No more was said about Dent leaving. Well, nothing save a few grumbles from Sideswipe when he thought no one was listening.
Sunstreaker, however, had tuned him out.
Dent, by all accounts, was a better roommate than Sideswipe. He cleaned after himself. He was quiet. He never presumed. He was grateful for the washrack, for the energon. He let Sunstreaker fuss over him.
He fit right into their home. He even helped Sunstreaker with the clean up when the bar was closed.
As far as Sunstreaker was concerned, Dent had more than earned his place. Not to mention, he hadn’t once tried to harm them. So Sideswipe’s worries about how dangerous he could be were for naught.
Dent stayed. Dent belonged. He was most welcome company for all the evenings Sideswipe had one of his… guests.
Sunstreaker flopped on the small futon, groping around for the remote in between the cushions where Sides was apt to shove it. Fatigue tugged at every strut, every cable. But he didn’t want to climb into his berth alone, and Sideswipe was out with whatever pretty thing had caught his optic this week.
Watching vids until Sunstreaker dropped out was the next, best thing.
The vidscreen clicked on to some game show, the kind that Sideswipe liked to watch and guess along with. Sunstreaker frowned, quickly changing the channel before he got sucked into another night of long reruns.
Something moved in his peripheral vision.
Sunstreaker turned his head, catching sight of Dent creeping past him. As much as the Empura could sneak anyway. He had an odd habit of clacking when he walked.
“Where are you going?”
Dent froze. His pincers clicked together. “I finished the washrack.”
“–Join me? Great idea.” Sunstreaker patted the empty space beside him. “You’re not a servant.”
Dent’s optic flickered. “I don’t wish to presume.”
“It’s an invitation. I mean, I know it’ll be cramped, but we’ll both fit.”
Dent visibly hesitated, before he bobbed his head. “Thank you,” he murmured and gingerly eased into the small space beside Sunstreaker. His field reached out, as tentative as his decision to sit down.
“You live here, too.” Sunstreaker shrugged and aimlessly clicked through the channels. “Do you have any preferences?”
Dent perched on the cushion stiffly, his single optic locked on the screen. The nubs on his back twitched. Maybe he’d relax after Sunstreaker put something on. He still crept around the apartment like he was trying not to be noticed.
Sideswipe’s fault really. Hmph.
Sunstreaker cycled a vent and tried to focus on the screen. “Thanks,” he said, offhand once he’d decided on an action flick, one he’d seen about a thousand times. “I, um, didn’t want to be alone tonight.”
Dent’s head tilted. “Why?”
Sunstreaker worked his jaw. “It’s complicated.” His free hand scrubbed down his face. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“It’s not your fault.” Sunstreaker’s lips curved in a thin smile. “Thanks for the company anyway.”
Dent didn’t have a face, not really, but something in the way he tilted his head suggested a smile of his own.
Spark unexpectedly fluttering, Sunstreaker turned to the film as a distraction. With Dent next to him, the warmth and noise of his frame, he finally felt at ease.
Sunstreaker’s face heated with embarrassment, which might have been the magnesium coating on the oilcake considering how embarrassing the situation was already.
Prowl’s grip on his hands only tightened with determination. “It is a simple dance. Allow me to show you.”
“What for?” It wasn’t like Sunstreaker was ever going to a formal event. They didn’t have those on the edge of the Wastes.
Prowl squeezed his fingers and pulled him closer. “So that I might dance with you.” He pressed their foreheads together, voice soft and coaxing. “Please?”
That was an unfair tactic. It caused the last bit of Sunstreaker’s irritation to melt away, taking his scowl with it.
“There’s no one else here though,” Sunstreaker grumbled.
“There doesn’t need to be. You like the music, yes? That is enough.”
Prowl straightened and slid one arm around Sunstreaker’s waist, his fingers teasing the transformation seams in Sunstreaker’s back. His other hand clasped Sunstreaker’s as their chestplates pressed together. Sunstreaker’s spark skipped an oscillation.
“Lucky you are not Praxian,” Prowl said with a laugh. “Else we never would have fit.”
“This isn’t a Praxian dance?” Sunstreaker asked as his free hand lingered nowhere. He didn’t know where he was supposed to put it.
Prowl shook his head as he guided Sunstreaker’s hand to his shoulder. “No. I learned this in Iacon. Flat chested data clerks are popular there. Now, follow my lead.”
Sunstreaker immediately tensed though Prowl pulled him into the first step. He stumbled and almost tripped Prowl as a result. Luckily, Prowl was more graceful than he and quickly corrected, tightening his grip on Sunstreaker’s hand and pressing in on Sunstreaker’s backstrut. Their frames came flush together, plating to plating, heat to heat.
Sunstreaker’s spark throbbed again. He tilted his head a fraction, looking up into Prowl’s optics.
“Sorry,” he muttered, feeling the heat gathering in his faceplate. “I’m clumsy.”
