[One Wish] Enchanted V

Sideswipe hated Prowl.

Well.

Perhaps hate was an overstatement. Prowl hadn’t done anything to incite hate in Sideswipe. Loathing. Dislike. Distrust. All of those were possible, viable even. Sideswipe certainly didn’t like Prowl, and he didn’t trust Prowl.

He very much did not approve of Sunstreaker dating Prowl. But as Sunstreaker had informed him, quite vehemently as he never had before, it wasn’t Sideswipe’s decision to make. It was Sunstreaker’s. And he’d decided to say yes to a date with Prowl.

Sideswipe still didn’t like him.

Prowl was too much like Outlash in the ways that mattered. They didn’t look alike. They didn’t act alike. But they were of the same stock, the same breed. They came from credits. They came from a good life. They came to Uraya, but they could leave anytime they wanted. They came here to play, to slum, to throw around their charm until some fool fell under their sway.

They promised things they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – deliver. They whispered sweet nothings. They murmured love and tossed around words like ‘always’ and ‘beautiful’ and ‘better’ but only to seduce. Mechs like Prowl and Outlash didn’t mean them. Such words were only tools.

And now Sunstreaker had fallen for their spell. Sunstreaker who deserved so much better. Sunstreaker who was so fragging stubborn he wouldn’t listen to anything Sideswipe had to say on the matter.

“Sideswipe, you’re not looking!”

He cycled a ventilation and turned back toward his twin, whose face was creased with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation, and had his hands on his hips in outrage. His paint sparkled and gleamed, pretty enough to outshine anything in Uraya, Iacon, or any of the citystates around them.

“You’re perfect,” Sideswipe said. “Not a scratch on you. There never is. I don’t know why you have anything to be worried about now.” He folded his arms over his chestplate, wondering if he presented the perfect mix of concern and disapproval, with a thin thread of support.

He’d promised, after all, that he wouldn’t be an aft about this. Even though he really wanted to stomp to the door when Prowl arrived, fling it open, and tell the mud-wading slagger to frag off.

“I have to be better than perfect,” Sunstreaker said as he twisted around in front of the mirror, trying to see himself from all angles. “First impressions matter.”

“It’s not like he hasn’t seen you before.” Sideswipe rolled his optics and leaned against the doorframe. “You’ve passed the first impression part.”

Sunstreaker frowned and snatched a rag, rubbing at nothing on his left thigh. “Looking good is all I have.”

“You’re wrong about that.”

“Am I?” Sunstreaker asked, but the question felt rhetorical, murmured as it was. He tossed the rag into a basket and went back to examining himself for imperfections.

Sideswipe gnawed on his bottom lip. “He should get down on his knees and thank Primus that you agreed to a date with him. You’re more than just a pretty face.”

Sunstreaker shot him a look. “You’re my brother. You’re obligated to say that.”

“Doesn’t make it any less true.”

Sunstreaker snorted, but a touch of blue graced his cheeks. His field fluttered at Sideswipe, warm with affection and gratitude. He twisted in front of the mirror again.

“You don’t have to worry,” Sunstreaker said after a moment. He stopped primping and looked at Sideswipe. “Pretty sure this first date is going to be my last, once he realizes how boring and uncivilized I am.”

Sideswipe worked his intake. He wanted to reassure Sunstreaker, but the truth was, he felt Prowl was only in it for Sunstreaker’s pretty face. He saw a mark, and he went for it. He saw something he wanted to tumble, and Sunstreaker fell for it. Sideswipe wanted to believe differently, but he was a bit more learned than his brother.

He knew how mechs like Prowl thought. He knew what they really wanted. And he didn’t want Sunstreaker to experience that pain.

Sunny was stubborn though. There was only so much Sideswipe could do to protect him.

“His loss then,” Sideswipe said with a shrug. “If he doesn’t see you for the treasure you are, he doesn’t deserve you.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t tell me it wouldn’t make you happy if he dumped me.” Sunstreaker’s engine revved until he spun away from the mirror. “Frag it. I look good enough.”

His words were dismissive, but the anxiety in his field was cloying. Sideswipe sent warm pulses of calm across the bond, and felt Sunstreaker greedily latch onto them as if they were a lifeline. For all his bravado, he was nervous.

In any other situation, his nervousness would’ve been cute.

Sunstreaker stomped past Sideswipe and out of his room, armor clamped, field a maelstrom of emotion. Sideswipe bit back a sigh and followed after his twin.

“You look perfect,” Sideswipe said, feeling like he was talking to a brick wall. There was nothing he could say to break through Sunstreaker’s anxiety, he knew.

Sunstreaker opened the door leading into the cafe, which was closed for the evening, the lights dim and casting odd shadows over the booths and display case. Through the windows, the streets were dark with the odd mech shuffling here and there, to whatever they did or could do here in this city.

“You’re not going to give him some kind of threatening talk, are you?” Sunstreaker asked as he moved behind the counter, fiddling with things but not doing much. His gaze, Sideswipe noticed, kept darting toward the door as he waited.

Sideswipe leaned against the counter. “Well…”

“Sides!”

He managed a chuckle, because that affronted tone was adorable. “I do have this huge speech planned out. You know, about knowing where to hide dead mechs and a pack of scraplets eager to be fed.” He propped his chin on his hand and watched Sunstreaker fiddle with nothing. “I don’t want it to go to waste.”

Sunstreaker rolled his optics. “You’re not my genitor.”

“Closest thing to it.”

“Not even!” Some of the tension visibly eased out of Sunstreaker’s armor at the banter. “I don’t need you threatening him away before I get a chance to scare him off myself.”

Sunstreaker stalked out from behind the counter and started pacing the length of the shop, beside the booths, his gaze flickering to the windows before hastily wandering away again, as though he didn’t want to appear eager.

“You seem so sure that’ll happen.”

Sunstreaker snorted again and stopped near one of the corner booths. He gave Sideswipe a peripheral look. “Have you met me?”

“Known you from the moment we split, bro.” Sideswipe glanced at the window and caught movement, but Sunstreaker hadn’t yet. “And you’re every bit as lovable now as you were then.”

Sunstreaker sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why are you like this?”

“It’s part of my charm.” Sideswipe chuckled and pushed himself up from the counter. “Anyway, now’s your chance.”

No sooner had he spoken than the door chimed to announce Prowl’s arrival. Sunstreaker startled like he’d been struck and spun toward the door, a look of panic in his optics. Sideswipe took pity on him and moved around the counter to open the door, reading Sunstreaker’s struggle to get ahold of himself across the bond.

“Good evening,” Prowl dipped his head in a polite greeting all too common in the wealthy cities. “I am here to pick up Sunstreaker.”

Sideswipe frowned and fluffed his armor, a gesture any mech would recognize as one of menace. “Yeah. I know why you’re here. And I don’t like it.”

Prowl’s sensory panels flicked in a motion so minute Sideswipe almost didn’t catch it. “Has Sunstreaker changed his mind?”

“Unfortunately, not.” Sideswipe flicked his optics toward Sunstreaker, who was making urgent motions and glaring at him. “I’ve been told I’m not allowed to threaten you either.”

Prowl’s lip quirked. “Well. I appreciate your restraint.”

Sideswipe snorted and angled his frame aside, making room for Sunstreaker to join him at the doorway.

“Hi,” Sunstreaker said, sounding adorably shy, and Sideswipe wanted to grab him and snuggle him for it. But also shove him somewhere safe where mechs like Prowl couldn’t get to him and ruin that charming sweetness.

Prowl’s quirked lip turned into a full, soft smile. “Evening, Sunstreaker. Are you ready to leave or should we reschedule?”

Sunstreaker slipped past Sideswipe, subtly knocking their shoulders as he did so. It was probably meant to be a warning of some kind.

“I’m good to go,” he said. “Don’t mind Sideswipe. He’s an idiot.”

“He is your brother,” Prowl replied with an amused glance Sideswipe’s direction. “That comes with the territory.” He offered Sunstreaker a hand, like a gentlemech. “Shall we?”

Sunstreaker’s face visibly flushed blue. But he lifted his hand and rested his fingers on Prowl’s palm. “Sure. Let’s go.” He tossed a glance over his shoulder. “I’ll be back later. Don’t wait up for me.” He paused and glared at Sideswipe. “And don’t follow us either.”

Sideswipe chuffed a vent. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“Sure.” Sunstreaker rolled his optics and turned back toward Prowl.

“I will take utmost care with your brother,” Prowl said with a dip of his head. “Have a good night, Sideswipe.”

Not likely. He was going to spend all evening worrying about Sunstreaker. He just might camp out in the cafe, watching the door, as he waited for Sunstreaker to get back.

Or he’d leave and find a distraction. There was always some mech looking for a good time at the local bar, or rather, the only bar. Or maybe, he’d remain alone and drink just enough engex to dull his senses.

Sideswipe slipped back into Color and Conversation, locking the door behind him. He stared out through the transsteel, watching Prowl and Sunstreaker vanish into the night.

He hoped he was wrong. He sincerely did. Sunstreaker deserved to be happy. He deserved to have someone.

Sideswipe sighed and offlined his optics. He tilted his head forward, resting his forehead against the door.

Prowl wasn’t Outlash.

Or at least, he’d better not be. Or Sideswipe was going to make certain he wished he’d never stepped foot into Uraya.

***

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[One Wish] Enchanted IV

It was too early for Sunstreaker to be online.

