Chapter 21: Deep

Hey everyone, it's a Christmas Miracle! Two chapters in a month!

Optimus had been ordered to go to ground, and that's just what he and his charge did. Tanks roiling in aggravation, he led Megatron away from the posh section of the city they resided in. They flew fast and low, almost at rooftop level, to make themselves harder to spot. Given the conversation he had eavesdropped on between Megatron and Blackarachnia, he seriously doubted that the Cons were coming for Megatron tonight, but orders were orders, and it did make strategic sense to get the warlord out of reach.

He still felt like he was running away though, and he did not like it.

When he was a cadet, he had done a rotation in the Archives. It had been quiet, but enjoyable. Most of the others had thought it was a terrible assignment, so boring to be down in the warren of solid state storage devices, artifacts and many, many generations of hardware. Some of the oldest records could only be read on machinery stored there. He had liked it. He made friends with some of the mecha there, and used to talk to Alpha Trion, the oldest mechanism he had ever encountered.

He wouldn't risk bringing danger to the archives by taking Megatron there, but they weren't the only secret, near-forgotten places in old Iacon. Not by a long shot.

The city had a huge complex of spaces which were subterranean now, but had once been ground level .Iacon was one of the oldest cities on Cybertron, and it had literal layers of were old transportation and infrastructure tunnels down there, and bunkers from long-ago conflicts. That was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg though, because may of the spaces were actually sunken buildings.

Over eons of city building, Mecha had simply put new structures on top of the old ones, filling in some spaces, and using others as storage or other under "ground" infrastructure. Hushed rumors suggested that there were all sorts of monstrous, eldritch abominations down in the deepest levels, but he had never seen any indication of anything like that, and he had spent a lot of time down in the under city as a young bot.

Optimus and his friends had fancied themselves quite the adventurers, young mecha escaping the regimented world above to explore the depths of Cybertron. A few bots with more religious bents claimed they did it to commune with Primus more closely, but most of them were in it for the illicit thrill of going somewhere they weren't supposed to be, away from the watching optics of their superiors and bosses.

They would explore the hidden ways, paint their symbols on the walls, have picnics in forgotten places with no lights but their optics and their headlights. They were good memories. The whole world had been new and exciting back then, and it had been fun and thrilling to go on adventures down here in the forgotten spaces underneath Iacon.

Optimus ushered his charge through the biggest entry point he knew about, in an ally behind a run-down office complex. Most of the entryways into the under city were only open to smaller frames than Megatron's. More than a few were only accessible if you were an minibot or a cycle. He wondered if there were any other younglings down here tonight, or if they had found other things to do since his own days as a new spark.

He closed the hatch of the maintenance corridor they entered through a little too hard, making it crash against the frame, and stomped down into the dimly illuminated space. There were occasional light strips for workers to use down here, but they would need their headlights shortly. It was a good place to hide while other mechs fought the threat. Whatever it turned out to be.

...He was so very angry right now. He could try to distract himself with happy memories of his academy days, but by Unicron's thrusters, he should be out there fighting, not sparkling-sitting a mech who was one of the oldest, most dangerous things on the planet. It was utterly stupid.

To make matters worse, he was getting alternating feelings of glee and unease from Megatron, and that was really unsettling.

He activated his headlights and proceeded down into the darkness.

As Megatron followed his master down into the lonely dark, he felt his plating crawl with unease. This was the kind of place soldiers used to tell ghost stories about. Those had been good times, mechs unwinding after training or fights, energon in hand, trying to top each other's tales, but heading down into the under city behind a pissed off master wasn't his idea of fun.

He wasn't sure what was going on, but the Autobot in front of him was broadcasting frustration both in his body language and over the bond. Megatron was sure he had seen smoke off on the horizon during their brief flight, and the streets had been almost deserted but for emergency responders in vehicle form. Something was definitely up, and he was fairly sure it was a jailbreak at the Citadel. At least he sincerely hoped so.

Despite his own situation, he was delighted by the (very good) possibility that his Decepticons were currently tearing through the cells where his mechs were held, and that they would succeed in freeing them and escaping that pit of a place.

The Prime slammed the portal to the undercity shut behind them and stomped down into the cramped tunnel. This was no place for a bulky flight frame. Worse than that, Megatron was completely alone with his master, who was angry. That was always a very bad place to be, in his experience. He kept remembering Diamonsinger, his face twisted with rage as he took his anger out on his helpless slave's plating... He shuddered, and the Autobot who was his master in this time and place suddenly stopped and looked back at him.

