casusfere: (Burny)
[personal profile] casusfere
Title: Collars
Chapter: 3: Plots and Complications
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: This fic contains Vortex being a manipulative bastard, dark humor, regular humor, Vortex's glue gun, serious ethical dilemmas, and non-explicit references to the horrible things Vortex did in previous fics
Series: Warden (knowledge of previous fics not required)
Universe: G1
Summary: After the Combaticon's second attempt to overthrow the Decepticon leadership, Megatron had Shockwave insert a "Loyalty program" into their code to insure their continued obedience. When Onslaught is captured in battle, the Autobots discover the program. Now, for the first time since the Detention Center, the Combaticons may have a say in their own fate - provided Onslaught can keep Vortex on a leash, stop Swindle from selling the minibots on the black market, prevent any Brawl-related explosions, and keep Blast Off from shooting all these Autobots who won't stop talking to him.

Previous: Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
On AO3

“Hey, Blades, where have you been?” First Aid greeted his brother with a warm smile.

“Went flying,” Blades answered with an uncharacteristic grin back.

“With the new guys?” Groove asked, curious.

Blades offered one of his non-really-casual casual shrugs. “Yeah. Just a little trip around the volcano.”

“Heard some bad things about that helicopter,” Streetwise said cautiously.

Blades huffed. “Yeah? So?”

“Just saying, be careful,” Streetwise said.

“He really didn't seem that bad to me,” First Aid said. “A little obnoxious, but not really bad.” He shifted. “Lonely, maybe. Onslaught, on the other hand...” First Aid touched his neck where Onslaught had grabbed him in the brig.

“Streetwise is right,” Hot Spot said from the doorway. “From what Silverbolt's said, none of the officers trust Vortex or his team. We should be careful around all of the Combaticons.”

“What, we're listening to gossip, now?” Blades snorted.

“We're staying on guard,” Hot Spot said. “That's all.”

Blades scowled, but didn't argue.


Trailbreaker was the only mech in the tactical room when Smokescreen arrived. That wasn't too surprising – they were both early for this little tactical exercise. “Hey, 'Breaker,” Smokescreen greeted cheerfully.

“Hey,” Trailbreaker returned. “That was an interesting scene in the rec room yesterday,” he said as Smokescreen took the seat next to him.

“I'm not sure if I should be impressed that the Combaticons are making an effort, or insulted that they think we're going to be taken in by that,” Smokescreen said wryly. Trailbreaker grimaced, but didn't look surprised by the assessment. So he'd caught on to the play acting, too. Good.

“I doubt it was for our benefit,” Trailbreaker said. “I'm not sure who they were angling for, but I'm glad you put a stop to it.”

“Only temporarily. Swindle's in it for the long con; I doubt I did more than set him back a little.” Smokescreen shook his head. “Honestly, I can't blame the for it. Stuck with a bunch of mechs who were your enemies a few days ago? I'd be trying to find allies, too. But Fireflight doesn't need caught up with someone like them.”

“I'd rather none of us get caught up in their games,” Trailbreaker said grimly. “I admit, I was surprised to see them picking a fight with Sunstreaker and Sideswipe; I would have expected Swindle to aim at getting those two as allies.”

“The Combaticons don't have what it takes to win them over,” Smokescreen said. “I doubt there's a self-sacrificing servo among the lot. Whether they realize that or Sunstreaker's temper was just convenient, I don't know.” Smokescreen leaned back, considering. “And I'm not sure Swindle was the brains behind that one. The con's his game, but it just doesn't seem like his play.”

Trailbreaker cocked his head. “Think this was one of Onslaught's plans? He doesn't strike me as the kind to wage that kind of psychological warfare.”

“Me either. And none of the other three really seem the kind to plan anything.” Smokescreen shrugged his doors. “I don't know. We'll just have to keep an optic on them, and try to keep any damage to a minimum.”

The door hissed open, and Prowl stepped in, followed by Onslaught's towering bulk. “Ah, good, you're already here. Today I wish to run a test simulation-”

Smokescreen listened with half an audio to Prowl outlining the tactical exercise, his processors focused on the real tactical problem – what were the Combaticons up to, and what exactly should he do about it?


“How long have they been in there?” Hot Spot asked, tilting his head toward the tactical room.