He said as much, and yes, one might describe his tone as ‘grouchy,’ but Sideswipe deserved it.

“You could have done this on your own,” Sunstreaker grumbled as he trailed after his twin, dutifully carrying a shopping basket identical to the one in Sideswipe’s arms, save that Sideswipe’s was empty while Sunstreaker’s was already stuffed full.

When had Sunstreaker become Sideswipe’s cart? This was unfair.

“And then I would have had to make two trips,” Sideswipe said with the exhausted tone of someone who’d repeated themselves multiple times. Because he had.

He snagged a bag of those cheap, ugly umbrellas their customers seemed to like so much and tumbled it into his basket. Sure. He got the light umbrellas, meanwhile, Sunstreaker was stuck with the canisters of liquid flavorings. All of which, by the way, were sitting on top of his paintbrushes.

“You’re the one who says you don’t get out enough,” Sunstreaker retorted with a roll of his optics. He glared at the shelves. There was nothing here he needed. “Not like you’re going to find a new lay here anyway.”

“Which is a good thing, because if I was, your bright and cheerful disposition would probably scare them away,” Sideswipe muttered, but of course, he couldn’t hide the irritation from the bond, and he didn’t mutter quiet enough.

Sunstreaker heard it all.

He ex-vented and dutifully followed Sideswipe into the next aisle, which was a pathetic selection of powdered flavorings. But pathetic or not, Sideswipe never could make a quick choice. He always lingered here, hemming and hawing over whatever new flake of metal he wanted to try next.

Sunstreaker growled and shifted the basket to his other arm. No amount of goading would convince Sideswipe to hurry. Sunstreaker knew this from experience. He’d walk away and leave Sideswipe here but honestly, then they’d have to waste time looking for each other, and Sunstreaker just wanted to go back home. Preferably, back to his berth.

It was too fragging early, damn it.

“Maybe I’ll try cesium this time,” Sideswipe muttered to himself.

Sunstreaker tipped his head back and swallowed a groan. He let his optics wander over the shelves, not that he expected to find anything of interest, he just needed something to do other than watch Sideswipe debate with himself.

This time of the morning, the store was sparsely visited, but someone was entering the aisle by the other end. Sunstreaker gave them a cursory, dismissive glance. And then he did a double-take.

He knew that black and white frame, those arched sensory panels, that perfectly neutral expression. It was the Elite.

Sunstreaker’s optics narrowed. He whipped back toward Sideswipe and poked an elbow into his twin’s lateral seam. “Sides,” he hissed.

“Give me a sec. I’m deciding,” Sideswipe replied absently, waving him off.

Sunstreaker jabbed him harder. “Look. It’s that Elite!”

“It’s– what?” Sideswipe tore his gaze away from the shelves and peered over Sunstreaker’s shoulder, his optics narrowing into flinty slits. “What the frag? What’s he doing here? Is he stalking you now?”

“How would I know?” Sunstreaker snapped. He shifted the heavy basket to his other arm. “Let’s just get your flavorings and go.” He nudged Sideswipe with a shoulder and tried to move past him.

Sideswipe’s frown deepened. “No. I’m getting pretty tired of this actually. Maybe it’s time to handle things my way.” He blindly grabbed one of the flavorings off the shelf and tossed it into his basket. “Come on, Sunny.”

“What?”

Sideswipe, however, was already stomping past him, moving with purpose and anger in his field, straight toward Prowl, who hadn’t even noticed them yet, as far as Sunstreaker could tell. He must have had some kind of spatial awareness, however, as he looked toward them as Sideswipe got closer, his optics widening into surprise.

“Taken to stalking, have you?” Sideswipe demanded, his armor fluffing aggressively, his voice maybe a bit too loud.

Good thing it was early. There wasn’t anyone here to see the kind of scene they were making.

Prowl’s sensory panels arched upward, and he backstepped a pace from them. “I beg your pardon?” He frowned, optical ridges drawing down.

“My brother brushes you off so you decide the best way to handle that is to follow him around?” Sideswipe snapped, his free hand balling into a fist. His lips had peeled back over his denta, and he looked two seconds from trying to pound the paint off Prowl.

Except.

Except Prowl wasn’t giving off the vibes of a mech caught doing something wrong. If anything, he looked confused, perhaps a touch angry at being accosted like this. Sunstreaker wasn’t the best at reading other mechs, but right now, he sort of got the feeling that maybe. Maybe he and Sideswipe were totally wrong about this.

“Or perhaps I am in need of the same basic supplies as the average mech,” Prowl responded, his tone so cool and even Sunstreaker could barely tell he was irritated underneath. “Which is a good reason for me to be here, the only market in town.” He lifted the basket tucked into the crook of his arm, displaying the items within.

It was half-full, Sunstreaker noticed, as he peered around Sideswipe and into the basket. There was a packet of polishing cloths, a bottle of cleanser, a few flavor additives for energon, and a couple paint touch-up sticks. Presently, Prowl stood in front of the individualized flavor additive section, which matched the ones in his basket.

All of which gave truth to his claim that he was here for personal reasons and not because he was stalking Sunstreaker. Which, in further consideration, now made both of them look rather paranoid.

Heat flooded Sunstreaker’s face. Sideswipe didn’t have the grace to look embarrassed, but Sunstreaker certainly felt it. Prowl, after all, had been nothing but polite in all of their interactions.

Sideswipe snorted. “Well isn’t that convenient?” he demanded as he crossed his arms and nearly smacked himself in the face with his basket.

Prowl’s gaze briefly flicked to Sunstreaker before he audibly cycled a ventilation. “I’m not sure how to respond to that,” he said and tilted his head. “Or precisely what I’ve done to offend you. So if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll make my purchase and leave.”

“Yeah. You do that.” Sideswipe whipped around and grabbed Sunstreaker’s free arm. “Come on, Sunny. Let’s get out of here.”

Sunstreaker twisted out of Sideswipe’s hold, his focus on Prowl, who had yet to move, as if he feared turning his back on them. Probably with good reason, given his and Sideswipe’s behavior. Prowl’s sensory panels were still lifted high and tight, definitely agitated. Sunstreaker had seen much the same out of Smokescreen before.

“Don’t call me that,” Sunstreaker said, but it was half-sparked at best. Automatic at this point. “Besides, I believe him.”

Sideswipe rolled his optics, his field flaring his disbelief. “Of course you do. Because you don’t know any better. But I do.”

Sunstreaker unhooked the basket from his arm and shoved it at Sideswipe, where it clanged against his brother’s chestplate. “I know enough that you’re being rude right now. For no reason.”

Sideswipe scowled and snatched at the basket, both of his arms now laden with them. “Fine. Go ahead and fall for it.” He shoulder-checked Sunstreaker as he stomped past, his field swarming with outrage. “But don’t come crying to me later and expect any sympathy, bro.”

He stormed down the aisle, past the additives he’d been debating earlier, without giving them a second glance. Sunstreaker assumed he left to go pay. He’d be fragged when he got home and realized he didn’t finish his list. He’d blame Sunstreaker for it, too.

Aft.

Sunstreaker glared at Sideswipe’s back. His end of the bond had narrowed to the thinnest feed, and Sunstreaker felt nothing from his twin but aggravation. Sideswipe would calm down eventually, this Sunstreaker knew for sure. They never could stay mad at each other for long.

Behind him, Prowl coughed a ventilation. Sunstreaker startled, embarrassment returning, and he slowly shifted his gaze toward the Elite mech.

“Sorry about that,” Sunstreaker said, unsure what to do with his hands so he tucked them behind his back. All the better to avoid Prowl watching him twist his fingers together, betraying his nervousness. “Sides being rude, I mean.”

Prowl shifted his shopping basket into the crook of his arm. His sensory panels drifted down a few millimeters. “And I apologize for making you feel so uncomfortable in my presence.”

Heat must have shaded Sunstreaker’s face an awful hue. “That’s not it either. He’s just overprotective and I… I’m sorry,” he said, and lamely at that. He couldn’t really put it into words, and he didn’t want to say all the awful things Sideswipe was really accusing Prowl of. That seemed ruder.

“Apology accepted.” Prowl tipped his head, and the ends of his mouth curved upward in a small smile. “Perhaps we could start over?”

Sunstreaker blinked. “What?”

Prowl’s smile widened by a fraction. “I am Prowl,” he said as he gestured to himself with his free hand. “And yes, I am a member of the Iaconian Elite Guard, as your brother surmised. I am in Uraya on business, but pure chance had us crossing paths. If you’d let me, I would greatly enjoying getting to know you.”

Oh.

Sunstreaker’s spark skipped a beat. He scratched at the side of his nasal ridge, though it did little to hide the flush of heat darkening his cheeks. Sideswipe was right about one thing at least. Prowl was interested in him. Seriously.

He worked his intake. “I… uh… I’m Sunstreaker,” he said, feeling silly for doing so, but maybe that was what they needed right now. A bit of absurdity to ease the tension. “I own Color and Conversation with my twin brother. Sometimes, I paint. And, yeah. I’d like that.”

“Happy to hear it.” Prowl’s smile softened, turned genuine, if Sunstreaker had a guess. Sides would probably call it manipulative, but maybe people were just nice. That happened sometimes. Didn’t it?

“Are you available two nights from now?”

“Yes.” Sunstreaker leaned forward, until he realized how stupidly eager that made him appear. “I mean, I gotta check with Sides, but I’m sure he can handle things without me for a night.”

