[TF] One Wish 04

Sunstreaker surfaced from the dark slowly, a low groan escaping his lips as his processor booted and grudgingly brought his sensory suite with him. Audials first, then optics. He felt oddly disconnected from his frame, but there wasn’t any pain.

His visual feed clarified from black to static to a dimly-lit room, one he didn’t recognize. He wasn’t at home. He wasn’t in the local medcenter which was surely too far a drive from the cafe anyway.

“Good morning, Sunshine.”

“Don’t call me that,” Sunstreaker croaked as he turned his head, finding Sideswipe sitting on a stool next to him, his face creased with worry. “Where am I?”

“Safe,” Sideswipe answered as he scooted closer, the chair scraping across the floor. “Don’t flip out, but we’re in the palace.”

“The what?” Sunstreaker struggled to sit up, only to hiss as his abdomen snarled a protest. His ventral armor felt really tender.

He groped with his right hand, felt temp plating and a wealth of static bandages. His frame reported recent injuries, but nothing current. He’d been repaired. Someone had fixed him.

“I said stay calm. Sheesh.” Sideswipe patted at his shoulder. “It was the closest thing to medical care we could get on short notice.”

“But Starscream–”

“–is dead.” Sideswiped cycled a ventilation, pressing his palms to his optics. “You, uh, kind of made sure of that.”

Sunstreaker worked his intake. “I… Sides.”

“Shh. It’s okay.” Sideswipe squeezed his hand, his tone earnest. “I promise. No one’s mad about that. No one around here’s gonna miss ’em. You just got to him before Ricochet did.”

Sunstreaker chewed on his bottom lip. “Ricochet?”

“Yeah. It’s a long story.” Sideswipe rolled his neck, easing the kinked cables. “Apparently, that’s not his name.”

“There seems to be a lot of that going around,” Sunstreaker muttered as his gaze wandered to the door. There was a shape on the other side of the glass as though it was being guarded. “Where’s Dent?”

“You mean Prowl,” Sideswipe said with another sigh. “He’s in surgery and yeah, Starscream wasn’t lying. Dent is Prowl, albeit a Prowl who’s undergone Empurata and something else. I can’t remember what they called it.”

Sunstreaker worked his intake and managed to get an elbow beneath himself to leverage his upper half up, despite the pain in his abdomen. “I want to see him.”

“You will, but not yet. He’s still in surgery. Come on, Sunny. Don’t ruin the medic’s hard work.” Sideswipe half-rose out of his chair, hands making aborted gestures to urge Sunstreaker back down. “I promise to explain as much as I can.”

Sunstreaker set his jaw but relented, laying back on the berth. “Tell me about Ricochet then.”

“Right.” Sideswipe rubbed a hand over his head and sat back on his stool. “Ricochet’s name is Jazz. He’s an Enforcer Specialist from Praxus, and he was here to find Prowl. Unofficially, I mean.”

Sunstreaker blinked. “Why unofficially?”

“When Prowl went dark, his superiors opted not to look for him. Politics or something, I dunno.” Sideswipe shrugged, his gaze wandering away. “Jazz skipped out and came looking on his own. They’re brothers.”

Come to think of it, Sunstreaker did remember Prowl mentioning he had a brother.

“Then why was Prowl here?”

“To investigate Starscream.” Sideswipe made a face and folded his arms over his chest. He leaned back in the chair.

“Why?”

Sideswipe’s foot started tapping out a nonsense beat. “Because mechs were going missing, and all traces led back here, to Uraya and to Starscream.” He slumped a little further, his field shrinking inward. “Turns out, they were right.”

Sunstreaker’s optics widened. “What?”

“He was taking mechs, mostly ones he thought no one would miss, and experimenting on them.”

Sunstreaker had no words. He stared at his brother. Sure, everyone knew to stay away from the Regent and Starscream could be creepy at times. But this? Was that why there were so many Empuras in the Wastes?

Sideswipe shrunk into himself further, guilt swallowing his field, his gaze wandering away. “I mean, it makes sense in retrospect. The kind of stuff I got for him, it was supplies, medical equipment, devices that I couldn’t tell you what they did.”

Oh, Primus. That made them accessories, didn’t it?

Sunstreaker looked at the door, the shadow he was now convinced was a guard keeping them in this room. “Are we under arrest?”

“Maybe. I dunno.” Sideswipe shrugged, looking very small as he cycled an audible ventilation. “Sunny–”

He shook his head. “I know. You don’t have to say it.” Sunstreaker slid the nearest arm closer to his brother and wriggled his fingers invitingly. “I’m sorry, too.”

Sideswipe tangled their fingers together, giving his hand a squeeze. “I hate arguing with you.”

“Then maybe you should stop being so stubborn.”

Sideswipe chuckled. “You’re one to talk.”

A knock on the door interrupted Sunstreaker’s response. He and Sideswipe both looked toward it as it slid open, two mechs easing inside. One of them was Ricochet, or at least Sunstreaker assumed him to be. The overall shape was familiar, the color scheme also similar. The largest adjustment was that his visor was now blue as opposed to purple.

The other mech Sunstreaker assumed was a medic. He was large and blocky, with medic crosses on his shoulders and a white and red paint scheme. The grey chevron on his forehead denoted a mech of high status.

“You’re awake. Good.” The medic strode across the floor without delay, his gaze skimming over the machine as he unsubbed a datapad.

Sunstreaker looked at him. “Who are you?”

“He’s the one who fixed you,” Sideswipe said with another squeeze to his hand. “Fixed me up, too.” His free hand patted his hip, where evidence of a static bandage gave proof to a previous injury.

The medic grunted as he marked something down on his datapad. “The name’s Ratchet. And if anyone asks, I’m not here.”

“Ratch is kind of doing me a favor,” Ricochet – Sunstreaker couldn’t think of him as Jazz yet – grinned. “I’m not s’posed ta be here either.”

“Damn fools in Iacon think they can write off a mech and bury it,” Ratchet muttered, his words angered but his touch gentle as he disconnected Sunny from the machine. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”

Jazz loosed a small laugh. “Yeah, I know, Ratch. I know.” He patted Ratchet on the shoulder, a brave action if Sunstreaker ever saw one, before he looked at Sunstreaker. “You okay?”

“I don’t know,” Sunstreaker answered honestly. His processor still felt muzzy. “Is Dent really Prowl?”

“His spark is.” Ratchet grunted, his field turning sour. “We’re working on making the rest of him match.”

“We?”

“He and his partner. You’ll meet ‘im later,” Jazz answered. “Prowl just came out of surgery, by the way. He won’t wake for a bit, but ya can see him if ya want.”

Sideswipe cycled his vocalizer to catch their attention. “We’re not under arrest?”

Jazz shook his head. “Don’t have any pull to arrest ya. Like I said, we’re not supposed ta be here. Besides, it’s not like ya did anything wrong.”

“You couldn’t have known what Starscream was doing with the supplies you acquired for him,” Ratchet said before he disconnected the last line and held out a hand. “You can stand if you want. Carefully.”

Sideswipe rose to his feet, keeping his grip on Sunstreaker’s other hand. He felt very shaky as he accepted the offer of Ratchet’s hand, and between the medic and Sideswipe, Sunstreaker was leveraged off the berth. His abdomen only ached a little, the ache of self-repair in action.

“Take it easy,” Ratchet said as he let go of Sunstreaker’s hand, leaving him to cling to Sideswipe as he balanced on his feet. “And no transforming.”

Sunstreaker inclined his head. “Yes, sir.”

“Don’t call me, sir either.” Ratchet flashed something like a smile, his denta like a Sharkticon’s.

“Ratch don’t take kindly to command,” Jazz said with a flash of his visor and a nudge with his elbow.

Ratchet cast him a dark look. “Isn’t there somewhere you should be right now?”

Jazz held up his hands, backing away. “Sure, sure.” The light behind his visor shifted to Sideswipe, lingering, before he took two long steps toward the door. “I leave them in your hands then. I’ll just go check on Wheeljack.”

“You do that.”

Jazz offered an uneasy smile and then he left, the door clicking shut behind him.

“Does he bother you?” Sideswipe asked.

Ratchet snorted. “Everything bothers me.” He peered at the weld on Sunstreaker’s abdomen before straightening. “I can take you to see Prowl if you want.”

Sunstreaker nodded. “I do.” He clutched Sideswipe’s hand, spark squirming with a mixture of anxiety and relief.

“Then follow me.”

They left the tiny recovery room. No one one else was in the narrow hallway, and Jazz had made himself scarce rather quickly. Of the guard on their door, Sunstreaker saw no signs.

There were other doors, all of them looked to be locked, their panels glowing a baleful red. They were labeled, some of the glyphs unfamiliar to Sunstreaker. He suspected he didn’t want to know, especially if Starscream was performing all kinds of weird scientific experiments in here.