Prowl’s field nudged against his. “You will learn.” He tipped his face closer, their lips tantalizingly close. “You’re handsome when you’re flustered.”
“Pfft. I’m always handsome.”
Prowl chuckled. “And modest, too.”
Prowl’s lips descended over his, their mouths slanting together. His glossa swept inside, gently claiming.
Sunstreaker moaned, his vents quickening. Arousal rose up in him, slow and sure, to the beat of Prowl’s field and the quiet beat of the music. Prowl’s lips moved against as though savoring, his engine purring and vibrating through Sunstreaker’s frame.
They less danced to the music as they swayed, not that it mattered anymore. Sunstreaker didn’t care about learning to dance. He cared about feeling that happy cant in Prowl’s field.
Prowl’s lips grazed over his again, a bare brush of warmth. Heat flooded Sunstreaker’s frame, sending a tingle straight to his core. It was the kind of moment he hoped would last forever, the kind he never thought he’d get here on the edge of Uraya, staring off into the Waste.
Sunstreaker onlined slowly, swimming to consciousness as he sensed something warm ruched up against him. A quietly purring engine sent soft vibrations through his frame. He was comfortable, at ease, like he hadn’t been in the months since Prowl left.
Sunstreaker nuzzled into the warmth, smelling expensive wax and something else familiar, though in his fuzzy state, he couldn’t remember from where. He made a happy noise, remembering the last time he woke like this. He listened to the steady beat of his berthmate’s spark, counting the oscillations of it.
The frame beneath him shifted with a tangible shiver. There was a brush of a touch to his cheek, gentle and tentative.
He went still. His hand slid down the chestplate beneath his cheek, fingers skimming over the thick weld down the central seam.
Mortification stole Sunstreaker’s spark. He bolted upright, catching Dent’s single opticked gaze.
“Slag!” Sunstreaker put some distance between them as way of apology. “I’m sorry.”
“There is no need to apologize.” Dent pulled into himself, armor clamping tight to his protoform. “I do not mind.”
Sunstreaker shook his head. “No, it was rude of me. That’s not, I mean, you’re not here for that.” He shoved to his feet. “Thank you for the company, but I have to go.”
Sunstreaker didn’t wait for Dent to say anything else, only hurried to make himself scarce. Thank Primus Sideswipe hadn’t seen that. He would have never let Sunstreaker live it down.
Sunstreaker cycled an anxious ventilation and threw himself into his berthroom, his spark pounding in his chassis. There was a tightness in his intake, a weight on his spark. The door closed behind him and Sunstreaker sank against it.
He offlined his optics, tilting his helm back against the door.
He couldn’t be so lonely that he’d allowed himself to cuddle with an Empura, with Dent. More than that, he couldn’t get attached. He should have learned his lesson.
Heat gathered at his optics. Static formed in his vocalizer. Sunstreaker cycled another ventilation, but the shudders that stole through his frame would not abate.
Prowl’s gone. He left. Sunstreaker didn’t need Sideswipe to remind him. It was getting close to a year now.
Sunstreaker shouldn’t care anymore. It shouldn’t hurt. It shouldn’t…
His knees wobbled. He sank down to the floor, spark flickering madly. His hands pulled into fists. He ached.
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.
Sunstreaker should have never tried. He’s a guttermech from the edge of Wastes. He should have never fragging tried.
It was crowded, bright, and noisy in here. Sideswipe could barely hear himself think, much less hear Ricochet talk.
He was having a great time. Or was that the engex talking? The sickly sweet sludge Ricochet kept buying and Sideswipe kept tossing back by the gallon.
Or maybe he just liked the way it tasted on Ricochet’s lips. Especially when Sideswipe backed his dance partner into a corner and sealed their mouths together. Their glossa entangled, Ricochet giving as good as he got.
Those kisses were hot and hungry. Sideswipe’s hands explored sleek black armor, finding and exploiting exposed seams. His fingers danced across the hidden cables, playing with the charge that gathered there.
Ricochet ran hot, his vents gusting heat against Sideswipe’s frame, his fans spinning so fast as to vibrate his armor. Or maybe that was the bass from the music. Charge nipped at Sideswipe’s fingertips.
Sideswipe moaned into the kiss, working a knee between Ricochet’s legs. Hands landed on Sideswipe’s hips, yanking him into a long, lingering grind. Metal ground on metal, slick with condensation.
Sideswipe shuddered as charge snapped through his neural net. His spark pulsed a happy beat, desire sparking in his lines. He buried his fingers in a hip joint, curled around a bundle of cabling, and pulled.
Ricochet gasped. His back arched, pressing his chest against Sideswipe’s. He rolled his hips, riding Sideswipe’s thigh. His mouth was still sweet, just like the engex. His denta nipped at Sideswipe’s lips.
The music only encouraged Sideswipe. He panted for a ventilation as he worked his way to Ricochet’s intake, getting a mouthful of shiny cables and biting down.
Ricochet cried out, his entire frame shuddering. “Primus!”