Prowl pulled a small chip out of subspace and offered it over. “Here’s my contact information. In case you change your mind.”

“I won’t.” Sunstreaker refused to admit the small tingle that ran through him as their fingers touched.

Prowl tipped his head, his sensory panels fully sinking down. “I will pick you up then. Forgive me if this sounds alarming, but I do, after all, know where you live.”

Sunstreaker chuckled. “I can take care of myself, contrary to what my brother thinks.” He rose up on his heelstruts and sank down again. “But speaking of Sideswipe, I should probably catch up with him.” He gestured over his shoulder. “He’s only gonna get more annoying, the longer he has to wait.”

It was Prowl’s turn to laugh, though softly he did. “Brothers are often like that.” His basket moved from one arm to the other. “It was nice seeing you, Sunstreaker. I look forward to our meeting.”

“Me, too.” Sunstreaker’s insides jittered with an emotion he wasn’t sure he could name. Excitement? “It’s a date.”

“Indeed it is.”

Sunstreaker grinned like an idiot and made himself turn and leave before he said anything else stupid. His mouth hurt because he smiled too hard, and he just knew Sides was going to be an aft about it, but frag him. This was Sunstreaker’s decision to make. Sideswipe was always off in some random mech’s berth. Why couldn’t Sunstreaker have a date if he wanted one?

He headed out of the shop where Sideswipe waited for him, shifting from foot to foot. He clutched a crate in his arms, overflowing with goods, and a bag hung from his right shoulder.

“It’s about time you showed up,” he said, stomping forward and shoving the crate at Sunstreaker. It smacked against his chest with a loud clang. “I’m not carrying all this by myself.”

“Why not? Most if it’s yours,” Sunstreaker snapped. He obediently accepted the crate, however. He was in a good enough mood he did it without a fuss. “Why are you so obnoxious today?”

Sideswipe snorted. “I’m the obnoxious one? That’s rich.” He adjusted the fall of the bag on his shoulder. “Come on. We’re due to open soon.”

Sunstreaker fell into step beside him. He tentatively poked at Sideswipe’s field, sensing the irritation and worry buried in the depths of it. That didn’t excuse Sideswipe’s rudeness, but at least it explained it.

“You took a long time in there, for someone who was telling that Elite to get lost,” Sideswipe said after a minute, cutting his optics in Sunstreaker’s direction.

“That’s because I didn’t.” Sunstreaker nibbled on his bottom lip and looked everywhere but at his brother. “I actually have a date.”

Sideswipe screeched to a halt mid-step and whipped toward Sunstreaker. “A what?”

Sunstreaker rolled his optics and kept going, forcing Sideswipe to either follow or stand there like an idiot. “I know it’s a word unfamiliar to you, since you seem to always skip that step. But I’m going to go out with Prowl because I want to, and I’m going to do it because I don’t need your permission.”

“You don’t know anything about him!”

“I think that’s rather the point of a date,” Sunstreaker retorted as he heard the noise of Sideswipe hurrying to catch up with him. “I can take care of myself, Sides. And I can make my own decisions.”

Sideswipe growled. “I never said you couldn’t. I just think–”

“–that I’m an idiot? Or a child?”

“I never said either of those things!”

Sunstreaker whipped a glare toward his brother. “You didn’t have to,” he huffed. “I already know what you think.” He slowed to a stop, uncaring that they were not only running late, but also making something of a scene in public. “Can’t you just stop being my older brother for a second and just, I don’t know, be happy for me?”

Sideswipe sighed and moved in front of him. “You’re right. I’m sorry.” He swept his free hand over his head, suddenly looking a lot older than either of them were. “I just… want you to be careful, all right? He’s not Uraya. He’s not one of us. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I won’t.” Sunstreaker managed something like a smile. “Trust me a little, yeah?”

“I do. Swear I do.” Sideswipe slung an arm over Sunstreaker’s shoulders and hauled him into an awkward half-embrace. “But you’re the only brother I got. I can’t help but want to keep you safe.”

Sunstreaker groaned. “Now you’re being a sap.”

Sideswipe grinned and planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek. “It’s ‘cause I love ya. Now come on. We gotta hop to it if we want to open the shop on time.”

“It’s your store.”

“It’s ours, Sunny.”

“Don’t call me that.”

***

[One Wish] Enchanted III

Prowl stayed away.

Or as much as his investigation allowed, at any rate.

Sunstreaker was clearly not interested, or even interested in having a conversation for that matter. It was a shame, but Prowl was not one to push. He knew when he was unwanted.

He kept his distance. He was polite, the few times he did stop by the cafe, and he took his meals to go. Sideswipe managed to be civilized, in such a way that Prowl understood the underlying threat.

Stay away from my twin.

Noted.

Prowl was many things, but a fool was not one of them.

He was here to do a job in Uraya, after all, not chase after another mech, no matter how lovely he was. Especially one, he soon learned, who was connected to the Regent.

“Fights for ‘im sometimes,” said one mech, multiple optics darting in multiple directions and making Prowl dizzy to try and maintain eye contact. He stopped bothering. His jittery informant was a miasma of anxiety and paranoia. “He sends ‘em to Kaon or Slaughter City as his… uh… you know? Face mechs?”

“Representatives?” Prowl supplied.

The mech nodded exuberantly. Something clattered and clunked in his lower half. “They always win. Come back with loads of creds.”

“And yet, they are still here,” Prowl said.

The mech shrugged. “Ain’t their creds.”

Hm.

“What business does the Regent have in those cities?” Prowl asked.

There the optics went, skittering in all directions, and the mech’s field turned chaotic and bristly. “Uh.”

Prowl sighed, if only to himself, and dug into his subspace, producing another fistful of energon bars. Pure, compacted energy. Not much for taste, but there was enough energon packed in one bar to keep a single mech going for a week. Here, in a place like Uraya where too many people were starving, these energon bars were almost better than creds.

The handful of bars was all but snatched out of his hands.

“Now,” the mech said as he shoved one into his mouth, and spoke around his raucous chewing, “ya ain’t heard it from me, but I hear that the Regent’s got contacts. Suppliers. Y’know. Mechs interested in the kindsa things he’s interested in, yeah?”

“What type of items?”

The mech chewed and swallowed, patting his rounded abdomen with a satisfied clang of metal on metal. “Equipment. Medical things. Cuffs. Lots of ‘em.”

Why on Cybertron would Starscream want a lot of restraining devices? Prowl shuddered to think of the possibilities.

“Do you know why?”

The mech shook his head, optics darting in all directions, as he suddenly backed up, back hitting the wall of the alley behind him. “Frag, no. I don’t know nothin’ about what the Regent does in that basement ‘o his. A’right? Nothin!”

Basement. Hm. Decent, legal things rarely occurred in basements.

“But whatever it is, you think Sunstreaker and Sideswipe are involved?”

“Ya ain’t that deep in the Regent’s subspace without knowin’ what vermin he keep in there.” The mech slid along the length of the alley, his armor clamped tight, the energon bars vanished, perhaps to his own subspace. “And that’s all I know. I dunno nothin’ more.”

Prowl shifted his weight. “Including, I assume, this entire conversation.”

The informer grinned, showing off the fact he was missing several denta, and a few of those that remained were rusted. “What convo, mech?” He melted into the dark, creaky ventilations the last evidence he existed at all.

Well. That was that then.

Prowl eased out of the alley, sliding into the darkness of the night. Uraya was so poor it could not afford street lamps save for the occasional few which were easy enough to avoid.

So. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe fought in the gladiating pits. That explained how they were able to maintain their business in a city slowly suffocating on its own waste. It also explained the thick armor and the confidence with which they carried themselves.

The extent of their involvement, however, remained a mystery. Sideswipe was apparently some kind of supplier for Starscream, but did that mean he knew why Starscream wanted those items? How deep was he in the Seeker’s clutches? Was Prowl only offering him the benefit of the doubt because of his attraction to Sunstreaker?

Prowl needed more information, but he’d reached something of a dead end. Short of asking the twins outright, which he refused to do. He’d tried subtly questioning some of the more frequent visitors to Color and Conversation, but the minute he’d steered the conversation toward Sunstreaker or Sideswipe’s connection to the Regent, said customers clamped up tighter than an oil drum.

Loyal, they were. Maybe not to the twins in particular, but against Elite mechs from large, flourishing cities? Most definitely.

Or worse, Starscream had a stranglehold on Uraya and only the desperate – like his informant – or the stupid, dared cross the mercurial Seeker.

Prowl had reached the end of what he could do by speaking. He supposed the only recourse left was to get his hands dirty. He was not as talented as Jazz when it came to the stealthy arts, but he was not unskilled. He would have to poke around in places no one wanted him to be.

Places like the storage room for Color and Conversation, or the apartment the twins shared. Places like the depot at the end of Salvage Lane, guarded by a rotating staff of mercenaries, all without badges but their demeanor clearly suggesting they belonged to the Regent.

Prowl had attempted to play dumb and wander inside by accident, and he’d been all but marched off the property, a not-at-all civilian blaster pointed at the base of his spinal strut. Whatever Starscream had stored there, it was something no one was allowed to see.

Though Sideswipe, he’d noticed, was granted unfettered access. Sunstreaker he’d never seen around the place, but he had spotted Sideswipe in multiple furtive conversations with mechs who worked for Starscream. He wondered how much, if anything, Sunstreaker knew.

