[TF] Past Impending 01

Group meetings like these were nothing new. Always boring, they were at least delightfully short, because Streamline liked making creds, and he couldn’t do that if his best merchandise wasn’t on the sales floor.

Starscream dragged Rodimus with him, because the newbie needed the experience and the knowledge Streamline intended to impart on them. Rodimus wouldn’t have gone on his own. He tended to avoid anything he deemed boring.

Rodimus grumbled the whole time, but it was pretty cute so Starscream let it be. Rodimus was still a kid in many ways. Like the younger sibling Starscream didn’t know never had and didn’t know he wanted. Probably never would, too. Starscream’s carrier had struggled enough with Starscream.

Sunstreaker, sadly, was at the front of the crowd, and Starscream couldn’t get to him. So he was forced to linger in the back. Taller than most of the other escorts, Starscream easily saw over their heads. Poor Rodimus kept rising to the tips of his feet, craning his neck to see over the crowd.

Streamline stood in front of three mechs of various coloration, though similar in frametype. They were armed, and thick armor suggested they were soldiers or mercenaries. Hm. New guards then. It had been mentioned last week Streamline was looking to expand the team. Business was booming, but their patrons weren’t always respectful or charming.

“Thanks for coming everyone, I’m going to make this brief.” Streamline paced back and forth in front of the three mechs. “These are the new guards for the manor. Look at them. Memorize their faces, their gait, their fields. We don’t want any more mistakes.”

Starscream snorted and folded his arms. Beside him, Rodimus leaned far to the right to get a look at the mechs, only to suddenly stiffen. It was a weird reaction, and Starscream shifted his attention to Rodimus instead. He could always meet the guards later.

Rodimus had gone still, his optics locked on the three new mechs. His hands had dropped to his sides and formed little fists.

“This is Broiler, this is Joyride, and this is Drift. Treat them with the same respect you give the others, and inform me at once if they try to take what they haven’t paid for,” Streamline continued, but Starscream scarcely paid him any attention.

Rodimus’ ventilations had gone rapid. His optics paled. He rocked back on his heelstruts.

“Rodimus?” Starscream murmured, unfolding his arms to rest a hand on the newbie’s shoulder. “Is everything all right?”

Rodimus slowly turned toward him, and his expression was one Starscream had never seen before. Simultaneously bleak and afraid, his face drained of color. His lower lip trembled.

“That’s not… it’s not…” He stammered, glancing at the three guards once more before he shook his head. “That’s not his name.”

And then he was gone, tearing out from under Starscream’s hand to make a break for the door behind them, running out of it as if his aft were on fire.

That was alarming.

Starscream frowned. Concern and curiosity warred. He couldn’t let this lie. Sunstreaker could fill him in on the rest of the meeting later.

Starscream slipped out of the room after Rodimus, but the other mech was nowhere in sight. He’d disappeared that quickly.

Starscream wasn’t sure where Rodimus would go. Certainly not back to his own room. He barely tolerated his roommates and wouldn’t find solace near them. There were few places in Blue Sun, in fact, that one could go for privacy and security. He doubted it would be the roof, Rodimus didn’t seem the sort, and the garden was out of the question.

Could he have…?

It wouldn’t hurt to check.

Starscream slipped into the lift and headed straight for his own quarters. It was a long shot, but one that paid off. The moment he came around the corner, he spotted the bright red and orange frame curled in front of his door.

Rodimus sat on the floor, his knees drawn to his chassis, his arms wrapped around them, head bent forward against his arms. Like a youngling hiding from monsters. His spoiler visibly trembled, his armor taut against his frame. As Starscream approached, he tasted the dark turbulence in Rodimus’ field.

He came within a few steps of Rodimus and paused, wondering how to handle this. Rodimus wasn’t particularly close-mouthed, but he’d been very vague as to his past. Starscream only knew what the rumors told him – that if Blue Sun did have the capacity to enslave mechs, then Rodimus’ situation was the nearest thing to it.

Best to tread carefully.

“It’s never polite to ask someone why they work here,” Starscream said quietly. He paused to give Rodimus a moment to absorb that. “And while it’s supposed to be voluntary, I know the world is not so moral.”

Rodimus ex-vented and looked up, his gaze as bleak as his expression. “I’m here by choice. I have a debt, and this is how I have to pay it,” he rasped, his vocalizer thick with static, like someone struggling to maintain their emotional balance.

“Because there are consequences if you don’t,” Starscream guessed. It didn’t equivocate in his head, this idea of it being Rodimus’ choice but him still claiming this was the method given to him as repayment.

Rodimus’ gaze fell again. He nibbled on his bottom lip, his hands tightening where they gripped his arms. “… I was an idiot,” he finally whispered.

Tread carefully indeed.

Starscream cycled a ventilation. “Come inside.” He reached over Rodimus to key the door open. “If you want to talk, I’ll listen. I won’t even tell Sunstreaker.” He offered Rodimus a hand.

Rodimus stared at it for a long moment, clearly indecisive, before he let Starscream pull him to his feet. He still wouldn’t meet Starscream’s optics. Instead he stared at the floor, shame leaking into his energy field.

“Even if he asks?”

“He doesn’t own me. And I can keep a secret.” Starscream squeezed Rodimus’ hand and tilted his head toward the door. “Coming?”

Rodimus nodded.

Starscream closed and locked the door behind them, putting a warning on it so Sunstreaker knew not to barge inside. Whatever it took to make Rodimus more comfortable.

Rodimus stood in the middle of the room, looking around as if he didn’t recognize anything and didn’t know what to do. His spoiler drooped lower than Starscream had ever seen it. Gone was the usual vivacious energy that tended to cloak him.

Starscream took his hand and tugged him to the windowseat, a bit disturbed by how Rodimus didn’t put up much of a protest. He curled into the small seat, frame pressed against the glass as he stared through to the streets below. Starscream sat across from him and gnawed on his bottom lip.

Well, he was nothing if not determined.

“So,” Starscream said, hoping to prod Rodimus into conversation. “Which one?”

Rodimus’ head tilted against the transsteel. “Drift.”

The white and red mech? He’d been carrying two swords if Starscream remembered. Seemed to be a speedster of some kind. He was smaller than the other two, and the one Starscream had been surprised to find was a guard and not another escort. He certainly had the look of a mech others would be willing to purchase.

“Back then, I knew him as Deadlock,” Rodimus continued without prompting. “He is – or was I guess – Turmoil’s second. His most trusted Blade.”

Turmoil. Ugh. So at least that part of the rumor was true. Rodimus was here because he’d crossed Turmoil. He wouldn’t be the first, but what happened to the other victims of Turmoil’s wrath was something few spoke of. It was too depressing.

“How’d you get mixed up with his kind?” Starscream asked.

“Like any idiot does.” Rodimus ex-vented a sigh and told his story to the window. “I was cold and hungry, and Turmoil called me the prettiest thing he’d ever seen.”

Starscream scowled. “He’s a predator.”

Rodimus hunched. “I didn’t know that then.” He curled into himself, adopting the same position he’d taken outside the door. “I only knew he was charming, and I couldn’t remember ever being wanted like that before.”

Because that was how predators worked. They spotted the prey and knew exactly what lures would entrap them. Rodimus must have been so young. Naive. Likely unprotected. Unwanted, perhaps. Desperate even. Turmoil always did know how to snare the pretty ones.

“How long did that last?”

Rodimus chewed on his bottom lip. “I was trapped before I knew I should escape. By the time I realized what I’d gotten myself into, it was too late.” Another shuddery vent and he finally turned his optics toward Starscream. “I mean, I knew Turmoil was some kind of black market dealer, everyone knew that. But I thought I was special. That he was different toward me because I meant something.”

Starscream’s spark clenched. It was, sadly, a story he’d heard before. There were many mechs who’d come to Blue Sun to escape a life on the streets. If one was pretty enough, skilled enough, charming enough, places like Blue Sun were one of the quickest ways to earn enough money to start a new life.

Rodimus had yet to say how this Deadlock – Drift – fit into the tale.

“I know that look,” Rodimus said when Starscream said nothing. “That’s the look lots of people give me. That ‘why didn’t you leave’ look. Like I had somewhere else to go that wasn’t back on the street, starving and cold all over again.” His lips curved downward, into a bitter scowl. “Turmoil was rough and an aft and possessive, but there are worse things.”

“That’s not what I was thinking.” Starscream scooted closer, daring to rest a hand on Rodimus’ arm and offer his field, despite the nauseating roil of Rodimus’ own. “You’ll find a lot of mechs here know what that’s like. I’m not judging you.”

“Not yet anyway.” A shudder ran across Rodimus’ frame. “You’d think I’d learned my lesson from Turmoil. That his second in command couldn’t be much better, but Primus, I was stupid. So stupid.” He scrubbed the heel of his hand against the bridge of his nasal ridge. “Offer me a drop of kindness, and that’s all it takes, because I’m an idiot.”

Starscream’s spark clenched harder. He knew this self-deprecating tone. Had, in fact, fought against it all his life. It hurt to hear it coming from Rodimus, who always sounded so damn sure of himself, even when logic dictated he was a rookie.

“It was innocent at first,” Rodimus said, the story pouring out of him as though he couldn’t stop himself. “Turmoil trusted Deadlock, you see. Trusted him to guard his pretty pet when he didn’t think he could trust anyone else. And Deadlock was nicer than the others. He didn’t leer at me or make snide comments about what I was.

“Oh, he looked, everyone looked, but it didn’t make me feel greasy on the inside. It was more like appreciation. I felt wanted again. Like a person and not a toy.”

Rodimus sucked in a shuddery breath, hiding behind his hand. “I fell for it. Just like with Turmoil. I hated Turmoil, and I wanted to get away, and I thought Deadlock was some kind of brave hero for wanting to be with me despite knowing Turmoil wouldn’t like it. He wanted to run away together, you know. And I, spark over head, certain I’d found my hero, decided it was the best idea I ever heard.”

Rodimus’ shaking was more than Starscream could take. It was only getting worse. He could hear the clatter of Rodimus’ armor, and the way his optics stared bright and unseeing past the concealment of his hand was sparkbreaking. Starscream already knew where the story was going, but was helpless to stop it, as the words spilled out.

“We needed credits though. Lots of them. We couldn’t get away from Turmoil’s influence without it,” Rodimus paused long enough to swallow, and it was so thick that it was audible. “Deadlock didn’t have access to them. I did. What was a little theft for freedom? For love? Besides, I figured I’d earned it. I was owed it. Turmoil wouldn’t even miss it.”

Rodimus’ fans whined, and his vents made these gasping, hitching noises, but it didn’t stop him. If anything, it just spurred him on.

“Deadlock was supposed to buy us tickets and supplies, everything we needed, then come back for me. Him leaving was normal, you know, while I wasn’t allowed far from Turmoil’s berth. Not without a proper escort anyway.” His optics had a damp sheen to them, his vents coming so ragged Starscream feared he’d overheat. “Deadlock never showed. I waited, and I waited, and I even worried for that aft, but he never showed up.”

Rodimus looked up then, his face so bleak Starscream felt it down to his struts. “I kept waiting, thinking he would come, and when my door opened, the only one on the other side was Turmoil. And he knew exactly what I’d done.”

Primus.

Starscream stopped resisting. He closed the space between them and pulled Rodimus into his arms, as if his embrace could keep the rattling, violently trembling speedster together. Rodimus clung to him like a lifeline, head buried against his cockpit, still shaking.

“I stole the credits,” Rodimus squeezed out, fingers gripping so tight Starscream’s plating creaked, but he didn’t have the spark to say anything. “It didn’t matter why or that I didn’t have them anymore. I had to pay them back with interest. And Turmoil knew I had no way to do that.”

Starscream worked his intake. “You could have done any number of things,” he rasped, his optics shuttering as he already knew the answer. “Why send you here?”

“Because if I was going to act like a whore, I might as well get paid for it.”

Starscream muttered a vile curse before he could stop himself. Anger stoked itself in his belly, and every word out of Rodimus’ mouth only built the flames higher. This Deadlock, Drift, whatever he was calling himself, had quite clearly used Rodimus to escape Turmoil. Taking advantage of Rodimus’ hunger for affection and belonging.

What a monster.

“He’s wrong,” Starscream said, and surprised himself with the fierceness of it, his embrace tightening around Rodimus. “The only mistake you made was having faith in the wrong people, Rodimus. Turmoil is filth. Scum. And this Deadlock is no better.”

Rodimus’ vents hitched. “That’s not even the worst part.” He sounded absolutely miserable, static leaking into every glyph.

Starscream worked his jaw. “Tell me.”

“I still believed in him, you know,” Rodimus said, barely above a whisper, a secret he couldn’t bear to tell. “Even after Turmoil dumped me here, I believed Deadlock would come back for me. So when I first saw him, for a moment, I thought I’d been right.”

Starscream ex-vented a soft sigh. His field encapsulated Rodimus, a buffer to keep out the darkness and soothe the pain emanating from Rodimus’ field.

“But I’m wrong. Then and now. He doesn’t care. He never did. And I’m still stuck here.” Rodimus’ vents hitched, his fingers digging hard into seams, hard enough to make Starscream wince. “Still stupidly hoping I’m worth something.”

To someone.

Though the latter went unsaid, Starscream knew what Rodimus meant. He’d felt the ache of that desire as well. He’d not clawed his way into an education because it was easy. He’d done it because he wanted it. and everyone told him he couldn’t.

“That’s because you are,” Starscream said, and surprised himself with the fierceness of his reply.

Rodimus shook his head, face rubbing against Starscream’s cockpit before he looked up. “I’m not like you. I’m not good at anything. I’m not smart. This really is all I’m good for.” His optics were watery, barren, and they broke Starscream’s spark. “Turmoil was right.”

“No, he wasn’t,” Starscream insisted and cupped Rodimus’ face so that he couldn’t look away. “You have potential. You just haven’t had the chance to figure it out. Those two slaggers aren’t worth it, Roddy. They aren’t.”

