He doesn’t know why he’s surprised. But he’s not mad. Or annoyed or disappointed. He’s guilty. He’s gone through this hundreds of times but right now he feels horrible because Ratchet is alone and now Smokescreen is on the verge of tears. This is his team and he can’t even help them.
"I just…" he vocalizes quietly. "I just want you to be ready. Should the day come that we have to stop searching."
He’s just holding the cube in one servo now and it’s numbing, he has no interest in it and so he sets it aside and ventilates heavily. If that day did come, he supposes he would leave it up to Ratchet. To a degree. They could not still be spending all their resources on finding their team mate a vorn after he was taken.
The commander leans down enough to try catching those downcast optics.
"But for now we are searching, which means we need to believe that he is alive."
He’s not quite sure who he’s really saying that to. A servo finds it way to Smokescreen’s shoulder armor before he can think to stop himself.
"I am good at what I do, but when you are ready, I could definitely use the help, soldier."
"Y-yeah." Smokescreen nods again, just a jerky as the previous.
He doesn’t want that day to come any time soon, if at all. In fact, the greenhorn is praying to whatever deity that will listen to bring Wheeljack back safely as soon as possible. Given how hard it is for Smokescreen to handle this situation, he can only imagine how difficult it’s been for Ratchet. He doesn’t want to be the cause of their medics slow and perhaps inevitable breakdown if the Wrecker is actually dead. Smokescreen feels his servos tremble worse.
However, he freezes when Ultra Magnus’s optics suddenly come in line with his own. The younger bot vents nervously but in the very least stops being as tense as he was kliks before.
As odd as it is having the lieutenant comfort him, it’s strangely gratifying as well. Perhaps this means some part of the other mech cares about Smokescreen as more than just a bot to frag whenever he feels like it and genuinely desires his help with things.
"…I can help." He speaks quietly still, but finally straightens out of his hunched over posture, leaning into the servo placed on one shoulder.
The urge to lean into the hold even more and perhaps hug Ultra Magnus is squashed as soon as it flickers through his head. There are many things that the other mech is—a cuddler is definitely not one of them as much as the greenhorn wishes he were.
Though this is relaxing, and actually kind of nice, Ultra Magnus’ faceplate tenses at his partner’s words.
Haven’t found him yet.
He takes the cube back politely and sips to distract himself, and stares at the blue lights above their helms. Scans the pile of datapads, his controls, the cockpit, all the different parts of his powerful ship. There was a time when he would have a crew aboard with them.
How many had been lost? How many had been lost to “we haven’t found him yet”?
Ultra Magnus shifts now, angling himself ever so slightly towards Smokescreen. It takes him a moment to look him in the optic.
"Smokescreen," he starts slow, still thinking. "We will keep looking, we will keep trying. Wheeljack has been extremely lucky in the past."
Optical ridges knit together.
"But I need you to be prepared for the possibility that we will never see him again. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, he totally ha—" Smokescreen cuts off when Magnus continues speaking, ruining whatever hope had managed to build up.
Any other words die on his glossa.
All of a sudden it seems harder to vent. The greenhorn tries to smile but it wobbles and slips off of his face and he has to look away, optics burning. He opens his mouth to speak but his vocals refuse to work and instead he thinks he wheezes. It’s his fault that Wheeljack may be dead, his mind reminds him.
Everything seems oddly blurry and difficult to concentrate on. His mind feels so slow and distant. A glance down confirms that his servos are shaking and he’s thankful he’s not holding the cube anymore. Doorwings twitch nervously in the air as his field distorts and pulls tightly to his chassis. What if Wheeljack’s already dead?
Finally, finally, he manages a short and jerky nod, optics locked onto the floor and his scuffed up pedes.
He doesn’t want Wheeljack to be dead.
Ultra Magnus lets another small smile flash across his features before he stands and motions for his companion to follow, making sure to grab the cube he barely touched. Might as well finish it. Perhaps they could share.
While out and about, Wheeljack liked to keep his ship in various forests and mountains and then keep it in its usual spot in the silo. Magnus’s ship was much larger, though luckily Fowler was able to find a spot for him in the desert that wasn’t too far a drive from base. Magnus likes the option to have his space. Things get noisy at base.
Or at least they used to.
Once inside, he activates a few light strips. Nothing too bright, just soft blue lights overhead so that they could see and still be relaxed by the calming color.
He presses a few buttons to get the berth to shift out from the wall. Hm. He is not ready to lie down. He presses few controls to adjust it so that they could sit on it comfortable, not unlike a couch. Come to think of it, he’s never really used it this way.
After a moment of thought, the bot settles down, leaving enough room for Smokescreen of course. A tired sigh rattles his vents and he takes a healthy sip of energon before passing it to the other mech in a strange casual way that doesn’t quite suit him.
Another sigh once he swallows. “The Earth week is barely over and yet it feels like vorns have passed since the mission.”