“Why do you think Starscream did all this?” Sideswipe asked as they followed in the medic’s wake, Ratchet slowing himself down for Sunstreaker’s sake.

“He was studying Empurata,” Ratchet answered before Sunstreaker could formulate a guess. “Starscream used to be a scientist in Iacon. One of our top researchers.”

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker exchanged glances. “What happened?” Sunstreaker asked.

“He left.” Ratchet tossed a look over his shoulder. “There are plenty of rumors as to why, but if you ask me, it was because of Shockwave.”

The designation had an echo of familiarity to it, but Sunstreaker didn’t know why. He couldn’t think where he’d heard it before. It wasn’t like he’d ever been to Iacon and he’d definitely never set foot in Starscream’s palace.

Ratchet drew to a halt in front of a long, low window, one that revealed the interior of a recovery room similar to the one where Sunstreaker had woken. Sunstreaker peered inside, but unless Prowl had gone through a significant change in order to go undercover, that was not Prowl.

“Who is that?” Sideswipe asked.

Ratchet sighed, resting a hand on the sill as he looked in on the mech, dark purple plating contrasting with white hands and a protoform-bare head. “Shockwave.”

Sunstreaker’s optics widened.

“Near as I can figure, Shockwave was one of the first to receive Empurata, though as to why the Senate thought he needed to be punished, he’s probably the only one who knows.” Ratchet’s voice took on that of a storyteller, his gaze fixed on the unmoving mech. “Worse, they also performed Shadowplay on him. Whoever did it was amateur, but thorough. I gather Starscream was trying to get him back to the way he was.”

“Why?” Sideswipe asked.

“They’re bonded.”

Sunstreaker startled, and he wasn’t the only one. “What?”

Ratchet cycled a ventilation. “Sparks are tricky things,” he said. “They took Shockwave’s emotions, his ability to feel, but he remembers Starscream. His spark remembers and still loves Starscream, but he couldn’t process what that meant.” He lowered his hand from the sill. “I can’t imagine what that was like.”

“I don’t get it.” Sideswipe rubbed his arms. “If you could fix Prowl, how come Starscream couldn’t fix Shockwave?”

“He was close to figuring it out,” Ratchet admitted. “Before now, I couldn’t have returned an Empurata victim back to who he was. But with Starscream’s research and my own put together… I can fix Prowl, and I think I can fix Shockwave, too.”

Sunstreaker’s hands clenched on the edge of the sill. “He won’t ever know you did,” he murmured.

“No, he won’t,” Ratchet said softly and stepped back from the window. “Come on. I’ll take you to Prowl. Enough staring at the unfortunate.”

Sunstreaker pushed away, falling into step beside Ratchet, but Sideswipe lingered. He frowned as he stared at Shockwave, his field unreadable.

“What did he do?” Sideswipe asked.

“Come again?”

“To get punished like that.” Sideswipe stepped away from the window, finally shifting his gaze to them. “What did Shockwave do?”

Ratchet shook his head. “I don’t know. None of us do.”

“Does it really matter? He probably didn’t deserve it,” Sunstreaker muttered. “Can we see Prowl now?” He felt jittery, anxious all over, and the delays didn’t help.

He still couldn’t believe that Prowl was here, that he hadn’t left because he wanted to.

Ratchet gave him a long look but nodded and gestured for Sunstreaker to follow. “He’s recovering, so I can’t let you stay for long.”

“However long I can get,” Sunstreaker said, his fingers twisting together. Excitement was replaced by anxiety.

What if Prowl didn’t want to see him?

“What about his memory?” Sideswipe asked as he caught up to them, his shoulder bumping Sunstreaker’s in a show of support.

“He never really forgot, truth be told,” Ratchet answered with an aggrieved sigh and a rub of his chevron. “Starscream was smart, but he didn’t know everything. Prowl’s battle computer was cutting edge, experimental tech. What Starscream didn’t know was that access to his memory core ran through it.”

Sunstreaker flattened his orbital ridge. “So…”

“So without it, he couldn’t read his memories.” Sideswipe thumbed his chin. “What does that mean now though? Will he remember what happened?”

Ratchet lowered his hand. “I honestly don’t know. This is new territory. My assumption is yes, though there may be some distortions.”

Some memory was better than none.

Ratchet stopped in front of another medical room with a viewing window. “Well, here he is. He should be online.”

“Thanks,” Sunstreaker said, though it was absent, his attention already caught by the window as he edged toward it and peered into the room.

Sunstreaker’s ventilations caught.

The paint was scraped and worn. The sensory plates were still missing, surely on the to-do list for the medics, but there was no doubt in Sunstreaker’s processor that Prowl was lying on the berth. His hands, his head, all were back as they should be.

Scratches and dings and dirt aside, he was the most handsome mech Sunstreaker had ever seen. His spark ached to look at him. His knees wobbled.

How long had it been? Months?

Sideswipe rested a hand on his shoulder. “Aren’t you going to go in?”

Sunstreaker worked his intake. “I don’t know if I can.” He gnawed on his bottom lip. “What if…?”

“Bro.” Sideswipe squeezed his shoulder, his field gently enclosing Sunstreaker. “You ain’t never gonna know if you don’t find out. But I’m telling you, he was just like Shockwave.”

Sunstreaker cycled his optics. “What?’

Sideswipe had his serious face on. “Prowl didn’t remember who he was, his own name. But isn’t it curious that he still found you?” His hand slid to Sunstreaker’s chestplate, right over his central seam. “The spark knows. And if his spark wanted you, ya can bet the rest of him does, too.”

Sunstreaker stared at his twin. Sideswipe hadn’t been the most supportive when Sunstreaker and Prowl first started seeing each other. In fact, he’d been a grumbling, stomping sibling for most of the time. He’d all but shouted ‘good riddance’ when Prowl first vanished.

He honestly didn’t have any words.

Sideswipe patted his seam again. “So you need to get your aft in there, bro. Don’t make yourself wait anymore.” His hand slid down and away, the other rising to give Sunstreaker’s back a push. “Go.”

He went, casting a final look back over his shoulder. Honestly, he wasn’t sure he recognized Sideswipe anymore, but he had to admit he liked the change.

Sunstreaker cycled a ventilation, braced himself, and opened the door. He eased inside, the quiet of the recovery room swallowing him up. There was a steady beeping, that of the machines monitoring Prowl’s condition. The room stank of cleaning supplies, of weld-sparks and med-grade coolant.

Sunstreaker inched toward the berth, the stool conveniently left beside it. Prowl’s optics were shuttered. What if he were sleeping?

Sunstreaker stalled. Maybe he shouldn’t. Maybe he should just go. Prowl needed his rest, to recover. He needed to heal.

He slid backward a step. His elbow hit something, a stand, it rattled noisily. Sunstreaker’s spark skipped a beat as he spun to catch whatever it was before it hit the ground. Great. Graceless as always.

“… Sunstreaker?”

He froze again. The static-laced sound of his name was Prowl, through and through. He’d recognize the echo of it anywhere.

Sunstreaker straightened and turned. Prowl’s optics had onlined with a dim glow, but they were directed at him.

“Yeah, it’s me,” he said. Nothing to it now. He inched back to the stool and carefully lowered himself into it. “How’re you feeling?”

“As though someone had taken my head and put it through a shredder,” Prowl admitted with a curve of his lips. His gaze drifted downward. “You were hurt?”

Sunstreaker instinctively reached for the static mesh on his abdomen. “It’s nothing. I’m told I’ll live.”

Prowl’s hand moved, reaching for him, fingers touching the bandage. “I always thought I was to protect you, not the other way around.”

“Pfft. And I told you, I can take care of myself. Besides, it seems like you’re the one getting yourself into trouble.”

Something flickered over Prowl’s face. “Yes. I made a mistake.” He cycled a ventilation, withdrawing his hand.

Sunstreaker caught it before he could convince himself not to, tangling their fingers together. Hands. Hands where pincers had been. He still couldn’t believe he hadn’t put the clues together.

“Starscream realized why I was here, and I hadn’t recognized that I was compromised.” Prowl’s gaze dropped to their hands, his thumb rubbing over the back of Sunstreaker’s hand. “I thought he would offline me. I prayed that he wouldn’t punish you as well.”

Sunstreaker’s spark warmed as he felt the first stirrings of Prowl’s field. It was weak, compared to the powerful force it had been before, a testament to his injured state.

“I’m not afraid of Starscream. I never was.” Sunstreaker leaned closer as Prowl’s optics brightened. “I’m sorry.”

Prowl tilted his head. “For what?”

Sunstreaker looked away. The wall, it was very fascinating. “I thought you left,” he admitted, shame coloring his field. “I looked, but I should have looked harder. I thought the worst of you and left you to suffer alone.” Guilt made his vents click. “I should have had faith in you.”

“I was not alone.” Prowl’s fingers squeezed his. “I remember, Sunstreaker, how you treated me kindly. When all others isolated me, you offered energon, and later, a place to stay, a home. You offered me friendship.”