Rodimus vented, shuddery though it was. “I can’t do it,” he said, on the edge of a gasp. “I can’t stay here and see him every day. It’s like that moment all over again, realizing I wasn’t worth enough for him to come back for.”

Starscream swallowed thickly and let Rodimus lower his face, tucking it back under Starscream’s chin. “We’ll figure something out,” he said. “Between me and Sunstreaker, we’ll think of something.”

Though it did beg the question why Deadlock – or Drift, whatever – was here in the first place. Starscream highly doubted it was to rescue Rodimus. There was some other reason Drift had come here, to a place Turmoil and his cronies were known to frequent, similar enough to his Deadlock-self that Rodimus immediately recognized him.

Something didn’t sit quite right about it, but now was not the time to ponder why. He had to take care of Rodimus first.

The door to their suite pinged. Sunstreaker, most likely. He’d gotten Starscream’s warning and did the polite thing by requesting entry rather than letting himself inside.

Rodimus snuggled into Starscream’s arms. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.

Starscream blinked, distracted from the door. “For what?”

Silence greeted the answer. If anything, Rodimus just burrowed deeper, as though he could hide in the safety of Starscream’s arms.

“Rodimus?”

Fingers stroked along his seams. “Can I stay here tonight?” Rodimus asked, changing the subject. “After shift, I mean.”

The door pinged again.

Starscream cupped Rodimus’ head. “You can stay as long as you like,” he murmured, his spark breaking for the newbie he’d accidentally adopted. “But Rodimus, Sunstreaker wants to come in. Is that all right?”

“It’s his room.” Rodimus tensed a little in Starscream’s arms, but his iron-grip loosened. “And I know better than to think this’ll stay a secret for long anyway.”

“You’d be surprised.”

Starscream remotely unlocked the door, and Sunstreaker immediately came inside, his face lined with concern. It changed to confusion when he saw Rodimus, and he shot a look at Starscream, who shook his head and gestured Sunstreaker over.

“It’s a long story,” Starscream said and sighed. He kept idly stroking Rodimus, relieved that the gentle sweeps of his hand seemed to be calming Rodimus’ frenetic field. “I need to tell Streamline Rodimus won’t be on the floor today.”

“I can do that,” Sunstreaker replied. His expression softened as he looked at Rodimus.

Starscream almost grinned. He knew his roommate had a soft spot for Rodimus, even if he wouldn’t show it.

“No, I’ve two clients scheduled today so I have to go regardless. This is your rest day. Take it.”

“I can still work,” Rodimus said, muffled against Starscream’s chassis.

“Not in this state you can’t,” Sunstreaker said with a growl. He plopped down on the windowseat behind Rodimus, in the narrow space still available. “That field of yours is in no condition to entertain, and it’s not something you can just rein in and push down.”

“You won’t be punished either,” Starscream said, guessing part of Rodimus’ worry as well. No doubt Turmoil had left some kind of guidelines for Streamline as to how Rodimus should work to fulfill his debt. “I’ll make sure of it.”

Rodimus leaned back, looking up at Starscream, and his wrecked expression made it clear Sunstreaker’s assessment was correct. “Don’t take punishment for me either.” His lower lip wobbled.

Starscream wanted to kiss his worries away, but knew it wouldn’t work. So instead he cupped Rodimus’ face and brushed the pad of his thumb over his bottom lip.

“Oh, they don’t dare punish me. I make them too much money,” Starscream said with a smirk. “So you just stay here and let Sunstreaker pamper you.”

Rodimus’ optics widened, his mouth opened as if to protest.

“Which he will,” Starscream said before Rodimus could argue contrary to the point. Starscream had already seen the look in Sunstreaker’s optics. He was angry on Rodimus’ behalf, even without knowing the whole story. “And I’ll take care of the rest.”

Rodimus stared at him for a long, searching moment before he finally nodded. “Okay,” he said, like a youngling who’d been told the monster under his berth wasn’t real, and he believed his caretakers because they wouldn’t lie, would they?

Lies, they were. The monster was real, it just didn’t hide under berths.

Starscream smiled softly and reluctantly disentangled himself from Rodimus’ arms. The speedster had only a moment to look bereft before Sunstreaker snatched him up, folding the younger mech into an embrace Rodimus probably never knew him capable of offering.

Rodimus squawked, squirming about at first, until he found himself in the cradle of Sunstreaker’s frame. He was warm and cozy, his head tucked under Sunstreaker’s chin.

“Hush,” Sunstreaker said gruffly, his arms wrapped like a protective barrier around Rodimus. “Just this once, rookie.”

They looked adorable, Starscream had to admit. He leaned in brushing his lips over Sunstreaker’s cheek and murmured into his partner’s audial, “Comm me if you need me. And be nice.”

“I’m always nice,” Sunstreaker muttered, but his arms visibly tightened around Rodimus. His field rose up, stroking over the frazzled edges of Rodimus’ poking back at him.

“Nicer then,” Starscream said with a roll of his optics.

He hesitated, not wanting to leave Rodimus in such a fragile state, but knowing he couldn’t miss his appointments or Streamline would be furious. He needed Streamline on his side right now, to get Rodimus out of this without punishment, and without it getting back to Turmoil.

Starscream had no doubts Turmoil wanted his former lover to be humiliated and degraded as much as possible. Which explained a lot actually. Explained why Rodimus had been so clueless, why his first clients for months had been such bullies, why he’d earned so little. Why he’d always returned to the viewing room looking like a banged up mess and why there never seemed to be a complaint on file against his clients.

They were, if Starscream recalled, mostly Turmoil’s cronies. Who probably didn’t even pay for their time with Rodimus.

Starscream ground his denta, anger flaring anew. He’d speak to Streamline, and then he’d see if he could find this Drift and corner him. Whatever plans Drift had, he needed to know how to behave. Rodimus wasn’t without protectors anymore. No one was going to hurt him while Starscream was around.

No one.

Mechs came to Blue Sun for all sorts of reasons. For some, it was even a haven of sorts. A hideaway from whatever they were running from. Rodimus might be one of the few who had no choice in the matter, but Starscream wouldn’t stand for seeing him suffer during the length of his tenure.

Clearly, he’d suffered enough.

“I’ll be back later,” Starscream said as he gave himself a quick onceover in the mirror. He was presentable, perhaps not polished to perfection, but his client for the evening would be fine with it.

Blurr never cared for the pomp and circumstance anyway. All he sought was his overloads, as abundantly as possible. Starscream didn’t need to look pretty for those. It took hardly anything to arouse the racer as it was. Thank Primus Starscream had energy to spare, thanks to his overlarge spark, because he was the only one in Blue Sun who could keep up with Blurr.

“We’ll be here,” Sunstreaker said.

Rodimus had finally relaxed in Sunstreaker’s embrace. “Not going anywhere.”

Good.

Satisfied, Starscream excused himself from the room, locking it behind him such that only he or Sunstreaker could enter. He headed downstairs to the reception room, contacting Streamline along the way. He might have fibbed a little, about Rodimus coming down with a virus, nothing to worry about, it would pass in a day or two. But perhaps they should screen their incoming clientele a bit better.

Streamline bought it. Of course, he would. It was a problem Blue Sun had faced a time or two. Mechs who were ill, pretending they weren’t because they wanted an overload and didn’t care if they infected their partner to get it. There were screening protocols, but if mechs lied or the screeners were lazy, nothing could be helped.

That took care of Rodimus for a day or two. Now to find Drift.

Most of the guards would be strategically posted around the reception room, keeping an optic on the browsing customers. Two would be placed outside the door, as deterrent for would-be thieves or to help discourage those who only wanted to window-shop. A few would be charged with screening customers, but Starscream doubted Streamline would assign a new hire to that important task.

Starscream paused at the top of the ramp which descended into the receiving area. Low music was already playing, and the sound of interested conversation was a murmur below the soft melody. Starscream, luckily, did not have to be available for browsing as he was already booked, which allowed him the luxury of scanning the crowd, looking for a certain mech.

He spotted Drift by the balcony, standing attentively, hand resting on one of his sword hilts as he scanned the crowd for signs of danger. Well, at least he was taking this job seriously. Though given what Rodimus had told Starscream, he wondered again why this Drift was here. Surely there were other jobs. If he were truly hiding from Turmoil, this was not the place to do it.

Everyone knew Turmoil and Streamline were business partners. It was as if Drift was here asking for trouble.

Starscream headed straight for Drift, dodging prospective clients as he did with apologetic smiles. Drift noticed him immediately, straightening as Starscream approached.

Planting a smile on his face, fake though it was, Starscream wriggled his fingers in a little wave. “Welcome to Blue Sun!”

Drift grinned in return. “Thanks!” he said, and squinted at Starscream, something sharp and assessing in the look. “You’re Starscream, right?”

His optics narrowed. “How did you know?” Starscream demanded as he crossed his arms over his chassis.

“I made it a point to memorize all the profiles of the escorts when I was hired. Best to be informed, you know.” Drift scratched at his chin, his grin easygoing. A little too calm, if you asked Starscream.

None of Streamline’s hired cronies ever bothered to actually pay that much attention to their jobs. Most made a point of memorizing the Blue Sun stamp every escort carried and that was it. Only those with the longest tenure could actually recognize the escorts on sight.

Suspicious.

Starscream barely kept from sneering. “Did you now? Then I suppose you must have recognized a familiar face among the photos.”

It was Drift’s turn for his optics to narrow. “Not sure what you mean.” His playful attitude tightened into something else.

“Oh, a liar as well as a thief,” Starscream purred. He cocked a hip, grinning without amusement. “Not surprised, given what I’ve been told about you. But since you’re feigning ignorance allow me to enlighten you.” He leaned forward, rather pleased that he had half a head over the new guard. “Rodimus.”

Drift was good, but he couldn’t hide the way his finials twitched, or the hitch in his ventilations. “It’s impossible,” he said. “There’s no way Rodimus would be here.”

“And just what did you think would happen after you stole from Turmoil and left him to take the fall, huh?” Starscream drew up straight, wings hitching high and tight. He lifted a hand, poking a taloned finger at Drift’s chassis. “He’s here because of you, slagger. And if you so much as look at him, I will tear your face off, do you understand me?”

“That should be Roddy’s decision, not yours!” Drift hissed, betraying a mouthful of sharpened denta.

Ah, there it was, the hint of a mech who had been Deadlock, a trusted Blade to a piece of scum like Turmoil. He bristled, menace rising around him, a rather dark menace as only someone who had worked with Turmoil could carry.

“You have no right to call him that,” Starscream snapped. He kept his voice low, so as not to attract attention. “Listen to me well, Deadlock. Here, I have more power than you, and here, you do what I say. And I say that you stay away from him.”

Drift cycled a sharp ventilation and reared back, his finials tilting forward. “I want to talk to him.”

“Well, he doesn’t want to talk to you. So I suggest you do him a favor, like you couldn’t bother to before, and leave him alone.” Starscream took a step back, not retreating, but dismissing Drift from his attention. “Or I’ll make you wish Turmoil found you after I’m through with you.”

He didn’t wait for Drift to reply. His warning was clear enough.

Starscream spun on a heel and strode away from Drift, holding his head up high. Blurr would be here soon, and the rest of Starscream’s evening would be spent in a haze of overloads, mostly on the racer’s end.

Starscream had no more thoughts to spare on Drift. His concern was for Rodimus alone. So when he returned to his hab tonight, curling up with Sunstreaker and Rodimus both, he could reassure Rodimus he had nothing to worry about.

Drift would upset him no more. Starscream swore it.

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[TF] Nights Like These

A pile of used polishing cloths here. Two empty tins of polishing wax on the table. A growing stack of empty energon cubes in the corner. Glitter powder on the desk. A paint-stained brush on the floor.

Clearly, Starscream was not taking Sunstreaker’s passive-aggressive attempts to make him clean up after himself seriously.

Sunstreaker sighed and gathered up the mess, like he always did. He didn’t know how Starscream had survived until now without someone to clean up after him. How did he ever find anything? How did he have the necessary supplies?

Dirty cloths went into recycling. Empty cubes and tins were dumped into the trash. The powder was wiped up. The brush was evaluated.

The gold paint had sat on the bristles so long it was as hard as steel. Sunstreaker flicked it with his fingers, and it didn’t so much as budge.

To the trash then.

Frag it. They would have to replace that. Thank Primus Sunstreaker hadn’t loaned Star one of his. Though, to be fair, Starscream was a lot more careful with Sunstreaker’s belongings than his own.

Their room cleaned – save for the organized chaos that was Sunstreaker’s workstation and no one was allowed to touch that except himself – Sunstreaker finally felt he could relax. He gave himself a once-over in their floor-length mirror, and found no scuffs, dings or mars.

Perfect.

He snagged a datapad from the never-ending stack of things which he intended to read eventually and sank into the futon by the window. They didn’t have much in the way of a view, but nearly at the top floor, being able to look out the window did much to stave off Starscream’s claustrophobia. Besides, it was cute to see him standing in front of the window, wings twitching in imagined flight.

A couple more shifts and their rest days would align, and he could go for a flight, if he so chose. Which Sunstreaker knew he would.

Until then…

Sunstreaker eyed his chronometer. Star’s last client was probably hitting the suite now. He had only a couple of hours of peace and quiet before his roommate returned.

Time to see how far he could get in this novel.

Not very far as it turned out. He hadn’t gotten through the second chapter before the door to their suite clicked open, and Starscream came limping inside.

Sunstreaker powered down the datapad and tucked it between the futon cushions. “Welcome back.”

“Thanks,” Starscream drawled with a thin smile. His facepaint was smudged, his polish full of streaks and scratches.

“You’re back early.”

“Got lucky. The last one had no stamina.” Starscream’s lips curved in a dry smirk as his wings arched. He moved toward Sunstreaker, albeit slowly. “Of course he didn’t have any imagination either. But what else is new?”