They had been alone many times, with no-one to witness and comment if his master did things to him, but that had been when his master was calm. Megatron schooled his features to impassiveness. Anything that happened to him tonight would be worth it if no other Decepticons had that slaver code used on them. He could endure.

"Only a little farther". The prime said. "Don't worry." He sounded like he was trying to hide how pissed off he was. He turned a series of corners, his slave trailing behind him like a turbopuppy.

They went up a set of half-blocked stairs and squeezed through a narrow space. Megatron was starting to wonder how the frag the Prime knew where to go, and if they were going to start encountering spark eaters, crypt guardians, or scraplets down in these forsaken tunnels, when they entered a much larger space. Even without their lights, he could hear a change in the sound quality, their steps echoing against more distant walls.

"I think this is far enough." The Autobot said. "Orders were to go to ground, and there's no possible way this doesn't qualify."

"Do you always take orders so literally, Prime?" Megatron asked archly.

The response was a snort. "If I have to run away when there's a fight, I may as well do a good job of it."

He shouldn't ask. It was a bad, bad idea to give this mech any more power over him than he already had. He shouldn't, but… he had to know. "They're trying to rescue Shockwave and the others. Aren't they?"

"Looks like." The Autobot said.

"You don't sound too worried about that." Megatron observed, studying the other mech closely.

The Prime sighed. "There's a fight, and I should be there to help. My comrades could be being hurt or killed right now, and I'm hiding. I don't like that. But on the other hand, it would be best if your mechs did get away. If they're really planning to use the slave coding on other Decepticons, it's very wrong. That coding needs to be purged or buried so deeply it can never be used again, not added to the repertoire of standard techniques for handling POWs. It's bad for everyone, Autobots, Decepticons, and Cyberton as a whole."

He kicked at a piece of debris on the floor. "But I'm tired of being useless. Back on Earth, we were left entirely on our own, and we handled things. Pit, they didn't even send us reinforcements, and half Decepticon high command was trying to slag our afts. Now I get to be useless except as an example of some kind of supposed Autobot superiority."

Megatron arched his optical ridges at that. He hadn't realized the Prime was that politically savvy. He supposed he should know better than to underestimate this mech by now. He had a lot more depth to him than Megatron would ever have guessed before his capture.

"You are doing your duty." Megatron said. "And it does make strategic sense from Autobot Commands' perspective to remove me from the equation. You shouldn't take it personally." He also didn't want his master taking his frustrations out on Megatron's chassis, given that he had been denied actual combat. Not that the Autobot had so much as lifted a servo to him since their binding, but it never paid to expect the best of one's master.

Deep in his spark, Megatron feared that as soon as he started thinking that the Prime was completely safe, he would turn on him. It hadn't been an issue yet, of course, but so far their time together had consisted o fthe mech basically being on vacation, and not experiencing a lot of stress or negative emotions. This was the first time they had been alone together when the master was angry. Even this wasn't a real test, though. A real test would be if one of his own had been harmed or killed by a Decepticon. Then Megatron would find out for sure if his master was really as good a mech as he seemed.

Of course, the rest of his instincts insisted that his Prime was safe. He just wasn't sure whether he should be paying attention to his well developed sense of utter cynicism, or his equally well developed instincts for danger. It was fragging confusing, is what it was.

The Prime wandered over to a pile debris, and looked up at the wall. He took something out of his subspace. A work light?

The Autobot fired up the battery operated light and lifted it high, illuminating the space they stood in. Megatron caught his vents. He had been expecting some nondescript maintenance area, but instead they were in a gallery like space with high, vaulted ceilings. the crumbling walls were covered in paintings ranging from crude lettering to sophisticated figures and scenery.

"Where… are we?" Megatron asked, his voice hushed.

The Autobot prime grinned impishly at him.

"We're in the Iaconian undercity, also referred to as the Catacombs. This is another place I used to spend time as a student. I always liked it a lot. My friends and I used to come down here and explore, have adventures." The smile turned a little wry. " Hopefully this outing won't include an assassin attempt like the museum did."

