“And just what are you doing?”
Rodimus stopped, looking around for who had spoken. “What?”
Ravage padded out from beneath one of the tables in Swerve’s, earning a surprised look from Nautica and Velocity, who evidently had not noticed his presence right by their feet. “I asked what you were doing.”
Rodimus took half a step backward as Ravage approached, trying to keep his discomfort from showing on his face. He’d never get used to the minicon just appearing out of nowhere like that. Sometimes he still checked under his recharge slab just to be safe. “I didn’t know you had an interest,” he quipped. “I don’t think you’ve ever said ten words to me without a reason.”
“I do have a reason,” Ravage replied, “and I’m not interested. You’re headed down to deck two.”
“Congratulations, Ravage.” Rodimus always turned to snark when he had nothing intelligent to say. He swiped away a few message notifications on his data pad. He’d read them later, maybe. “That certainly is the hall to deck two. Now, can I hurry up and get there?”
“Deck two is where Megatron’s room is,” Ravage clarified.
Rodimus peered over the pad at Ravage. “It’s a big deck, buddy. There’s lots of rooms.”
“Why would you have reason to visit anybody else down there?”
“Do you stop everybody from going down the hall?” Rodimus asked instead of answering the question. “If Rung walked through here, would you stop him? Or is it just me?”
“No, no, let me finish. You’re biased against me. I think this is profiling-”
Ravange growled sharply and Rodimus immediately put his hands in the air, as if held at gunpoint. “Primus,” he muttered under his breath.
“Just tell me why you’re going to see Megatron.”
“Fine, fine,” Rodimus sighed. He swiped through a few pages and pulled open a lengthy, painfully articulate letter of complaint sent to him - in triplicate - from Ultra Magnus. “Magnus wants me to go over some crew etiquette with him or something. I only read the first half of the subject line so I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to do, but it said Megatron in there somewhere, so I assume this requires a co-captain meeting.” He held out the datapad for Ravage’s consideration.
Ravage tilted his head slightly, red eyes scanning over the first few lines. “‘Magnus’ isn’t in charge of the Tyrest Accord anymore, you know,” he commented. “And I fail to see what shipside manners have to do with the illegal trade of technology, anyway.”
“I never said it was about that,” said Rodimus, less than pleased. “And just because he’s not some universal officer of the law anymore doesn’t mean I lost my respect for him. Are we done? This guard dog shtick is getting pretty old.”
Ravage snarled again.
“Guard cat, sorry. Geez.”
Ravage’s tail whisked back and forth along the floor. “If it’s official business, I can’t stop you,” he finally consented. He stalked back to his scouting spot and settled himself down, ducking his head evasively when Velocity tried to pet him.
Just as uptight as Megatron, Rodimus thought to himself as he exited the bar. He briefly remembered a souvenir from Earth that Bluestreak had shown him the other day, a book of humans that looked like their dogs, and he was immensely delighted by this coincidence. He’d already have ammunition prepared the next time Ravage gave him any trouble.
After amusing himself with a few potential future comments, Rodimus arrived at Megatron’s door and promptly decided to let himself in with no warning.
“Hey, bucko,” Rodimus greeted his co-captain as the door slid shut behind him. “Great news, we have a Magnus letter to discuss. I know how you love those.”
Megatron gave him nothing more than a cursory glance. “You couldn’t even bother yourself to knock?” he asked, irritated with the interruption. He was seated at his desk, stylus in hand, hunched over a data pad.
“You’re never doing anything,” Rodimus retorted. “I’m not walking in on a meeting or some kinda serious conversation. Tell you what - start leading an interesting life, and I’ll give you some privacy.”
Not many people would be brave enough to speak to the former leader of an anarchist political movement like that, but Rodimus was not most people. He’d quickly learned that Megatron was on thin ice with - well, everyone. One slip up, one instance of uninitiated physical contact, and he was gone.
Rodimus, naturally, took complete advantage of this fact.
He strolled across the room and hopped up onto Megatron’s desk, crossing one leg over the other. He leaned over and tried to read the text on the tablet. “What’s that?”
Megatron turned it off. “Let’s not get into this today, Rodimus.”
“I’m just interested. No need to act like such a stiff about it.”
“It’s not the question that bothers me, so much as your way of asking.” Megatron pushed his data pad off to one side and turned his full attention to Rodimus. “I’d be fine with answering any probing questions of yours later. But you’ve been acting unbelievably unprofessional as of late - more so than usual. I think it needs to stop.”
Rodimus eyed him warily. “I don’t really get what you’re implying.”