“That’s not my name,” Sideswipe teased against Ricochet’s intake, parting out one cable to lick the diameter of it. He bit down, just enough to tease.
Ricochet arched against him, one hand hooking in Sideswipes’ chestplate and hanging tight. “Sides!”
“Better,” Sideswipe purred, pinning Ricochet harder against the wall. He wanted to take him here and now, whilst listening to Ricochet’s sweet sounds of pleasure.
He nibbled his way up to Ricochet’s audial, his processor spinning. “Let’s go,” Sideswipe murmured, curling his glossa around the sensitive metal.
Ricochet rocked against him. “Night’s just started.”
“I know.” Sideswipe ex-vented hotly. “But I can’t make you scream here.”
“Oh?” Another gasp escaped Ricochet as Sideswipe nibbled on his audial.
His fingers stroked at hidden lines. “I can stay late if I wanna,” Sideswipe said.
Ricochet made a noise deep in his intake. “Thought you couldn’t – ah! – couldn’t leave your brother.”
Sideswipe gripped Ricochet’s hip, holding him still for a long and satisfying grind, charge building to a crescendo beneath his armor. “He’s got Dent. He’ll be fine.”
Ricochet sounded confused. “The Empura?”
“Yeah.” Sideswipe dragged his mouth back to Ricochet’s, sealing their lips together for another deep kiss. He moaned as his spark pulsed. “So. Want to go?”
“Frag, yeah.” Ricochet smirked and shoved Sideswipe back with both hands.
Sideswipe stumbled, grinning like an idiot, but Ricochet was there again in a blink, grabbing Sideswipe’s hand and pulling him toward the nearest exit.
Maybe there was some benefit to having the Empura around after all.
There were days when his fingers didn’t work. When he couldn’t remember how to draw a circle or how to blend colors.
Those were the frustrating days, when he had a mental image, but lacked the skill to duplicate it.
And then there were the days where everything was effortless. Lines danced onto the page, and colors poured from his fingertips. The joy of it gleamed on the canvas.
Those days, Sunstreaker felt well and truly alive. They’d been in short supply lately, after Prowl left, but today…. Today was a different day.
For once, Sunstreaker didn’t even mind that he had an audience, though to be fair, Dent was the ideal observer. He was quiet and didn’t interrupt, nor did he ask dozens of bothersome questions.
“It’s a landscape,” Sunstreaker murmured, though perhaps it was fairly obvious. “In case you were wondering.”
“You are very talented.”
Sunstreaker’s face heated. “Thank you.”
“And yet, you are sad?”
Sunstreaker’s brush wavered, tip hovering away from the canvas. Dent sat just outside of his peripheral vision. “… Yes.”
He forced himself to keep going, to sweep a new streak of pale violet across the skyline. “I miss someone,” Sunstreaker admitted. “He left and I…” He trailed off to cycle a ventilation. “I’m still learning to live with it.”
“He is coming back?”
Sunstreaker worked his intake. “No.”
“I am sorry.”
Sunstreaker wiped off the brush, opting to shift to another color, he wasn’t sure which. “It’s my fault really. Thinking I could have something for myself. I should’ve known better.”
Dent’s chair creaked. Movement in his peripheries was all the warning Sunstreaker had before Dent knelt beside him, pincer resting on the bin of assorted colors.
“You are kind,” Dent said, his optic bright as he met Sunstreaker’s gaze. “You deserve more.”
Sunstreaker’s lips curved. “Thank you for saying so.” He selected a night blue, one speckled with metallic shavings. “Circumstances don’t really work like that, but I appreciate the sentiment, you know.”
Dent rose to his full height, which equaled Sunstreaker’s. “Maybe the future will be different,” he said and then twisted his pincers together. “I should get to work. May I watch you later?”
“Of course. You’re always welcome.”
Dent bobbed his head and then he was gone, off to wipe the tables in the cafe. He always worked without complaint, even when Sideswipe teased him, and if he sometimes slipped some of his energon pouches to other Empuras in the near-alleys, Sunstreaker pretended he hadn’t noticed.
It was a nice sentiment, though, wasn’t it? To be worthy of something better than abandonment.
Pity Prowl hadn’t thought so.
Sunstreaker sighed and followed Dent’s example. He got back to work.
Ricochet laughed as he dodged Sideswipe’s fist, dancing out of the way with a pirouette and an easy shift of his weight. “Yer gettin’ slower,” he taunted.
Sideswipe panted a ventilation, resisting the urge to roll his optics. “You’re just unnaturally fast,” he snapped and lunged again.
Ricochet slid to the side, ducked under his arm, and ended up behind Sideswipe all in a blink. “Nah, mech. It’s called talent. Mebbe ya should get some.”
Sideswipe huffed and spun, his optics widening as he threw up his arms, barely defending against the kick Ricochet had aimed at his chestplate. He caught the other mech’s foot between his hands, fingers wrapped around Ricochet’s ankle.