Megatron looked around at the elaborately painted underground chamber. Some of the art looked like it had been dome by newsparks, some looked to have been executed by mecha with an eye for art, but a less-than professional level of skill, and a few looked downright expert. There were phrases and fragments of poetry, figures and buildings, a half- decayed but well composed mural of a group of mechs building something...

"This is incredible." He said. "So… unconventional. It seems unlike you, Prime."

Optical ridges arched. "Shows how much you know, Megatron." The Autobot said, sounding a little huffy. "Being an Autobot, or even a Prime doesn't mean we have to be boring and interchangeable. Sentinel and Elita and I used to come down here back in the day, believe it or not."

Megatron frowned. "Putting aside the fact that I cannot believe that you and that pompous, swollen chinned idiot spent your recreational time together, wasn't Elita what Blackarachnia used to call herself?"

"Sentinel used to be different." Optimus said, sounding defensive even to himself. "And yes, he, Elita and I were close friends back in the Academy, before everything went wrong."

Megatron looked around at the spectacular, secret grotto of amateur art, and mentally tried to associate it with Sentinel. His processor refused the assignment.

His Prime produced a couple of cubes of energon from his subspace, and a square tarpaulin, which he spread on the ground. He set the lamp in it's center and placed the two cubes to either side.

"Well, as long as we're down here, we might as well have a picnic. It will be just like old times." He busied himself setting the items up, seemingly totally unconcerned that they were deep underground in the realm of empties, spark eaters and other things that went bump in the darkness. Then he settled down on the groundcloth, and looked expectantly over at Megatron.

The picnic looked romantic. They were avoiding assassins and a daring Decepticon commando raid by having a romantic picnic down in the supremely creepy catacombs. Megatron stared at his Prime for a click, then went to sit across from the pretty little Autobot who kept surprising him. He supposed there were worse things to do while waiting to find out if his mechs had won free of the Great Autobot Machine.

He might as well take the opportunity to pump Optimus Prime for intel. Or at least worthwhile gossip. He went over and seated himself on the ground cloth, and helped himself to one of the cubes of energon. At least the company was good.

"I never did get the details of what happened with Blackarachnia, beside the general 'Turned into a hideous spider monster and left for dead' bit". Megatron said. "I'm given to understand you got the blame, and she's been righteously slagged off about the whole thing ever since?"

Strika regarded the Autobot prisoner across the desk severely. He was sitting in a chair, wearing a set of stasis cuffs and a sheepish expression. He was also a complication she really did not need right now. The Starscream clones had told them all about Wheeljack coming to rescue them, and how they had been protected by him and his associates, Perceptor and Red Altert. They had also developed a bad habit of clinging to the much smaller bot like a toy. It was frankly embarrassing. For everyone, really. The pride of the Decepticon Army those three weren't.

The Autobot engineer was squirming as much as a mech could while stasis cuffed to a chair. Strika had had him confined to quarters along with Sunstorm, Ramjet and Skywarp until they could all be scanned for code hacks.

She wasn't actually sure what to do with him. It turned out that this little mech was some kind of folk hero to the entire engineering department. Supposedly he had once taken out an enemy installation with some scraps of wire, cleaning chemicals, and a non-working floor buffer. Decepticons appreciated that kind of ingenuity, even if it was directed against them.

Besides, Sunstorm had made a point about telling everyone about Wheeljack rescuing them from captivity, and how he and his friends had protected them from the other Autobots. That basically precluded any of their standard operating procedures for situations like this. She could hardly have him shot out an airlock or interrogated and hacked if he was a sparkling-rescuing hero, after all.

"What am I going to do with you, Autobot?" she asked him.

"Um, you could let me escape and make my way back to Cybertron?" He suggested hopefully.

"I always endeavor to avoid sending weapons of mass destruction back for my enemies to use." Strika replied mildly. This mech was fun. She found herself liking him, Autobot or no. "The engineers have been telling me… stories."

The mech heat-flushed. "I'm sure they exaggerate."

"Right." Strika drawled. "Want to tell me why you helped the seekers? Sunstorm says you and your friends were protecting them from the Autobots, and then you went to get them out of their cell."

He looked down, avoiding her optics. "It wasn't right." He mumbled. "They're just kids. We shoulda been working on fixing their glitches and convincing them to be Autobots, not treating them like real enemy combatants."