Prowl snuck through the night, back toward the room he rented. Though calling it a room was generous. It had four walls, a door that only locked because Prowl installed his own manual fastener, and a plank of steel loosely called a berth. It cost a ridiculous amount of credits for the fact it was not luxurious, but it was on the edge of the worst part of Uraya and therefore, closest to the information Prowl needed.

Prowl’s biolights were all he had to light the room, not that he needed much to see or that there was anything to see. Everything important he kept on his person, in his subspace. There was no safe place to leave it otherwise.

He climbed onto the berth, grimacing at the discomfort, and longing for the soft plush of what he had back home. He was still confused why this particular task had been given to him when there were multiple others better suited, including his own brother, but Prowl had ran out of favors on questioning his orders. What his Prime demanded, Prowl obliged.

He set his sensors to alert him to anything, which meant he would only recharge in the lightest of dozes, but it was all he afforded himself here. There was no safety to be found in Uraya, and only Primus knew what Pit Prowl had stirred. He would not be caught with his gun unloaded.

Tomorrow was a new day. A new attempt to divulge more information from the local populace before he was forced to resort to methods which would make Jazz proud.

Prowl cycled a ventilation. He offlined his optics and prepared to recharge, but while his last thoughts were usually a revisit of the day’s events, a quick search of all his gathered intel to see if anything struck him with a revelation, that was not the case this time. Instead, Sunstreaker’s face popped into mind, angry, scowling, aggressive. Overly so, one might say.

Living in a place like Uraya, could Prowl even be surprised? Given how protective Sideswipe was, and Sideswipe seemed to be the less naive of the two, Prowl wondered what that aggression hid. There was a sensitive spark in Sunstreaker, he knew this much by the beautiful art he’d seen. He’d done his research, too.

Sunstreaker had sold a few pieces, mostly out of Uraya, and under a pseudonym, most likely in a bid to hide their origin. But there was no mistaking that style. It was clearly Sunstreaker’s. The sharp, bold lines and colors were quite distinctive. No doubt the few sales helped keep him and Sideswipe afloat.

Sunstreaker had talent. He was a gem in this ruin of a town. He belonged elsewhere. A place with glitz and glamor, a place that would appreciate him for the talent he was. For the beauty he was.

Prowl’s spark glowed with warmth at the thought. He imagined taking Sunstreaker from here, imagined his paint gleaming in the spotlights of his own art gallery. He imagined actually earning a smile from the mech.

Sunstreaker, no doubt, was beautiful when he smiled.

Not that he would ever smile for Prowl. He was too guarded, no doubt burned by the pain life had brought him. There was no getting beyond his walls. It was a pointless thought.

Prowl cycled a ventilation and buried the brief moment of hope. He was here to do a task. He would have to resupply tomorrow and contact headquarters for his weekly check-in as well. With any luck, he could find some good information on Starscream as well.

Prowl did not belong here in Uraya. That was becoming more painfully obvious by the day. And the sooner he could leave, the sooner he could forget about the romance that was not to be, and inappropriate as well.

To that end, Prowl shuttered his optics and initiated a manual recharge sequence, if only to ensure he’d achieve some rest before tomorrow.

After all, he had work to do.

[One Wish] Enchanted

Of all the places Prowl had been sent for his Prime, Uraya was coming to be the most depressing by far. It was a small town, barely qualified as one, and it was dying. It hovered on the edge of utter disrepute, clinging to existence with the sort of thin-fingered tenacity of the truly desperate.

As far as picking a place to commit morally dubious experiments, Uraya was a great choice. Prowl could see why Starscream would choose to set up shop here. If not for certain odd transactions taking place which attracted the attention of those in Iacon, he might have never been discovered.

Still.

The longer Prowl remained in Uraya, the deeper the pity took root in his spark. Cities like Uraya, decaying towns like this, they were evidence of how far Cybertron had fallen. The Golden Age was so long ago as to be the shadow of a memory.

Prime refusing to acknowledge their troubles would only continue to contribute to the unrest. Having been sparked at the height of the Golden Age, he saw their planet through the gold-tinted spectacle Cybertron had once been. Then again, Iacon itself was a monument to how great Cybertron had become.

It was difficult to see the decay when surrounded by purity.

Prowl had been in Uraya for two weeks. He had accomplished nothing save mapping the general layout of the city, and establishing that everyone here was suffering in one way or another. From the packs of Empties roving the wastes, to the Empurata victims creeping in the alleyways, to the citizens struggling to keep themselves fueled, never able to escape their circumstances for one reason or another.

And Starscream, presumably leading them all, but too entangled in his machinations to care for those under his ‘guidance.’

It was exhausting.

Prowl was exhausted.

But he’d heard, of all the businesses in Uraya – though to call them such was being generous – Color and Conversation was the hub of activity. It was well-known. It was well-visited. And the proprietors were connected, somehow, to the Regent – aka Starscream.

It was one of the last places on Prowl’s list to reconnaissance. Which was convenient, given that his tanks had been pinging him for the last hour, and exhaustion tugged at his struts. He could use a sit down, and a sip of something sweet.

Rumor had it that Color and Conversation had the best treats this side of the Wastes, too. Well, Prowl wasn’t much interested in treats. But he could approve of good engex.

He invited himself through the front door, a cheerful little chime announcing his arrival. Everyone looked up as he stepped through, registering and weighing him in one glance. He was dismissed by most, given a few suspicious glances by several others, but otherwise, ignored.

Prowl stood out here. He knew he did. With his relatively spotless, expensive armor, and the fact he held his head high, he obviously didn’t belong. He should have taken up on Jazz’s offer to redecorate himself ‘like the natives’, to quote his irreverent brother. But Prowl was not, and had never been, a spy. He was an investigator. He intended to look like one.

He found an unoccupied booth and slid into it, relieved that it was not so narrow as to restrict his sensory flats. In fact, he could lean back comfortably. How convenient.

He noticed several doorways. One, nearly behind the counter, must have led to some kind of personal quarters, perhaps the owner’s suite. Another, on the far wall between the counter and another string of booths, was more doorway than door. It was open as though to invite visitors inside, though the angle at which Prowl sat meant he could not see into the room.

“Hey, stranger.”

He looked up as a red mech sauntered into view, a broad grin on his handsome face, and a sparkle to his optics. He had heavy armor, which suggested a warrior or soldier of some kind, though it gleamed as if freshly polished. He carried no rank or affiliation badges either, but he did not appear armed.

“Need a menu?” the mech asked.

Safe to assume he was one of the owners. Prowl doubted there was enough income here to support an employee. He, like everyone else in the city, was probably only scraping by.

“No, thank you,” Prowl said as he inclined his head. “I’ll take whatever you recommend.”

The mech’s orbital ridge rose upward. “You don’t look like a mech who’s not particular,” he commented.

Prowl offered him a polite smile. “Looks can often be deceiving.” He pulled a cred chip from a subspace pocket and handed it to the mech. “If you could add a selection of your energon candies, I would be grateful.”

He was given a suspicious look, but the cred chip quickly vanished. Not a fool was he.

“Sure thing,” the mech said cheerfully. “I’ll just be getting that for ya. The name’s Sideswipe. Holler if you change your mind about what you want before I bring it, yeah?”

“Much appreciated.”

‘Sideswipe’ winked and sauntered away, though he swung by a few booths to collect some dirtied cups and flirt with his patrons. While the cafe wasn’t busy, Prowl suspect that this was the average amount of customers. Most of whom were no doubt regulars.

Sideswipe made a complete circuit of the dining area, but he paused by the open doorway Prowl had noticed earlier. He leaned in and shouted, “Sunny, it’s time for your break!”

“I know!” came a snarled reply.

Sideswipe just shrugged and continued on his route. “Then actually listen to me this time,” he shot back, though with far less energy behind it.

No one blinked twice at this exchange. Apparently, it was a common enough occurrence. Curious, but common.

Sideswipe returned behind the counter, dumping the dirtied items into a bin, and humming to himself as he started making orders. Prowl’s gaze wandered back to the open doorway, just as another mech emerged.

Prowl’s spark stuttered.

Sideswipe was handsome, but this mech was even more so. He was, dare Prowl say, pretty. A gleaming gold compared to Sideswipe’s lustrous crimson, though his armor carried the same heaviness as Sideswipe’s. Despite the pitched glare and near smile, he was absolutely stunning.

He stomped out of the room like a stormcloud hovered over his head.

“There you are,” Sideswipe said, and without a missed motion, tossed a rag in the golden mech’s direction. “Here. You missed a spot.”

‘Sunny’ scowled and snatched the rag, rubbing it over his arms. “My alarm was set for another ten minutes.”

“Only because you hit the delay-ten,” Sideswipe retorted with a roll of his optics.

Sunny scooted behind the bar next to his associate, and only standing next to each other could Prowl read the similarities in their construction. Not identical, but perhaps built for the same task. Were they forged or constructed cold? Or were they, perhaps, kindled?

It didn’t matter. Prowl was not one to judge based on one’s origins. But they were intriguing enough that he wondered.

“I don’t need you nannying me,” Sunny snapped.

Sideswipe visibly sighed a ventilation. “Sunny–”

“Stop calling me that!”

Another optic rolled was followed by a correction. “Sunstreaker,” Sideswipe said with a look of utter aggravation. “I wouldn’t have to nanny you if you’d take care of yourself properly.”