Sunstreaker squirmed on the chair. “I don’t even know why I did that,” he muttered.

“Because you are not the monster you think you are.” The medberth creaked beneath Prowl as he shifted, the only warning Sunstreaker had before his free hand touched the underside of Sunstreaker’s chin, urging him to look at Prowl. “There’s a reason I love you.”

Sunstreaker’s optics widened. His vents caught in his intake with a wheeze. A tremble raced through him, from the tip of his head to the ends of his feet.

“You…. You…”

“I probably should have said it sooner,” Prowl admitted, his thumb stroking the curve of Sunstreaker’s jaw. “I thought to wait for the right time. I never could have imagined failing my mission first.”

“I…” Words failed Sunstreaker, as they always did. He knew what he wanted to say, but he didn’t want to blurt it out. He wanted it to mean something. “I… I missed you,” he choked out, words laced with static. “I missed you so much.”

“I know,” Prowl murmured and cupped Sunstreaker’s head, drawing him near until he could press their forehelms together.

Sunstreaker ex-vented softly, leaning into Prowl’s embrace. Tension eased out of his frame, out of his spark, leaving nothing but a gentle relief behind.

~

Sideswipe peered in through the window, feeling at once jittery and relieved. He remembered how sparkbroken his brother had been. How cold and closed off he’d become.

Now… now there was pure happiness in his optics. He leaned close to Prowl as if he couldn’t bear to be separated again.

“I never knew he could smile like that.”

Sideswipe slanted a look to the left, registering the black and white frame approaching him. Ricochet – Jazz his processor reminded him – had changed very little about his appearance, which made for a jarring disconnect to Sideswipe. He still resembled the mech Sideswipe had taken to berth, all except for his visor.

“I forgot Sunny could smile, too,” Sideswipe admitted as he watched the two mechs embrace, the armor on Sunstreaker’s back shuffling before it settled down smooth.

Jazz inched closer to him, his elbow bumping Sideswipe’s, though his field was restrained. “They’re lucky.”

Sideswipe made a noncommittal noise.

Jazz audibly cycled a ventilation. “I think we need to talk, Sides.”

He shrugged, staring intently through the window. “There’s nothing to talk about.” He kept his tone carefully neutral.

“Other than us.”

“What ‘us’?” Sideswipe shifted toward Jazz, but put a distance between them. “It was never serious, if I recall. It was fun. No expectations. No promises.”

Jazz’s visor flashed at him, energon blue. “Then why do ya sound hurt?”

Sideswipe ground his jaw then shook his head. “I don’t have time for this. I need to figure out how me and Sunny are going to make it now.”

Jazz’s hand on his arm was warm. Coaxing. “Sideswipe, please. Five minutes.”

His gaze slid back to his brother, who had gingerly climbed into the berth next to Prowl, snuggled up against Prowl’s side. Sideswipe tried and failed to fight the spike of jealousy that gnawed into his field. He was proud of Sunstreaker, but he admitted, if only to himself, that he wanted what Sunstreaker had.

He wanted it with the fire of a thousand suns.

“Fine,” Sideswipe bit out.

Jazz grinned and took his hand, tangling their fingers together. He tugged Sideswipe away from the window, down the hall, and to an unmarked door. Inside was what looked like a closet for data storage, hardly romantic. But it was small and private, what Sideswipe supposed mattered.

He pulled his hand free of Jazz’s and folded his arms. He wasn’t going to let himself be swayed by pretty words and a prettier smile. He’d lived in Uraya too long not to be suspicious of a good thing.

“Sides–”

“Look.” He spun toward Jazz, determined to get the first shot fired. “You were on a mission. I get it. You don’t owe me an apology or an explanation or to let me down gently. I get it.”

Jazz worked his jaw. “Apparently, you don’t. You seem ta be laboring under a serious misconception.” He inched closer, his field preceding him. “I meant what I said. What we had was nothin’ to do with my business here.”

Sideswipe looked away. He didn’t want that thin spark of hope. It was dangerous. It wasn’t meant for him.

“I don’t even know who you are,” Sideswipe gritted out.

“So we start over. We give it a real try this time.” Jazz’s field was gentle, coaxing, inviting. It held echoes of all the times they laughed. “Unless you don’t want that.”

Sideswipe hunched his shoulders. He didn’t know why he felt hurt.

“What’s the point?” he muttered. “You’re going back to Iacon, and I’m staying here to pick up the pieces of this mess.”

“You that attached to Uraya?”

He rubbed the heel of his palm against his optics. “Me ‘n Sunny, we’re barely moren’ gutter mechs. Where else we gonna go?”

“If you think Prowl ain’t gonna offer your brother the world now, you’re blind. There’s no way he’s leaving Sunstreaker unless Sunstreaker rejects him.”

Sideswipe made a face. “Ah. Charity. I always did love the bitter taste of it.” He sneered. “Uraya’s a damn sight better than becomin’ some dolled up berthtoy.”

Jazz sighed. “That’s not what we’re offering. It ain’t charity either. It’s a helping hand. You’re both smart, talented, all ya need is a way to get started.”

If there was one thing Sideswipe had learned living on the edge of the Wastes it was this: if something sounded too good to be true, it probably was.

“Unless, of course, your objection to this is that you don’t want to be with me, in which case, fine. I can take rejection. I still want ya to come to Iacon with us though.”

Sideswipe stared at him. “No one is that generous.”

Jazz tilted his chin. “So says the mech whose brother took in an Empurata victim out of the kindness of his spark.”

“That’s Sunny. He’s special.”

“And you’re not?”

His spark ached. It sounded like the truth, ringing in his audials. No. No, he wasn’t. The special one was Sunstreaker. The shining star. The pure spirit.

That was not Sideswipe.

Jazz’s field stroked over his, a gentle caress that recalled the night he’d spent tracing odd patterns into Sideswipe’s back plating while they watched re-runs of an old comedy series. They hadn’t interfaced that evening for some reason, but Sideswipe hadn’t turned around and left either. He’d opted to stay.

“I don’t know what happened,” Jazz said, his voice oddly soft. “And I’m not asking you to tell me. But whatever it is, it’s a burden you’ve been carrying for a long time. One I want to help you bear.”

He inched closer, closer, and Sideswipe was hard-pressed to walk away. He wanted to lean in to what Jazz offered. He wanted to sink into the solace that seemed so welcoming.

“I can’t decide for you what we were, but for me, it meant something.” Jazz reached and Sideswipe was too weak not to reach back.

Sideswipe let himself be wrapped into Jazz’s arms, suddenly feeling small despite being almost a full head taller than the other mech. He pressed his forehead to Jazz’s shoulder, listening to the rhythmic vents.

“Let me be the one to look after you,” Jazz murmured, one hand gently stroking down Sideswipe’s spinal strut. “Let me be your shelter.”

Sideswipe chuckled, though it was full of static and nearer to a sob. “I didn’t know you were such a poet.”

“Ya must bring it out in me,” Jazz said, his voice warm with affection and humor. “Is it workin’?”

“I don’t know yet.” Sideswipe shuttered his optics, his thoughts awhirl. It was too hard to think, his processor drifting between too many points of concern. “I can’t think right now.”

Jazz hummed in his vocalizer, like the beginning of a song. “Then don’t. When was the last time ya recharged?”

He honestly couldn’t remember. He hadn’t recharged well since Dent vanished and Sunstreaker spent his free time out in the Wastes, looking for him. He thought he may have caught a few hours while waiting for Sunstreaker to come out of surgery, but Sideswipe wasn’t sure. Trying to tap into his short-term memory was like poking at sludge.

“Sides?”

He unshuttered his optics and straightened, the abrupt motion making him stagger a bit. Primus, his head was spinning.

“I don’t know,” Sideswipe admitted. He worked an arm free, pressing the heel of it to his forehead.

Jazz muttered something that might have been a curse as he eased out of the embrace and grabbed Sideswipe’s hand firmly. “Come on.”

“Why?” Sideswipe asked as Jazz pulled him with an unexpected strength toward the door. Then again, there was a lot he didn’t know about Jazz.

“You need to rest.”

Sideswipe rolled his optics. “I’m not the one who got shot in the fuel tank.”

“Sides, you gotta take care of yourself, too. Sunny’s fine, I promise. Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen to him.”

They emerged into the hallway and Jazz marched him two doors down, to a room that was clean and unoccupied. Sideswipe balked a little. He wasn’t sure he could recharge here, not knowing what Starscream had been doing in this place.

“Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen to you either,” Jazz added as he backed Sideswipe up to the berth and gave him a little push, until his aft landed on the pad. “I’m gonna sit right here the whole time.”

Sideswipe sighed and pulled himself onto the berth. Fatigue tugged at every cable and strut, but so did tension. He lay on the pad as stiff as a board. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so disconnected.

“You’re just going to watch me recharge?” Sideswipe asked.