“I’m not implying anything, I’m making a statement. You need to step up and stop acting so immature. How is the crew supposed to respect you?”
“They respect me because I’m a good leader.” Rodimus didn’t particular care for jabs about his leadership, something he was always tetchy about. “I haven’t been acting any different around them since the day we set off from Cybertron, and everyone still here seems to be just fine with that.”
Megatron rubbed tiredly at his temples. “That’s not what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean?” he snapped, turning sharply to face Megatron. “You just said I act immature. Is there another meaning there? Am I missing something? We’re equals, you can go ahead and say whatever you have to say.”
“That’s exactly it.” Megatron’s voice cut firmly through the irritation of the other’s words. Rodimus shut his mouth, taking a breath to slow himself down. Even after months of working together, he had an intrinsic twinge of fear whenever Megatron raised his voice. Another thing he’d never get used to.
Megatron noticed Rodimus’s discomfort, and when he spoke again, he spoke more calmly. “You’re not the only captain of this ship, and yet you treat me with no respect. It’s not a problem if you joke around with the crew. I’m sure that it’s great for morale, or for your personal benefit or what have you. But the two of us are supposed to work together - as equals, like you said.”
Rodimus bit back the desire to make some sort of witty comment and draw the conversation down another path. He knew that what Megatron was saying was true, but Primus, was it hard to take. Sickeningly so.
Megatron gathered his thoughts for a moment before looking Rodimus right in the eye. His gaze was not unkind.
Rodimus immediately felt a wave of shame wash over him. He wanted to look away, if not just escape the situation entirely. The unexpected softness made him uncomfortable.
But he stayed, managing to keep eye contact with the other bot. He found it oddly intimate and that thought didn’t help.
“You work wonders with the crew,” Megatron said, “a personal weakness of mine. But your weakness lies in work. When things get serious, you can’t… rather, you don’t put aside that humor of yours.” He laced his fingers together and rested his chin on his hands. “We aren’t supposed to play games or idly chat in the office. We’re supposed to get the business taken care of.”
“Why can’t we?” Rodimus asked, still exasperated. He wasn’t as upset now, but he had to navigate the conversation carefully. “I mean - I mean, there’s no reason I can’t do both, I think. I get things done.”
He’d taken a seat on the desk to be charming, perhaps fun-lovingly obnoxious, but now the conversation was some kind of serious heart-to-heart. He had to twist himself around to face Megatron and it was just adding to his overall awkwardness.
Rodimus was hyper aware of his every breath, every movement of his body. Something had him overly flustered and he couldn’t exactly tell what that thing was. Maybe it was just that he’d never spoken to Megatron like this. Some business, some banter, some flat out arguing, and that was practically it.
And now he was forced to think of Megatron as a person. Not as the enemy, not as an unapproachable pinnacle of leadership. Someone with emotions and real, relatable experiences.
Megatron clearly wasn’t expecting a response like that. “Why... can’t we?” he echoed, as if not understanding the words.
Wow, that sounded really stupid, Rodimus suddenly realized. “Uh, yeah,” he said, anxiously tapping his fingers on the desk. “I mean, I’m not suggesting we act all buddy-buddy, going out for drinks or anything like that. That’s not what I mean. But - you’re right, I do need to work on… well, work.”
His words felt foreign on his tongue, like it wasn’t him that was speaking. He was taking responsibility for his shortcomings and it was… weird. “But, if I do that - if I get my act together and take things seriously - the problem’s solved, right?”
“I… would suppose so, yes,” Megatron answered cautiously. “The most important thing is that you take responsibility for the work your job entails. Though I don’t know where we’d find the time to chat unless you made it a point to come see me.”
Oh, God, he’d just implied something weird without meaning to. Or at the very least Megatron thought he was implying something weird.
“If you ever learn to announce yourself, for example,” Megatron continued, not without a glint of dry humor, “I would be much more willing to share my writing.”
Was that - was that a joke? From Megatron? No, it couldn’t be. Rodimus was fairly certain that the larger mech in front of him was forged before any form of comedy had been invented.
“Sure,” he agreed numbly, voice quiet. His fingers brushed slowly over the desk’s surface behind him until they found the edge of the data pad he’d left there. He anxiously plucked it up and held it in front of himself like a makeshift barrier. “Um, listen. I think I need to get back to my quarters and look over these messages some more, and then I’ll come back, alright? To go over them.”
There was a sharp rapping on the door.
“Come in,” Rodimus called. His eyes scanned over his desk, searching for a free inch of metal. Had he already filled it up? No, he was sure that he still had room. Somewhere.
