impaled and undeniably dead, sprawled amidst the scattered clumps of debris. By the time Ratchet reached them, Soundwave’s distinctive blue and white plating had already faded to grey.

He sent Bluestreak to fetch Prowl and Optimus Prime, which was fortunate – Ratchet suspected the grim discovery of Buzzsaw’s lifeless shell within Soundwave’s shattered chest compartment would have been too much for the traumatized gunner to bear.

The decision to bring them all back to the Ark had been a largely practical one. Red Alert wanted to find out if any of Soundwave’s security codes or encrypted data files could be retrieved, Ratchet wanted him for parts, and Prowl was worried the Recordicons might go on a rampage without a master to control them.

The results of the autopsy were unsurprising; the cause of death was what he’d speculated when he’d assessed Soundwave’s damage out in the field – a freak accident no one could have predicted.

It wasn’t until he’d extracted Buzzsaw from Soundwave’s chest compartment that Ratchet really began to worry. The girder that had pierced Soundwave’s spark chamber with such uncanny accuracy had also gone through Buzzsaw, but none of the Recordicon’s vital systems had sustained critical damage. By all rights, Buzzsaw should have survived…and yet he hadn’t.

That, coupled with the fact that every one of Soundwave’s surviving cassettes had inexplicably offlined within astroseconds of his death – screaming, in the case of Frenzy – pointed to one very disturbing conclusion. There was only one type of connection Ratchet knew of that could trigger that reaction.

A spark bond.

He’d immediately brought his concerns to Optimus, because it was a well-known fact that bonded Cybertronians rarely survived the death of their bondmates. Proximity was said to be a factor (which was why Optimus and Elita remained light years apart), but Ratchet had seen many mechs and femmes separated by the war survive their sparkmate’s deaths only to lose their will to live in less than an orn.

Then again, his experience was mostly limited to two-way spark bonds. Ratchet had never heard of a multi-spark bond outside of a gestalt (although he had heard rumors that Soundwave had played a key role in the Decepticons’ discovery of gestalt technology), but if the effects were even remotely similar, there were four mechs sitting in their brig that might very well be teetering on the brink of death.

It had been three Earth days since Soundwave had fallen, with still no word from Megatron. Earlier that morning, Optimus Prime had finally acceded to his officers' grim-yet-practical advice and given the order for Ratchet to download Soundwave's memory core and strip his shell for parts.

The reason for Megatron's disinterest quickly became evident. Soundwave had obviously anticipated the possibility that his remains might be captured by the enemy, because all Ratchet found in his CPU were the remnants of a failsafe program designed to overwrite his memory core at the point of deactivation. Whatever vital Decepticon intelligence he might have possessed, it was safely beyond their reach.

Hardly surprising, given Soundwave's rank and reputation; Prowl and Optimus accepted the results of his report without comment, and Red Alert merely muttered grudgingly. Ratchet doubted any of them had expected any better. They all knew that if there had been any useful intelligence to gain, Megatron would be outside of the Ark right now, trying to blow them all into atoms.

But he wasn't, which left them with a whole new set of problems. Four of them, to be specific.

Can’t even be bothered to collect his own soldiers. Ratchet wasn’t sure why, but for some reason Megatron’s failure to reply to their comms really fragged him off. It seemed… disrespectful.

You’re one to talk, Ratch. He huffed in irritation, once again drawing his attention away from his recent memory files and back to the task at hand. It was an unpleasant duty, to be sure, but a necessary one. Soundwave’s data files might be useless to them, but nearly all of his parts were salvageable.

One of these components could save Blaster’s life someday, he reminded himself. You’ll be glad you did this then, just like you were when you used Hauler’s parts to repair Grapple that time.

Venting a sigh, he removed another vital component from Soundwave’s internals and set it aside for later cleaning. He carefully avoided looking at the broken cassette laid out on the tray-table to his right, the trailing ends of twisted tape coiled delicately around it. Buzzsaw was not only dead but in his alt mode; there was no way he could be staring at Ratchet with accusing optics.

Pit, this is ridiculous. The Recordicons might be small, but they were far from harmless – a fact more than one ‘Bot had learned the hard way. Much of the havoc Soundwave had wreaked had been wrought via their claws and piledrivers, and Ratchet certainly had no reason to feel sorry for the little hellions.

…but that day in the Ark’s brig, they hadn’t looked dangerous at all. Dwarfed by cells built for mechs three and four times their size, struggling to hide their grief behind insults and threats, they’d just looked…small and frightened and lost. It was clear Soundwave’s death had hit them hard; no amount of bluster could disguise that much pain.