“Well, no. I figured I could work on some paperwork or somethin’.” Jazz gave him a crooked grin, one that was pure Ricochet. “Ya can’t imagine how much I left behind when I came here.”

Sideswipe huffed a laugh. He scooted over on the berth, his spark hammering in his chassis. “And I’ll bet you haven’t recharged either.” He patted the berth in open invitation. “There’s room for two?”

Did he sound hopeful?

Primus, he did. He was a mess. He was also probably going to regret this when he woke later. But the memory of his jealousy, of Sunstreaker and Prowl scrunched together on that medberth, wouldn’t leave him alone.

“Ya sure?”

“Wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t.”

Jazz stared at him for a long moment before he accepted Sideswipe’s invitation, sliding into the berth beside him. It took some maneuvering until they found a comfortable position, one they often favored before, with Sideswipe curled around Jazz from behind. He could feel the soft purrs of Jazz’s engine against his chestplate.

The lights dimmed seconds later, some kind of remote control Sideswipe assumed. He cycled a ventilation and tried to relax into recharge, focusing on the pulse and ebb of Jazz’s field. It offered him a comfort he couldn’t have expected. He didn’t think he would relax enough to recharge, but Jazz’s frame in his arms was familiar and warm.

There was no difference between Jazz and Ricochet like this.

And that thought, combined with Jazz’s welcome field, was enough to lull Sideswipe into recharge.

~

Sunstreaker had lost count of all the times he’d woken from a pleasant dream only to be faced with an upsetting reality. The solace once found in his memories became tainted by the dread of onlining.

This time was no exception. He was drawn away from a dream of Prowl returning, having never wanting to leave in the first place. Sunstreaker expected to wake up in a cold, empty berth with the reminder that he was still abandoned.

Even the warmth felt like a lie, until the grouchy growl pierced the doubt like a blaster shot. Sunstreaker lurched awake with little subtlety as his short-term memory core dumped into his active queue and unmade the dream.

“Calm down, kid,” the grouchy voice snarled as Sunstreaker’s field spiked.

His optics snapped online, vents wheezing, as he jerked out of a warm and welcome embrace.

Bright lights. Antiseptic stench. Another field against his, one failing to soothe, the other painfully, achingly familiar.

Clarity drizzled into his processor. Something warm touched his cheek. Fingers. A hand.

Prowl’s hand.

“It wasn’t a dream,” Sunstreaker whispered, his vocalizer spitting static. His vision clarified into Prowl’s face, his soft blue optics, his gentle smile.

“No,” Prowl confirmed, his field nudging more firmly against Sunstreaker’s, grounding him. “I am here.”

Sunstreaker’s vents hitched. “How do I know I’m not dreaming now?”

“I could shock you if you want,” the grumpy growl commented.

Sunstreaker froze.

Prowl sighed, his gaze sliding past Sunstreaker’s shoulders. “Has anyone ever told you that you have an atrocious berthside manner?”

“Many times.” Ratchet – Sunstreaker recognized his voice now – said. “You get used to it.”

Prowl’s lips twitched, his attention returning to Sunstreaker. “If Ratchet’s less than pleasant temperament doesn’t convince you, I’m not sure anything will.”

Sunstreaker’s lips curved. “I don’t think I could have imagined him anyway.”

“I’m right here you know,” Ratchet grumped, moving into Sunstreaker’s peripheral vision. “And now that you’re with us, kid, I need you off that berth where you shouldn’t have been in the first place.”

Prowl stroked Sunstreaker’s cheek again before releasing him. “Your work remains immaculate, Ratchet. No harm was done.”

“You are both in a sorry state. I’ll be the judge of that,” Ratchet retorted as a scan washed over Sunstreaker, making his dermal plating itch.

Sunstreaker reluctantly slid off the berth, but remained beside it, within Prowl’s reach. It all still felt unreal, as though he was going to wake up cold and alone again. He sought out Prowl’s hand, tangling their fingers together.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” Ratchet finally said as he frowned over something on his datapad. “Neither of you are idiots.”

Sunstreaker squinted. “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

“Sadly, yes.” Prowl sighed. “He’s something of an acquired taste.”

Ratchet’s fingers flew over the datapad, foregoing a stylus. “I’ll remember that the next time your reckless brother calls me for a favor.”

“You would have come anyway.”

“Yeah, but don’t tell anyone.” Ratchet’s orbital ridge flattened. “Now as cute as the two of you cuddling is, we need some privacy, kid.”

Sunstreaker tightened his grip. “But–”

“I am not leaving, Sunstreaker. Do not worry.” Prowl’s field pulsed with affection. “I suspect Ratchet wishes to lecture me.”

“Among other things,” the medic huffed.

Because that didn’t sound ominous at all.

Prowl tugged, urging Sunstreaker down until he could press their foreheads together.

“We have much to discuss,” he murmured. “But know that I do not intend to leave you again.”

“You had better not.”

Prowl stroked his cheek before pulling him in for a sweet kiss. Their lips moved together, as chaste as could be, though it sent a zing straight to Sunstreaker’s spark. Warmth flooded his chassis.

“All right. Enough canoodling, you two. You do want your flats back at some point, yes?”

Sunstreaker reluctantly withdrew from Prowl’s embrace. It was hard to let go, to walk away, though Ratchet’s stare was insistent.

“Do not strain yourself,” Ratchet warned. “No transforming. No heavy lifting. No strenuous activity of any kind.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sunstreaker cast a longing glance at Prowl who gave him a reassuring smile and shooed him on.

“I’ll comm you when you can come back,” Ratchet added with an aggrieved sigh.

Sunstreaker didn’t expect the courtesy. He offered Ratchet a small smile. “Thank you,” he said and made himself scarce, closing the door quietly behind him.

He lingered in the hallway, peering through the window. Ratchet stowed his datapad and pulled up the stool on the other side of Prowl’s berth. They were talking, Sunstreaker could see, with Ratchet making large gestures with his hands. Prowl looked resigned.

Iacon business, Sunstreaker supposed.

He wondered what would happen next. Prowl didn’t live in Uraya and Sunstreaker didn’t belong in Iacon.

Sunstreaker sighed and forced himself away from the window. He needed to find Sideswipe.

They had a lot of talking to do.

~

Sideswipe woke to the soft whispers of conversation, one that wasn’t directed at him. He surfaced from recharge slowly, his frame trying to pull him back under. Jazz, however, was talking to someone and Sideswipe’s audials caught onto it.

“–soon as we can, but I ain’t promisin’ anythin’, sir.”

There was a pause, a whuff of irritation entering Jazz’s field, and then he said, “Yes, sir. I understand. Jazz, out.”

The irritation grew strength, until it whisked away, smoothed right out of Jazz’s field. His hand slid down to the one Sideswipe had rested on his hip.

“G’morning,” Jazz murmured.

“What was that about?”

Jazz sighed and wriggled about on the berth, turning so that he faced Sideswipe. “Higher ups getting twitchy in Iacon. Prime’s been riding their afts hard.”

Sideswipe’s spark clenched. “You have to go back?”

“Yeah. But not anytime soon.” Jazz’s lip curved as he wriggled closer, notching their frames together.

“Oh?”

“Prowl still needs surgery before he can get mobile. He can’t walk around properly without his flats.” Jazz nuzzled into Sideswipe’s intake, in-venting sharply. “Plus there’re dozens of victims here that are goin’ ta need help, not ta mention those hidin’ in the Wastes”

Sideswipe worked his intake. “And they’re letting you stay for that?”

Jazz shrugged, his lips brushing Sideswipe’s intake cables, prompting a shiver through his armor. “It’s complicated. Prowl’s kind of Prime’s favorite, and he wasn’t too happy to find out that the Senate had ignored the fact he missed the last seven check-ins. So he’s sending a team to help. Once Prowl’s back on his feet, he’s supposed to lead it.”

Desire dared trickle down his spinal strut. Sideswipe fought it off and leaned back so that he could meet Jazz’s gaze.

“What about you?”

The blue visor dimmed, disappointment flickering through Jazz’s field. “I did kind of leave without permission. Walked out on my job, too.” Jazz shifted back, putting some space between them, though their legs remained tangled. “I’ll figure something out. Might be a position will open up pretty soon, since Prime’s so mad and all.”

Sideswipe ignored the disappointment that thought to fizzle in his spark. “How much longer will you be here?”

“Until we fix what Starscream ruined, I guess.” Jazz shrugged, though it didn’t feel casual. “Until Prowl’s satisfied with what we’ve done. Ratchet will hafta go back sooner than that, but he’s leavin’ us his best apprentice and Wheeljack. That should be enough.”

“And then what?”

“I don’t know. It’s nothin’ that can be decided in this moment, Sideswipe.” A twinge of annoyance entered Jazz’s vocals before he sighed and sat up, sweeping a hand over his head. “I just… I don’t know the answers. I only know what I want.”