No imagination, hm? Sunstreaker knew what that meant. Most of Star’s clients saw only two things when they looked at him: pretty Seeker. They couldn’t think any further than bending him over the nearest surface and plowing his valve like there was no tomorrow.

Sunstreaker arched an orbital ridge. “Still charged, huh?”

“As usual,” Starscream sighed and dropped down, all but throwing himself over Sunstreaker’s lap. “Please put that gel on my aft before I die,” he moaned, wings twitching.

Primus, no wonder. Sunstreaker loosed a sharp whistle as he took in the lack of paint on Starscream’s aft. No impact marks meant it hadn’t been a paddle, and the scuffs weren’t whips either. Which left one other object.

“Spanking, hm?”

“I’ve been a bad, bad Seeker,” Starscream purred, though there was less heat and more sarcasm in his voice. “It’s like they’re reading from a script.” His feet kicked petulantly. “If someone had told me I’d be bored doing this job, I wouldn’t have believed them.”

Sunstreaker chuckled and rested one hand on Starscream’s back, between his wings. He leaned to the left with the other, tugging open the nightstand drawer and groping around for the small tube of desensitizing gel he kept in there for occasions such as this.

“I honestly don’t know why they bother spanking you,” Sunstreaker said as he snagged the tube and popped the cap with one hand. He squirted a generous amount on Starscream’s aft. “You barely have anything back here. If it were me, I’d go for your thighs.”

“That’s because you’re a sadist,” Starscream muttered, his vocals muffled as he folded his arms against Sunstreaker’s thigh and buried his face in them.

Sunstreaker chuckled. “That and they are far more worthy of being spanked.” He rubbed the gel in with one hand – carefully mind – and let the fingers of his free hand drag lightly down the back of Starscream’s thighs.

The Seeker shivered, his wings echoing the motion. He twitched on Sunstreaker’s lap, thighs drawing a few inches apart, baring the heat of his interfacing array. Scorching heat at that.

Starscream rarely managed to overload with clients. Most didn’t bother to pay him any more attention than whatever they wanted to satisfy their fantasies. A good employee could fake it, and Starscream had mastered the shiver and moan and purr. Sometimes, he was even good enough to fool the other escorts.

“I could have so much fun with these thighs,” Sunstreaker murmured, and let his fingers trickle back upward, dipping down between Starscream’s thighs to briefly brush over his valve cover.

“Sadist,” Starscream sang at him, though he couldn’t hide the shiver in his plating.

Sunstreaker tapped him on the valve cover. “You hush,” he said.

Starscream hissed through his denta, his wings twitching and nearly whapping Sunstreaker in the process. “Ow.”

“Here, too?” Sunstreaker gently rubbed his fingers over the hot panel. The tap had little force behind it, but if Star’s client had been indulging in some valve punishment, no wonder he was sore.

Starscream groaned, backstrut arching, aft moving beneath Starscream’s hand. “Yes,” he muttered, and kicked his legs. “Told you. No creativity.”

“Afts. Don’t know how lucky they are is what it is,” Sunstreaker replied. He finished stroking the gel over Starscream’s aft and quickly wiped his hand clean.

“Pfft. They get what they pay for.” Starscream wriggled again, that tiny aft of his swaying on Sunstreaker’s lap.

Hmm. Small though his aft was, Sunstreaker had to admit, Starscream was just contrary enough to earn a spanking or two. And he did submit so prettily.

Watching him overload, truly overload however, made him stunning.

Sunstreaker chuckled and traced his finger over Starscream’s valve cover again, unsurprised when it spiraled open beneath his touch. Star’s swollen rim glistened with a thin sheen of lubricant. His biolights blinked dully.

“Too sore for me to play with you?” Sunstreaker asked as he traced his fingertip over Starscream’s anterior node, giving it a slow and steady circle that Starscream’s hips quickly followed.

“Hngh.”

Starscream unfolded his arms, his hands grasping at Sunstreaker’s thighs as he bucked his aft back toward Sunstreaker’s hand.

“I’ll take that as a no. What do you want, Star?”

His roommate loosed a small moan. His aft pushed harder into Sunstreaker’s hand, his valve rim fluttering against Sunstreaker’s fingertips. Even more so when he rubbed his thumb against Starscream’s caudal node cluster, causing a thin stream of lubricant to ease free.

“You,” Starscream gasped out, his feet kicking.

“Yes, I gathered that much.” Sunstreaker dropped his voice into a dark purr, one that he knew Starscream liked. “But how?”

Starscream’s aft bumped up under his palm again before Starscream finally pushed himself upright, shifting until he straddled Sunstreaker’s thighs.

“I’m thinking,” he said as his knees nudged around Sunstreaker’s hips and he wriggled forward, “just like this.” He rolled his hips, his cockpit grinding against Sunstreaker’s ventrum.

He gripped Starscream at the waist and slid his hands down, cupping that barely-there aft. It was warm to the touch, slick from the gel. “You sure?”

Starscream draped his hands over Sunstreaker’s shoulders and tilted forward, pressing their foreheads together. “Very sure,” he purred, and his hips danced. “Do me good, Sunshine.”

Sunstreaker wavered between hating the nickname, and loving the way it fell from Starscream’s lips. He tipped his head up and captured Starscream’s mouth with his own, indulging in a deep, wet kiss. One hand slid down the curve of Starscream’s aft, fingers flitting between the Seeker’s thighs.

Starscream was still wet, his valve folds trembling with unsated charge. Lubricant glistened around his rim, slick on Sunstreaker’s fingers, and growing more so as his engine revved harder. He moaned against Sunstreaker’s mouth, ventilations quickening.

Primus, but he was gorgeous. Pity their clients never saw him for more than the token Seeker in the house.

Sunstreaker kissed him deeper, let their glossa tangle together. His hands gently gripped Starscream’s thighs, fingers dipping into transformation seams to caress the cables beneath.

Starscream sighed into his mouth. “Are you trying to tease me?” he asked, hips wriggling as they sank down, the heat of him hovering over Sunstreaker’s closed interfacing array.

“Just making sure you really want it,” Sunstreaker replied, nipping at the curve of Starscream’s jaw. “And that you aren’t hurting.”

Long, elegant fingers toyed with Sunstreaker’s tires as Starscream pressed them tighter, his chest rubbing against Sunstreaker’s. “Not hurting,” he said, and pinched Sunstreaker’s tire sharply. “Except deep down where only you can cure me.”

Sunstreaker chuckled. “Primus, you use that line with your clients?”

“Hey! I’ll have you know it works every time,” Starscream replied with a laugh. He pressed a kiss to Sunstreaker’s cheek arch and dragged his mouth over to ex-vent in Sunstreaker’s head vents. “They can’t wait to shove so deep.”

Sunstreaker fought back a shiver. His fingers flexed around Starscream’s thighs. “I’m far more creative than to just shove,” he said with an elitist huff before he allowed his spike panel to spiral open, his spike jutting free.

He pulled Starscream down so that the tip of his spike could tease around Starscream’s opening, gathering up pearls of lubricant on the head. Starscream shivered again.

“Not creative,” he said, once again pressing his forehead to Sunstreaker’s. “Just a sadist.”

“Am I now?” Sunstreaker kept his grip on Starscream’s hip and slid his other hand to the back of Starscream’s head. He tugged the Seeker down for a deep, satisfying kiss, even as he rocked his hips, his spike sliding into Starscream in one, slow push.

Starscream made a delectable noise in his intake, talons gripping Sunstreaker’s shoulders as he sank, swallowing more of Sunstreaker’s spike. His valve rippled around it, calipers eagerly clutching, receptor nodes reaching hungrily for charge.

Honestly, how could Starscream’s clients miss the fact he never truly overloaded? Useless lots, the whole bit of them. Good for credits and nothing else.

Sunstreaker purred into the kiss and nipped at Starscream’s bottom lip. “This better?”

“Much,” Starscream ex-vented and leaned back, bracing his hands on Sunstreaker’s shoulders. He rolled his hips, working himself over Sunstreaker’s spike. “Mind if I take over?”

Sunstreaker made a point of leaning back and crossing his arms behind his head. “Go for it.”

“Lazy aft,” Starscream muttered, but it was with a grin and a soft sigh as he braced his hands on Sunstreaker’s abdominal armor and started to grind down, his valve fluttering and grasping at Sunstreaker’s spike.

He shivered, glossa sweeping over his lips. He forced his hands to clench to keep from touching Starscream – or at least not yet – as Starscream rode his spike. Up and down, up and down. Hips swaying to the left and right, wings twitching. Starscream moaned, optics half-dim, his bottom lip tugged between his denta.

“It’s not laziness if I’m enjoying a free show,” Sunstreaker said. His glossa flicked over his lips as his spike throbbed, greatly enjoying the clutch and pull of Starscream’s valve.

Starscream huffed a laugh. His fingers curled, talons teasing into Sunstreaker’s ventral seams. His hips sank down, taking Sunstreaker deep, and he rocked them, grinding Sunstreaker’s spikehead against his ceiling node. His wings shivered.

“You are quite pretty,” Sunstreaker added as he finally unfolded his arms and let his hands rest on Starscream’s knees. He slid his palm up and down Starscream’s thighs, feeling armor shiver beneath his fingertips.

A low moan rattled in Starscream’s intake. His wingflaps fluttered. “Mmm. Am I?” he asked, his tone coy, but Sunstreaker knew better than that.

“Quite.” He smoothed his palms further up, letting his thumbs dip into Starscream’s hip joints. “Especially when you smile, which you don’t do often enough.”

“Hah. None of us do.” Yet, Starscream’s wings flickered, and his field blossomed with appreciation. His valve fluttered madly around Sunstreaker’s spike, grasping for more charge.

Primus, he could be so adorable sometimes.

Starscream’s thighs pressed in on Sunstreaker’s legs as he pushed himself upright again, hips pumping up and down, raking the length of Sunstreaker’s spike. His valve made messy, squelching noises. His biolights pulsed rhythmically, and he shivered.

But Sunstreaker knew it wouldn’t be enough.

Fortunately, it was hardly a trial to get to pleasure Starscream, no matter how long it took.

“Kiss me,” Sunstreaker said.

Starscream ex-vented in a burst. “Hm?” Dim optics brightened as they focused on Sunstreaker again, something in his expression a bit dazed.

Sunstreaker chuckled and cupped Starscream’s face, pulling him in for one of those sweet, savoring kisses. He nipped at Starscream’s bottom lip, swollen thanks to all of his nibbling, and plunged his glossa into Starscream’s mouth.

The Seeker shivered against him. His hands slid up from Sunstreaker’s ventrum to his shoulders, his hips rocking forward. A soft click announced Starscream’s spike finally emerging, daintily poking at Sunstreaker’s abdominal armor.

Mmm. Sunstreaker wanted to taste all of him.

“Hold on,” Sunstreaker murmured.

Starscream moaned as he obeyed, thighs tightening around Sunstreaker’s waist and hands locking behind Sunstreaker’s neck. His spikehead pressed harder against Sunstreaker’s ventrum, leaving a streak of pre-fluid behind.

No matter. Cleaning up together afterward was part of the fun. Besides, Star needed a strip and polish anyway.

Sunstreaker cupped Starscream’s aft and lifted, hauling both himself and the Seeker off the recliner in one hard push of his hydraulics. Starscream clung to him, engine purring as he nuzzled into Sunstreaker’s intake, nibbling at his cables.

“Feeling energetic today, are we?” Starscream asked.

“Your fault.” Sunstreaker shivered as clever denta pinned his cables, biting hard enough to sting.

Starscream’s valve quivered, clamping down on Sunstreaker’s spike. “I’ll gladly take the blame for that.”

“Good.” Two steps and they were at Starscream’s berth, a tad bit higher off the floor than Sunstreaker’s own. “Let go.”

Starscream obliged just as Sunstreaker loosened his grip, setting Starscream’s aft on the edge of the berth. He snagged Starscream’s lips for another kiss before he drew back and gave Starscream’s chest a little push.

“Lean back,” Sunstreaker said.

Starscream fell back to his elbows, his wings fluttering. He tilted his helm. “You think you’re in charge here or something?”

“Or something,” Sunstreaker drawled as he slid his hands to Starscream’s waist and hips before curving the around Starscream’s upper thighs. He rolled his hips, shallowly thrusting into Starscream’s valve.

The Seeker shivered. His optics dimmed again. “If you keep doing that, I won’t even complain too much.”

“You shouldn’t be complaining at all,” Sunstreaker said with a laugh. He rolled his hips again, grinding deep, before he unsheathed himself, leaving Starscream’s valve rim to twitch in dismay. “Guess I’ll have to fix that.”

Starscream’s hips pumped on empty air. “Leaving me empty fixes nothing,” he said with a pout. “You’re supposed to be making me feel better.”

“And I am.” Sunstreaker gripped Starscream around the waist again and gave him a push, shoving him further up the berth, positioning him perfectly.

Sunstreaker leaned over the edge of the berth and ex-vented over Starscream’s exposed array, both the gorgeous spike and the throbbing valve.

“But we both know you need more personal attention,” Sunstreaker murmured. He leaned down, lapping at the tip of Starscream’s spike and gathering the pearl of pre-fluid with his glossa.

Starscream shivered and abruptly sank back, flattening to the berth. “Okay. I’m sold.”

Sunstreaker chuckled. He rubbed his cheek along the length of Starscream’s spike before he pressed a kiss to the node at the base of Starscream’s spike, his lips brushing over the delicate piercing. Starscream moaned again, his hips canting upward, though with his knees and legs dangling over the edge of the berth, he had little leverage.

Just how Sunstreaker liked him.

He pressed another kiss to the piercing before he caught the ring with his denta. He gave it a gentle tug, not enough to hurt, but just enough to stir that sensitive node.

Starscream hissed a moan, his backstrut arching. His hands clawed at the berth, twisting in the cover he insisted on using. “Need my chain,” he said.

“I’ll get to that,” Sunstreaker murmured and released the ring.