And pain was the one thing a medic couldn’t ignore.




He’d finally managed to get his processor to focus long enough to start making some headway with Soundwave when his comm pinged. *What?* he snapped. Slagging interruptions –

*Those cassettes are up to something.*

*Good to hear from you too, Red Alert, he commed back. *I’m great, thanks for asking.*

*I don’t have time for pleasantries, Ratchet. Not while the security of the Ark is at stake.*

Ratchet made a derisive noise. Red Alert was an excellent Security Director, but his paranoia was well-documented. *My apologies,* he replied dryly. *Please tell me all about the grave threat posed by the four mechs currently locked in our brig.*

The annoyed huff that came back over the comm link brought a smirk to Ratchet’s lip components, but Red Alert was just getting started. *That’s right, go ahead and laugh! We’ll see who’s laughing when we’re all deactivated in our recharge cycles because you thought it would be more fun to laugh at me than to actually listen to what I have to say –!*

Okay, so maybe he’d taken the teasing a little too far. *What can I do for you, Red?*

There was a startled pause, in which nothing passed over the comm link but a crackle of static. Then: *I want you to take their comms offline.* Red Alert spoke quickly, as if he expected the request to be refused.

And with good reason, Ratchet thought. But he kept his temper in check. *What for? They’re already blocked from transmitting messages outside the Ark, and they don’t have the comm frequencies of anyone inside – not unless the ‘Cons break in to rescue them.* His gaze fell on the half-dismantled frame of Soundwave, his vital components stacked up on trays waiting to be cleaned and sterilized. *Under the circumstances, that seems pretty unlikely.*

*But they can still comm each other,* Red Alert said. *Soundwave was the Decepticon Communications Officer! We can’t take any chances –*

Ratchet had heard enough. *No.*

*But –*

*The answer is no, Red Alert.* he repeated firmly. *First of all, as far as I’ve been able to determine, comms are Ravage and Laserbeak’s only means of communication. Second, it appears all four of them were spark bonded to Soundwave – you do understand what that means, don't you Red?*

*Yes, but –* Red Alert began, but Ratchet had worked up too much of a head of steam to let him finish.

*It means that right now, that connection they have to each other is the only thing keeping them alive. So no, I won’t be taking that away from them, and I don’t care what your reasons are. I’m not in the habit of murdering my patients.*

*But I’m telling you, they’re PLOTTING something!*

Ratchet cycled air through his vents and prayed to Primus for patience. As angry as he was, the fact that Red Alert had refused to back down in the face of that anger gave him pause. Aboard the Ark, his temper was legendary.

*What makes you so sure they’re plotting something?* he asked finally.

Sensing an opening, Red Alert didn’t waste any time. *I’ve been watching them on the security cams. They wait until night, then wake out of recharge. They pretend to be offline, but you can see the glow from their optics. I’m certain they’re sending messages to each other over their comms.*

Ratchet ran an exasperated hand over his faceplate. *Maybe they’re just talking.*

*Or they’re plotting to break out of their cells and kill us all,* Red Alert retorted. *If they've got nothing to hide, why pretend to recharge? Why wait until they think they're unobserved?*

Ratchet vented a sigh, rubbing his chevron. *Have you seen them doing anything suspicious apart from comming each other?*

*Well…no.* Red Alert admitted. *They don’t move around much. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t up to something! It just means I haven’t caught them yet–*

*What do you mean, they don’t move around much?*

Red Alert seemed nonplussed. *Just what I said. Obviously if they’re pretending to recharge –*

The memory file of Ravage pacing restlessly in his cell rose up in Ratchet’s cache. *Not much, or not at all?* he asked. *They’re still pacing, right? Fidgeting?*

*Now that you mention it…no,* Red Alert replied slowly. A moment later Ratchet heard him curse softly. *I knew it – I knew they were up to something!*

*I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to go down and check,* he said. *Run a few scans, see if I find anything out of the ordinary. I’ll comm Prowl as well, ask him if he’s noticed anything unusual.*

*Excellent, thank you Ratchet.* Red Alert sounded both startled and pleased. *Keep me informed; I’ll continue to monitor things from here.*

Ratchet disconnected with a shake of his helm. He had every intention of doing what he’d said, but not to satisfy Red Alert’s paranoia. From the sound of things, Soundwave’s surviving cassettes had grown significantly weaker in the short time since he’d last seen them.