Sideswipe pushed himself upright as well, bracing his backstrut against the wall. “And that would be?” He drew his knees up, resting his arms over the top of them.

Jazz’s lower lip curved. He tilted his head. “I would’ve thought that were obvious by now.”

“Indulge me,” Sideswipe insisted, twisting his wrists in a display of invitation.

Jazz slipped off the berth but didn’t go far, leaning forward to brace his weight on the edge of it. “Do ya think I have something to prove, is that it?”

Sideswipe stared at him. “Everything I know about you is a lie,” he said quietly.

“Not everything.” Jazz shook his head and cycled a ventilation. “Yeah, my name was a lie. Some of this, too.” He gestured to his paint, his frame. “But the personal stuff? All of that was true. I told ya stuff I shouldn’t have. I…” He paused and shook his head again. “Ya got under my platin’, Sides. I didn’t expect that.”

Sideswipe’s ventilations caught. The confession actually sounded genuine. Not like the act Sideswipe had come to know. Nothing like Ricochet but something else.

He scooted forward, to the edge of the berth, dangling his lower legs off the edge of it to either side of Jazz’s frame. He still kept his hands to himself.

“I like you,” Sideswipe said, though his gaze went past Jazz’s head, focusing on the far, empty wall. “I didn’t expect that either. I thought, maybe this time, I could have something for myself without worrying about leaving Sunny behind. I thought…” He trailed off, venting noisily. “I honestly don’t even know what I thought.”

Sideswipe pressed the heel of his palm to the space between his optics. His head ached, and he wasn’t sure why.

Jazz’s field nudged against his. “You can still have that. I said I wasn’t goin’ anywhere, Sides. I meant it.”

Sideswipe sighed. “Except back to Iacon.”

“And I seem ta remember invitin’ ya to join me.”

“And I told you why I didn’t like that idea,” Sideswipe snapped, sharper than he intended, his gaze whipping toward Jazz.

The other mech’s lips thinned. He folded his arms under his bumper and took a step back. “Then I dunno what ya want from me,” Jazz said, his field flattening.

“Nothing. I don’t want anything. I just…” Another frustrated ex-vent escaped him. He rubbed harder at his forehelm. “I don’t know what I want.”

“Then maybe you should figure that out.” Jazz took a sliding step backward, his door panels drifting downward. “Since your brother’s lookin’ for ya, now’s a good time to start.”

Sideswipe blinked. “What? Sunstreaker?”

“Yeah. My agent just contacted me, warned me he directed Sunstreaker this way. He should be here any moment now.”

Sideswipe hopped off the berth. “I have to go.” He hurried to the door, hoping to precede Jazz out of it.

He hadn’t told Sunstreaker about his relationship with Ricochet. He didn’t particularly want to talk about it right now. He had too many things to figure out.

“You’re in a hurry,” Jazz observed. “Still never told your brother, I see?” There was accusation in his voice. Hurt, too.

Sideswipe couldn’t deal with that right now. He scraped a hand over his head. “It’s complicated.”

“Simplify it,” Jazz said as the door opened and Sideswipe hurried through it.

“No. Not now,” Sideswipe said as he spun on a heel toward Jazz. “I just… I need a moment. Time. Something. I don’t know. I can’t even think.” There was too much going on for him to find the right words.

He needed distance. He needed space. He needed Sunstreaker to not see this at this very moment.

But even as he thought it, he already knew it was too late.

~

Sunstreaker rounded the corner to find Sideswipe and Jazz standing in the middle of the hall, very little distance between them, their expressions a mixed bag of complicated emotion. Sideswipe looked tense. Sunstreaker didn’t know Jazz well enough to guess.

“What’s going on?” Sunstreaker asked as he approached them, his gaze sliding from his brother to Jazz and back again. “Did I miss something?”

“Yeah. Somethin’.” Jazz’s visor shifted to Sideswipe, his head tilting, before he offered a parting wave and spun on his heelstrut. “Ya know how to find me when yer ready to talk, Sides.” He nodded at Sunstreaker. “Glad to see ya on yer feet, by the way,” he added, and then he was gone, turning the curve of the hall.

Sunstreaker cycled his optics. “You going to explain that?” he asked as he shifted his gaze to his brother.

Sideswipe sighed and buried his face behind his hands, rubbing the dermal metal. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin, bro,” he moaned into his hands before peering over his fingertips. “How’s Prowl?”

“Ratchet kicked me out. They’re talking business.” Sunstreaker folded his arms. “Which is what we need to do. After you tell me what’s going on with you and Jazz.”

“Nothing.” Sideswipe’s plating clamped down tight. His tone was every bit defensive.

Sunstreaker narrowed his optics. “I’m not stupid, Sides. You haven’t known Jazz very long for it to be something, which tells me it’s about Ricochet.” He tilted his head, thinking.

Sideswipe started going out a lot more after Ricochet showed up in Starscream’s entourage. They flirted an awful lot with each other. To be fair, Sideswipe flirted with anyone halfway handsome that came into the cafe, but now that Sunstreaker thought about it, there was an easy camaraderie with Ricochet.

Sunstreaker admitted to himself that sometimes he was self-absorbed and he was blind. He didn’t notice things he should have.

He worked his jaw, gritting his denta.

He should have noticed this.

“How long?” Sunstreaker asked.

Sideswipe shook his head, taking a step back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said and started down the hall, back the way Sunstreaker came. “Come on. I know somewhere we can talk.”

“You’re dodging the question.” Sunstreaker moved to follow him, irritation growing in his spark. “Stop treating me like a sparkling, Sides.”

His brother’s hands clenched into a soft fist. “I’ll stop that once you stop acting like one,” Sideswipe hissed.

Sunstreaker drew up short, hurt replacing the irritation. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Sideswipe stopped, too, and sighed. He rubbed his forehead. “Nothing,” he muttered. “I’m sorry, Sunny. I haven’t gotten much recharge and we got a lot to figure out.”

“You meant that.” Sunstreaker worked his intake as he caught up to his brother, something raw and aching inside of him. “Sides… you… why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“Because there’s nothing to say,” Sideswipe replied, sounding exhausted. “You’re my brother and I love you. That is all that matters.”

“Clearly it’s not.”

Sideswipe sighed, loudly, with a catch in his vents. “Sunny, it’s complicated. And it’s not you. It’s… other things, too.” He shook his head and spun back toward the door he and Jazz had been standing in front of. “I’m not going to talk about it in the hallway.” He jabbed at the pin pad, the door sliding open under his code.

He went inside. Sunstreaker balked, hovering in the doorway. But it looked empty, clean, no signs of a night of debauchery. He’d walked in on Sideswipe before. It left him wary.

“Get in here,” Sideswipe said as he hauled himself onto the edge of the berth. It sounded like less of a command and more of a tired request.

He really did sound exhausted. Was he always this fatigued or had Sunstreaker never noticed.

He entered, the door sliding shut behind him. “Sides–”

“Fine, I admit it,” his brother said, soft but cutting, his gaze everywhere but focused on Sunstreaker. “I’d been seeing Ricochet, fairly regular, not like my usual play. Course I didn’t know then that he was undercover Iacon else I might never have got started.”

Sunstreaker twisted his jaw. “And you couldn’t tell me because…?”

“Because I knew you didn’t like him.” Sideswipe ex-vented in a loud burst.

Sunstreaker folded his arms over his windshield, careful to avoid putting pressure on his wound. “So? You didn’t like Prowl and that didn’t stop me.”

“This is different.”

“How?”

“It just is!” Sideswipe snapped, his field flicking through the room like a physical blow. He ex-vented noisily and made a sharp gesture. “You’re you and I… I couldn’t afford the distraction.”

Sunstreaker ground his denta. He stared at his brother, at the way Sideswipe couldn’t meet his gaze, how he clamped his plating. He wondered if it was his fault. If this was a pain Sideswipe had always hidden from him.

He wondered why he didn’t notice and feared it was because he was just that much of a self-centered aft.

Sunstreaker worked his intake and crossed the floor, throwing his arms over Sideswipe’s shoulders before he could convince himself not to. Sideswipe stiffened in the embrace for a long moment, almost as though he were going to push Sunstreaker away, before he relaxed and rested his head on Sunstreaker’s shoulder.

“I don’t know the words,” Sunstreaker admitted, his spark feeling too large for his chassis. “I don’t even know if I’m saying what I mean to say or not, Sides, but you’re my brother, and I love you, and I’m sorry that I’ve been such a burden, but I promise that’s gonna change.”

“Sunny–”

He shook his head, cutting Sideswipe off. “You looked after me and you protected me and you probably did things I don’t even know about.” Sunstreaker tightened his embrace, briefly gnawing on his bottom lip. “And I’m grateful for that. But I want you to be happy now. I want you to think about you, okay? Even if that means Ricochet or Jazz or whatever he’s calling himself.”

Silence.

Sideswipe’s ventilations shuddered. His field wrapped around Sunstreaker, much like their current embrace.