While they argued, Sideswipe continued to mix and stir and gather items onto a tray. Apparently this, too, was common place.

“Missing one fuel serving is not going to hurt me. We both know that by now,” Sunstreaker retorted and scrubbed harder at his armor, attacking a spot with the kind of viciousness a mech reserved for their most loathed enemies.

Sideswipe hefted up his tray. “Why do I even bother?” he muttered, but whether or not his partner was meant to hear it, Prowl didn’t know.

He left Sunstreaker behind the counter, swabbing at his frame with utter dedication, though as far as Prowl could tell, Sunstreaker was spotless. His armor gleamed far brighter than any mech in here. One wouldn’t guess, given his appearance, that he called a place like Uraya home.

Sunstreaker looked down at himself, frowned, but tossed the rag into the bin with the dirtied dishes. He turned his back to the room, opening a cabinet to rummage around in it, only to withdraw a tall glass. Perhaps he intended to mix his own drink.

Like Sideswipe, Sunstreaker carried no badge of rank or affiliation. Prowl could see no weapons on his person either. He did, however, have some kind of booster apparatus on his upper back. Curious.

“See something you like?”

Prowl cycled his optics as a red presence appeared in his peripherals. He looked up to acknowledge Sideswipe as the mech set a glass down in front of him, along with a plate of treats, though both with a little more force than seemed necessary.

“Beg your pardon?” Prowl asked.

Sideswipe’s optics narrowed. “Stare any harder and I’m gonna have to start charging you,” he said, tone icy and far from the polite pleasantness he’d offered earlier.

Prowl tilted his head. “I don’t know to what you are referring.”

“Of course you don’t.” Sideswipe snorted and leaned closer, though if he meant to intimidate, he’d have to try harder. “Lookin’ better be all you’re doing, stranger. Understand?”

Prowl curled a hand around his energon, wondering if he ought to check it for poisons first. “Are you this polite with all your customers?”

“Just the ones who try to order off-menu.” Sideswipe smiled, but it was full of denta and as a friendly as a Sharkticon. “I know your kind, Elite, and Sunstreaker ain’t gonna be your new toy.”

Prowl frowned, his sensory panels twitching. He couldn’t help but be offended, even if Sideswipe did have good reason not to trust outsiders. Still, to be judged by his appearance alone. It was insulting. He’d been nothing but polite.

He would have retorted, but the main doors opened then, the cheerful chime announcing the arrival of more customers. Sideswipe straightened and brightened, planting a happy smile on his face.

“Welcome to–” He cut off with a scowl, his posture going stiff and defensive. “Oh, it’s you.” Sideswipe tucked his tray under his arm and stepped away from Prowl’s table.

Warning Prowl had apparently become the least of his worries.

Prowl’s frown lingered. He leaned out of his booth to watch as Sideswipe hurried to greet the mech at the door. Sturdy construction, taller than Sideswipe by a head, and armed by no less than two blasters. Visor and facemask, along with dark, muted colors suggested a former soldier and/or mercenary. Tank treads evidenced a military alt-mode. Worn spots on his chestplate and shoulder hinted he’d once worn badges.

He’d seen this type of mech skulking about Uraya, more often than not intimidating the small business owners or gathering in groups of two or three to chat in very public spaces. They were menacing, and the residents of Uraya tended to give them a wide berth.

Agents of the Regent, Prowl had presumed.

Sideswipe and the mech spoke in urgent, hushed tones. Sideswipe’s armor lifted and rattled, as though agitated, while the military mech was cool and calm.

Well, rumors that Color and Conversation were connected to the Regent in some way must have some truth to them. Sideswipe did not behave as a mech intimidated, only angered.

Finally, he growled and spun toward the serving counter. “Watch the shop, Sunny. I’ll be back in a sec.”

The pretty mech scowled. “Don’t call me that.”

Sideswipe threw up a hand and stomped out the door, following in the wake of the newly arrived stranger. The door chimed cheerfully as they departed.

Again, none of the other patrons seemed surprised by this. They continued chatting amongst themselves, drinking and consuming as if they had nothing better to do.

Curious.

Prowl turned his attention to his own drink. Prudence reminded him, and he subtly tested the concoction for poisons. But, no. It was nothing more than a weak energon spritzer, dusted with rust flavoring.

Sweet, he discovered, but not poisoned.

The treats themselves looked utterly delectable, enticing Prowl despite not usually enjoying such frivolities. They were a variety of colors and consistencies, and he followed through with temptation, trying several before he was able to convince himself to stop.

There was talent buried in Uraya, he observed.

He refueled quietly and returned his attention to the counter, and the mech behind it. Sunstreaker puttered around, straightening up supplies, wiping the counter, and greeting one mech who walked up to him. He still scowled, but the mech was not visibly offended.

Another regular, perhaps used to Sunstreaker’s mood.

Prowl finished the engex and slipped the rest of the candies into his subspace. He feared if he stayed here too long, observing, someone might realize exactly what he was doing. Jazz would be furious if he managed to get outed by sheer negligence on his part.

The other patrons had left their dirtied glassware and trays behind, a mess for the owners to attend. Prowl, however, could not bring himself to do so. He gathered his items and approached the counter.

It was as much generous as selfish, he knew, because he had to admit, he wanted to speak with Sunstreaker. Both to see what he could find about Starscream, and because the gorgeous mech intrigued him.

“Can I help you?” Sunstreaker asked in a tone that strongly implied Prowl should actually just ‘frag off’ and be done with it.

Prowl set the dirtied items on the counter. “I’m finished for today, but thank you.”

Sunstreaker’s optics, a lovely shade of near-spark blue, flicked from Prowl, to his dishes, and back again. “You can leave those on the table, you know,” he said as he swept them into a tub with other dirtied items.

“Perhaps, but I was taught to be tidy,” Prowl conceded.

Sunstreaker snorted. “You might as well have ‘outsider’ stamped on that chevron of yours then.” He tucked the tub back under the counter, nudging it further in with his hip.

“I am that obvious?”

“Have you looked around you?” Sunstreaker arched an orbital ridge and gave Prowl an amused look.

“Only in passing,” Prowl admitted. “Strangely, my gaze only wishes to focus on one individual in particular.”

Sunstreaker’s optics narrowed. His scowl deepened, and whatever friendliness he’d been working toward vanished. The shift was startling.

“Sides’ll be back in a few,” he said coldly and started to aggressively clear the counter. “You’re not really his type, but he’s not that picky, so I’d say you have a shot.”

Prowl blinked. “Yes. Well, charming as your partner is–”

“Brother.”

“Excuse me?”

“He’s my brother,” Sunstreaker said, and loudly rattled the tub of dirtied dishes, lifting it and setting it on a narrow counter behind him. “Twin actually. And, no. We’re not a package deal.” The tub landed with a clunk, and he whirled back toward Prowl. “Are you going to buy something or not?’

Somehow, he’d lost his grasp on the conversation.

Prowl tried to smile. “I already have actually. I was more interested–”

“Look, I have a lot to do,” Sunstreaker said, showing Prowl his back as he sorted bottles of engex mixes, making a lot of noise but not actually accomplishing anything. “So if you’re not buying anything, then you’re not a customer anymore, so thank you, have a nice day, goodbye.”

Someone else stepped up to the counter, and just like that, Prowl was dismissed. Sunstreaker stalked down to the other end and greeted the mech with a pained smile, accepting a credchip in exchange for whatever the mech was ordering.

That… had not gone as Prowl intended.

He set a credchip on the counter, hoping Sunstreaker would find it and accept it as a tip, and took his leave. He suspected he would get no more information today.

Except…

Prowl glanced at the counter, where Sunstreaker was busy with another patron, and took an opportunity to investigate the open doorway. The room beyond wasn’t large, not compared to the huge dining area, and it was mostly windows, and open space.

And art.

Large and small canvases were stacked against the walls, some blank, some half-finished, some near-completion and a few that looked as if they were done. A cabinet was stocked with art supplies, and there was an easel and station with a chair set in front of it.

Sunstreaker was an artist. And a good one, at that, though Prowl was not truly equipped to judge. He could only state what his optics enjoyed, and Sunstreaker’s canvases certainly made his spark spin with emotion.

How intriguing.

Prowl made himself turn away, before he drew undue attention. For both Sideswipe and Sunstreaker were right. He did stand out. He was obviously an outsider.

He took his leave of the cafe, but he knew he would be returning. Both because he suspected his mission would need the intel, and because Sunstreaker intrigued him.

It seemed like this mission would not be a complete nightmare after all.

[One Wish] Fractals

“Dent?”

Master called for him, and he hurried to answer, both because he’d been summoned and because Master’s voice invoked a yearning deep in his spark.

Dent’s not his name. He didn’t know what his name was, truth be told, but he couldn’t imagine that it was truly Dent.

There was a memory when he onlined in the gutter, dim and hazy though it was.

‘All the best names are taken.’

‘They call him Dent.’

‘Terrible name.’

‘Yeah, but…’

It was all Dent knew, this echo of a voice unfamiliar, and when another leaker demanded to know who he was, ‘Dent’ was all he had to offer. It stuck.

Before the alley was a blur of memory, an ashy mass of cloudy, dissonant thoughts. There were impressions of emotions, terror and shame the strongest of them, and that enduring sensation that he was missing something vitally important. Dent did not know who he was, only what he’d become.