Starscream’s node blinked more fitfully now. Arousal pulsed in his field as lubricant trickled from his valve. He smelled needy, like hot charge and desire.

Sunstreaker in-vented greedily and dipped lower, nuzzling Starscream’s valve. His lips found Starscream’s anterior node and the ring piercing it as well. He gave it a kiss and a tug, causing Starscream to arch again. His thighs trembled.

Normally the two rings were connected by a thin, delicate chain. One perfect for tugging and teasing. But Starscream was ever-cautious and often removed the chain if he felt a client on his docket would get too rough, potentially ripping it out. Sunstreaker currently had the chain in his subspace.

He would reattach it later. For now, he wanted to savor without it in the way.

Starscream’s valve called to him, plump and wet, biolights flickering and lubricant trickling free. Sunstreaker leaned down and licked a long, wet stripe over Starscream’s valve, gathering up the escaped lubricant and ending with a flick to Starscream’s anterior node.

Starscream’s backstrut curved, the berthcovers creaking. “Primus, you’re good at that,” he gasped.

Sunstreaker purred against his array, the vibrations sure to entice Starscream further. “Mmm, well I have lots of practice with you,” he murmured before he went back to work, licking and sucking at the swollen rim, paying special attention to each exterior node.

Starscream writhed beneath him, his frame turning into one of sinuous motion. He made all of these delicious whimpers as his valve seeped lubricant steadily, and his engine purred louder.

Sunstreaker licked deeper into Starscream, his glossa teasing the node cluster just within Starscream’s rim, provoking a shiver from the Seeker. The berth rattled beneath Starscream, his thighs pulling inward, his legs bracketing Sunstreaker. His hips canted upward, pushing his valve toward Sunstreaker in silent demand.

Greedy Seeker.

Sunstreaker chuckled to himself and drew Starscream’s pierced anterior node into his mouth, denta tugging on the ring as his glossa lashed it. Starscream gasped and bucked hard against him, riding his mouth.

“Oh, please,” he moaned, thighs shaking harder. The berth covers rustled.

Sunstreaker’s glossa stroked over and over Starscream’s node, occasionally flicking down to lap into Starscream’s valve. He slid one arm under Starscream’s thigh and angled his elbow, his hand seeking out Starscream’s spike. His forefinger found Starscream’s base node and hooked around the ring. He gave it a small tug.

Starscream babbled something like encouragement. His hips rose, rocking toward Sunstreaker’s mouth, his field bursting with a blaze of heat that thrashed against Sunstreaker’s own.

Primus, he was gorgeous. No wonder clients couldn’t keep their hands off of him. Sunstreaker was so fragging lucky.

He doubled his efforts, burying his face between Starscream’s legs. His nasal ridge rubbed Starscream’s anterior node as he lapped at Starscream’s valve, drinking down the continuous dribbles of lubricant. Starscream tasted sweet, like racer-grade coolant, and Sunstreaker sipped him up. He tugged harder at Starscream’s base ring, and heard Starscream’s engine roar.

Heat teased at Sunstreaker’s sides as Starscream’s thrusters spat fire, clear signs he was getting close to an overload.

“Sunny.” Starscream whimpered, his thighs pressing so hard against Sunstreaker that their respective armor creaked.

Sunstreaker nibbled on Starscream’s valve rim, the tip of his glossa briefly flicking over Starscream’s caudal node. It blinked back at him, throbbing with need, but so did his anterior node, swollen and glinting off the ring.

“Overload for me, sweetness,” Sunstreaker purred against Starscream’s valve, the vibrations surely carrying through the sensitive dermal mesh. His denta caught the anterior piercing again, pulling on it slowly, so slowly, so that it tugged on Starscream’s node and the protomesh around it.

Starscream’s backstrut curved as Sunstreaker pulled. A low thrum rose in his chassis, his vocalizer spat static, and charge abruptly danced out from beneath his armor, decorating his plating in blue fire as finally, he overloaded.

Starscream’s hips danced, pushing hard at Sunstreaker’s mouth, demanding more and more. Sunstreaker was happy to oblige, though he gentled his tasting and soothed the piercing with soft laps. He ex-vented over Starscream’s throbbing, swollen node, his own engine purring.

Primus, but he wanted to sink back into this plush valve, feel the frantic grip of Starscream’s calipers around his spike. Starscream looked so pretty writhing on his spike, and he made the most delightful noises.

But this was good, too. This was just as intoxicating, especially when Starscream released the berthcovers and pawed at Sunstreaker’s shoulders.

“Come here, come here,” he said urgently, his fans rattling through several deep vents.

Sunstreaker pressed a parting kiss to Starscream’s anterior node before he pushed himself upright, letting Starscream pull him into a kiss. His frame draped over the Seeker’s, hot metal to hot metal, and he swore he could feel the strong whirr of Starscream’s spark through his chestplate.

Sunstreaker’s own spark yearned, drawn toward the confines of his chamber. It recognized heat and strength, a greater energy yield than he was capable. Sunstreaker firmly kept his locks engaged and focused instead on the sweet press of Starscream’s lips to his, the way Starscream continued to move beneath him.

“Frag me,” Starscream said as he tugged on Sunstreaker’s sides, his hips rocking up against Sunstreaker.

“Thought I just did,” Sunstreaker retorted with a small laugh. He nipped at Starscream’s lips.

Then again, Starscream still shivered beneath him, and his field screamed of hunger. One overload had not been enough to clear him of gathered charge, but it had left him achingly sensitive, and desperate to be filled again.

“You’re such an aft,” Starscream hissed, his claws digging into the seams at Sunstreaker’s sides. “Come on. Roll over.”

“Why? Do I get another show?”

“Just do it!”

Bossy Seekers. Sunstreaker rolled his optics and pecked Starscream on the lips again. He did, however, obey, pushing himself back upright and off Starscream’s frame. He pulled himself the rest of the way on the berth, but apparently didn’t move fast enough for Starscream, who shoved him down to the berth, flat on his back.

Sunstreaker laughed despite everything as he scrambled to get fully onto the berth before a hungry Seeker planted his aft on Sunstreaker’s groin, his thighs bracketing Sunstreaker’s very online, very rigid spike. He’d been ignoring his arousal for the most part – he had plenty of practice in that respect – but with Starscream’s hot, eager valve so close, all of Sunstreaker’s arousal came back with a vengeance.

“Can I touch this time?” Sunstreaker asked as Starscream planted his hands on Sunstreaker’s belly again and rocked his hips, rubbing his valve over Sunstreaker’s spike. He had his bottom lip between his denta again, and Primus if that wasn’t both the hottest, and most adorable thing.

Starscream rolled his optics, his wings trembling behind his shoulders. “Don’t be stupid. Of course you can.”

“Well, sometimes, I’m not sure with you,” Sunstreaker said.

He shivered as Starscream’s valve stroked over his spike again, lubricant leaving it slick and glistening. His spike throbbed, screaming at him over all the denied pleasure. He was swollen, tender to the touch. He needed to overload.

“Then consider this open permission,” Starscream replied as his valve caught the head of Sunstreaker’s spike and the first few inches popped inside.

Sunstreaker’s ventilations stuttered. He sucked in a heavy vent, his hands finding Starscream’s waist and giving it a squeeze.

Starscream rippled around him, first ring of calipers clutching at Sunstreaker’s spikehead in a near-sucking motion. They caressed the small node cluster at the head of Sunstreaker’s spike.

“You’re not going to last long, are you?” Starscream’s lips curled into a smirk, though his field shivered with an equally hungry lust.

Sunstreaker’s glossa swept over his lips. “Consider it a compliment.” He slid his hands upward, cupping Starscream’s chassis, before his thumbs swept inward. They teased at Starscream’s chest turbines, flicking the tiny slats.

Starscream visibly shivered. His wings twitched upward, his valve fluttering. His hips sank down, swallowing Sunstreaker’s spike by half, engulfing him in soaking heat. Starscream’s receptors spat charge at Sunstreaker’s nodes, making his spike twitch.

“Ahhh, that’s not fair,” Starscream breathed, his optics burning like crimson fire, his mouth falling open in a desperate bid for secondary ventilation.

“I say it is.” Sunstreaker’s thumbs flicked again, setting the tiny fans to spinning, albeit slowly. He stirred them with his thumb-tips, and Starscream moved atop him, his valve rippling around Sunstreaker’s spike.

Starscream’s chin dipped toward his chestplate. He sank further on Sunstreaker’s spike, nearly to the hilt. His spike jutted proudly from the apex of his thighs, liberally weeping pre-fluid. His fingers dug harder at Sunstreaker’s seams, talons pricking at Sunstreaker’s cables with little bites of pain.

“You would. Sadist.” Starscream panted, his engine rumbling a low thrum of need.

“Whose claws are buried in my substructure again?” Sunstreaker asked, but he offered mercy. He abandoned teasing Starscream’s turbines, one hand sliding down to that beautiful spike and taking it firmly.

Starscream’s head snapped back up. His hips rocked into Sunstreaker’s grip, even as they sank firmly down, swallowing the rest of Sunstreaker’s spike in one fell smooth. He perched on Sunstreaker’s groin, valve calipers clicking restlessly, clutching at Sunstreaker’s spike, his hips making the smallest of circles.

“You… like… it,” Starscream panted, his optics flashing. His field flooded over Sunstreaker, thick and pulsing with heat. “Don’t lie.”

“Mm. I do.” Sunstreaker squeezed Starscream’s spike while his free hand slid up Starscream’s chestplate, the tips of his fingers brushing Starscream’s neck cables. “And I know what you like, too.” His hand curved around Starscream’s intake, his hold gentle for all the threat it implied.

It was something Starscream did not trust any of his clients to play around with. But he trusted Sunstreaker, and that in itself was a headier aphrodisiac than anything else.

Starscream shuddered. He sucked on his bottom lip as his valve spat charge at Sunstreaker’s spike and his hips rocked back and forth, faster now, with more urgency.

“Can I?” Sunstreaker murmured, his palm hot and heavy against Starscream’s intake, but he left it little more than a presence.

Starscream’s wings hiked high, his ailerons twitching. His fingers curled inward, talons scraping Sunstreaker’s cables.

“Please,” he moaned.

Arousal growled in Sunstreaker’s engine. He pulled himself upright, Starscream firmly planted in his lap. He tightened his fingers around Starscream’s intake, just enough that Starscream could feel the pressure, and pulled Starscream toward him, taking the Seeker’s lips in a fierce kiss.

Starscream gasped against his mouth. His hands curved around Sunstreaker’s waist, pressing against his back, hooking into seams again. He trembled, armor clattering, hips still but valve clenching and clenching. He whimpered, the vibrations tangible against Sunstreaker’s palm, his field a buzzing, searing need.

Intoxicating.

Sunstreaker bit at his lips, each nip of his denta making Starscream twitch. He flexed his fingers and squeezed incrementally. Starscream’s valve seemed to echo the pressure, cinching down tighter and tighter on Sunstreaker’s spike, spitting so much charge that his nodes danced with pleasure.

Little, urgent noises eked out of Starscream’s vocalizer, the vibrations echoing against Sunstreaker’s palm. His frame radiated heat especially as his armor opened up, his cooling fans clicking into full spin.

Sunstreaker nuzzled against Starscream’s lips. “You are so beautiful,” he murmured as he felt Starscream shudder. “Next time, we’ll do this in front of a mirror. That way you can see every bit of your own pleasure.”

Starscream moaned into his mouth. His wings fluttered. Clearly he liked that idea. Good. Because Sunstreaker fully intended to follow through.

“But for now, overload for me, pretty,” Sunstreaker purred, his own ventilations getting sharp and staggered. “Overload again.”

Starscream wheezed. His field flashed with suffocating lust, his spike throbbing fiercely in Sunstreaker’s grip. His head tipped back, even with Sunstreaker’s hold on his intake, and his hips jerked forward.

His claws curled, scratching Sunstreaker’s backplate, and his hips shoved down, valve spasming.

A low, staticky sound rose in Starscream’s intake, a mix of moan and whimper, before he came undone in Sunstreaker’s grip, shaking and writhing as overload took him once more. His spike spurted in Sunstreaker’s fist, his valve spooling into a tight vise around Sunstreaker’s spike.

He swallowed; Sunstreaker could feel the bob of it against his palm. A wave of charge crawled over Starscream’s armor, leaping into Sunstreaker’s own and nipping at the protoform beneath his plating. Starscream’s energy field crashed over his, consuming him in electric fire and need.

Sunstreaker’s engine roared. He clamped his damp hand on Starscream’s hip, yanked Starscream down tight against him as he pumped up into Starscream’s very welcoming valve.

Sunstreaker overloaded between one ventilation and the next, his spike spurting deeply into Starscream, his fingers flexing around Starscream’s throat. He pulled Starscream into a kiss, one of denta and need, tasting spilled energon as he did so.

Primus.

He shuddered, pressing his forehead to Starscream’s, sucking in vent after vent through his mouth. His frame twitched, little zaps of pleasure zinging from one end of it to the other. Starscream’s valve milked him for every last drop of transfluid, drawing out the overload, until Sunstreaker felt exhausted and wrung dry.

Then again, his stupidly under-energized spark could have had something to do with that, too.

He forced his fingers free of Starscream’s intake and rested them on Starscream’s shoulder instead. He hummed, clearing his vocalizer of static.

“Okay?” Sunstreaker asked.

Starscream purred, turning his head to nuzzle Sunstreaker’s helm vent. “More than,” he murmured, his ex-vents tickling. “I’m always impressed with your control.”

“Decades of experience, sweetness.” Sunstreaker smoothed his hand down Starscream’s thigh. “How’s your aft?”

Starscream huffed a laugh. “Like I can feel anything but that overload right now.” His hands smoothed up Sunstreaker’s back, teasing the bottom of his tires. “Gonna need a wash, too.”

“Later.” Sunstreaker twitched his back tires, wordlessly warning Starscream, before he tipped backward onto the berth, pulling Starscream with him.