“That’s the second time you’ve tried that,” Sideswipe said, trying to sound confident, though condensation slicked his armor and his cooling fans spun madly. “Did you think I wouldn’t learn from the first one?”
Ricochet half-lit his visor. “I dunno. Didja?” he asked and abruptly threw himself backward, weight shifting to his hands, other foot rising up.
Sideswipe let him go and stumbled backward, a millisecond before Ricochet’s other foot would have slammed into the side of his head. Primus on a pogostick but Ricochet sometimes forgot this was supposed to be fun!
“Okay, okay. Enough!” Sideswipe panted, throwing up his hands to end the session. “I think I’ve got more than enough dents to make Sunstreaker fuss at me.”
Ricochet chuckled and bounced back upright. He rolled his shoulders, confidence pouring over him in waves. “Awww, it’s just cause he cares.”
“Yeah, I know.” Sideswipe rubbed at his shoulder, where a good kick from earlier had landed a bit too hard for a sparring session. “How’d you get so good anyway? You didn’t learn that on the streets.” Unlike Sideswipe, whose battle style consisted mostly of brawling. He and Sunstreaker were heavy-hitters, they never bothered with finesse.
Ricochet strutted toward him, his cooling fans not even spinning. “That’s my secret ta keep and not yers to know,” he said with another wink.
Yeah. Sideswipe should have guessed as much.
“Then when are ya gonna teach me?” Sideswipe asked with what he hoped was a charming grin. “I could use moves like that in the Arena.”
“Mmm. I don’t think I can. You’re a little too… bulky for that kind of thing.” Ricochet sidled in close, one arm slipping around Sideswipe’s waist as he rose on the tips of his pedes. “Don’t worry though. I like my mechs with a little weight to him.” He pressed a quick kiss to Sideswipe’s chin.
Sideswipe squinted even as he dropped his hand to Ricochet’s hip before sliding it around to his aft. “Are you insulting my size?”
“I would never,” Ricochet purred and rose the last inch, his lips brushing over Sideswipe’s. “Wanna share a rinse with me?”
Sideswipe captured his lips before Ricochet could pull away, his glossa claiming Ricochet’s mouth and pulling a delightful purr from Ricochet’s intake. Sideswipe groped Ricochet’s aft, feeling the other mech shiver against him. His field rose up, heated and hungry.
Ricochet chuckled against his lips. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Frag, yeah.” Sideswipe threw his other arm around Ricochet, crushing the mech against him, and deepening the kiss. Arousal thrummed through his frame, charge already gathering beneath his armor.
Maybe they’d make it to the washracks. Maybe not. Seemed to Sideswipe they could do just fine here on the training mat.
Either way, he intended to have a good time.
In the weeks since Dent came to live with them, his dexterity had improved by leaps and bounds. He’d gained a confidence as well, one that lent itself to trying new things. Such as when Sunstreaker caught him practicing with a stylus last week. He’d been so focused on his self-appointed task, he hadn’t noticed Sunstreaker watching him.
Nor did he notice now.
Sunstreaker came out of the prep room, a favor for Sideswipe to check on the progress of a batch of engex. Dent sat at the table in the main room, concentrating on a learner’s datapad. The stylus was carefully pinned in his pincers.
Sunstreaker was at once struck with an idea.
“You’re doing great,” Sunstreaker said.
Dent startled. The stylus flew out of his grasp and clattered to the floor. The datapad nearly followed until Dent slammed a pincer atop it.
“I apologize, sir,” Dent said, his energy field flaring. “I know I should be cleaning.”
Sunstreaker bent over to pick up the stylus. “Don’t call me that. Besides, you work hard as it is.” He set the stylus on the table. “A break is only fair.”
Dent’s armor rustled. “I do not wish to dally in the face of your generosity.”
“You’re not.” Sunstreaker leaned against the table and peered at the contents of the datapad.
The glyphs were a bit wobbly, but it was readable.
“You know, you might find painting easier,” Sunstreaker commented. “There aren’t any rules or expectations.”
Dent blinked his optic. “Oh, but I–”
“I’ll teach you,” Sunstreaker offered, cutting off the protest. “It might even be fun.”
“I would not be a bother?”
Dent eased down from the table. “Then I would be honored to have your instruction.”
Sunstreaker chuckled. “It’s not as grand as all that. I’m no one special.”
A hand rested on his forearm. “You are kind,” Dent said, as he always did.
It shouldn’t have made Sunstreaker’s face heat, or his spark flutter. And yet, it did. He ducked his head.
“We’ll see if you say that after my lessons,” he said instead and tilted his head toward his studio. “Come on, we can start now.”
“All right.” Dent followed with something like eagerness, their shoulders occasionally brushing. “Thank you.”
Sunstreaker gave him a soft smile. “You’re welcome.”
He would never admit aloud, and certainly not to Sideswipe, but he was still glad he’d asked Dent to live with them. The Empura filled a void Sunstreaker hated to endure.