Silverbolt made a face. “Since before the start of last shift. Makes me glad I'm a team leader, not a tactician.”

“Heh, that might not save you. Onslaught's a team leader and a tactician,” Hot Spot teased, grinning. “Command might catch on to the multitasking idea.”

Silverbot mock-shuddered. “Don't even joke about that. There's not enough hours in a day for both jobs.”

“Onslaught manages it somehow.”

“His team's crazy. Maybe that helps.”

“In that case,” Hot Spot said, unable to resist the opening, “You're on the right track for joining him.”

“Oh, ha ha.” Silverbolt shoved Hot Spot playfully. “How'd that talk with Blades and the rest go?”

Hot Spot shook his head. “About as well as you guessed it would. You'd think I was asking him to kick a puppy, not just be careful.” He vented air. “Worse, First Aid's on his side. At least Streetwise has some sense.”

“Maybe he'll talk the others around.”

Hot Spot frowned. “I hope so. Blades decided to go flying with Vortex again. I'm half-afraid he's got a crush.”

“Blades?” Silverbolt asked blankly. “That'd be a shock.”

“Not really,” Hot Spot murmured. Blades put up a hard front, but his gestalt knew him better than that. “How are your guys taking all this?”

“Don't think any of them know what to think,” Silverbolt said wryly. “Fireflight and Air Raid want to make friends, but so far, they're listening to me. Skydive's got reservations, too.”

“What about Slingshot?” If any of the Aerials was likely to ignore Silverbolt, it was Slingshot.

Silverbolt frowned. “I'm actually not really sure what Slingshot makes of it. He's been keeping quiet about it, and that worries me.”

Hot Spot clasped the jet's shoulder. “It'll work out,” he said with more confidence than he felt.

“Smokey!” Blaster called. “Hey there, TB! Smokey, that call you asked for's coming through. Got Springer on the line.”

“Springer?” Smokescreen asked, surprised.

“Yeah, Kup said to pass it on to him, said he'd have the info you wanted.”

“Come on,” Smokescreen said to Trailbreaker. “Time to stack the deck. Kup spent time in Freemark prison after the 'Cons took it and turned it into a prisoner of war camp. Onslaught was the district commander there, but Teletraan 1's records are pretty sketchy. Bad time for the Autobots, and with the Combaticons going under a short bit after and Freemark dismantled, getting info about it wasn't a priority.” Smokescreen's doors dipped. “I didn't realize that Springer was there.”

“Me either,” Trailbreaker said quietly, following him into the communication center.

Smokescreen dropped into the chair in front of the monitor, calling up the waiting transmission feed. Static cleared, and Springer grinned at him. “Smokes! Long time no see. Kup said you needed to talk to me?”

“It's good to see you in one piece, Springer. Yeah, we've got something of a situation here. I need to know everything you do about the Combaticons.”

Springer frowned. “Combaticons? I heard someone had broke them out, but why ask me? I haven't tangled with any of them since before they went head-to-head with Shockwave and lost.”

“That's what I need to know about. I asked Kup because he was in Freemark,” Smokescreen said. “I spent enough time matching wits with Swindle in the blackmarket, but I've got no experience with Onslaught, and even less with Vortex or the others. All we have is old military records, and they don't tell us much.”

Springer leaned back. “Alright. I'll tell you what I know, but I can't say that it's much. I only spent a few cycles in Freemark, and that was more than enough for me. Onslaught, I really don't know much about; he was military, I was security forces. I knew him by reputation -- competent commander, hardline Decepticon. Don't know slag about Brawl or Blast Off besides what's in the records, and you probably know more about Swindle than I do, but Vortex...” Springer shook his head. “Met him at Freemark. He was in charge. Nasty piece of work. I'd think twice about dealing with him at all if you can avoid it.”

“We can't,” Smokescreen said. “If we had time – and a more secure connection – I'd tell you the whole story, but we're stuck with them. What can you tell me about how Vortex operates? He was in charge? From what we've seen here, he doesn't seem the kind to stick to a flight plan, much less run a prison.”