Lingering in the confusion was an imperative, a single impression that he had to return. To where? To whom? He didn’t know. It was part of that missing something, and clarity lost itself in the shadows.

He’d wandered then. He’d lurched through the alleys in a haze, stumbling over his own feet, his optical feed strangely narrow and his balance off.

Master called.

Dent unfolded himself from beneath the berth, the aching stumps on his back catching on the lip of the berth. Jagged lances of pain flashed through his torso. Was he a flyer? Had he once soared in the sky? Were they wheel mounts?

Dent hissed a vent and buried it just as quickly, thoughts spinning and spinning, as he lurched to his feet. He shivered, armor drawing tight. His back hurt. His head hurt worse.

Dent dragged himself to the doorway just as Master–

Sunstreaker.

He was Sunstreaker.

“There you are,” Sunstreaker said, a mixture of exasperation and amusement in his voice. His optics carried a soft, blue glow. Dent had tagged them as kindness.

Apologies sought to tumble from Dent’s lips. They caught in the static first, and fell out in a jumble of tangled words. Shameful. He’d been negligent. He’d let his duties slide.

“Never mind that,” Sunstreaker said, hand waving in dismissal. “I already told you to ignore Sideswipe. He’s just an aft. Come on.”

He reached, and Dent froze, lacking any other reaction, when Sunstreaker grabbed his wrist. Dent’s world exploded into color, warmth, and light. Fingers, delicate and skilled, wrapped around him. Unhesitant. They pulled. Tugged. Encouraged.

Master’s field was–

Sunstreaker’s field was so vibrant. So alive. He felt, not happy. Sunstreaker was never happy. But a tiny bit pleased, perhaps. Expectant. Excited even?

He’d saved Dent from the gutters. He’d opened his home. And yet, he was always sad.

He’d seen the heap of stumbling filth in the trough, and he’d reached out a hand, even then. When Dent had known nothing but to follow the draw on his spark, having no idea where it led, until it dumped him in the alley beside Sunstreaker’s home. Almost as if Primus was looking out for him.

Was he religious? Perhaps so.

Sunstreaker was kind.

Someone had abandoned his kindness.

Dent did not know that there were mechs capable of such frigidity. Such cruelty.

There was music. Sunstreaker had brought him to the entertainment room. The music floated around and into Dent’s audials, throbbing in his processor. He thought he knew this song. Not just because they’d moved to it last week, but further still. In the shadows and the ashes, Dent knew this song. The Dent who wasn’t Dent, but someone else, who had another name.

“Dance with me?” Sunstreaker asked, his fingers curled around Dent’s pincer as he stopped them in the middle of the floor. The cleared floor. He’d moved aside all the furniture, leaving more than enough room in the center.

Dent stared. His spark throbbed. Sunstreaker touched him. Held him. Without hesitation. He couldn’t stop staring at the fingers around his wrist, so gentle and warm.

And there was the yearning again, so thick that Dent thought he might choke on it, his intake seizing. His spark spun and ached. He longed.

Sunstreaker was beautiful. Who would dare cast him aside?

Master chuck–

Sunstreaker chuckled and tapped Dent’s chestplate with his free hand. “Hey, you wanna dance or not?” he asked.

Sunstreaker could laugh. Dent had never heard his joy. Somehow, he knew Sunstreaker was capable. Logically, all mechs could laugh, though Dent didn’t imagine he’d ever done so himself. Yet, he knew Sunstreaker not only could, but that it was lovely. That he shone when he laughed.

Suddenly, Dent loathed the mech who had stolen Sunstreaker’s joy. He wanted to see Sunstreaker smile, shy and bright.

“I will dance,” he said, his vocalizer struggling to engage.

Sunstreaker deserved better than the Dent who wasn’t.

‘All the best names are taken.’

Sunstreaker’s fingers were still around his wrist, pressing just below the hideous scars that marked him as changed. As a monster. His fingers were little pinpoints of warmth. Dent’s substructure tingled.

His head ached.

“I’ll lead, okay,” Sunstreaker said softly. Almost timid. “Next time, it’ll be your turn.”

‘I will show you.’

‘Next time, you will lead.’

“Dent?”

Master called him.

‘Dent’ was not his name. But somewhere in the shadows, it was familiar to who he’d been.

Master held his wrist still, scarred and ugly as it was. Master’s expression was gentle, holding nothing of the disgust of others. His field, too, was soft and pliant. A warm embrace.

Dent did not know his name. He did not know the emotion clawing at his spark and stealing his vents.

“You are kind,” he said instead.

Sunstreaker’s face flushed prettily. His optics wandered away briefly and Dent held a moment of panic. Had he offended? Had Master turned away from the monster after all?

But then Sunstreaker’s optics returned. “I’m really not,” he said as he guided Dent’s claw to his shoulder. “Hold me here. Remember?”

Memories were tricky things. Untruthful at best. Shadowy secrets at worst. Inaccessible to the best of his knowledge.

But this, Dent remembered. He took care not to scrape or scratch. Master was particular about his paint.

Someday, Dent would find the mech who had taught Master to dance, then left him alone with only the music and memories he couldn’t forget. Such cruelty.

Dent wondered if Master ever envied him. If Master wished for the ashy nothing which was Dent’s memories. If that was preferable to his own sadness.

“Thank you,” Sunstreaker murmured as he pulled Dent closer, the heat of their frames colliding and mingling. “For indulging me, I mean. You don’t have to, you know.”

“I know.”

Dent’s head ached.

But the yearning in his spark was far worse.

His claw rested on Sunstreaker’s shoulder. He wanted so badly to touch Sunstreaker with gentleness. To stroke his cheek. To hold him, one mech to another.

But he couldn’t.

He wasn’t Dent. He didn’t know who he was. Only shadows and anger and terror and torment.

He did not deserve this. This emotion, so raw and unfiltered, whatever it was.

“You are kind,” Dent repeated, and despaired Sunstreaker would ever know what he meant.

He wasn’t ‘Dent’.

But all the best names were taken.

[One Wish] One and Only

There’s always a moment of panic right before Sunstreaker opens the door, when he fears what he’ll find on the other side.

His vents hitch, a shudder runs through his armor, and his fingers tremble. Cold sluices through his lines and rattles through his spark.

Please, he begs. Let this not be another nightmare.

Then he opens the door, Prowl smiles at him, and the panic passes. Sunstreaker finds he can ex-vent again, though his spark starts up with that silly double-pulse it always does when Prowl reaches for him. You’d think after years of this, things would be different.

It’s not.

They’re better.

“Are you ready?” Prowl asks.

“Always,” Sunstreaker says and takes Prowl’s hand, still marveling that he can do so. That this Prowl is his Dent who was his Prowl. Because Prowl loves him so much that even when he didn’t know who Sunstreaker was, he still knew.

Sunstreaker worries that he’s too happy. That if he smiles any harder, his face will crack and all the darkness will come seeping out. It’ll swallow him whole, and he’ll wake up, gasping all over again, groping across a cold berth for a warm frame that was never there.

He shivers at the mental image.

“Are you all right?” Prowl asks as he presses the call button for the lift. The apartment Sunstreaker and Sideswipe share is only a few floors shy of the penthouse.

Sunstreaker still marvels that he has a window, one that he can look out on the art district of Iacon, and see half of the city stretched in front of him. He can look down on other mechs scurrying in the streets below, and he can look up at lofty towers with flight mechs flitting around them.

Iacon shines like a gem, in the sunlight and the streetlight. It’s not a perfect city, not by any means. But it’s a far cry from the Urayan Wastes.

Sunstreaker smiles, and it’s genuine. The last trebles of unease are gone. The warmth and weight of Prowl’s hand in his are too solid for them to be anything but real.

“Just thinking,” he says as he leans in, bumping shoulders with the Praxian. “Long day for you?”

“No longer than usual, though I did depart shift early. My commander all but shoved me out the door.” Prowl squeezes his hand, and his field nudges at Sunstreaker’s, thick with warmth and affection. “Apparently, they are still amused and delighted by the fact I have finally found someone to spend time with.”

Sunstreaker’s cheeks heat. “It’s been years.”

“Novelties are novelties. What can I say?”

The lift arrives, empty of other passengers, and they step inside, with Prowl selecting the second-lowest level. Apparently they are to take a transport to their destination, wherever it may be, rather than drive.

Prowl had been oddly mysterious about this outing. But then, he often is when it comes to introducing Sunstreaker to something in Iacon. Sunstreaker is far from worried. Everything new Prowl has shown him has been an experience Sunstreaker wants to repeat. Whatever it is, he trusts Prowl.

“Still, has nothing else interesting happened?”

Prowl’s smile darkened around the edges. “The incidences across all of Cybertron are increasing. Kaon is progressively suffering from unrest. And that resistance group is growing in numbers. But they are darker things that no one wishes to linger on.”

“Oh.” Sunstreaker nibbles on his bottom lip. He’s heard of it all. How can he not when it dominates the news clips every evening, and makes headlines on the datanet.

“Such things have no place with us tonight, however,” Prowl says with another squeeze to Sunstreaker’s hand, this time as the lift dings and deposits them on the second floor. “Tonight we need only focus on one another.”

“Isn’t that, I dunno, selfish?

Prowl tows him toward the ticket booth, purchases two, and together they join the small crowd of mechs waiting for the transport to arrive. Judging by the schedule, they would not wait long.