Strika narrowed her optics. "So you were all right with them using slave coding, as long as it was on adult mecha?" She growled. Her voice rumbled like thunder in the small office.

Blue optics went wide and scared. "No." Wheeljack said in a small voice. "But we couldn't get them to listen to us. We're not military, and we're not on the council. We couldn't do anything about them using that code."

"Hmph." Strika wasn't sure she actually bought that, but it wasn't implausible. She needed something to keep this little mech-shaped force of destruction out of the way, without actually returning military asset to the Autobots. Inspiration struck.

"Sunstorm said you were trying to fix the clones' code." She said.

"Well, we were hoping that the Allpark might be willing to fix them, if we took them to visit it." Wheeljack said.

"And if it didn't?" Strika inquired.

"Um, then Perceptor, Red Alert and I were going to do a marathon coding session and try to help them as much as we could." The engineer said.

"Well, I look forward to hearing about your progress!" Strika said, smiling at him. "I'm sure you'll find it a challenge worthy of your expertise. I'll make sure you're housed with Sunstorm, Ramjet and Skywarp. It will be nice for them anyway, as they seem to find your presence comforting."

Blue optics went comically wide. "Wait, what?" the engineer sputtered. "Perceptor is the therapeutic coding specialist, not me!"

Strika smiled at the Autobot engineer. "I'm sure you'll rise to the occasion, then." She said. "After all, you'll be staying with the Starscream clones, so you'll have plenty of time to observe their little quirks."

Well, that was two problems taken care of for a bit, anyway. She got a sparkling- sitter for the clones, and the explosion-happy inventor would have a nice project to keep him out of trouble. It was good when things worked out. Maybe if he seemed cooperative, she would send some of her own engineers in to assist him (and try to convert him to their cause, of course).

Perfect, and now that that little mission snag was taken care of, she had a consort to re-acquaint herself with.

There was some kind of trouble back in Iacon, so Ratchet told his team to say a quick good-bye to the villagers, and they took off. He could feel the thrum of Omega's powerful engines though his feet as they gained altitude. He was in the bridge, not that his friend particularly needed him to help navigate. They would be at high cruising altitude soon, and back to the city in a couple of hours.

He would have to wait just a little longer to talk to Arcee about the situation with Omega Supreme, much as the delay chaffed. He was a little worried, to be honest. Their relationsip was still very new, and proposing they add a third to it was a big step, never mind that said third was actually a sparked warship.

Ratchet had always had a tendency to brood, but he was trying to suppress it at the moment. After all, these were a couple of mecha who already cared about each other, so whatever happened, it wasn't likely to be too bad...right? He couldn't picture Arcee being offended or angry or anything like that, and she'd never seemed like the jealous type, either. He did hope that he wouldn't be put in a situation where he had to choose between the two of them, though.

Besides, The scuttlebutt coming out of Autobot HQ on the military frequencies was that there was a battle over at the Citadel, and Decepticons were involved. Ratchet figured it was the captured ones they'd been keeping there trying to get out, or their buddies trying to rescue them. Whatever it was, it would probably be over by the time Omega got all the way from the mountains to Iacon flying at atmospheric speeds.

In a really ideal world, the Cons would escape, and there wouldn't be any Autobot casualties. In a really ideal world, they'd leave and not come back. That would allow Ratchet to figure out his personal life in peace. He had to smile at that. Eons of being a curmudgeonly single, and all of a sudden, he was obsessing about his love life. Even having a love life was a pretty big change for him. The fact that it involved not one, but two mecha was mind boggling.

He was a little abashed that it had never occurred to him that Omega might have feelings like that for him. He of all bots should have remembered to look past a mech's function to the spark beneath.

Hopefully whatever was going on at the Citadel would resolve itself quickly, and Ratchet could work out the complexities of his… love life.

A/N: The underground scenery here is very heavily inspired by an article I saw on Messy Nessy Chic, a fun little Facebook blog centered around nifty (mostly Parisian) things. The author did a really great piece on the urban spelunkers of Paris, the Catophiles. It has pictures, and a description of a trip down into the tunnels, bomb shelters, and older passages that make up the City of Light's basement. I have never personally been urban spelunking, alas.

I decided that TFA Optimus did a lot more exploring when he was an adventurous student, and then got a lot more risk-averse after loosing Elita and getting figuratively assigned to Siberia. Earth made him loosen back up, though.