“He's a sneaky, sadistic bastard, and a fraggin' good actor.” Springer looked offscreen, expression tight. “He'd grab two mechs at a time, question one, and hurt the other when they refuse to talk.” His voice stayed even, but Smokescreen could see how hard it was for his friend to say even that much. “Kept up a 'Just doin' my job' routine until I called him on it. Don't know where he would have gone from there; they transferred me out to Nova Cronum a few cycles after.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “He showed up when they were loading us onto the transport, told me he was sorry for sending me to Nova Cronum. Then he spent the next few breems detailing exactly what it was he wanted to do to me, before telling me that before Shockwave was done with me, I'd be wishing to still be back in Freemark.” Springer looked down. “He was right on that one,” he admitted.

“Frag,” Smokescreen said softly.

Springer offered a humorless smile. “So trust me, he can plan. He's fragging smart, and he knows how people tick.”

“I'm sorry, Springer.”

“Long time ago,” Springer said, managing something approximating his usual air of casual cheer. “I need to get back; war doesn't wait for chit chat.”

“Be careful out there, alright?”

“Hey, you know me.”

“I do, and that's the problem,” Smokescreen returned.

“Hey, I got Kup out here watching my back.” Springer's expression turned serious again. “You watch yours, Smokey.”

“I will,” Smokescreen promised. “Smokescreen out.” He cut the transmission, and looked over at Trailbreaker. “Well.”

Trailbreaker's expression was grim. “I don't like this.”

“Me either.” Smokescreen leaned back, frowning thoughtfully. “Looks like the rumors fell short this time. Frag.”

Trailbreaker vented a sigh. “At least we know more than we did. We need to start making contingency plans.”


Slingshot scowled into his cube, fingers tapping on the rim. Frag it. He should just get up and go talk to him. Or maybe go back to his room and forget about the idiot helicopter and his new other helicopter buddy. Either way, anything but sitting around and moping about it. Pathetic, Slingshot. Real awesome. The energon sloshed in the half-full cube as he toyed with it, unseeing.

“What the frag's got up your afterburners?” a familiar voice demanded. Blades leaned against the edge of the table in a pose somewhere between aggressive and concerned.

“I don't got afterburners, afthead,” Slingshot snapped back automatically. He glanced up at his... whatever they were. “And you're the fragging problem.”

“Aw, thinking about me?” From someone else, it might have been sweet, but from Blades, it was just mocking.

“No, you're blocking my light, fragger.” Sure, he'd been thinking about the Protectobot, but he'd be smelted before he admitted it. “Sit down or get out.”

“Make me,” Blades shot back, but he slid into a seat anyway.

“Whatever. What, misplace your tagalong twin? I was starting to think you two were welded at the hip.”

Blades huffed. “Why is everyone making a big deal out of this? So what, I went flying with another helicopter. Big whoop.”

“Yeah, you went 'flying,'” Slingshot made air quotes. “If that's what they're calling it these days.”

“Frag off! We did!”

“Yeah, whatever,” Slingshot said sourly.

“What, jealous?” Blades' laugh faltered when Slingshot didn't retort, the jet staring blankly at the table. “You are, aren't you?” he said, softer.

“Of what?” Slingshot snorted, but didn't quite meet Blades' optics. “You whirligigs go have fun buzzing around the mountain.” He pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “I've got things to do.”

Blades watched him leave, rotors slumped.

When Blades met up with Vortex a few breems later, he hadn't quite managed to lose the shellshocked expression.

“Hey, what's up?” Vortex asked, tapping the nearest rotor. “You're off in la-la-land today.”

“Nothing,” Blades said automatically, then frowned. Who else could he talk to? “You ever had a sort of friends-with-benefits situation suddenly get serious?”

“Friends with benefits?” Vortex repeated, amused. “Like what, casual interfacing with a buddy?”

“Yes. Well, no, more of an enemy. Kinda.” Blades rubbed a hand over his face. “Frag it, I don't know.”

“You don't know if he's a friend or an enemy?” Vortex asked, cocking his head and dipping a rotor. “Weird.”

“He's... well, we're not really friends, and we're always fighting, but it's fun, y'know? Like, a good challenge. But now he's... I don't know,” he said again, rotor blades dipping.