He hadn’t forgotten about Prowl. But it was nice to have someone else there. It was nice to not be alone, if only for a little while.
It was just nice.
“You’re going out a lot more than usual.”
Sideswipe froze on his way out the door. He turned slowly and found Sunstreaker frowning at him, not in disapproval, but curious confusion.
“Awww, do you miss me?” Sideswipe asked, planting a cheesy grin on his face. He threw his arms in the air and started toward Sunstreaker, intending to hug him.
Sunstreaker sidestepped and avoided it, folding his arms over his chestplate. “You didn’t use to go out this much. Do you even sleep in your room any more?”
Sideswipe dropped his arms. “More often than not.” He tried to play it off with a shrug, his spark throbbing faster. He didn’t want or need Sunny asking questions. He wasn’t ready to explain Ricochet. “Why does it even matter? You never cared before.”
“I always cared.” Sunstreaker’s frown deepened, and now his shoulders hunched, his optics dimming. “You never even say where you’re going. For all I know, you might not come back one day.”
Sideswipe dropped all semblance of teasing and wrapped Sunstreaker in an embrace before his brother could protest. He folded his arms around his twin, pressed their chestplates together, until he could feel the echoes of Sunstreaker’s spark pulse.
“That’s not going to happen,” Sideswipe said firmly, and yes, Sunstreaker was trembling. It was minute, and Sideswipe wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t hugged him. “I’m not leaving, okay? Nothing in this universe would keep me from coming back to you.”
Sunstreaker stiffened in his arms, field withdrawn and tense, until he softened by minor degrees. “Maybe it won’t be your choice,” he said, voice so small that it made Sideswipe ache. “Some Empty will attack you in an alley, or some thief will stab you in the back, and I won’t ever know.”
Sideswipe chuckled. “I’m not that easy to kill.”
Sunstreaker didn’t reply, but he did return the embrace, holding Sideswipe tighter than he could have hoped. Sure, they fought and argued a lot, but when it came down to it, Sunstreaker was his brother, the other half of his spark, the mech in the world he loved before all others.
“Do you want me to stay home from now on?” Sideswipe asked softly. Ricochet wouldn’t like it, but he’d get over it.
Sunstreaker snorted. “I’m not a sparkling, Sideswipe. I don’t need you to look after me.”
The tightness of his embrace would suggest otherwise, but Sideswipe didn’t point that out. “Then what do you want?”
“Nothing.” Sunstreaker sighed and twitched. “Lemme go, Sides. Or you’re going to be late for whatever pretty thing is waiting for you.”
Sideswipe squeezed Sunstreaker again and released him, only to cup his hands around his brother’s head and pull their foreheads together. “I promise to be careful and always come back, okay?”
Sunstreaker’s hands closed into fists at his side. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
“Just the ones I’ll try really, really hard for,” Sideswipe retorted and pressed a kiss to Sunstreaker’s forehead. “Don’t wait up.”
“I never do.”
Sunstreaker’s maelstrom of emotion followed Sideswipe out the door, through Uraya, and to the crowded, dump of a bar where he’d agreed to meet Ricochet. Someday, maybe they’d actually do more than meet at a bar, get overcharged, share a seedy hotel berth, and part ways come the morning.
“What’s that look for?” Ricochet asked as he pushed off the bar’s wall, his visor gleaming at Sideswipe.
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Liar.” Ricochet grinned as he grabbed Sideswipe about the waist and peered up at him. “That’s the look you always get when your brother’s done somethin’.”
Sideswipe arched an orbital ridge. “You think you know me that well, huh?”
“I do.” Ricochet’s hands slid down, brushing over Sideswipe’s aft. Not much for shame in public, that one. “So what gives?”
“Nothing important. Just asking questions is all.”
“Mm.” Ricochet pressed their frames together, his purring engine sending vibrations through Sideswipe’s frame. “Maybe it’s time ya come clean then.”
Sideswipe shook his head firmly. “No. Sunny wouldn’t understand.”
“Mebbe ya should try.”
“And maybe, we should get our afts in there before all the good stuff gets drank, hm?” Sideswipe asked with a wink.
Ricochet chuckled and patted Sideswipe’s aft. “Whatever you want.”
Sunstreaker cursed and chucked his stylus at the wall. It made a very disappointing noise as it struck, and then clattered to the floor. His ire ticked upward into another notch.
He aggressively shut down his sketchpad, for once not caring if he’d saved or not, and shoved the pad onto a nearby table. His mind was in tatters, his focus in the next galaxy, and nothing worked right, not his fingers, not the stylus, not the image in his processor.
It was all Sideswipe’s fault.
His ventilations were too rapid for his comfort. Sunstreaker forced them to even as he shoved off the futon and turned toward the doorway. Dent stood there, his optic dim, his head tilted as though in concern.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Sunstreaker snapped, and then hated himself for doing so. Dent did not deserve his wrath. He huffed and lowered his head. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“Then you are not fine?”