Starscream’s hands moved in time, resting on Sunstreaker’s shoulders, though he shifted to notch himself on top of Sunstreaker. His spike slipped free of Starscream’s valve, twitching as it was suddenly assaulted by cool air, rather than Starscream’s snug embrace.

“Oh, I see.” Starscream nuzzled into Sunstreaker’s intake and gave it a nip. “You want your cuddles now.”

“Damn right, I do.”

Starscream chuckled, his knees squeezing in at Sunstreaker’s waist. “What would your clients think if they knew how much their fearsome Dom loved to snuggle?”

“It’s none of their business.” Sunstreaker curled his arms around Starscream, holding the Seeker tight against him. This close, he could feel the distant edges of Starscream’s spark energy, even through their armor. “Just a little nap.”

Starscream purred and wriggled around a bit more until he made himself comfortable, tucking his head into the crook of Sunstreaker’s shoulder and intake. “And then?”

“Then you need a strip, wax, and repaint,” Sunstreaker said firmly. He reached up, tweaking the join of Starscream’s wing hinges, just to feel Starscream jolt atop him.

“Like the scratches are my fault,” Starscream grumbled. His ventilations evened out, however, proving that he wasn’t opposed to a stasis nap.

Sunstreaker slid a hand down, palming Starscream’s aft, relieved to find it no longer burned with the overheat of active nanites. The numbing gel had done its job.

“Shhh. Cuddle time, not mutter time,” Sunstreaker said.

Starscream nipped at his intake in retaliation. “You’re the one still talking.” He breathed a laugh, his aft wriggling under Sunstreaker’s hand. “Lecher.”

Affection swelled in Sunstreaker’s field before he could hold it back. He knew better, but his spark was an ornery thing. It grew attachment where it shouldn’t. It filled with warmth and longing, all for the mech draped atop him, beautiful in his trust.

Sunstreaker worked his intake and quietly cycled a ventilation. He let the fatigue pull at him, drag him toward recharge. He buried the rest deep, hidden behind layers of respect and friendship and understanding.

“Rest well,” he murmured, fingers stroking a long, soothing path down Starscream’s backstrut.

Starscream made a noncommittal noise, burrowing against him in an adorable, unconscious desire for comfort. His trust was a gift, and Sunstreaker accepted it gladly.

Starscream was his roommate, his partner, and his friend.

Sunstreaker would have to be satisfied with that.

[TF] One Wish 01

Part One

Sunstreaker scraped the last sweep of the skyline and sat back to give his newest piece a critical gaze. It wasn’t done, not by a mile, but it wasn’t a blank sheet of canvas either. It occupied that interesting in-between state where he didn’t loathe it, but he didn’t love it.

That could be fixed.

He cycled a ventilation and put the scraper down, only to realize that his break timer was blinking urgently in the corner of his HUD. And, apparently, had been doing so for the past hour.

Oops.

No wonder his arm ached, and his backstrut twinged. Sideswipe was going to yell again. Sunstreaker was supposed to take regular breaks, refuel on time, and walk around so his joints don’t lock up.

Again.

Sunstreaker rolled his neck to ease the strain in his cables and pushed to his feet, throwing a protective sheet over the canvas. He would come back to it after a break and, no doubt, a lecture.

Sunstreaker checked his finish in the full-length mirror by the entry, but all spatter and random dirt had been confined to his hands and lower arms. These blemishes were easily handled by a cloth pulled from subspace.

Sunstreaker stepped out of his studio and into the main room of the Energon house he and Sideswipe owned. Well, Sideswipe managed and operated, Sunstreaker mostly used it as a studio and art gallery. Not that there many art-hunters to be found here on the edge of Uraya. Mostly, Sunstreaker sold a few over the intra-net and shipped them out of province.

“There you are!” Sideswipe called out to him from behind the bar. He was currently wiping it down as they had few patrons this time of the cycle. “You’re–”

“Late, I know.” Sunstreaker hoped to cut off the lecture. “Do you have my–”

Sideswipe plunked a cube of magnesium-spiced mid-grade on the bar, interrupting Sunstreaker before he could ask for it. “It’s not fresh,” he said as he tossed the rag into the collection basket and leaned against the bar. “It would have been, if you’d listened to your break alarm.”

“I know.” Sunstreaker climbed onto a stool and grabbed the cube, taking a sip of it. He grimaced. All of the magnesium had sunk to the bottom. “It won’t happen again.”

“Sure it won’t.” Sideswipe’s field nudged at his. Though his tone was irritated, the rest of it was concern. “I just worry about my little brother.”

Sunstreaker rolled his optics. “We’re twins, dumbaft.” He swirled the cube, stirring it, and changed the subject. “Besides, I didn’t miss anything, did I?”

Sideswipe’s lips curved into a grin. He tilted his chin as though pointing behind Sunstreaker. “Just your pet.”

Sunstreaker swiveled in his stool to see the black and white Empura sitting in the small booth nearest the door. Calling Dent white was probably stretching it, however. He was so filthy that he appeared brown. His three digit clawed hands – pincers really – fiddled with the drink pouch on the table in front of him.

At least Sideswipe had fed him. Sometimes, he wouldn’t no matter how much Sunstreaker fussed at him.

“He’s not my pet,” Sunstreaker muttered, sliding off the stool.

Sideswipe pushed off the bar. “So you say. Just hurry up and get it in back before it scares off any potentials.”

Sunstreaker frowned at his twin, but saved that particular argument for another time. Dent looked up as though hearing their conversation, his single yellow optic eerie as it focused on them.

Sunstreaker had gotten used to it, but Sideswipe still shivered theatrically. There were a lot of Empuras around here. The edge of Uraya was home to the slums; the residents had given it the name “Wastes” because that was all that was left.

Fitting.

Sunstreaker approached the table as Dent scrambled to get out from the booth, moving awkwardly. There was something in the stubs of what could have been wings or sensory panels on his back that left him clumsy. How could Sideswipe look at Dent and not feel pity?

Maybe Sunstreaker had gotten all the compassion in their shared spark.

“I apologize,” Dent said, the edges of his words wreathed in static. “Do I need to leave?”

Sunstreaker cycled a ventilation. “The dining room, yes. The building, no. Come on. You look in need of a wash.”

“Oh, but I–”

“That wasn’t a suggestion.” Sunstreaker snagged Dent’s refueling pouch off the table, noting it was still half-full. “Ignore my stupid brother. He’s overprotective.”

“Perhaps with good reason?”

Sunstreaker rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “The world may never know.” He tossed Sideswipe a glare, but his twin ignored him, attention fully on two customers entering the building.

Dent’s pincers clicked together, a sign of anxiety. “I would hate to be a bother.”

“You say that every time.” Sunstreaker hooked an arm through Dent’s, trying not to cringe as grime flaked down. Well, he’d take care of that soon enough. “If you were a bother, I’d have tossed you on your aft already.”

Dent made a noise, a blat of static, but didn’t argue. His optic dimmed as he let Sunstreaker steer him to the back of the store, which doubled as his and Sideswipe’s living quarters. It wasn’t much, but they had a small washrack all their own, and a berth for each of them, when they didn’t share.

“Washracks first,” Sunstreaker said as he steered Dent toward it, careful to avoid the furniture and making a mental note of the dust Dent left in his wake. “You’re filthy.”

Dent ducked his head. “I apologize.”

“Well, it can’t be helped, I guess. Where the frag are you recharging?”

Dent’s armor drew tight, his field nonexistent. A topic he preferred not to discuss then. Sunstreaker wouldn’t push. He knew how much he hated to be pushed when he didn’t want to talk. Sideswipe was awful about that, pushing and pushing until Sunstreaker had to stomp away just to get some peace.

“Okay then.” Sunstreaker urged Dent into the washracks ahead of him, and gestured the Empura to the only stool they had. “Sit. I’ll give you a hand.”

Dent startled. “Oh, but I can–”

“Nope. My rack, my rules.” Sunstreaker managed a small grin and pointed to the stool again. “Sit.”

Dent cycled a ventilation and obeyed, though stiff and uncoordinated. “You are a kind mech, Sunstreaker.”

He snorted as he turned on the solvent, setting it to a comfortable temperature which Sideswipe told him barely counted as lukewarm. Pfft. What did he know?

“Not many would agree with you there.” Sunstreaker grabbed his bucket of supplies, including a scrub brush, and directed the stream at Dent.

The solvent sluiced over dingy brown plating, washing away the first coating of filth. It was going to take a lot more than a little rinsing to get him clean. He had grime in his gears!

Sunstreaker shuddered. He looked down at his arm, and it was dusted in filth, too. How could a mech function like this?

“I’ve been told I’m damn hard to live with.” Sunstreaker took up position behind Dent and started to scrub, though he was careful to avoid the two ridges on his backplate. They looked raw, as though the excision had been done improperly. “But enough about me. I haven’t seen you in weeks. Where’ve you been?”

Dent ducked his head, his pincers fiddling together. “I have been hiding.”

“Hiding?” Why would an Empura need to hide in the Wastes? It’s not like regular mechs wandered down there. No one came to the Wastes except…

Oh.

Sunstreaker felt like an idiot.

“From the Regent’s Cleaners,” he guessed.

Dent’s shoulders hunched. The little antenna on top of his head twitched. “The Wastes are much emptier as of late.”

“Me and Sides noticed that bots are going missing. But we didn’t realize it was that bad.” Sunstreaker blew air through his vents and started scrubbing at Dent’s shoulders. White and black started showing clean, sending a pang of longing through his spark.

White and black. Good colors. Classic. Clean. Familiar. Pretty common in retrospect. A dozen mechs passed by the cafe with such plain color schemes every day.

None of them were the mech Sunstreaker waited for.

“I guess you could say that the Regent’s doing his job,” Sunstreaker muttered with a shrug. Not that they paid him or anything.

The Regent had been here as long as Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, maybe longer. He was the unofficial leader of the Wastes, and their corner of Uraya. He had a talon in every energon storage down here, not to mention what little they had for an economy. No one contested him. No one had the bearings to do it.

Dent made a noncommittal noise. His head bobbed.

“You should stay here,” Sunstreaker suggested as he took Dent’s arm in hand, gently scrubbing around the joint and the raw area around his wrist. Whoever had done the surgery on him had done a slag-poor job of it. “I mean, instead of hiding. I’ll clear it with Sides.”

Dent shook his head, easing his arm from Sunstreaker’s grip. “No. It is not safe.”

“Pfft. We can take care of ourselves.” Sunstreaker reached for Dent’s arm again.

Dent’s optic seemed to gleam at him, his field reduced to a shivery, thin layer. “No,” he repeated, and his pincer trembled. “It is not safe.”

“You let me be the judge of that,” Sunstreaker insisted as he shifted to Dent’s other arm. Beneath the grime and the Empurata, Dent might have been a handsome mech once upon a time.

Sunstreaker sometimes wondered what Dent had done to incur the wrath of the council and earn this punishment? To have his frame disfigured and to be dumped like so much trash into Uraya’s Wastes. Dent wasn’t like most of the others. He didn’t seem one-step removed from violence and madness.

He was quiet. Calm. Contemplative.

Lost.

He couldn’t remember anything, he claimed. Now maybe that was true, maybe it wasn’t. Empuras usually didn’t forget their pasts, but some of the welding on Dent’s frame looked substandard. Maybe the Empurata procedure was rushed. Maybe he did something bad enough to earn Shadowplay, too.

Who knew?

But he wasn’t dangerous. Sunstreaker was sure of that.

“You know we sometimes go to Kaon to take a few bouts in the Arena, right? For extra creds?” That and the Regent occasionally asked them to fight on his behalf, and he would serve as their sponsor.

Sunstreaker hated it when Sideswipe agreed to do it. Then again, they’d already learned that you just didn’t say no to the Regent.

The nubs on Dent’s back twitched. “That is dangerous.”

“So’s living.” Sunstreaker shrugged and flicked a finger. “Up. Gotta get your legs.”

Dent’s field shied away from his. He reached out with his right hand. “I can do it myself.”

“Properly?” Sunstreaker arched an orbital ridge. “Without breaking my scrubber? Cause I’ll be very put out if you do.”

Dent’s optic dimmed. “I am… growing more proficient,” he said with a cycle of his ventilations, gusting a burst of steam into the air. “And I need the practice.”

Sunstreaker squinted at him. Dent held fast.

What the slag, eh? It was pretty cheap. He could always get another one. Besides, there was something desperate in the quiet request. A desire to be able to do something for himself perhaps.

Sunstreaker could understand that.

He handed over the scrubber and let Dent work on his legs while he grabbed the sprayer off the wall and aimed it at Dent. The floor beneath them was grey and brown from filth. Sideswipe was going to flip.

Sunstreaker kept one optic on his own actions, and the other on Dent, but the Empura was manipulating the brush pretty well. He hadn’t been exaggerating when he said he’d improved. He no longer fumbled with the pincers, though the care he used might have been exaggerated.

“When you’re clean, I’m going to give you a wax,” Sunstreaker said as pitted and dented armor came into view. Hmm. He’d probably pull out the dent-puller, too.

Dent stiffened and turned toward Sunstreaker, which resulted in him nearly getting sprayed in the face. “You do not have to spoil me so,” he said, twisting to avoid the solvent spray. “I could not ask you to–”

“See. That’s the thing.” Sunstreaker plucked the scrubber from Dent’s pincer and aimed the spray at the Empura’s legs. “You didn’t ask. I offered. And I’m told that when someone offers something, it comes without strings.”

Pincers twisted together, scraping noisily. Sunstreaker shut off the spray and reached out, gently laying his hand where Dent’s claws had tangled. What was it about this Empura that tugged at his spark? Honestly. Sometimes, Sunstreaker couldn’t explain it either.

“I mean it,” he said, and squeezed Dent’s pincers, hoping he could at least feel the pressure of the grip.

Of course, that was the moment Sunstreaker’s private comm buzzed loudly. –Stop playing with your pet and get out here,– Sideswipe demanded without so much as a segue.