“No, I can't say I ever had a casual-interfacing friend-not-friend-sorta-fightin' relationship suddenly get serious,” Vortex said blandly, leaning back against the cliff face. “I got Blast Off, the touchiest untouchy shuttle ever, but I don't think that's quite whatcha getting' at.”

Blades snorted a laugh. “When you say it like that, it sounds ridiculous.”

“It sounded pretty ridiculous when you said it, too,” Vortex informed him cheerfully. “So, you like him?”

“What?” Blades stared.

“The friend-not-friend. You like him?”

Blades scuffed a foot against the ground. “I... yeah,” he said in a small voice.

“Then what's the problem? Get him.” Vortex shook his head. “Frag what anyone else thinks. Go for it.”

“But...” Blades looked up at the other helicopter uncertainly. “What if... what if he says no?”

“Punch him in the face.” Vortex's rotors bobbed cheerfully.

Surprised, Blades couldn't help but laugh. “How is that helpful?”

“Helpful? Who said anything about helpful? It'd be fraggin' funny, that's what it'd be.” Vortex tapped a finger against his battlemask. “Whatcha got to lose, anyway? Sometimes you just gotta take off without checkin' the landin' zone, y'know?”

“Maybe,” Blades said, shifting his weight.

“Maybe my fraggin' aft. C'mon, let's take a spin.” Vortex canted a rotor towards the exit.

“Not today,” Blades answered. “I'm... I'm gonna go talk to Slings, alright?”

“Sure,” Vortex agreed easily. “I'll catch you later, eh?”

Blades nodded, distracted. Just go for it – it sounded so much easier when Vortex was saying it. For once in his life, Blades was utterly at lost at what to do next. Start by finding him, idiot. He vented air, steeling himself before striding toward the hanger the Aerials had claimed as quarters.

He made it halfway there before he lost his nerve. Maybe this isn't a good time. Give him some time to cool off from that scene in the rec room. He wasn't running away, he was just delaying. Yeah. He'd... talk to Slingshot later.


“Hey, Thrusters!” Vortex called as he rounded the corner to the lower hanger bay. “I got ditched by my entertainment. Come console a lonely helicopter?”

Blast Off looked up from his datapad, not bothering to move from where he was lounging with his feet up on an empty crate. “No.”

“Oh, come on, please?” Vortex wasn't put off by the short answer. “Whatcha been up to down here?”


Vortex rolled his rotors in an exasperated gesture. “Frag, we get to a whole base full of people to play with, and you gonna hide in the hanger and what, read for the rest of the war?”

“And if I do?” Blast Off asked archly, turning back to the datapad.

The helicopter made a rude noise and headed for the opposite door. “Brawlie outside?”

“Who cares?”

“Eh, point, but since you're bein' all stick-up-the-exhaust, I gotta have someone to bother.” Vortex strolled through the open hanger doors. “Brawlie! You out here?”

“Ever heard of using a comlink?” Blast Off growled at his back. As he expected, Vortex ignored him.

So much for peace and quiet. With Brawl and Vortex just outside, the screaming and explosions were next.

Movement at the door Vortex had entered through soured his mood further. He hadn't been hiding, per say, but the lack of traffic in the bay had been the major motivating factor for coming down here. But instead of another of his infuriating teammates or one of the annoying little cars, the Autobot's shuttle ducked through the doorway. Shuttles, as a rule didn't tend to seek each other out to socialize the way groundframes did; shuttles were designed to spend long periods alone in space, with just the stars and their scanners for company. Hopefully, the Autobot shuttle fell into type, and wasn't here to ask inane questions about how he was integrating.

“Blast Off,” Skyfire greeted. “I will be going orbital later – if you don't mind being ferried up, Optimus has signed off on the extra fuel to bring you along.” The other shuttle smiled faintly. “I presume you'd like to get out of atmosphere for a while?”

Well, that was certainly better than sitting down here and ignoring idiot groundpounders. As a rule, he preferred to fly himself up, but right now, he would take what he could get. “Certainly. When will we launch?” Frankly, he'd stay orbital all the time if he could convince Onslaught that the fuel expenditure would be worth it – and now, convince the Autobots that he could be trusted alone for that length of time.

Skyfire gave him the launch and return time frame and took himself off again without insisting on puerile small-talk.

Well. At least one his new “allies” had a sense of decorum.
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