Sunstreaker swept a hand over his head. “I’m just annoyed. Upset. It’ll pass.” He cycled another ventilation, trying to calm himself, before he looked at Dent again. “What are you working on?”
Dent’s pincers clicked. “Cleaning Sideswipe’s room.”
“Would you read to me?”
Sunstreaker cycled his optics as he looked at the Empura. “Huh?”
“I found this.” Dent fumbled in his subspace and produced a datapad. “But I am unfamiliar with the dialect.”
Sunstreaker took the datapad and flicked it on. He immediately scowled. This was one of Sideswipe’s trashy romance novels. There was virtually no substance to it, and was filled with cardboard cutouts called characters, and was so unrealistic as to be ridiculous.
Yet, Sideswipe owned dozens of them, devouring them almost the moment he indulged in buying them, not that he’d ever admit it.
And yeah, okay, Sunstreaker had read a few himself. He’d even liked them.
“This is a romance,” he said, baffled.
Dent stared back at him evenly. “Is that bad?”
“No. I just…” Sunstreaker flopped down onto the futon, making it shake. He peered at Dent. “You really wanna hear me read this?”
Dent inclined his head. “Very much so.”
Sunstreaker fiddled with the datapad. Dent rarely, if ever, asked for anything. And though he wasn’t at all interested in hearing himself read the overly purple prose, he couldn’t deny Dent either. Not if it brought that subtly happy cant to the Empura’s field.
“All right,” Sunstreaker said with a shrug. He settled back into the futon. “Get comfortable. But you’re not allowed to tease me if it sounds stupid.”
“I would never,” Dent assured him and actually sat back in the futon, making himself comfortable, at home, like he belonged. Which he most surely did.
No matter what Sideswipe said.
Sideswipe hummed softly, off-beat and out of tune, but there was no one around to hear him, so it didn’t matter. The quiet of the room wrapped around him, along with the hum of his equipment chugging along. His hands worked busily, but his processor wandered, while his spark felt light. His frame carried the dull ache of many good overloads.
“What’re ya doin’?” Ricochet’s recharge-heavy vocals broke the quiet. “Why’re ya up so early?”
It barely counted as morning. He’d been hard at work for an hour, making the pretty, sweet energon candies that were Ricochet’s favorite.
Sideswipe tossed a grin over his shoulder at Ricochet who was finally rising from the temporary berth they’d. “Making you a surprise.”
Ricochet climbed out of the berth, padding silently across the berth to join Sideswipe. He leaned in around Sideswipe and peered at the tiny machine whirring away, and near it, a small table with a full tray.
“Whoa,” Ricochet said, looking up at Sideswipe. “You made these?”
“Yep.” Sideswipe plucked a purple one from the top of the stack and held it to Ricochet’s lips. “Here.”
Ricochet took it with his denta, his lips brushing Sideswipe’s fingertips. His visor brightened, field filling with delight, as he started to chew.
“These taste just like the ones at your bar,” he said.
Sideswipe laughed. “Duh. I make those, too.”
“I thought Sun–”
“What? He’s not the only one with some art talent,” Sideswipe interjected, more than a little indignant. Okay, sure, he didn’t paint or sculpt or make gorgeous things like Sunstreaker did, but he still had talents of his own!
Ricochet nudged him with a shoulder, his field warm where it entwined with the edges of Sideswipe’s own. “So I see.” His glossa flicked over his lips. “Are they all for me?”
Sideswipe offered him another, this one bright blue and speckled with glitter. “Yep.”
Lips enclosed around his fingers, glossa flicking across the tips, before the warmth of Ricochet’s mouth retreated, taking the candy with it. “Mmm,” he purred. “I feel spoiled.”
Sideswipe grinned. “I should’ve used these to seduce you sooner.” He fed Ricochet another, stroking Ricochet’s lips with his fingers as he did so.
Ricochet shivered and pressed closer to him, the gentle snap of charge tickling Sideswipe’s armor. “Good in berth and with chemistry. What a treasure I’ve found.”
“Thought I found you first.” Sideswipe flicked off the machine with one hand and fed Ricochet another candy with the other.
His ventilations hitched as Ricochet captured and kept his finger. He pressed it between his denta and sucked on it. Arousal wound through Sideswipe’s lines, slow and lazy.
“Semantics,” Ricochet said around his mouthful. He bit the tip of Sideswipe’s finger. “Ya done yet? I feel a need to show my appreciation.”
Sideswipe’s lines throbbed with arousal. “Give me five minutes.”
“Deal.” Ricochet freed Sideswipe’s finger with a pop. “But you better bring the candies.”
Sideswipe’s grin was so bright that it hurt.
There wasn’t much in the way of culture to be found in Uraya. What little there was, however, Sunstreaker had seen so many times, he’d memorized them. Nothing inspired him anymore. He longed to leave Uraya, to see other cities and beautiful things.