“To some, perhaps. But we can’t allow ourselves to stop living when something threatens us.” Prowl turns to face Sunstreaker, perhaps heedless to the stares they are getting. For all that he is only holding Sunstreaker’s hand, others are staring as though they are engaged in public interfacing. “Otherwise we give in to despair.”

Sunstreaker supposes Prowl is right. He still isn’t sure he understands, and makes a mental note to ask Sideswipe later. When his twin isn’t sulking, that is. He and Jazz have had another row, Sunstreaker has no idea what about this time, and aren’t speaking to one another.

Sunstreaker is quite sure Sideswipe is to blame. Again. The stubborn brat. Sunstreaker has never seen someone fight against their own happiness as fiercely as Sideswipe is. It’s as if he enjoys being miserable.

“To that end, I have invited my lovely partner out for the evening, during which we will enjoy a walk through the Epicenter, purchase some of his favorite sweets, and attend the Festival of Lights,” Prowl continues as he pulls Sunstreaker’s hand up toward his mouth, his lips brushing over Sunstreaker’s knuckles. “That is, so long as you are not opposed.”

Sunstreaker works his intake, fighting back a shiver of warmth, though it’s already pooling in his belly and his tank. “I’m not,” he says. “Opposed, I mean. It sounds like fun.”

“Good.”

The transport arrives then, tooting a cheerful chime of warning. Prowl lowers Sunstreaker’s hand, though he keeps their fingers knitted together, as if a public claim that they are together. Sunstreaker’s cheeks heat, though he doesn’t extract his hand from Prowl’s.

He’s proud of his Enforcer lover. In Iacon, Prowl is quite the prize. He’s tall and stately and gorgeous, and the way he seems to only have optics for Sunstreaker is intoxicating. He doesn’t notice the appreciative stares people send his way. He doesn’t notice the way the ticket collector ogles his aft.

Sunstreaker tries not to look smug. He waffles between being embarrassed by the attention, and wanting to preen. He doesn’t mind the envious looks. It’s the hateful ones that make him uneasy. The ones that look as though they want to storm across the transport car, physically separate Prowl and Sunstreaker, and berate him for daring to date above his station.

Those make Sunstreaker edge closer to Prowl, frame angled to keep them in his sights, unwilling to turn his back and make himself vulnerable.

The transport honks another cheerful string of sounds to let them know it is soon to depart. Sunstreaker’s free hand grabs a dangling loop to help keep his balance as the transport lurches into motion.

The first time he’d taken a public transport, he’d been overwhelmed by it all. The press of people, moving not under his own power, the streets of Iacon blurring by, faster than he can track. Now, he feels like he’s been doing it all his life. How quickly he adapted.

“Your next gallery show is in a few weeks, is it not?” Prowl asks, just loud enough to be heard over the rattle-rumble of the transport.

Sunstreaker cycles a ventilation. “Don’t remind me.”

“Why?”

“I’m nervous enough as it is.”

Next, Prowl says. It’s only the second, after the first Sunstreaker attended, as a small guest artist to another larger, more better known designation. Memories of the event still make him twitch sometimes. There he’d been, tucked in a corner, barely able to ventilate as stranger upon stranger came and peered at his art as if judging his spark just by looking at it.

Sunstreaker can’t remember a time he’d felt like fleeing with so little threat to give him reason to do so.

“Why? As I recall, your first did very well.”

Sunstreaker works his intake. “I don’t like crowds,” he says, by way of explanation, though that is only part of it.

He’d sold all his pieces. He’s been told that it’s almost unheard of for a beginning artist to be so high in demand. But Sunstreaker couldn’t shake the feeling he still didn’t belong in a gallery.

“Have you prepared for it?”

Sunstreaker nods, his fingers feeling chilled where they wrapped around the loop. “I have one or two more canvases I need to finish, but other than that, yeah. I’m as ready as I can be.”

Prowl squeezes his hand and leans in closer, head tilted toward Sunstreaker’s. “Will Sideswipe accompany you again?”

And therein lay the worst of the anxiety. “No,” Sunstreaker admits, and he feels his face heat.

He’s told Sideswipe to stop treating him like a sparkling, and their last argument had Sideswipe throwing his hands into the air and saying ‘fine.’ And in the end, he’d said that if Sunstreaker is grown enough to take care of himself, then he didn’t need a sitter at his gallery openings.

Sunstreaker had been too proud to say that wasn’t what he meant.

“Ah.”

A single word encompassing a wealth of understanding.

Embarrassment tints Sunstreaker’s field. “There are a lot of people,” he mumbles, ducking his helm. “And I can’t read them all. They’re really aggressive, and I’m not supposed to hit them, but some of them wouldn’t back off until Sides got them to.” And what’s worse, this gallery is twice the size of the other one.

Sunstreaker had been personally invited, by a well-known artist who had been at his first gallery opening, albeit as visitor and not showcase.

“Shall I come then?”

Prowl had, sadly, missed Sunstreaker’s first opening. He’d been working overtime, unable to escape from the Prime’s clutches, and he’d sent his apologies along with more gifts than Sunstreaker could reasonably need.

“Only if you want to,” Sunstreaker says.

“Then I will.” Prowl squeezes his hand again.

The transport slows to a stop, announcing their arrival at the Epicenter.

They join the crowd of mechs disembarking, most of whom turn in a steady stream toward the shopping district. It’s a wonderful evening, Luna 1 shining brightly above them, as streetlights hum as they mark the way.

Sunstreaker can already hear the vendors, shouting their wares and their sales and trying to coax passing mechs into visiting their booths. The air is thick with the scent of sweet treats and savory nibbles and dozens of energon stands, all with their own specialties. Lanterns rise up above the walkways like little floating lights, marking the paths and giving proof to the name of the festival.

Prowl’s hand stays linked with his, and Sunstreaker is grateful for it. The crowds here are thick and noisy, and while getting lost isn’t a problem, getting bumped around by strangers is. Most don’t care two creds about the other mechs around them, and politeness seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Sunstreaker has to remind himself, again and again, that Iacon is civilized and he can’t go around punching mechs out of his way. That if someone shoulder-checks him, he shouldn’t turn it into a brawl.

Luckily, Prowl steers them off the main avenue, to the smaller side streets, still populated by vendors, but less crowded. The vendors here are more specialized, less commercial and more privatized. Mechs like Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, who make their items by hand, and are unique for it.

He and Prowl take their time, wandering from stall to stall in no set pattern, with credchips freely spilling from Prowl’s fingers on anything Sunstreaker looks at least twice at. Sunstreaker is more cautious with his creds, a lifetime of frugality hard to forget.

“You don’t have to buy me everything,” Sunstreaker grumbles as another box of rare and unusual paint colors is tumbled into his hands. “You’re spoiling me.”

“I know,” Prowl says, his smile soft and indulgent. If anything, he looks happy to throw his creds around. “But I enjoy making you happy, and I enjoy supporting mechs whose entire livelihood is dependent upon these booths. It is the least I can do.”

Fair enough, Sunstreaker supposes.

They continue on, until they are laden down with bags, and Sunstreaker’s tanks are stuffed full of sweet treats and candies and delicate sips of high grade and engex. He did manage to find a few things for Sideswipe, who’s been feeling a tad neglected as of late.

Ha. Serves him right. It’s payback for all the times he left Sunstreaker alone while he went carousing around Uraya with whatever temporary berthmate he’d picked up that evening. And then later, apparently, Ricochet.

Sunstreaker wants to spend every moment he can with Prowl. He wants to make up for lost time; he wants to soak in happiness when they’ve spent so much of their functioning struggling. Prowl is so very busy, and there have been weeks where Sunstreaker has only spoken with him across a vidcomm or exchanged texts. On top of that, Sunstreaker has his own studies to keep him occupied, as he slowly forges his way into the art world.

Is it so wrong that he wants to snatch every opportunity he has?

They break free of the crowd, finally through the main shopping thoroughfare, and enter the statuary maze. Though maze is a generous term. The walls are hip height to a mech of Prowl’s stature, meaning the average minibot can barely see over them. But twisting, turning paths lead the wanderer to various artistic creations, ranging from metal-twisted statues to those carved of stone and other materials.

Sunstreaker pauses to admire each of them. Right now, he only paints, but he’s dabbled in sculpting before, to little success. The wireworks, however, are of particular interest to him, especially if he can incorporate Praxian crystal. He’s been debating designing something for Prowl, something to remind him of his homestate.

Prowl lets him linger as long as he wishes, never once urging Sunstreaker to hurry. He stands there, comments if something appeals to him, and his field lightly presses against Sunstreaker’s. Every casual touch is one of affection and subtle claim, and Sunstreaker’s spark spins faster and brighter.

“Someday, something of yours will be on display in a venue as popular and enduring as this,” Prowl says.

Sunstreaker’s face heats. “I think I’m a long way from that, if ever.”

“You would be surprised.” Prowl’s thumb sweeps over the back of his hand where their fingers are linked. “You have talent, Sunstreaker. You have determination. What you lack is confidence, and that, love, will come with time.”

Love. Sunstreaker’s spark throbs. There’s a certain flush of warmth, of giddiness, that strikes him every time Prowl addresses him as such.

Sunstreaker flushes. He finds himself smiling before he can help it.