He opened another comm link, this time to Prowl. It was answered almost immediately.

*Prowl here.*

*Prowl, it’s Ratchet. Are the Recordicons getting the energon rations I prescribed?*

If Prowl was offended by the suggestion that he wasn’t properly carrying out his CMO’s directives, he gave no sign. *Yes, of course.*

*And are they consuming them completely?*

*They appear to be. Why do you ask?*

*Red Alert thinks they’re up to something,* he said, feeling vaguely sheepish.

*I see.* Prowl’s tone was so bland Ratchet wondered if Red Alert had gone to him first. *And you agree with him?*

*Pit, no,* he replied. *But I am concerned they’re not getting enough energon. He implied they’ve been acting kind of lethargic.*

Prowl hummed thoughtfully. *They do appear rather listless of late. I assumed it was simply boredom. There’s not much to do in a prison cell.*

*I’d like to come down and have a look at them, just to be on the safe side,* he said. *I can bring their energon ration for the day.*

*Very well,* Prowl agreed. *I’ll see that you’re cleared for entrance with the guard on duty. Prowl out.*

Closing the comm link, Ratchet turned his attention to the energon dispenser installed in the far corner of the repair bay. He drew off four small cubes, dropping in a mineral supplement to boost the Recordicons’ self-repair nanites and some additional additives to make the fuel easier for them to process. That accomplished, he subspaced the cubes and headed for the brig.

Windcharger was on duty, and greeted Ratchet’s arrival with a smile and a nod. “Heya, doc.”

“How are they looking?” he asked.

“Like bored Decepticons,” Windcharger replied with a shrug. “Prowl said you wanted to check on them, but if you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with ‘em a little entertainment wouldn’t cure. I wouldn’t mind having a radio or a TV down here myself–”

“Right,” Ratchet said brusquely, moving past the guard station and into the short hallway that separated the Recordicons’ cells. He walked past them slowly, peering cautiously into each one.

Ravage didn’t so much as growl as he unsubspaced one of the energon cubes he’d blended and slid it through the gap in the bars. Frenzy appeared to be deep in recharge. Laserbeak didn’t even look up.

The silence in the room was almost eerie, and Ratchet felt something strangely akin to relief when Rumble actually met his gaze. “Feeding time,” he said.

Rumble’s only response was a bitter smirk, but at least it was a response. He slid down off the narrow berth and approached the front of his cell, reaching past the glowing bars to accept the cube Ratchet offered him. The servos in his shoulder produced a loud grinding noise.

Rumble’s helm jerked up guiltily, a look of panic flashing across his faceplate. He yanked his hand back, nearly spilling the energon. The servos whined in protest.

Ratchet’s optics widened in disbelief. He’d scanned Rumble himself just three days ago, and the Decepticon had been perfectly fine. How could he have become damaged in so little ti–

Not damaged, he thought. Sabotaged. They were all malingering, or maybe stashing a portion of their energon rations to use as a bribe, or cannibalizing their own bodies for parts to build a bomb…

A surge of anger shot through him. He couldn’t believe it. Red Alert had actually been right. The four of them were up to something, and from the looks of it, Rumble was the ringleader.

I should have known, he thought. Here I was feeling sorry for them, and they’ve been playing me for a fool. “Lower the bars,” he ordered.

“Uh…are you sure, doc?” If Windcharger seemed unnerved by his tone, Ratchet doubted he looked half as alarmed as Rumble did.

“Don’t make me repeat myself,” he replied, never taking his optics off the Decepticon.

The bars came down, and Rumble tried to dart past him, dropping the energon cube and ducking to the side. But Ratchet was anticipating just such a maneuver, and grabbed him before he could escape, lifting him clear off the floor.

“What did you do?” he demanded, making sure to get a firm grip on Rumble’s arms so the Recordicon couldn’t deploy his piledrivers. “What are you little fraggers up to?”

“Nothin’!” Rumble struggled against his hold, aiming a futile kick at his midsection. “We didn’t do nothin’! Lemme go!”

“Leave him alone!” Frenzy shouted from his cell. Laserbeak and Ravage shrieked and roared in apparent agreement.

Ratchet ignored them. “What are you plotting? What happened to your arm?”

More struggling, another kick. “Nothin’!” Rumble said again. “Put me down, you fragger!”

“Nothing, eh? Then you won’t object to me scanning you.”