Sunstreaker’s engine growled as his mood instantly plummeted downward. –He’s not my pet, Sides! Primus!–

–Whatever. Starscream’s here, so stick it in a closet or something and get out here before he thinks we need an inspection or some slag,– Sideswipe retorted, and abruptly shut down the comm.

Well, if the Regent was here, then Sunstreaker supposed he could excuse Sideswipe’s rudeness.

This time.

They were still going to have words about the way Sideswipe treated Dent and the other Empuras however.

“Sunstreaker?”

He shook his head, shutting off the spray and snagging two fluffy cloths from the rack. He tossed both at Dent.

“I’d stay to help, but the Regent just showed up.”

Dent went stiff all over. His armor clamped tight, optic brightening. His field wildly flared, before he reeled it in to nothing.

“Relax,” Sunstreaker said as he backed toward the door. “I’m not goin’ to turn you in and Sideswipe won’t either. Just stay in here and don’t come out until I come get you, okay?”

Dent nodded, half-buried beneath the fluffy towels. “Yes, sir.”

Sunstreaker paused in the doorway. His tank clenched. “Please don’t call me that,” he murmured, and left, closing the door behind him.

He doubted the Regent would come into their personal quarters, but sometimes, Starscream did conduct raids if he thought anyone in his jurisdiction was hiding something of importance. Sunstreaker and his brother worked for Starscream, which offered them some protection.

But then Scoop had worked for Starscream, too, and no one had seen him in months.

Sunstreaker glanced down at himself, frowning when he found a few spatters of solvent. He absently wiped at them as he eased out of his and Sides’ apartment, locking the door behind him. Starscream didn’t usually take much notice of him since he found Sideswipe far more charming, but Sunstreaker didn’t want to gather the Regent’s attention either. He didn’t know how to play the word games that Sideswipe did.

“There you are!” Sideswipe said brightly, the tone at odds with the anxiety rippling across their bond.

Sunstreaker’s gaze skittered to their visitors, Regent Starscream and the armed guard he never went without, though today there was only the one. A small grounder with a blue visor – went by the name Ricochet. He was a smart aft and a half, which meant he got on well with Sideswipe.

Sunstreaker couldn’t stand him.

“I was washing up,” Sunstreaker said crossly as he ducked behind the bar, giving Starscream and his guard a wide berth.

Sideswipe scowled at him. “Polish later. Work now.”

“Since when are you the boss of me?”

“Since always.”

“Sparklings,” Starscream interrupted with a drawl, one orbital ridge raised. “As entertaining as I find your brotherly spats, I do have business to attend.”

Sunstreaker shot his brother a dirty look, but Sideswipe was already easing out from behind the bar.

“Good point. Cause we’re all in the business of creds, am I right?” Sideswipe said, flashing one of his most charming grins. “Follow me, gentlemechs. My office is this way.”

“Yes, I remember,” Starscream said, his tone cool, as he flicked his wings backward. He moved ahead of Sideswipe, every inch the commanding Regent, and Sideswipe just shrugged and followed after him.

Ricochet trailed them both at a leisurely pace and took up a position just outside the door as Sideswipe and Starscream vanished inside. He folded his arms over his chestplate and managed to look just menacing enough to scare off half of their customers.

Great. Sideswipe was going to blame Sunstreaker for that, he just knew it.

“How are you supposed to guard him from outside the door?” Sunstreaker asked as he picked up the glasses Sideswipe had been cleaning and started wiping them dry.

Ricochet tilted his head, visor gleaming. “Are you telling me your twin is a threat to my employer?”

“…No.”

Ricochet smirked and rolled his shoulders. “Then I’m exactly where I need to be. I’m here to kick aft, not pay attention to numbers.”

Sunstreaker blinked. “Whatever,” he said, turning his attention to two mechs who’d just walked in the door. Sideswipe would fuss if he drove away business again.

He tried not to think about Dent hiding in the washracks. He hoped Dent didn’t try to sneak out the back and take off. Sunstreaker was serious about offering him a place to stay. He didn’t want Dent to disappear like the others.

Luckily, Ricochet was content to sip on his engex and leave Sunstreaker be. Which meant Sunstreaker could fret over Dent in silence, and glance at the office door, silently urging Sideswipe to hurry.

~

“So.” Sideswipe dropped into the squeaky chair behind his desk. “What brings you to my humble place of business?”

Starscream rolled his optics. “Spare me your games, Sideswipe.” He lowered himself into a chair with more grace than Sideswipe had shown. “I don’t intend to be here all afternoon.”

“Fair enough.” Sideswipe grinned and folded his arms across his belly. “What, when, and how much?”

Starscream produced a datapad and set it on the desk. One taloned finger pushed it closer, shoving aside a cup of styluses in the process.

“Standard procurement fee,” Starscream said. “And as for when, the answer is the same as always.”

Sideswipe dragged the datapad closer before he picked it up. “As soon as possible then.” He flicked it on, only glancing at it to be sure it had a requisition on it. “Think someday you’ll tell me why you need this stuff?”

“No.” Starscream’s optics narrowed. “Your job is not to ask questions, remember?”

Sideswipe flashed a grin. “Can’t help being curious.”

“I don’t need your charm either.”

“Right.” As unfriendly as always. That was Starscream.

Sideswipe sighed and skimmed the contents of the datapad. Half of these items he had no idea what they were, but the identifying glyphs were clear as day – medical equipment. Rare medical equipment.

“This is grey cargo,” Sideswipe observed.

“Your point?”

Sideswipe wiggled the datapad. “It won’t be easy to get.”

Starscream’s right wing twitched. It was always the first to go. “Are you saying you can’t?”

“No.” Sideswipe lowered the datapad back to the desktop. “But it won’t be cheap.”

“Fine.” Starscream tossed a cred chip onto the desk. “This should be more than adequate.”

Sideswipe pulled out his reader and inserted the chip, his orbital ridges rising at the amount on it. Starscream only gave him this high of a budget when it was something he had a desperate need to acquire.

“I’m guessin’ this means you want the best,” he said as his spark throbbed harder in his chassis. Starscream wasn’t playing games. “That or you gave me a nice bonus.”

Starscream stared at him, his optics flat and unamused. “I want the highest quality you can find,” he said. “Now. Can you do it?”

“Sure thing.” Sideswipe grinned and stowed both reader and datapad in his subspace. He rose to his feet. “Have I ever failed you before?”

“No. And if you wish to maintain functioning, you won’t now or in the future.” Starscream rose more languidly, his wings high and rigid.

Sideswipe worked his intake, offering an uneasy smile. “Nothing like a little idle threat to grease a business deal,” he said as he eased around the desk, preceding Starscream to the door. “That’s what I love about you, Regent. You’re nothing if not blunt.”

Starscream gave him a sideways look. “So you say,” he said crisply and moved past Sideswipe, back into the business proper.

Primus.

A shudder raced down Sideswipe’s spinal strut. He allowed himself a second to regain his composure before he followed Starscream out.

The Seeker was already almost to the exit. Not one for lingering to socialize, that one. All of Sideswipe’s other clients tended to take advantage of his engex, but not Starscream. Business, like everything else, was perfunctory.

Any other time, Sideswipe could appreciate that. But he thought about the datapad and the chip in his subspace, and his tanks lurched.

Starscream was dangerous. He began to wonder if he might even be in over his head, except it was too late to back out now.

Sighing, Sideswipe planted a smile on his lips and locked his office behind him. Time to get to work. Poor Sunstreaker looked harried and here came Huffer. Mech was might particular about his engex, and Sunny always mixed it wrong.

Sideswipe would worry about Starscream and what the Regent wanted later.

~

Starscream left.

Ricochet, however, didn’t, which prompted Sunstreaker to linger as well. He couldn’t seem too eager to take off otherwise Ricochet might think he was hiding something.

“Uh, shouldn’t you be watching your boss’s aft?”

“I do that all the time. It’s a fine aft,” Ricochet said with a flash of his visor. He pulled out a stool and sat at the counter. “But he’s with Airrazor where I can’t follow so I figure, I have me a sit down and taste what I’m told is the finest engex in all of Uraya.”

Sideswipe smirked and leaned against the counter. “The finest, huh?” Across the bond, Sunstreaker could tell he was flattered, though it wasn’t like it was the first time someone had complimented him. “Who told you that?”

“Mmm. Everybody.” Ricochet folded his arms on the bartop and leaned forward. “So why don’t you give me what you think is your best mix, and I’ll tell you what I think.”

Sideswipe chuckled. “Deal.”

–You can go, bro. I can handle this.–

Sunstreaker shifted. –You sure?– He didn’t trust Ricochet any further than he could throw the soldier. Frankly, Sunstreaker didn’t trust anyone who hung around with Starscream.

–Positive. He ain’t nothing but a flirt. All talk. No action,– Sideswipe replied as he spun around from the bartop and started mixing up his specialty.

“You want it sweet or spicy, mech?” Sideswipe called over his shoulder.

Ricochet braced an elbow on the counter, propping his bumper against the edge. “Whatever you think I like, hot stuff.”

Ugh. Yeah. It sounded like Sideswipe had this well in hand.

“I’m going in the back,” Sunstreaker muttered, failing to hide the disgust in his tone. Sides would take anything to berth, wouldn’t he?

Sunstreaker spun on a heelstrut and headed toward the door, only to be drawn up short as Sideswipe rushed to catch him, one hand on his elbow.

“Come back out later, okay?” Sideswipe murmured, locking optics with him. “I gotta call Swin and you know he’s really weird about when he’s available.”

Sunstreaker frowned. “Can’t you call Smokescreen instead? Swindle is a cheat.” Not that Smokescreen was much better, but at least they got what they paid for with Smokescreen, unlike Swindle, who always tried to pass off substandard materials with a high markup.

“Would if I could, but Screen don’t have what Starscream needs.” Sideswipe squeezed his arm in a show of affection. “Besides, Screen is still mad at me.”

Sunstreaker sighed, pinching the bridge of his nasal ridge. “Maybe if you didn’t frag him and run–”

“This and that are two different things,” Sideswipe interrupted loudly, with an askance look at Ricochet, who was watching both of them with evident amusement. “Just get you-know-who settled and come back out later. Please?”

He never could resist when Sideswipe did that. When he pleaded with large, bright optics and an earnest smile on his lips. It was that charm that got him out of so many scrapes and into so many berths.

“Fine,” Sunstreaker muttered and lowered his hand. “But you’re calling Smokescreen and apologizing to him tomorrow.”

“Deal.” Sideswipe winked at him and let go of Sunstreaker’s arm. “Now, shoo.” He spun around, all but strutting back to the counter where Ricochet waited. “One Special Swerve coming right up!”

Sunstreaker bit back another sigh and turned around, refusing to let anything else stop him from slipping into the back. He hoped Dent hadn’t gone yet.

His and Sides’ apartment was dim and quiet. All Sunstreaker could hear was the quiet ticking of the wall chrono, the numbers gleaming brightly at him. The door to the washrack was still closed.

Sunstreaker palmed the door open and the tension whooshed out of him, tension he hadn’t realized he carried.

Dent was still there. He sat on the small bench tucked against the far wall, the towel lying in his lap, though it was wound around his pincers. His head snapped up as the door opened, and though his single optic couldn’t convey emotion as much as a face, there was something fearful in the brightness of it.

Fear that whisked away into relief as Dent sagged.

“It’s just me,” Sunstreaker said, trying for a smile. “Don’t worry. The Regent’s gone.” He gestured to the Empura. “Come on. Let’s get you polished.” He’d have to take a damp cloth to Dent’s frame, too. Some of the solvent had dried in ugly streaks.

Dent pushed to his feet, wobbling a little. His optic dimmed, as though he’d been running himself ragged with worry. “Is polish not a little excessive?” he asked as he inched out of the washracks, his armor still clamped tight.

“Not to me. Polish is necessary. Especially if you’re going to stay here.” Sunstreaker fished around his subspace, producing the half-consumed pouch Dent had been working on earlier. “Here. Finish this.” He plucked the towel from Dent’s pincers, replacing it with the pouch.

“You are kind,” Dent murmured, his field reaching out for Sunstreaker’s, though it was jagged around the edges. Empuras always felt like that, as though whatever punished them this way made their entire existence one of pain.

“You say that often enough, I might actually believe it.” Sunstreaker grinned, though it was crooked.

“It is the truth.”

Sunstreaker made a non-committal noise and led Dent to his own room. He and Sides could double up for a night until they got their spare berth from storage. Unless Sideswipe offered Ricochet more than a special drink.

Gross.

Sunstreaker sat Dent down on a stool and retrieved his spare polishing supplies from the cabinet, spreading them out on the berth. Dent, at least, had finally relaxed a bit more. He sipped on the energon pouch, his armor easing away from his protoform. Fully relaxed, Sunstreaker could see past the plating to the scars on Dent’s protoform.

Sometimes, the sight of them made Sunstreaker angry. Dent seemed genuinely nice and respectful. What could he have done to deserve this?

“You really don’t remember anything?” Sunstreaker asked, though he hesitated to break the comfortable quiet.

It was rare to find a mech who didn’t loathe silence. Sideswipe could never stand for it. He insisted on filling quiet with noise, with chatter or music or some vid on the screen. Whereas Sunstreaker liked companionable silence. Dent’s lack of fidgeting seemed to indicate he liked it, too.

“Shadows,” Dent answered, his vocals soft. His head dipped a little, pincers squeezing the pouch. “Echoes. I feel as though the memories are there, but I cannot access them. I do not know if I am being prevented from doing so, or if I lack the hardware.”

Sunstreaker inclined his head. “I can’t imagine what that’s like,” he said as the wax worked its way into Dent’s plating, adding a thin shine that seemed almost ridiculous over the faded paint.

“Lonely,” Dent answered quietly, and the plating across his upper back shuffled, twitching the stumps of whatever had been on his back. “But I am finding it less so as of late.”

“Why?”

“Because,” Dent half-turned, the glow of his optic now visible to Sunstreaker, “you are kind.”