The drive taken to Ultra Magnus’s ship is silent but oddly comforting. All Smokescreen has been able to think about these last few days is how much this is his fault. There hasn’t been anything else save for absent stray thoughts about how maybe he needs to eat or sleep. Every time he tries to turn his mind to something else, it always leads back to Wheeljack being knocked out before his very optics, helm smashing brutally against the ground and energon spilling below him.
The fear that’s settled itself deep inside of the greenhorn isn’t a fear of the same happening to him—because it already has and he’s suffered through an insane medic rooting around his gut for a relic—but rather it happening again to a comrade because he messes up once more. Smokescreen isn’t sure if he could handle it—hell, he already doesn’t seem to be able to.
Ultra Magnus is a good distraction.
Even if he’s a stickler and difficult to talk to, he’s proving that he can care when he wants to and he can especially show he cares even when the greenhorn thinks he might not. It’s odd, the bot never thought he’d see a day where Magnus sits gingerly and then simply invites him for a cube of energon with no other intentions. Perhaps he’d thought it would be simply impossible given their old and new circumstances. Either way he was a younger soldier with no real special skills of note, or a convenient fuck buddy to corner at the ship when tension ran high.
Smokescreen settles cautiously on the edge of the seat, accepting the energon and sipping enough. His appetite still isn’t the same.
"Yeah…" He mumbles an agreement, "I can’t believe we haven’t found him yet."
Ultra Magnus feels legitimately emotionally exhausted for the first time in a very long time. He cannot be angry with Smokescreen for eavesdropping or for his tactlessness or anything. It’s strange.
He sets the cube down and just looks at his soldier. For a small moment it appears as though he’s smiling, ever so faintly.
"I am very tired," he says, not quite ignoring Smokescreen’s poor excuse for an "are you okay?" but just talking to him. He looks away to take a deep ventilation.
"I think I will retire to my ship for tonight," he continues, cutting his gaze back up now. "You’re welcome to join me, if you want. No logwork. You have my word."
It’s probably the most sincere and bare he’s been with anyone, secret lover or not, in all his lifecycle. Was it appropriate? Frag if he knows. But company might be nice.
The reply makes Smokescreen jump in place, though he’s unsure why. Maybe it’s because he didn’t actually expect Magnus to speak so quietly and give him something that’s definitely gotta be a smile. Where’s the snarling tone, the threatening glare, the commanding presence that makes him work even when he doesn’t want to?
"O-oh." He dumbly replies, "Yeah, that, uh, that sounds nice."
He doesn’t think he’s doing this for himself—not really. It’s just that when he looks at Ultra Magnus now he sees the weary droop of shoulder guards and hears the rough tone to his vocals and he can’t just let him be by himself. Maybe the rest of the night will be spent silently laying there on his berth but at least he won’t be alone.
Like Ratchet. Smokescreen swallows that pang of guilt as best as he can.
"Let’s get going then!" The greenhorn musters some enthusiasm and gives the lieutenant a weak smile.
The sound of a clattering can startles Ultra Magnus more than it would under normal circumstances. He feels his spark jump as he looks up, having believed that he and Ratchet were alone before.
And there is a familiar helm.
He sighs and feels a relieved yet embarrassed tingle wash over his frame.
"Come out," he says, voice heavy and worn. He sits up straight to regard his team mate, and for once, he isn’t angry. Just exhausted.
Smokescreen hesitantly straightens and shuffles out into the open, looking more than a little guilty and worried. The atmosphere feels awkward and strained, almost difficult to move in. For a second the greenhorn fumbles with words in his head, trying to come up with some good excuse or inspiring encouragement.
But he’s not good at this. He’s never been good at speaking. He always makes things worse when he tries.
"S-sorry, sir." He eventually stammers and shifts from pede to pede, doorwings hanging low, "Do you, uh…are you…"
Nothing is coming out right. Smokescreen can feel himself choking, distraught with embarrassment and concern. He takes a few steps towards Magnus and then stops, unsure if it’s even in his place to try and help.
Sometime soon you’ll have to show me! I’ve never done any stunts before and I bet I’d be pretty bad at them.
I’ll teach you stunts if you teach this toaster to race.
Shouldn’t be too hard!
Racing is pretty simple and fun.
Frantic blogging distracts Smokescreen from his pede slipping dangerously close to a can. A klik later and he’s knocking said can over. The look on the greenhorn’s faceplate is pure terror when he registers the clanging and echoing sound of metal bouncing off of metal.
You gotta be kidding—
With a nervous vent Smokescreen finally peeks his head around the large shelf, wide optics checking to see if Ultra Magnus had heard that.
I don’t know, after that onslaught he could probably use some kind words.
You don’t get it—I dunno what to say that could possibly help. Ratchet and him go wayyyy back and…yeah.
…Frag…he doesn’t look good…
…Holy scrap Ratchet is mad…