For a brief astrosecond, Rumble stopped fighting. “What? No! Frag you, Autobot! Let go ‘a me!”

Ratchet scowled, renewing his grip. “Initiating medical scan.”

“Frag you!” Rumble launched another kick at him, this time scoring a hit that put a solid dent in Ratchet’s bumper. The sharp pain loosened his grip, and Rumble twisted in his hands, managing to tear one of his arms free. Metal components shifted, accompanied by the familiar sound of transformation.

Ratchet braced himself for a rain of blows, but all that followed was the wheezy stutter of failing hydraulics. What the-? He stared in disbelief at Rumble’s left arm, trapped in mid-transformation between a deadly piledriver and a functioning limb. It wasn’t even the same arm that had made the grinding noise earlier – that had been the right one.

If he was surprised, Rumble was stunned – and that didn’t make any sense, either. If the Recordicons had been cannibalizing their own bodies for parts, surely he’d have known his weapon wouldn’t work?

What the frag is going on here?

The room had become deathly quiet save for the harsh rasp of Rumble’s overtaxed ventilation system. He hung limply in Ratchet’s hold, his too-bright visor fixed on his own malfunctioning arm.

Something was wrong here – very, very wrong. Ratchet leaned forward, activating his medical scanner.

A heavy blow from a partially-transformed arm impacted the side of his helm, followed by a kick to the faceplate. Ratchet staggered backward, Rumble’s battlecry ringing in his audials. The smaller mech was bucking and twisting in his hands, trying to escape his grasp, but Ratchet doggedly held on.

“Let go of me!”

“What happened to your arm?”

“Kiss my aft!”

There was more cursing, threats, and insults both in English and Cybertronian as the rest of the Recordicons joined in, shouting and snarling and screeching in outrage. Ratchet had to dial his vocalizer up to maximum just to be heard over the din, and Rumble’s was rapidly giving way to distorted static.

"St-p it! Get yo-r h-nds off m-! Bo-!" The rest was lost in a howl of feedback.

And then Rumble was pulled out of his hands, rising up into the air as if he’d suddenly become weightless. For a moment Ratchet was baffled – then he remembered Windcharger.

“Thanks,” he said.

“No problem,” Windcharger replied from behind him. “Prowl’s on his way.”

Trapped by Windcharger’s magnetic field, Rumble no longer had the weight or leverage to put up much of a fight. He was left dangling helplessly in midair, his vents cycling hard, optics darting about in search of an escape. “Let me down, you fraggers,” he said, but his tone had lost much of its belligerence.

Ratchet’s comm pinged. *I was right, wasn’t I?* Red Alert sounded triumphant.

He groaned inwardly. If he was, they’d never hear the end of it. *I don’t know yet. Looks that way.* The door slid open, the light from the hallway silhouetting Prowl’s familiar black-and-white frame. *Prowl’s here; let’s see what he has to say.*

Prowl came in, greeting him and Windcharger with a nod, and Ratchet patched him into the comm link with Red Alert. *Ratchet,* he said without preamble, *what have you discovered?*

*I was just about to run a medical scan on Rumble here,* he replied. *From the looks of things, he’s way more damaged than he ought to be.*

Prowl nodded, clearly noting Rumble’s mistransformed arm and defiant expression. “Proceed.”

Rumble’s struggles renewed when he registered the faint tingle of the medical scan sweeping over him, but there wasn’t anywhere for him to go – Windcharger’s magnetic field held him firmly in place.

The results were alarming. *How is this even possible?* Ratchet said. *There’s no way he could have incurred this much damage in only three days. Not sitting in a cell, anyway.*

*Could it be deliberate self-sabotage?* Prowl asked.

*Maybe,* he replied uncertainly. It was normal for parts to wear out over time, but even without regular maintenance they normally lasted for orns. Rumble’s activity couldn’t have accounted for that much wear; Red Alert would have seen it on the security cameras.

*It’s a plot,* Red Alert said. *They wanted to trick us into taking them out of their cells.*

“Hey,” he said to Rumble. “How'd you get this damaged? You were fine three days ago.”

Rumble glared back at him and said nothing.

Ratchet frowned. *Well, I need to fix his arm, at least,* he said. *Might as well disable his piledrivers while I’m at it. Then I can take him to repair bay to deal with the rest.*

Prowl considered for a moment. *He’ll need to be restrained.*

He nodded. “Right, sure.” Stepping forward, he addressed Rumble again. “I’m going to fix your arm. I suggest you cooperate.”