Sunstreaker’s face flushed with heat. “I’m really not,” he murmured and ducked his head, trying to focus on the last stubborn smudges of wax.

Dent made a noise of disagreement, but said nothing further. They fell back into the comfortable silence. The tension was gone from his frame, however, and that was the greatest gift of all.

~

Sideswipe balanced the till; Sunstreaker straightened and cleaned. They’d been closing Color and Conversation like this together for decades. It was a process that worked. Sunstreaker had exacting standards; Sideswipe had the processor for numbers.

Sometimes, they talked. Sometimes, they didn’t.

Today was one of the former. Only Sunstreaker should have anticipated this topic.

“So how long is your pet going to stay with us?”

Sunstreaker turned a chair upside down and sat it on top of the table with a little more force than was necessary. He glared at his twin.

Sideswipe held up his hands. “Fine, fine. He’s not your pet. Even though he totally is.” He gave Sunstreaker a crooked grin. “Just answer the question.”

“I don’t know,” Sunstreaker replied honestly and moved on to the next table, wiping it down. Honestly, that damn rust flavoring got everywhere. Why did Sideswipe insist on dusting everything with it? “I need you to help me get out the spare berth.”

“The spare?” Sideswipe’s engine revved. “Sunny, that doesn’t sound like temporary arrangements. That sounds like ya want to keep him.”

Sideswipe’s stare prickled between his shoulders. “It’s not like he has anywhere else to go, Sides.”

“Neither do the dozens of other Empuras out there, but I don’t see you opening our doors to them.” Sideswipe flung a hand out at him. “And don’t you dare start either. We’re doing good, but not that good. We can’t feed every stray that comes begging at the doors. We’re one emergency away from bedding out there with the Empties.”

Sunstreaker focused intently on stacking chairs. “I know that.”

“I don’t really think ya do sometimes.” Sideswipe muttered something, numbers perhaps, and scribbled onto the scratched datapad he insisted on using for accounting purposes. “And how do ya know he’s not going to kill us in our recharge? I like my spark where it is, bro.”

“He won’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Cause he’s not dangerous!” Sunstreaker huffed and cast his brother a glare, but Sideswipe was doing a good job of not looking at him, pretending he was double-checking the receipts.

Sideswipe snorted. “You don’t know that. Someone did that to him for a reason, Sunny. Mechs don’t get taken apart unless they did something terrible.”

“Or maybe he didn’t do anything,” Sunstreaker snapped, ex-venting a loud burst. “Sometimes, mechs are just inconvenient or in the way or in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Sideswipe planted his hands on the counter and stared at him. “Or they deserve what they get. Maybe even worse.”

Sunstreaker’s ventilations were uneven. He folded his arms over his chestplate. “Did we?”

Sideswipe blinked, physically recoiling. “Sunny…”

“We were abandoned like they were,” Sunstreaker said, his shoulders hunching. It hurt his spark to talk about this, but ignoring the truth didn’t make it any less true. “We were left for scrap, left to starve. Did we deserve that?”

Sideswipe vaulted over the counter, his field reaching for Sunstreaker even before he did. “Of course we didn’t. That’s different.”

“It’s not at all.” Sunstreaker shifted away from his brother. “We don’t know enough about him to say anything, Sides. So stop judging him by the way he looks.”

“Okay. Fine. I will.” Sideswipe held up his hands, only to tilt his head and peer at him. “Why do you care so much?”

Sunstreaker frowned, his orbital ridge drawing down. “I just do.”

Sideswipe tilted his head, optics narrowing. He stared at Sunstreaker for a long moment, his field probing at Sunstreaker’s.

“You don’t ‘just’ anything,” he said, and stepped close enough to touch, his frown deepening. “I can’t believe it. You’re falling for that Empura, aren’t you?”

“I’m not! I’m just…” His engine screeched, ventilations stuttered.

Sideswipe stepped close enough that their armor brushed. “Hey,” he murmured, resting his hand on Sunstreaker’s arm. “Prowl’s not coming back, all right? You got to face that. I get why you’re doing this with the Empura, I do, but don’t let it be anything more than a distraction, okay? There’s no future with it.”

Sunstreaker eased away from his brother and snagged the broom, focusing on sweeping up a clump of dust. “I don’t need you to tell me that,” he muttered.

Sideswipe sighed and scrubbed a hand down his face. “If you say so.” He waved a hand of dismissal and went back behind the bar. “Dent can stay,” he added as he picked up his datapad. “For a little while anyway.”

Sunstreaker made a noncommittal noise. He didn’t want to discuss this any further and neither did Sideswipe apparently.

They finished the rest of their closing duties in relative quiet, with the only the clatter and clank of Sunstreaker cleaning to break the silence.

“I’ll help you get the spare berth tomorrow,” Sideswipe said as he met Sunstreaker at the door to their shared apartment. He handed over the financial datapad. “I’m not going to be home most of the night anyway.”

“What? Why not?” Sunstreaker took the datapad, but couldn’t hide the surprise in his tone. Or the worry.

Had he made Sideswipe angry?

“Got a date.” Sideswipe grinned, crooked and handsome. “So don’t wait up.”

The tension released from Sunstreaker’s frame. “Oh.” He rolled his optics. “You keep on like this, you’re going to wind up with a virus the clinic can’t cure.”

Sideswipe patted him gently on the cheek. “You’re so sweet to worry about me, Sunny.” He winked and spun on a heelstrut. “You can go on into the apartment. I’ll lock up.”

Sunstreaker twisted his jaw. “You’re going to be careful, right?”

“Have you ever known me not to be?”

Yes. More frequently than Sunstreaker would like. He cycled a ventilation and tossed the cleaning cloth into the bin with the rest of the dirty ones.

“Don’t wait up either,” Sideswipe called to him just as Sunstreaker reached the door.

Sunstreaker rolled his optics. “I never do,” he said, and slipped inside, closing the door behind him. He’d learned his lesson ages ago though that didn’t stop him from worrying.

Sideswipe could take care of himself. They both could. You didn’t grow up on the streets without learning a trick or two. But still…

He was the only brother, the only family Sunstreaker had. Worry was part of the package.

Sunstreaker scraped a hand down his face, only to frown when he realized his fingers were still damp from cleaning fluid. He hated the chemical smell of it. Time for a quick rinse then.

As he passed the two berthrooms, however, he noticed that the door to his own was open. It hadn’t been when he left, and the dim glow of an optic from within was the reason why.

Sunstreaker’s frown deepened and he paused. “Did I wake you?” he asked.

The berth creaked as Dent rose and approached the door, though he hovered in the shadows of it. “No. I was not yet recharging.” He lingered there in the small opening, pincers twisting together. “All is well?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Because I am causing disruption,” Dent said and his gaze dropped, optic focused on the floor. “I should leave.”

Sunstreaker blinked. “No, you’re not. Why would you think…” He paused and squinted. “Wait, were you listening to us?”

Dent ducked his head, until Sunstreaker could only see the top of it. “I apologize. It was not my intent to eavesdrop, only your voices carry.”

“Yeah, Sideswipe can be loud.” Sunstreaker cycled a vent. “No, you don’t have to leave. We got it sorted. Sides and me, we’re brothers. We fight. It happens.”

“Brothers….” Dent’s ventilations rattled a gust as a shiver raced over his plating. “I think… I believe I understand something of brothers.”

Sunstreaker’s lips quirked. “You have one?”

Dent drifted backward a step, as though taking solace in the dark. “I think, perhaps I do.” He lifted his gaze back to Sunstreaker, his optic brightening by degrees. “Though I do not recall. I feel he was vexing.”

“Like Sideswipe.” Sunstreaker chuckled. “I’m not surprised.” He braced a hand on the doorway, leaning against it. “He can be an aft, especially when he thinks he’s right or he thinks he’s protecting me or some such slag.”

Dent laughed, though it was more of a rattling wheeze. “Yes. That does indeed sound familiar.”

Sunstreaker stared.

Dent had never laughed before. It barely counted as a laugh, but Sunstreaker was going to note it anyway. There was something familiar in the laugh, the tone of it, but that familiarity was there and gone again.

How could Sideswipe think he was dangerous?

“Anyway, go back to recharge. I’m just going to rinse off and then climb into Sideswipe’s berth since he won’t be here tonight,” Sunstreaker said, backing away from the door. “I’ll be that way if you need me.” He pointed.

Dent bobbed his head. “Good recharge, Sunstreaker.”

“And to you.” Sunstreaker smiled to himself and left Dent to recharge. He needed to rinse, and then lie alone in his berth and worry about Sideswipe.

~

Sunstreaker must never know.

Honestly, Sideswipe shouldn’t even be thinking about his brother at a time like this, but given his berthmate, the subject came up. Because this wasn’t a random encounter. This was a repeated visitor to the same berth. One Sideswipe could have never expected.

“Mmm.” Ricochet purred, stretching his arms above his head as his plating shivered from the last vestiges of overload. “You always know how to do me right.”

Sideswipe grinned as Ricochet resettled, blanketing Sideswipe’s lower half with his weight. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Ricochet chuckled, his visor a deep violet. His engine purred, vibrating through Sideswipe’s legs. “Practice makes perfect.”

No.

Sunstreaker wouldn’t understand this. He was wary of Starscream, he loathed the Regent’s guards, and he definitely didn’t like Ricochet. He wouldn’t understand why Sideswipe had been sneaking around with Ricochet for months.

Sideswipe listened to the arrhythmic tics as Ricochet’s plating cooled down, his vents cycling slower and slower. “I should leave soon,” he murmured, though Ricochet tracing odd patterns on the inside of his thigh armor was good incentive to stay.

“What? Sunstreaker can’t tuck himself in at night?” Ricochet chuckled and curled his arm tighter around Sideswipe’s left leg. “He’s a full-grown mech, ain’t he?”

“He is. He’s just…” Sideswipe ex-vented, his right hand dropping to rest on Ricochet’s head. He teased the mech’s sensory horns with a thumb. “I don’t know. He’s got this weird obsession with one of the Empuras hanging around the cafe, and I don’t want him getting hurt again.”

There were lots of Empuras in the Wastes. Luckily, it wasn’t a crime to associate with one. The Regent didn’t much care what you did with an Empura, but the fact that they were disappearing was concerning. Sideswipe trusted that Ricochet wouldn’t bring it up to his boss, however. Ricochet had rules about keeping business and personal separate.

Though that didn’t explain what he was doing here and now. Sideswipe was pretty much a clash of the two.

Ricochet rubbed his cheek on Sideswipe’s thigh. “Again?”

“It’s a long story.”

One of Ricochet’s clawed fingers slid into a seam, scraping over the cables beneath. Sideswipe shivered, trying to fight off the rising arousal.

“If it’ll keep ya here, then I got time,” Ricochet purred and slid his free hand down Sideswipe’s leg.

Sideswipe grinned. “Well, with an offer like that, how can I say no?”

Ricochet pinched one of his inner thigh cables. “Oy. I’m not hearin’ any story down here.”

Sideswipe peered at him, honestly confused. “You really want to hear about my brother’s broken spark?”

“I could always use a good berth-time tale.” Ricochet rapped his fingers over Sideswipe’s knee. “Besides, I like me a good drama.”

Sideswipe chuckled. “Okay then. Well, awhile back there was this mech hanging around, the kind you could tell didn’t belong here. He was smart, scary smart, and clean and polite.”

“That says a lot ’bout your customers if he didn’t belong.”

“Says a lot ’bout Uraya,” Sideswipe corrected. He shifted to get comfortable, finding that he didn’t mind Ricochet’s weight on his legs. “Plus, he was obviously from Praxus. He had those shoulder things, fake wings.”

“Mmmm.” Ricochet purred and wriggled against Sideswipe’s leg. “Sensory flats. Fun to play with.”

Sideswipe laughed. “Yeah, those. Anyway, he kept coming around, and he and Sunstreaker hit it off. Love at first sight or some scrap.”

“You don’t believe in it?”

“I think it’s a cute story for sparklings.” Sideswipe shrugged and stroked the nearest of Ricochet’s sensory horns. “Why? Do you?”

Ricochet tickled behind his knee, making Sideswipe shiver. “I think yer gettin’ distracted from my story, Sides.”

“Okay, okay.” Sideswipe cycled a ventilation. “Anyway, they got close. Real close, and Sunstreaker fell hard. I’ve never seen him that happy.”

Frag, before Prowl, Sideswipe wasn’t sure he’d ever seen his brother cheerful. He’d smiled often with Prowl. He would light up like a supernova.

He had, of all things, dared to hope in a city like Uraya where mecha came to suffer or die, sometimes both.

“I’m sensin’ a but.”

Sideswipe shook himself out of the memory. “Yeah. One orn, Prowl up and vanished. His comm went dead. He was nowhere to be found, and believe me, I looked.”

Ricochet’s field went weird and wonky. “You think foul play?”

“I think he got bored and went to find someone else to play with. Prowl was Elite, if you ask me, and came here to slum it.”

Ricochet made a noncommittal noise. “I’m sensin’ some hostility.”

“Prowl better hope he don’t come back.” Sideswipe’s engine revved, his distaste for the flaky Praxian filling his field. “There’s nothing that frags me off more than hurting my brother.”

Ricochet shivered, his field rising to meet Sideswipe’s with an edge of heat. “Nnn. See, when ya talk like that, it makes me want ya more.”

“Is that so?” Sideswipe looked down with a smirk. “You got a thing for violence?”

Ricochet rolled onto his front, completely blanketing Sideswipe’s lower half. His head rested on Sideswipe’s hip. “I got a thing for you.”

Sideswipe rested his hands behind his head. “Oh? That sounds dangerously close to feelings.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” Ricochet pressed a kiss to Sideswipe’s abdominal armor. “So are ya leavin’ or stayin’? Cause now I have plans for ya.”

Sideswipe licked his lips. “Sunny will be okay without me for a night.”