“He asked me to come back to Iacon with him,” Sideswipe muttered, voice somewhat muffled. “I guess that means Prowl’s gonna ask you, too.”

Sunstreaker blinked. “What?” He drew back so he could look Sideswipe in the optic, more than a little confused.

Sideswipe sighed. “Well, it’s not like there’s anything for us here, Sunny.”

“I know that. I just…” Sunstreaker huffed a ventilation, trying to pinpoint why he wasn’t leaping at the opportunity presented. “We don’t belong there.”

“We don’t really belong anywhere, Sunny.” Sideswipe smiled, but it was crooked, a rare and genuine smile. “As it is, the only time I know I’m home is if it’s you and me.”

Sunstreaker cupped his brother’s head and pressed their foreheads together. “Then whatever we do, we do it together. We leave Uraya, we try Iacon. We’ve survived worse than a little shine and polish, right?”

Sideswipe lay his hands over Sunstreaker’s. “Right.” He squeezed Sunstreaker’s hands in agreement. “So it’s settled then. We’ll go with them?”

“Well, we can go to Iacon.” Sunstreaker let a little chuckle free. “Whether or not it means we’re with them is a different story.”

“Pfft.” Sideswipe drew back, releasing Sunstreaker’s hands, but only to rap his fingers over Sunstreaker’s chestplate. “Ya can’t fool me, bro. Ya ain’t leavin’ Prowl.”

Sunstreaker’s face heated. He folded his arms over his chestplate. “Oh yeah? What about you and Ricochet?”

“Jazz,” Sideswipe corrected, though it was absent. He rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “I don’t know yet.” He scratched his chin with a sideways grin. “Still trying to get over that whole bit where he lied to me.”

Sunstreaker gave his brother a rueful grin. “Well, he kinda had to, Sides. It’s not like he was tryin’ to hurt ya.”

“Yeah, well, the path to the Pit and all that.” Sideswipe rubbed at his forehelm. “Anyway, that’s my worry to have, not yours. Why don’t you go cuddle with Prowl some more?”

“Can’t. Medic’s got him.”

Sideswipe hopped off the berth, stretching his arms over his head. “Then I guess it’s time for you and me to see what kind of trouble we can get into around here.”

Sunstreaker snorted and followed him to the door. “It’ll be just like old times.”

~

Nothing more was said about moving to Iacon, not because they didn’t want to, but because Uraya and the Palace became a sudden flurry of activity. The relief team from Iacon arrived and swept in to take control. Ratchet was whisked back to the Prime’s side, leaving behind his apprentice, a capable friendly mech by the name of First Aid who didn’t so much as blink at Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, or hesitate when it came to the dozens of Empuras gathered up from around Uraya and pulled from the depths of Starscream’s laboratory.

It was a daunting task, one Sunstreaker did not envy. He’d hoped to hide in a quiet corner away from the noise and bustle, but somehow, he’d gotten roped into assisting. He and Sideswipe were familiar faces to the frightened and often barely coherent Empura population. They were the only ones capable of calming the frantic masses.

It was exhausting work. Sunstreaker felt strained, pushed to the reach of his limits, but he could no more leave those Empuras to suffer than he could have left Dent to starve in the streets. The pull wasn’t insistent, not as it had been with Dent, but Sunstreaker did pity them.

He, too, had been like them once. Abandoned. Left for dead. Left to starve. Believing that no one and nothing cared. Except Sunstreaker had always had Sideswipe. He’d always had his brother by his side.

Prowl and Jazz lingered.

Prowl gave orders from the berth; Jazz ensured they were carried out.

If Jazz and Sideswipe ever sat down to have a serious talk, Sunstreaker never saw it. By all accounts, it looked like Sideswipe was avoiding Jazz. The Iacon spy had a decent mask, but sometimes, Sunstreaker caught it cracking when he looked at Sideswipe. There was disappointment, sadness, but understanding beneath it all.

He’d let Sideswipe go if he had to.

Of course his brother would be a moron about this. But Sunstreaker knew better than to push. Sideswipe only dug in his heels if Sunstreaker tried to nudge him. It was best to let him come to a conclusion on his own.

Sunstreaker alternated his evenings between Prowl and Sideswipe, nights spent in quiet contemplation or conversation. Now that Prowl’s condition wasn’t critical, his repairs had slowed in order to treat the more urgent of Starscream’s victims. Prowl’s orders, apparently, not that the Prime had been happy to hear this. He wanted Prowl back as soon as possible.

Pah. Primes. Thought they could demand whatever they wanted and their minions would snap to obey. Sunstreaker said as much.

Prowl chuckled and stroked a hand down his spinal strut. “They are the singular leader of Cybertron. It is only to be expected.”

“They are only mechs,” Sunstreaker grumbled, though his engine purred at the light touches. It was maddening how easily Prowl could rouse him, and yet neither of them could do anything about the desire stirring their circuits.

An overload could fry the sensory flats they’d reattached to his frame. Something about a neural relapse? Sunstreaker wasn’t really listening. He got the gist of it. Overloads equaled bad news for healing.

Fine.

“They’re not deities or anything.”

“I would call that blasphemy save that it is the truth,” Prowl murmured, tilting his head to press against Sunstreaker’s. “Only, do not say as much aloud in Iacon. At least, not in the upper rings.”

Sunstreaker made a noise of disgust and buried his face in Prowl’s front, right under his headlights. Right here, he could listen to the steady purr of Prowl’s engine, reassuring himself that Prowl was alive and well.

He still did not know if he could live in Iacon, but the idea of leaving Prowl was not one he wanted to entertain.

“You know, there are art galleries in Iacon,” Prowl said, his fingers tracing a lingering path up Sunstreaker’s back as though exploring each and every spinal bolt. “Dozens of them. With the right sponsor, you could even open your own.”

Sunstreaker made a noise in his intake. “Those are for real artists.”

“Which you are.”

“Nnn.” He counted Prowl’s ventilations, bathed in the familiar warmth of Prowl’s energy field. “No one wants the gutter trash.”

Prowl’s hand slid up to his head. “They do.” He curved his hand around Sunstreaker’s helm vent, tilting his chin up to look into his optics. “Do you know that I sent one of your works back to an associate of mine in Iacon? It sold within moments.”

“It did?”

“Sunstreaker, it outsold every artist in the gallery that evening.” Prowl’s thumb stroked his cheek, his lips pulled into a soft smile. “Please do not ever call yourself gutter trash again. That is an insult deserved of no one.”

Sunstreaker’s spark did that flutter thing again. He pushed himself up on his elbows, giving him just the height bump he needed to press his lips to Prowl’s. They could never go any further than a few kisses, than a tangle of glossae, and the taste of Prowl on his lips. Any more than that and Sunstreaker would be tempted to take it further.

He pressed his forehead to Prowl’s, feeling the light buzz of the sensitive chevron against his dermal layer. “I want to go to Iacon,” Sunstreaker admitted.

He’d already decided weeks ago. Frag, he’d wanted to leave long before Prowl vanished. He’d burned for something more than Uraya. He’d burned for the chance to be something more.

“And I would like for you to come with me,” Prowl replied, stroking his cheek again. “You need only say the word.”

Sunstreaker smiled and settled back down, his lower half blanketing Prowl’s legs, his upper half encircling Prowl’s torso so that he might rest his head on Prowl’s chest. He felt better listening to the steady oscillations of Prowl’s spark. He thought to memorize the sound, so that he might never forget it again.

“Or truthfully, you need only convince your stubborn brother,” Prowl said with a soft chuckle.

Sunstreaker buried his face in Prowl’s bumper and laughed. “If you figure out the magic words to do that, let me know.”

Prowl rested an arm across his shoulders, his field pulsing affection. “Deal.”

~

“Sunny with Prowl tonight?”

Sideswipe would never admit to startling. But damn, Ricochet rarely walked this silently. He’d had a heavy tread, like a standard bodyguard. Jazz, however, managed not to make a sound.

He side-eyed the other mech. “Yes,” Sideswipe answered as he ticked another item off on the datapad.

Luckily for Prowl, Sideswipe liked numbers and inventory, otherwise he’d think this was a punishment. Taking stock was an important part of his business, however. And Sideswipe didn’t mind. It gave him something to do, something to focus on other than the question nagging at the back of his processor.

“Could I mebbe offer my company instead?” Jazz folded his arms under his bumper, leaning a shoulder against an edge of shelving.

Sideswipe cycled a ventilation. “I know I play it pretty casual in the berth, but I ain’t that easy.”

“Not what I meant, Sides.” Jazz’s visor glittered. “I was thinkin’ we could talk.”

“We can just as easily talk right here,” Sideswipe pointed out as he counted how many boxes of the lowest level pain chips they had in stock.

Starscream had a lot of them, as it turned out, not that Sideswipe was surprised. He remembered acquiring them for Starscream a couple years back, before Prowl showed up in Uraya. In fact, he remembered “acquiring” a lot of the supplies here. It still surprised him that he wasn’t facing legal action for this.