Dent, however, had seen nothing beyond the reach of the Wastes. To be fair, most residents of Uraya disdained the Empuras and barred them from setting foot in their establishments. Sunstreaker’s glare made anyone who began to protest think twice. Dent had paid his admittance fee; he deserved to be here as much as anyone else.
“Do you like it?” Sunstreaker asked as they walked through Uraya’s version of a crystal garden.
It was a poor facsimile of the grand ones that Sunstreaker had seen vids of in Praxus and Crystal City, but it was better than nothing. It barely filled an acre, and contained wildly spawned crystal growths, colors clashing and minerals freely mingling. There was a beauty in the wildness, however, and sometimes the chaos gave Sunstreaker a new perspective.
“It is very interesting,” Dent said. He kept close to Sunstreaker, his armor drawn tight. His shoulders remained hunched, as though in defense of a blow that might arrive at any moment.
Sunstreaker arched an orbital ridge. “I’m sensing a but.”
Dent’s pincers clicked together, as they often did when he was uneasy. He continued to look around them, on alert for an imagined danger.
“They are pretty,” Dent reiterated, and hung back a little. “But something feels off. I do not know why. It is as though they are wrong somehow.”
Sunstreaker frowned. “Maybe because they are untended?” He shrugged. “I mean, yeah, in other cities they actually plan how the crystals grow. It’s one big art project.” He turned a corner and paused in front of his favorite growth. “I want to see them someday. Especially the Gardens.”
It was a distant hope. An empty one. He often vocalized it, with the internal knowledge that it would never come true. In the same way that Sideswipe talked about how much he wanted to walk the black market of Vos, a place no grounder was allowed to venture. And both of them, together, wanted to stand on the edge of the Sea of Rust. Sunstreaker had heard it was so large that it vanished into the horizon.
“Maybe you will.”
Sunstreaker snorted and shook his head. “It’s a stupid thing to hope for. I’m as stuck here in Uraya as you were in the Wastes.”
Dent tilted his head and gave Sunstreaker a direct look, as he so rarely did. “I am stuck no longer,” he said quietly, his optic gleaming, the same shade as the topaz crystals Sunstreaker favored. “Because of you.”
“That’s different,” Sunstreaker said.
“Not to me.” Dent’s gaze shifted past him, to the haphazardly grown crystals. “Maybe you only need to find a Sunstreaker of your own.”
“Or maybe you’ve been reading too many of Sideswipe’s datapads,” Sunstreaker retorted and then hated himself for getting snappy with Dent. The Empura didn’t know any better.
He cycled a ventilation. Dent didn’t know. He wouldn’t understand. No one was going to come rescue Sunstreaker. He wasn’t a pretty noble locked in a high tower.
This was his life, his functioning, and it was never going to be any better than this.
He stirred from his doze, although the effort was half-sparked. “Hm?”
“You ever think about leavin’ Uraya?”
Sideswipe tightened his arms around Ricochet and buried his face in Ricochet’s intake. “What kind of question is that? Course I have.”
“So why don’t you?”
Coherency won of the haze of recharge. Sideswipe’s optics onlined. “Because I can’t.”
Ricochet’s field nudged at his, as though trying to prod Sideswipe further awake. “Why not?”
Sideswipe groaned and rolled away from Ricochet, irritation beginning to replace the lazy beat of satisfaction in his lines. “Me and Sunny don’t have cards,” he answered honestly. “Aside from that, we’re broke.”
According to the government as a whole, he and Sunstreaker didn’t exist. They didn’t have registration cards or spark dates. They didn’t legally exist. Here on the edge of Uraya, it didn’t much matter. No one cared. But out there where a better life waited? It mattered a lot.
If they had credits, it would be a different story. They could just purchase one, in much the same manner their caretakers would have had to do, centuries ago when he and Sunny were sparked. They wouldn’t even have to be sneaky about it.
But credits were as elusive as credibility.
Ricochet’s visor dimly lit the darkness, giving it a pale purple glow. “Ya seem ta be doin’ well enough.”
Sideswipe sat up and scraped a hand down his faceplate. “Less than you think.” Alone, their building rental fee to Starscream took up over half of their monthly income. He peered at his berthmate, engine idling. “What’s with the questions?”
“Curiosity.” Ricochet lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
Sideswipe narrowed his optics. “Right. And why is it you’re here in Uraya again?”
Ricochet grinned and propped his head on his hand. “Starscream pays well.”
“Like frag he does” Sideswipe snorted. “He pays the least he thinks he can get away with. He’s cheap.”
“And I demand the most I’m worth. It works out.” Ricochet winked. “But seriously, would ya leave if ya could?”
“In a sparkbeat.” Sideswipe didn’t have to hesitate. He lowered himself back to the berth, facing Ricochet once more. “Sunny deserves better than this.”
Ricochet wriggled close and threw a leg over Sideswipe’s, his plating warm and buzzing where it pressed to Sideswipe’s own. “And ya don’t?”
“Shh. Recharge time. Gotta get up early,” Sideswipe redirected, offlining his optics, and trying to cycle a few quieting ventilations.