“I hope I’m not interrupting - ...are you drawing on your desk again?”
Rodimus twirled the laser pen around his fingers and sat up. “No. Not at the moment.”
Magnus seemed like he was going to make a disapproving comment, but miraculously restrained himself. “Well, good. You’re not busy. Did you get my reports from the other day?”
“No,” Rodimus replied immediately. He’d probably forgotten to do something. It was easiest to save face if he acted like he’d never been informed of what to do.
The larger bot scratched at his cheek. “I sent them in triplicate, I figured that at least one would have gone through. Are you sure? ‘Message to Captains Rodimus and Megatron, Regarding Personal Notes of Frequent Misconduct Observed in Crewmembers and Suggested Courses of Action’.”
“Ohhh, that.” Rodimus continued to idly play with the pen. “I saw ‘em, yeah.”
“Did you and Megatron speak like I asked you to?”
Rodimus began slowly spinning around in his office chair, not keen on remembering what a loser he’d sounded like during that whole conversation. “I forgot to mention it to him,” he admitted.
“Forgot to-? So you didn’t go.”
“Well, no, I went. We got off topic, though. It just slipped my mind.”
Magnus didn’t seem convinced. “What else would the two of you even be talking about besides work? Don’t tell me you were antagonizing him.”
Did Magnus think he was irresponsible, too? The more times he heard that accusation, the worse he felt about it. Rodimus stopped and turned the chair around the correct way. He put the pen down and looked at his accusatory SIC.
“No, I wasn’t,” he said. “But it doesn’t really matter. I didn’t do what you asked either way. I’ll make sure I stop by his room today and let him know the details.”
Magnus waved him off. “Don’t bother yourself. I can just forward him the reports myself.”
Oh, come on. Two people he begrudgingly respected disappointed with him in as many days. Magnus probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded, but still.
Rodimus watched him leave, his spark sinking with every step that Magnus took. He stared at the same space blankly for a few minutes after the door had slid shut.
He felt bad. He felt weird. Why was this any different than the countless other times people had insulted his maturity? Why did it make him so goddamn upset?
Rodimus growled and slammed a fist down on his desk. He’d never been good at dealing with criticism of his captaincy, that much he knew for sure. But there was always a choice: to accept it, or to fix it, and he never sought out extra work for himself if there was a way to get out of it. The fact that he wanted to change now, after so many previous ignored opportunities, confused the hell out of him.
If he wanted to stop these feelings of inadequacy from tearing him up, he’d have to do something about it. He’d have to figure out why he was so anxious.
It was hard. Really hard. He laid his head on his desk for a while, cheek pressed against the metal, and shut his eyes. There was no other sound in the room save for his slow breathing and the drone of the engines dripping through his walls. A steady hum that calmed him down a bit. He felt better, but not much.
Rodimus needed to do something. What did he really have at the moment that was pressing business, though? Magnus had told him to forget about the crew report, and that was the only thing he’d been focused on.
He frowned. He didn’t want to think about Magnus or his appropriately-placed disappointment right now.
He knew it should have just been business. Walk into Megatron’s office, tell him the news, and leave. In and out. But no, he’d felt the need to act like a child before he even accomplished to two-minute task entrusted to him.
What was it that Megatron had said? ‘The most important thing is to take responsibility for your work.’ Even the big bad warlord knew how to handle deskwork. It suddenly occurred to Rodimus that Ultra Magnus probably liked Megatron far more than him.
He didn’t want to believe it, but as soon as the thought entered his head it wormed its way deeper and deeper into his brain. Of course it was true. It was obvious that Magnus was done tolerating him.
Unbelievable. Six months on the ship and Megatron was the resident favorite. Rodimus thought about all the effort he’d put into winning Magnus over and his mood just fell even lower.
He swung his leg back and forth and kicked the desk, hard. He kept kicking, each blow harder and more anger-fueled than the last.
Who the hell did Megatron think he was, anyway, jumping on an Autobot ship and winning over the whole crew? Slapping a red sticker on his chest didn’t just cover up the four million years of civil war he was responsible for. Calling some meetings to order and making a few announcements didn’t make him a respected Autobot leader. At this rate he’d wind up commanding a ship full of Decepticon apologists.
He wouldn’t let that happen. Not without a fight, anyway. He’d up his game and show everyone that he was their primary captain for a reason.
Rodimus’s indignation spurred him out of his pity party. It was time to do work. He shuffled around the numerous in-progress reports on his desk and searched for his personal data pad, the one where he’d received the messages from Magnus.