Jazz shifted his weight. “It’s not exactly private.”

“Yeah, well, it’s the best you’re gonna get right now.” Sideswipe made another notation and bent over slightly to better see the next row. “I have a lot of work to do, as you can see. Your brother is keeping me very busy.”

“I noticed. Sure don’t stop him from makin’ sure he got time to cuddle yours though.” Jazz snorted, but at least he didn’t sound bitter. Instead, there was a fondness to his tone. “They’re stupidly adorable, aren’t they?”

Sideswipe huffed a ventilation. “Don’t remind me.” He made a few more notations. “Though I guess it’s a good thing. Sunny deserves to be happy.”

“And you don’t?”

“That’s a stupid question.”

A hand appeared in his line of sight, covering his datapad. Sideswipe’s engine rumbled as he straightened to look over and down at Jazz.

He and Sunny were of a height. It was interesting to him, however, that while Prowl was slightly taller than the twins, Jazz was a full head shorter than his brother. In fact, they didn’t resemble much, except for their paint jobs.

“Orders came down,” Jazz said quietly, his visor holding Sideswipe’s gaze. “Soon as Prowl is mobile, we have to go back.”

Sideswipe went still. “You said you would stay until the work was done.”

Jazz sighed. “And apparently, someone’s stirring up slag in Kaon and it can’t wait. It’s out of our hands.”

Sideswipe made a noncommittal noise and tipped his datapad out from under Jazz’s hand. “That leaves, what, two weeks?” The last time he’d spoken with First Aid, he said Prowl’s self-repair had progressed enough that activating his new sensor flats could take place within a week.

“Less.” Jazz retracted his hand, folding it back under his bumper again.

Sideswipe shrugged, and pretended inventory was more fascinating, though it all swam in front of him. “Have a safe trip.”

Jazz ex-vented noisily. “So you’re going to stay here?” His engine rumbled. “Damn it, Sides. Why are ya bein’ so stubborn about this?”

He paused and bowed his head. He cycled a ventilation, fingers trembling around the stylus. “Because I refuse to put myself in a position where my safety and security relies on the trust I place in someone else ever again.”

“You think ya can’t trust me?”

“I don’t know!” Sideswipe snapped, twisting away from Jazz, holding his datapad as though it were a lifeline. “You think you can walk in here like some kind of guardian sent from Primus or some slag, like you’re rescuing us poor pieces of trash, and I should just be so grateful, I just follow after you like I don’t have any self-respect!”

The words rang in the air between them, as heavy as a physical attack. Silence fell in the aftermath, but Jazz neither retreated or stepped down. Instead, he gave Sideswipe a long, considering look.

Jazz’s visor dimmed. “What was his name?” he asked, and there something taut in his vocals, that hinted of self-control.

Sideswipe shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It does ta me. ‘Cause I’m not him, Sides.” Jazz’s field fluctuated, a confused tangle of emotions.

“No, you’re not.” Sideswipe worked his intake, his spark shrinking into a tight ball. “But I don’t know that you won’t become him. Or them. Or any of the other mechs that walked away from us.”

Jazz stared at him for a long moment before he unfolded his arms, opening his hands to show Sideswipe his open palms. “I can’t say anythin’ that would convince ya,” he said quietly. “I can’t make a promise I don’t know that I can keep. I can’t tell ya to trust me either. I can only ask for a chance. If ya don’t want to take it, that’s fine. I’ll walk away. I’ll leave ya be. But Sides… ya gotta start somewhere.”

He knew Jazz was right. That didn’t make it easier to agree, to hold out his own hands and take the leap.

He only wanted what was best. For himself. For Sunstreaker. For the both of them together. He wanted to see Sunstreaker smiling forever, he wanted to lay to recharge at night without worrying that another bad sales day could put them back into the Wastes with the Empura and the Empties. He wanted to have a steady income without skirting the threat of the law.

“Anyway, I’ve said my peace.” Jazz lowered his hands. “It’s up to you what ya wanna do about it. Just consider it, okay?”

Sideswipe didn’t answer. He cycled a ventilation, trying to calm the rapid flutters of his spark.

Jazz headed to the door, as silent as his arrival had been. He keyed it open, only to pause in the frame, his plating drawn tight. “I only want ya to be happy, Sides. It don’t even have to be with me.”

“What would I even do in Iacon?” Sideswipe asked, well aware that he sounded petulant.

Jazz offered him a small smile. “Anythin’ ya want.” He tapped his fingers on the door frame. “Comm me if ya change yer mind. Number’s the same as it’s always been.”

He stepped out and the door slid shut behind him.

Sideswipe ex-vented and leaned against the shelving behind him. He shuttered his optics, well aware that he was shaking.

Sunstreaker would tell him that he was being a stubborn idiot. Sunstreaker would be right. But Sunstreaker tended to look for the best in mechs. Sideswipe had learned to watch out for the worst.

~

Sideswipe woke to a relentless pinging on his comm suite. It was a message from Prowl, requesting his presence in the medbay.

He leapt out of his berth, instantly alert. Had something happened to Sunstreaker? That was his main concern.

Sideswipe didn’t bother with gathering energon. He gave himself a cursory glance in the mirror before he hurried out of the room and made a beeline for the main medbay where Prowl was receiving treatment. He all but burst into the room that was Prowl’s, to see that Sunstreaker was nowhere in sight and Prowl was standing, albeit wobbly. The nanite gel slathered across his panel hinges shone in stark contrast to his paint.

“Where’s Sunstreaker?” Sideswipe asked.

“I sent him to get real energon,” Prowl replied as he gingerly made his way to the window, tapping the controls for the panels to open. “I wasn’t going to make him suffer medical grade like me.” He tipped his head toward Sideswipe with a wry grin.

Sideswipe narrowed his optics. “Then why am I here?”

“Because my brother is many things, but good at relationships is not one of them,” Prowl replied, bracing his weight on the window sill with one hand. The other gestured behind him, toward his bedside table where a single datapad rested. “That is for you.”

Still suspicious, Sideswipe nevertheless crossed the floor and picked up the datapad. He powered it on with a flick of his thumb. Several documents were already queued up for review.

“You are a business mech, so you understand contracts, correct?” Prowl asked.

Sideswipe nodded absently as he read the titles of each of the documents. Certificate of Sparking. Certificate of Residence. Contract for Apartment Rental. Application for Introductory classes.

“What is this?”

Prowl’s gaze did not waver. “They are what my brother was trying and failing to explain to you. Please read them.”

Sideswipe smelled a trap, but he read the documents anyway. He drifted to a chair as he gave them his full focus, reading them backward and forward, down to the fine print, not that there was any. Every stamp was legit. Every carefully written phrase was written so that it could not be misinterpreted.

It was ridiculously generous.

They had purchased an apartment in Iacon for Sideswipe and Sunstreaker to call home. The lease had been put in their names alone and a full year’s rent had been paid. There was even a clause written into the contract that no repayment was expected for the rent. There were, to put it clearly, no strings attached. They had an expense account to provide for their various needs: energon, classes at local institutions if they wished, even start up funds if they wanted to set up a new business. All of it in Sideswipe and Sunstreaker’s names – their newly legitimate glyphs – and with the same clause.

Sideswipe’s jaw dropped. “This…?”

“It is what we are offering you,” Prowl said as he turned away from the window and laboriously made his way back to the berth. “It is a helping hand, not an obligation. It is an offer that requires nothing but your signature. If you wish to take this and never see us again, you are within your right to do so.”

Sideswipe shook his head slowly. “No one is this generous.”

“Well…” and here Prowl offered a gentle chuckle. “There is some selfishness involved. It allows us to be closer to you, to not have to worry so. But then, if you do not wish to see us, we are willing to keep contact to a minimum.”

Sideswipe’s fingers clenched around the datapad. “What if we say no? You’ll be out all of this credit.”

“In terms of spending it on you, yes. But it won’t be a waste.” Prowl lowered himself down to the berth, inching back into position. “There are others here, those whose lives Starscream had ruined, who would be willing to embrace this opportunity. It will be put to use.”

A shiver rippled down Sideswipe’s backstrut. He stared harder at the contract, tearing it to pieces with all that he’d learned in his years of doing business. It was legitimate. There were no risks, save trying to make it in Iacon in the first place.

“Sideswipe.”

He dragged his gaze to Prowl, who was giving him the most earnest look Sideswipe had ever seen.

“I adore your brother,” Prowl said gently. “And I understand why you protect him the way that you do. I understand your hesitation. I understand why you feel you cannot trust us. But please know this, I will do whatever I can to see you smile. Both of you.”

Sideswipe worked his intake. He bowed his head, the documents blurring before his optics. It was as though Prowl had heard every objection Sideswipe made, and found a solution to it, one he couldn’t despise without sounding like a sparkling.