Ricochet draped an arm over him, his fingers teasing along a seam in Sideswipe’s back. “Ya didn’t answer my question.”
“Because it doesn’t matter,” Sideswipe huffed. “Talking impossible hypotheticals. That kinda slag is what gets mechs killed down here. As it is, me and Sunny, we’re only slightly better off than the Empuras.”
Ricochet stroked a soothing pattern down his back. “Ah. Sorry I said somethin’ then. I just think yer way too smart ta be stuck here.”
Sideswipe made a noncommittal noise. “You and me both.” He scooted back down the berth and tucked his face into Ricochet’s intake again. “Can we recharge now?”
His berthmate chuckled. “Yes. My curiosity is satisfied.”
Good. Sideswipe firmly set himself on the path to recharge, shoving aside all the thoughts Ricochet’s questioning had provoked.
There was no point in dreaming of impossibilities. He had no interest in being disappointed.
From a distance, Sunstreaker could only tell that someone was playing music. As he got closer, he picked out the soft sounds of a ballad. By the time he arrived at the door, Sunstreaker recognized the song.
His spark clenched. Memories cropped up, and for a moment, Sunstreaker let himself indulge in them. He dipped his head, shuttered his optics, and cycled a ventilation.
“Awww, come on. Not this song again.”
“You say that as though it is not your favorite.”
Sunstreaker scoffed, rolling his optics. “No, it’s yours.”
Prowl smiled at him, soft and gentle. “That is true as well.” He held out a hand, fingers open in offering. “Dance with me?”
“I’ve not gotten any better,” Sunstreaker warned him as he accepted the offer, though heat stole into his face.
Prowl chuckled and drew him close, until their nasal ridges brushed. “Then it is a good thing I do not mind all the extra practice.”
Sunstreaker onlined his optics, forcing reality back to the forefront.
Prowl? Was not coming back. There was no point in living in the past.
He steadied himself and peered into the common room, unsurprised to find Dent within. The Empura had his back to the door, his attention focused on Sideswipe’s sound system. For once, he looked entirely at ease, his head tilted a fraction and his pincers hanging at his side.
Sunstreaker was struck with an idea. Another way to chase away the ghost of the mech who abandoned him.
“Wanna dance?” Sunstreaker asked as he stepped into the room.
Dent whirled so fast he nearly tripped on his own feet, arms flailing to catch his balance. Sunstreaker rushed across the room, catching him before he could tumble. He smiled as Dent unleashed a startled squeak and clung to him.
“Sorry,” Sunstreaker said, sheepish. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Dent’s gaze met his. “I apologize. I was curious about the music. I did not mean to shirk my duties.”
Sunstreaker shook his head. “Listen all you want. It’s fine with me. Besides, at this point, I think you’ve cleaned and polished everything we own.” A small smile tugged at his lips as he leaned his face closer to Dent’s. “You didn’t answer my question though. Wanna dance?”
Dent’s field shivered. “I–”
“Come on. It’ll be fun,” Sunstreaker said, giving Dent’s arms a light squeeze. “I’ll even teach you if you don’t know how.”
Dent’s field went warm and fuzzy. He relaxed in Sunstreaker’s hold, armor easing out of its tight clamp. “You are kind.”
“You say that often enough, I might actually believe you.” Sunstreaker gently steadied Dent so he could stand on his own feet, and then moved to the sound system. The song was almost over so he set it to repeat and returned to Dent, holding out a hand. “Well. You gonna dance with me?”
Dent’s pincers clicked uncertainly. Finally, he lay his claw across Sunstreaker’s palm. “All right.”
“Then follow my lead.”
Sunstreaker grinned and guided Dent’s into position. Though it was a little awkward. Sunstreaker had always let Prowl lead before, and now he attempted to translate the steps so that he could lead.
He held Dent’s claw with careful fingers, guided Dent’s other hand to his shoulder, and then put his own on Dent’s thick waist. The Empura’s armor was warm beneath him, tingling, too.
The music filled the air around them. Sunstreaker listened to it for several seconds, counting the cadence and the steps he’d learned. He bobbed his head to the beat before he swung Dent into the first step, fully expecting the Empura to stumble, perhaps trip over his own feet.
Dent did, indeed, fumble, but he quickly caught himself, and he moved with Sunstreaker into the next step, though behind the count. By the time they’d made a circuit around the common room, Dent followed along well enough that Sunstreaker didn’t have to fear any crushed feet.
“You’ve done this before,” he said, surprised.
Dent looked down at him, his optic glowing softly. “Not that I recall.”
“Maybe in a past life then,” Sunstreaker said with a small smile.
He spun Dent into another turn, the Empura moving with ease. The song seemed to swell around them, and Sunstreaker’s spark beat with it.
Maybe someday Dent would remember who he was. Maybe he’d even try to return to that old life. Sunstreaker didn’t have any right to ask him to stay.
Yet, he still hoped that Dent would.