Ricochet rose to hands and knees, crawling up Sideswipe’s frame. “That’s the good news I wanted to hear,” he murmured, their faces inches apart.

Sideswipe’s hands skimmed down Ricochet’s sides, resting around his waist. He grinned.

Besides, Sunstreaker had Dent to look after. He wouldn’t even notice that Sideswipe was gone.

~

Sunstreaker woke up chilled, unexpectedly as he was supposed to be sharing the berth with Sideswipe. It looked like Sideswipe stayed out with his date. That was a first.

Sunstreaker leveraged himself out of the berth and headed for their energon dispensary. He drew himself a cube and filled a pouch for Dent.

That was, hoping Dent had stayed. Sunstreaker wasn’t sure why it mattered to him. It just did.

It was still early. He assumed Sideswipe would be staggering home soon. He’d better. Sunstreaker wasn’t going to open the cafe on his own. That was Sideswipe’s pet project.

Sunstreaker rapped his knuckles on the door before keying it open. He sighed when he saw that Dent wasn’t on the berth. He should have known. He almost turned to leave when he spot the glow of dim biolights in the dark.

Under the berth.

That should have been his first guess. He and Sideswipe had lived on the street once upon a time. It was always a matter of safety over comfort.

Sunstreaker cycled his vocalizer. “Dent?”

The shape under the berth stirred. A single optic lit as Dent unfurled.

“Sunstreaker?” Dent eased out from underneath the berth, his plating clamped tightly to his frame, one that was once again dusty. “I apologize. I did not mean to recharge so late.”

Sunstreaker shook his head. “You have nothing to be sorry for.” He handed over the pouch. “Recharge okay?”

Dent took the pouch, ducking his head. “Better than usual. Thank you. I will leave soon.”

“I meant what I said. You can stay.”

Dent’s pincers tightened on the pouch. “I don’t wish to be a burden.”

Sunstreaker leaned a hip against the doorframe. “Then we’ll find something for you to do. I mean, we can’t pay you, but energon and a berth…? We can do that.”

“Why me?”

Sunstreaker stared at his own energon. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly.

Dent’s field reached for his, tentative and yearning. His optic glowed brighter.

“Sunny? Hello? Bro?”

Sunstreaker cycled a ventilation and turned away, the moment broken. “In here!”

Sideswipe staggered into view with a lazy grin, his paint visibly scratched and marked with lines of black. His field was a happy mess, his optics bright.

“Someone had a good time,” Sunstreaker commented with an arched orbital ridge. “Who was it?”

Sideswipe brushed at a scrape on his chestplate. “None of your business. You have your pets, I got mine.” He tipped his head toward the door. “C’mon. Let’s get that spare before I have to open.”

Sunstreaker squinted at him. His suspiciously good mood and lack of protest was telling.

“That must have been some frag,” Sunstreaker observed.

“No comment,” Sideswipe replied in that sing-song voice Sunstreaker loved to hate. “Now c’mon.”

“What should I do?” Dent asked.

Sunstreaker made a vague gesture to the common area. “Make yourself comfortable. Storage is out back so it shouldn’t take us very long.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sunstreaker flinched, but Sideswipe was bouncing on his heelstruts impatiently. Sunstreaker would address that later.

Sunstreaker joined Sideswipe at the door and followed him out back, to the triple-locked building they used for storage, supplies, and Sideswipe’s questionable business arrangements.

“You need a repaint,” Sunstreaker said as he waited for Sideswipe to input the code.

“So does your pet.”

“Sides,” Sunstreaker growled.

“I know, I know.” The door clattered open and Sideswipe flicked at a scratch in his arm. “These’re badges of pride, not flaws, bro.”

Sunstreaker pushed past him, wrinkling his nasal ridge as he caught a whiff of ozone. “You also stink.”

“Multiple overloads will do that to you. Maybe if you got out sometime, you’d know.”

“No thanks.” He edged past crates of unmarked content to the fold up berth in the back. “I have standards.”

“Ouch. Right in the spark.” Sideswipe slid to the other side of the berth. “You sure you want this? You and Dent could just double up.” He winked.

Sunstreaker groaned. “Just pick up your end.” He hated when Sideswipe was pleasure drunk. It made him ten times more obnoxious.

Sideswipe laughed but, luckily, didn’t push it. Together, they lifted the berth out of the storeroom, narrowly missing a barrel of unknown content. Sunstreaker preferred that he didn’t know, to be honest. Plausible deniability.

They wrestled the spare berth into the small room where Sunstreaker kept his art supplies and the canvasses that disappointed him. It would be cramped, but better than the streets Sunstreaker reasoned.

“Still don’t know why you’re going to all this trouble for an Empura,” Sideswipe grumbled.

Sunstreaker ignored him. Besides, he couldn’t explain it anyway.

They returned to the common room, Sideswipe diverting to grab a cube of energon.

Sunstreaker drew to a surprised halt, cycling his optics in disbelief. Dent had cleaned, neatening up the clutter Sideswipe was prone to throw about, and gathering the trash. Even now, he had a dust rag in pincer and was carefully wiping Sunstreaker’s first and last attempt at sculpting.

“Oh, look,” Sideswipe said as he swaggered in. “We’ve got a housemech.”

Sunstreaker elbowed him in the side, and took great delight in Sideswipe’s grunt of pain. Sideswipe gave him a sour look, but Sunstreaker ignored him. He was being an aft and Sunstreaker wanted him to know it.

“I was trying to help,” Dent said quietly, the nubs on his upper back twitching.

“You’re definitely doing that.” Sunstreaker looked around the room, surprised that not only was it clean, but Dent had alphabetized their collection of datatrax. “You did a good job.”

The Empura ducked his head and tucked his hands back at his side. “I am grateful,” he said, words sounding carefully chosen. “You are kind.”

Sunstreaker shifted his weight. No matter how often Dent said it, Sunstreaker couldn’t quite accept the compliment gracefully.

“I’m not,” he muttered and swept a hand over his head. “So, yeah. You can clean and then you’ll have earned your berth and energon, okay? No more of this talk of leaving.”

Dent nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“And don’t call me that either.” Sunstreaker’s back armor shuffled. “I’m Sunstreaker.”

“Or Sunny if you’re feelin’ brave,” Sideswipe said with a snicker. He draped himself against Sunstreaker’s side, braced on Sunstreaker’s shoulder. “You can call me Sideswipe though.”

Sunstreaker curled his lip and ducked out from under Sideswipe’s weight, taking great enjoyment in his brother’s yelp as he fought to catch his balance.

“Very well,” Dent said, something in the gleam of his optic suggesting a smile. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

Sunstreaker couldn’t help but return his smile. “You’re welcome.”

[CtE] Thieves Like Us – Stray

It was the kind of stupid drivel that cheap romances were made of. But the first time they met was when they both reached for the last copy of a popular handheld game.

They tussled over it. Rumble got his hands on it first, but Bumblebee had the better grip. Rumble was accustomed to getting his way and Soundwave wasn’t around to enforce politeness back then. But Bumblebee was stubborn and wouldn’t let go.

He fought like a rabid turbofox. He even scratched and bit like one. Rumble walked away with souvenirs and a lot less dignity then he’d arrived with.

Neither of them left with the game. In the struggle, they’d broken it. And then the shopkeeper chased them out the store as Enforcer sirens whined louder as they got closer.

Rumble fled. Frenzy would murder him if he had to waste their pay on bail again.

The yellow fragger tagged along, more desperation and fear in his field than seemed necessary for a little petty property damage. Rumble figured the brat had never been in trouble before.

Lucky there were plenty of places to hide in the slums. The police came and went, off to find bigger game.

Rumble was still angry. He’d been looking for that game for decacycles.

He whirled on his partner in crime, intent on finishing what they’d started, but in the dim light of the shambling warehouse, Bumblebee looked like a scared sparkling. Rumble hesitated.

“I’m sorry,” Bumblebee squeaked and scrambled away, vanishing into the gloom with a loud clomp of pedes through trash-clogged streets.

It was too much effort to give chase and why bother? Mech was in a worse state than even than he and Frenzy if the condition of his plating was any indication.

Rumble gritted his denta, kicked a rusty bucket, and turned back toward home. No point in sticking around.

That was the first time he saw Bumblebee. He expected it to be the last. Slums like these? Mechs never met each other twice. Survival was the name of the game and he and Frenzy were ace at it.

Rookies like Bumblebee found themselves all too often on the raw ends. Because Kaon chomped on mechs, chewed them up and spat them out. The laws of nature, as it were.

Except a decaorn later, he and Frenzy were cruising for some new clientele when there was a commotion in the streets. Rumble would’ve ignored it but Frenzy never could keep his curiosity for himself. He pushed his way to a clear view through the crowd.

Some mech was laying into another one with the help of his buddies. They were cursing and kicking and pounding a little huddled frame. And Rumble thought that beneath the dirt and energon, maybe the mech was yellow.

Looked like the fragger finally got what was coming to him.

Frenzy, bored, moved on. If you’d seen one beatdown, you’d seen them all. And they’d had their fair share. It came with the territory.

Rumble, though, he lingered, not sure why he did. He watched to the end, when the rapid flurry of blows faded to a final kick to a frame that no longer twitched.

The crowd dispersed. The mechs went on their way, casually wiping energon from fists and feet. They laughed to themselves and left the crumpled mess behind.

“Come on, bro. Stop staring at the scrap,” Frenzy said, tugging on his arm.

Rumble couldn’t. Instead, he got closer. The mech was still alive, wheezing wet ventilations. He stirred, scraping metal on metal, a pained noise emerging from his vocalizer. One blue optic flickered weakly. There was, briefly, recognition. Then realization.

And finally, resignation.

Rumble knew that look. He’d been there, had felt that despair. He’d crawled out of it and dragged Frenzy with him. But he knew that feeling of worthlessness.

He crouched next to the broken mech and he said, “they throw you away, too?”

A rattling cough splattered energon on Rumble’s pede. It was answer enough.

“Bro?”

Rumble figured he’d already known what he was going to do when he didn’t walk away at first sight.

“Help me,” he said. They weren’t far from home.

“Why?”

Because no one had helped them. These things happened, here in Kaon. Mechs died more than they lived. And you just stepped over the empties and kept going.

“Because I said so,” Rumble said and despite his efforts, he could not move Bumblebee without causing some pain.

Frenzy ex-vented the huff of the maligned. “Okay, but you have to clean up after him and feed him. He’s not my pet.”

Rumble ignored his twin. He’d gotten good at that. He’d had plenty of practice.

They got him home. It took some finagling and more credits than Rumble wanted to spend, but they got him there. He was in stasis by then and Rumble did what he could. He’d gotten pretty good at that, too.

Bumblebee’s injuries spoke of a lifetime of ills, scars, and dents — a match to what Rumble and Frenzy carried. But the gashes on his chest plating? The scraped paint and signs of forced entry? The dents on his thigh, on the panel Rumble was careful to skirt?

Those made Rumble shudder and exchange a look with his brother. They’d escaped that pain so far. They’d been lucky.

It was a decaorn before Bumblebee woke up, disoriented and afraid. Rumble came home only to be attacked in his own apartment, though he’d been more startled than anything.

Bumblebee was weak, running on fumes. A sparkling could have subdued him. Rumble might have been less gentle than he should have. He’d taken a databook to the helm, slag it.

Lucky it hadn’t been Frenzy. He tended to shoot first and throw out the scraps later.

Calming Bumblebee down was an exercise in patience Rumble didn’t know he had. It took offers of Frenzy’s favorite energon gummies and an introduction before Bumblebee stopped trembling long enough to respond.

Bumblebee ate like a trash compactor. He smelled like one, too.

Rumble coaxed him into the washracks. Well, actually, he tossed Bee in there, locked the door, and told him he could come out when the solvent ran clean.

It took two breem.

But when Bumblebee did emerge, he sparkled and Rumble’s mouth went a little dry. His internal temperature rose by several degrees. Trash from the street wasn’t supposed to be so pretty.

Rumble was so fragged.

Bumblebee lingered in the doorway, tense and wary. “What do I owe you?”

“Nothin’.” If he were the less honorable sort, Rumble could demand all kindsa things. But slag if he wasn’t. He might live amid the dregs, but that didn’t mean he had to be part of it.

Blue optics dimmed. “Nothing’s free,” he said and he pressed a hand to his chestplate, dragging a single finger down the dented seam, and toward his pelvic array.

Rumble was on his feet and across the floor before he thought twice. He all but slapped Bumblebee’s hand.

“Not that,” he hissed. “Don’t want anything and especially not that.”

Well, not like this anyway.

Bumblebee looked at him and then slid along the wall, toward the door. “Then thanks, I guess. I owe you one.”

“You actually got somewhere to go?”

“Figured I’ve worn out my welcome here.”

And that was when Frenzy sauntered through the door, throwing his hands into the air with a whoop of success.

“Bro, you aren’t gonna believe what I – oh. Your pet’s awake.”

“He’s not my pet!” Rumble argued.

“I was just leaving,” Bumblebee mumbled.

“So soon? But we was just starting to have fun.” Frenzy grinned and threw an arm over Bee’s shoulder.

Rumble folded his arms. “He’s been in stasis up until now.”

Frenzy winked an optic. “My point exactly.” He poked Bumblebee in the chest. “Come on. It’s a scary city out there. You should stick around for awhile.”

Rumble’s jaw dropped. How did Frenzy go from disinterest to fascination?

“You want me to stay?”

“Well, you aren’t doing too good on your own,” Rumble said, “and we’ve got the room.”

“But why?”

Rumble shrugged and it was Frenzy who offered an answer.

“Because you are what we were only wouldn’t no one help us. Time to break the cycle, yeah?”

Bumblebee looked between the two of them and then down at himself.

And he smiled. “Sure. Why not? Thanks.”

“No problem, goldie. We’ll show you the ropes. And Rumble can have his pet.”

“He’s not a pet!”

Frenzy laughed.

And so it was that Bumblebee came to live with them.

Though that was only the start of the story.