The answers were all right there.

All he had to do was take it.

~

Sunstreaker walked into Prowl’s recovery room, a small assortment of energon treats tucked into his subspace. He hoped to convince Prowl to eat a few of them.

He paused, however, when he saw that Prowl was not alone. Why was Sideswipe here? Why did he look upset?

“What’s going on?” Sunstreaker asked. He hurried to Sideswipe’s side, laying a hand against his backplate. “Sides?”

His twin wordlessly handed the datapad to him. Sunstreaker frowned, but accepted it. He didn’t understand any of the legal jargon, but the titles and summaries were clear enough. It was… it was an offer. An opportunity. It was a real chance for a future.

“This is… Prowl?” Sunstreaker’s gaze snapped up to his lover. His hand shook on Sideswipe’s back. “You didn’t have to do this.”

“I know. I wanted to,” Prowl replied, his voice so warm. He smiled, ever so gently. “Consider it a gift.”

Sunstreaker made a noncommittal sound, and knelt next to Sideswipe, forcing Sideswipe to look at him. “Sides, is this okay?”

“It is.” Sideswipe clasped his hands together, leaning forward on his elbows. “It’s all we could have wanted. It’s a better life. Or a chance at one, at any rate.”

“A chance is all you need. I have every confidence that you will be successful,” Prowl commented.

Sideswipe cycled a ventilation and reached for Sunstreaker’s free hand. “This is what you want, isn’t it?”

“Not if you don’t.” Sunstreaker squeezed his fingers. He didn’t want Sideswipe to make the choice based on Sunstreaker’s wants. “I’m not going anywhere without you.”

Sideswipe’s lip curved, a half-smile. “We’d be happier there, you think?”

Sunstreaker’s face heated. He forced himself not to look at Prowl. “I do,” he said.

“Then we’ll do it,” Sideswipe said as he took the datapad from Sunstreaker. His fingers tapped something on the screen before he handed it back.

Sunstreaker glanced down at the datapad and saw that Sideswipe had inputted his glyphs. He’d signed all of them. Sunstreaker’s optics widened.

“You’re sure?”

Sideswipe’s free hand curled around Sunstreaker’s head, pulling him in to press their foreheads together. “I’m sure.”

Joy burst in Sunstreaker’s spark. It was hard to attach his own glyph because his fingers were shaking. But he did and it was done and there it was, the choice made.

Sideswipe pressed a kiss to Sunstreaker’s forehead and then stood up. “Thank you, Prowl,” he said. “I need to go make some arrangements before we can leave.”

Prowl inclined his head. “I understand. And you are welcome.”

Sunstreaker stood as Sideswipe patted him on the shoulder and then left. Sunstreaker hoped he meant to find Jazz and tell him the good news. The tension between those two was enough to make everyone walk around on tiptoes.

“I was beginning to worry his stubborn self would make him stay here,” Sunstreaker said as he approached the berth, handing the datapad to Prowl, who took it.

“Yes, well, Jazz went about the wrong way explaining to him.” Prowl’s lips curved in a wry grin as he reached for Sunstreaker’s hand. “My brother is smart, but sometimes, if it does not involve a mission, he falters.”

Sunstreaker drew Prowl’s hand toward his mouth, pressing a kiss across the knuckles. “Good thing he has you to look after him then.”

Prowl chuckled. “That’s what elder brothers are for.”

“And younger ones are for breaking the rules, right?” Sunstreaker asked as he dug into his subspace and produced the small bundle of energon treats. He held them up for inspection.

Prowl’s ventilations hitched. “Those are my favorite.”

“I know.” Sunstreaker felt smug. “Want one?”

“Do you wish for me to beg?”

Sunstreaker laughed. “Not yet. Save it for when you’re repaired.” He pulled one free of the package and held it up to Prowl’s lips, letting his smile fade to go serious for a second. “Thank you, Prowl.”

“For you, anything,” Prowl murmured and took the goodie from Sunstreaker’s fingers, his lips brushing the tips of them.

Sunstreaker’s spark fluttered. Better that he knew Prowl meant it.

He hoped Sideswipe understood it, too.

~

He wandered the entirety of Starscream’s palace looking for Jazz, even walking by Shockwave’s recovery room again. Looking in on the purple – now green and white – mech always gave Sideswipe the chills so he hurried on, asking every mech he passed. Pinging Jazz’s comm sent him straight to a messaging system.

Perhaps he was busy, perhaps not.

It was an hour before Sideswipe found Jazz in the dispensary, tucked at a table in the back corner, his back to the wall and allowing himself a full view of the room. He had a cube of midgrade in one hand and a small stack of datapads on the table in front of him. He looked up as Sideswipe entered the room, the glint to his visor cautious.

“Sideswipe,” he greeted and gestured with his cube. “Care to join me?”

“You weren’t answering your comms,” Sideswipe said by way of greeting as he slid into the booth next to the Iacon spy, leaving Jazz only one escape route.

Jazz ducked his head. “Sorry.” His free hand tapped the stack of datapads. “I was told to finish my paperwork upon pain of punishment. My brother can be an awful taskmaster.”

“Among other things,” Sideswipe said. He folded his arms, leaning against the table. He watched Jazz from his peripheral vision. “You should have told me about the apartment.”

Jazz’s attention turned to his cube. “I assumed ya would think it another attempt to make you a berthtoy.”

“Not the way Prowl explained it.”

“Prowl has always been better with words,” Jazz replied, a touch of bitterness to the comment before he lowered the cube. “I guess that means ya made your decision?”

“I did.” Sideswipe looked him in the visor. “Sunny sealed it for me, but yeah, I put my glyph to the contract.”

Jazz’s field spiked, but his reply was cautious. “Ya did? Ya weren’t offended?”

“I was never offended.” Sideswipe shifted closer, so that their thighs touched. “I told you, it was about trust. And that contract is enough.”

Jazz’s shoulders sagged. Relief made his plating unclamp. “I’m glad you think so.” His thigh nudged Sideswipe’s, his field reaching out as well. “What does that mean for you and me?”

Sideswipe leaned in, pressing their shoulders together. “It means that you have the chance to woo me, if you want.”

“Woo?” Jazz loosed a little laugh. “I think I can do that.”

“Good. Cause I’m looking forward to being swept off my feet,” Sideswipe replied, indulging in returning the press of Jazz’s field.

Jazz gave him a sidelong glance. “Well, I’m not sure I can pick ya up, but I’ll do my best.”

Sideswipe chuckled and shifted his weight so that he could rest his head on Jazz’s shoulders. “Good enough for me,” he murmured. “Mind if I keep you company while you work.”

“I insist,” Jazz said, reaching beneath the table to pat his thigh. He picked his datapad up and flicked it on, making a show of going back to work before he added, “I’m glad yer comin’ back with us, Sides.”

He offlined his optics, listened to the sound of Jazz’s ventilations, his sparkbeat. It was the same as Ricochet’s.

A smile curved his lips. “Me, too.”

~

The transport was the largest sentient vehicle Sunstreaker had ever seen. Prowl had introduced the shuttle as Silverbolt and Sunstreaker was embarrassed to admit that he gaped as the massive mech bent down to offer Sunstreaker a hand to shake. His hand had been thrice the size of Sunstreaker’s.

He was kind, however, and offered Sunstreaker a smile and a reassurance that they would arrive in Iacon safely, without so much as a bump in the flight.

It wasn’t the flight that bothered Sunstreaker. He was still uneasy about leaving Uraya and going to a city he’d never been, and only ever dreamed about. He worried about failing, about facing the ridicule of mechs who considered themselves his betters. He worried about meeting the Prime.

He didn’t worry at all about Prowl, who while not back to one-hundred percent, looked a damn sight better. He gleamed in the midday sun, his white plating as polished as Sunstreaker could get it. His sensory flats hung from his upper back, sleek and new.

Sunstreaker wondered if he should feel something as he prepared to leave Uraya behind. He wasn’t attached to the city, and he and Sides had packed everything important from their cafe and apartment, thus the reason for needing a shuttle transport. The only item of value in Uraya was his twin, and Sideswipe was going, too.

He thought he should feel regret, maybe a tint of sadness, but honestly, Sunstreaker didn’t. He found he was glad to leave Uraya behind. He was even, dare he admit, excited.

Sideswipe still grumbled, ever the pessimist. He just needed time.

Sunstreaker, however, tired of waiting. He was ready to leave it all behind.

“Everything’s loaded,” Prowl said as he came up beside Sunstreaker, placing a gentle, if chaste, touch to the base of Sunstreaker’s backstrut. “You need a moment or…?”

Sunstreaker shook his head, leaning into Prowl’s embrace. “Nope. I’m good to go.”

“Then shall we?” Prowl’s free hand gestured to Silverbolt’s ramp.

Sunstreaker nodded and cycled a ventilation. He could do this. He was going to do this.

Iacon, here they come.

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