Rumble glanced from him to Prowl, who had unsubspaced his rifle and aimed it in his direction. His optics were still too bright behind his visor, but he didn’t refuse.

Ratchet knelt down and got to work. Within a few kliks, Rumble had a hand again – Ratchet could have sworn the level of tension in the Recordicons’s frame eased a fraction as Rumble flexed his recovered fingers – and his piledrivers were offline. Ratchet didn’t think Rumble was aware of the latter, but he suspected he’d find out soon enough.

His task complete, Ratchet stepped back. Prowl handed him his rifle and moved forward, extracting a set of stasis cuffs from his subspace.

“What’s goin’ on?” There was no mistaking the nervous quaver in Rumble’s voice now. “Stay away from me, Autobot, I’m warnin’ you –”

“Remain calm,” Prowl said. “You are being taken for repairs. You will not be harmed.”

Evidently not reassured, Rumble began to struggle once more, but Windcharger’s magnetic field kept him under control. Prowl was able to affix the stasis cuffs with ease, but didn’t activate them, content to use them merely as restraints…for now.

Prowl transmitted the codes for the stasis cuffs to him directly, then spoke over the shared comm link. *Ratchet, are you quite certain you can handle him on your own? I can easily provide an escort.*

He stared at Rumble, noting once again the too-bright optics, the rapid cycling of his vents. He’s scared, he realized abruptly. He has no idea what’s going to happen to him – to any of them.

It occurred to Ratchet that he didn’t know, either. *Hmm, let me think,* he said. *His weapons are offline, he’s in stasis cuffs, he’s damaged, and he’s half my size. Yeah, I think I can manage.*

*When you’re finished with him, he comes to me,* Red Alert insisted. *I want to know exactly what they’ve been up to, down to the last detail.*

*Sure Red, whatever you say,* he agreed. *While you’ve got him I can check the others.*

*And Prowl, I want his cell searched for contraband,* Red Alert continued. *We mustn’t leave anyth-*

Ratchet dropped out of the link, returning Prowl’s rifle to him and turning to Windcharger. “You can let him down now.”

Windcharger looked at Prowl, who nodded. Slowly Rumble was lowered to the ground, and Ratchet took hold of his arm again. The magnetic field released.

“This way,” Ratchet said, giving the Decepticon’s arm a tug. Rumble didn’t budge.

Ratchet sighed. This was going to be a long walk.




“Quit dragging your feet.”

“Quit bossin' me around. You’re walkin’ too fast.”

The things I put up with, Ratchet thought irritably. He could have sworn the repair bay was only a short walk from the brig, but today it seemed miles away. The more he tried to hurry, the more Rumble dug in his heels to try and slow them down. They were making progress, but it was taking long enough that Ratchet was sorely tempted to just activate the stasis cuffs and be done with it.

“You could try acting a little grateful,” he said. “I didn't have to repair you, you know.”

“Fine, take me back to my cell," Rumble replied. “I didn’t ask for your help.”

Ratchet scowled and tried another tack. “What happened to your arm?”

“Some moron keeps twistin’ it. What happened to my piledrivers?”

Lying to a patient – even a POW as combative as Rumble – was no way for a medic to establish trust. “I deactivated them.”

Rumble made a derisive noise. “Some medic you are. You break everything you try to fix?”

Ratchet ignored the barb. The wide double doors of the repair bay were just ahead, and Rumble seemed to get heavier with every step. By the time they were close enough to activate the sliding doors, Ratchet was practically dragging him.

“I’ll get you some energon once we’re inside,” he said, hoping Rumble would accept the peace offering.

No such luck. “Drink it yourself, Autodo-”

Ratchet stumbled, brought up short as Rumble suddenly came to a halt, breaking off mid-insult. He glanced down, expecting to be greeted by a defiant smirk, but Rumble’s gaze was fixed on something just beyond the open repair bay doors.

Frowning, Ratchet followed his gaze to – oh. Oh,slag.

He’d left Soundwave on the table.

Cursing inwardly, Ratchet thought fast and acted faster. He quickly stepped in front of Rumble, cutting off his view of Soundwave’s lifeless shell and the extracted components stacked up around him and steering him toward one of the private rooms at the rear of the repair bay.

Rumble offered no resistance when Ratchet picked him up and plunked him down on the berth, not even when the door hissed shut behind them. The sight of Soundwave’s remains seemed to have taken all the fight out of him.

“We need to talk,” Ratchet said.

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