Prowl’s pace gradually slows until he eases them to a pause beside the largest of the mercury fountains, the soft patter of the liquid metal as it falls back into the pool nearly drowning out the murmur of conversation from other mechs loitering nearby. It’s a pretty thing, aesthetic despite it’s lack of function, and carefully aimed lights glitter a multitude of colors over the droplets.

Prowl sets their purchases on the bench beside them. Here in Iacon, they don’t have to worry about thieves snatching things out of their hands.

Sometimes, Sunstreaker still finds it hard to realize that he’s no longer in Uraya. That things are different now.

“It’s pretty,” Sunstreaker observes as Prowl’s fingers entangle with his own. There’s a rhythm to the fountain’s noise, almost like a song.

“It is nothing compared to you.”

The heat isn’t going to leave his cheeks, is it? “You’re full of compliments tonight,” Sunstreaker says, his vocalizer crackling around the edges, betraying his embarrassment.

He’s still not used to Prowl’s blunt honesty either. He doesn’t know that he’ll ever grow accustomed to the genuine compliments.

“Because you deserve them.” Prowl draws Sunstreaker’s hand toward his mouth, lips grazing over his knuckles. “And so much more.” He lowers Sunstreaker’s hand and presses it against his own chestplate, holding it in place.

Beneath his fingertips, Sunstreaker can feel the steady thrum of Prowl’s spark, though it seems to be pulsing an arrhythmic beat. Sunstreaker works his intake.

“I dunno. If I get any happier, the universe might explode,” Sunstreaker replies, though it’s something of an inside joke between he and his twin.

The times they sit together on the futon in the main room, shoulder to shoulder, watching a film on their vidscreen, consuming energon without concern, feeling safe in their apartment tower, with security downstairs. When Sideswipe tilts his head against Sunstreaker’s and smiles so softly, the tension easing out of his frame.

‘I’m happy,’ he says, sometimes, and he says it with that same hesitant tone, shoulders hunched, optics cast skyward as if expecting the stars to fall because he dared crack a smile.

‘Even if Jazz does drive me crazy,’ he always amends.

Sunstreaker snorts a laugh at him. Jazz, he thinks, keeps Sides on the tips of his feet, which is a good thing, because Sides is too arrogant for his own good. Sunstreaker tells him so all the time.

Prowl chuckles, dragging Sunstreaker out of his memories. “It is still my hope that there will come a time when you no longer fear the future.”

“I wouldn’t call it a fear,” Sunstreaker hedges, but then Prowl’s hand rests on his chestplate, gentle and warm, right over his central seam, where layers of armor protect Sunstreaker’s spark below.

Sunstreaker’s ventilations hitch. There is something in the gentle touch that suggests he should be paying attention. “Prowl?”

“I love you,” Prowl says as he catches Sunstreaker’s gaze with his own. “I do not know a moment where I am happier than when I am with you.”

There’s a lump in his intake, and the heat in his face doubles intensely. Some of the dots start to collect, and anxiety wars with joy.

“Prowl, what are you…” The words catch on the lump and die. Sunstreaker starts to shake, shock coursing through his entire frame. He wants to deactivate his audials just in case he’s wrong, in the same way he wants to turn up the gain on the off-chance he’s right.

“I love you,” Prowl repeats, forging onward, because he is afraid of nothing. “And if you’ll allow me, I wish to spend my life you. Spark and spark.”

Sunstreaker’s optics widen. “Y-you mean…?”

Prowl’s hand tightens around his. “Yes, I am asking you to be my conjunx,” he says. “If you’ll have me.”

If.

If he says.

A sharp, sudden tremble races through Sunstreaker’s frame, emotions tumbling through his circuits like spilled bolts. Sights and sounds sharpen, the sharp rapport of the fountain, the low murmur of mechs conversing around them, the bright lights, the glow of Prowl’s optics, the feel of Prowl’s spark beneath his fingers.

He sees again, the nightmare, waking to find his berth empty, no one on the other side of the door, an aching loneliness, a consuming sense of abandonment. He thinks, truly, that no one is allowed this much happiness.

He never thought. Not once.

He’s…

“Sunstreaker?” Prowl leans close to him, concerned.

“I’m– I’m a guttermech,” Sunstreaker croaks, so afraid of the nightmare, he can’t stand it. He doesn’t dare blink. What if that’s enough to end this dream? “I’m– and you…”

He can’t complete a sentence. He can’t talk over the lump in his intake, the condensation slicking his frame, the frantic stammer of his spark.

Prowl’s hand slides from his chestplate to cup his face. His thumb makes a light sweep over Sunstreaker’s cheek, so warm. He smiles, that soft, quiet smile Sunstreaker often clung to in the dark hours after Prowl vanished.

“You are Sunstreaker,” he says. “And I love who you are. There is nothing else that matters.”

Sunstreaker’s knees wobble. “You mean it.”

“Yes, I do.”

No hesitation. Not an ounce of it in his field, in his voice.

There’s a dream here and all Sunstreaker has to do is reach for it. “I…”

“Sunstreaker?”

He wants to keep it. He wants it more than anything.

“I love you, too,” Sunstreaker says, finally and his fingers curl against Prowl’s chestplate, yellow scrapes against black.

Please, Primus, don’t wake me. Let me stay here.

“I want to be yours,” he adds, all in a rush, before he loses his nerve and the static eclipses his words. “I want you to be mine. I want… I want it all.”

Prowl’s field floods against his, heat and affection and longing and relief, and then Prowl’s mouth closes over his, lips sealing together. Sunstreaker all but sobs into the kiss. His spark feels as though it will implode.

He feels caught up in one of Sideswipe’s stupid datanovels. The ones which always end with a happily ever after. He can hardly believe it, is very afraid to, but Prowl’s kiss is a reassurance and so is the warmth of his frame. Sunstreaker’s free hand clutches at Prowl’s side, holds onto him.

Sunstreaker wants to believe it.

He doesn’t want to let go.

Prowl’s lips slide away, his forehead pressing to Sunstreaker’s. His ex-vents tickle Sunstreaker’s face.

“I would have you here and now, if it wasn’t against the law,” he murmurs, his thumb sweeping over and over Sunstreaker’s cheek.

Sunstreaker makes a sound, he doesn’t dare call a whimper. “Let’s go home.”

Prowl kisses him again, fierce and triumphant, and Sunstreaker melts into it.

This time, there is no gradual meander, no wait for a public magna-car. Prowl summons a private transport, a sentient one, and hands over a credchip that makes Sunstreaker hiccup. They tumble into the backseat like a couple of over-eager younglings, and off they go.

Their driver weaves in and out of traffic as though someone is chasing him, and Sunstreaker is happy for the haste. He can’t bring himself to let go. His hands are magnetically attracted to Prowl’s frame, and his lips, too.

Prowl wants to talk.

Sunstreaker would rather drown in his kisses. His spark feels fit to burst and already Sideswipe is pinging him, trying to figure out why Sunstreaker’s broadcasting noisily across their bond.

Sunstreaker ignores him.

Prowl still tastes of the sour-sweet candies he favors, cadmium-dusted rust sticks with a gooey center, like a sparkling seeking out treasure. His mouth is warm and inviting, his field pliant and open, and Prowl groans as if pained when he has to pull away from Sunstreaker’s mouth.

“Soon,” he murmurs, his optics bright and warm, his field as much an embrace as the press of their frames. “I opted for my apartment. Is that–”

“–Fine. Perfect.” Sunstreaker’s spark throbs as the transport rumbles around them, their driver politely not commenting on the wildness of their fields, and the emotions therein. “I don’t wanna tell Sides yet. I just…”

Want to keep this to himself for now. Have proof-positive in his hand that it’s real. Wants to online tomorrow and know it’s not a dream before he lets himself soak in the giddiness. Before Sideswipe’s realism tries to punch holes in his excitement.

“I understand.” Prowl’s thumb brushes over the slats of his head vents and Sunstreaker shivers. His fingers scrape Prowl’s chestplate again, yellow on black, leaving marks for his co-workers to spy come the morrow. “Besides, it would be rude to throw our good fortune in their face.”

Sunstreaker snorts a laugh.

And then they are home, to the spiraling tower housing Prowl’s apartment. They tumble out of the transport, and Prowl doesn’t bother to retrieve his credchip, leaving it instead as a tip for their driver. He honks appreciatively at them before he zooms off.

Prowl tugs Sunstreaker toward a private lift, so no one can see them pressed together, lips locked, and vents stuttering. The lift climbs slowly to the top, nearly the penthouse, transsteel sides looking out on shining Iacon, the Festival of Lights glittering in the distance. The fireworks have started, and Sunstreaker’s not even sad he missed them.

Prowl’s apartment is almost the penthouse, but not quite. He’s claimed he doesn’t need as much space as the penthouse offered, though Primus knows he can afford it. Prowl’s rich. Stupid rich. His caretakers had been wealthy, and he’d invested his inheritance smartly, and he works because he wants to, not because he has to. Yet, he never looks down on those without. He’s a fragging contradiction.

Sometimes, Sunstreaker is uncomfortable in his apartment. Surrounded by all the elaborate decorations and delicate furniture and fancy objects and gadgets he’s never seen, Sunstreaker feels uneasy. Like he doesn’t belong.

Tonight, however, is not one of those times. He barely notices the crystal chandeliers, and the enormous entertainment center, and the motion-activated lights. He only has optics for the berthroom, bags of purchases left in the entryway behind them.

Charge crackles out from beneath his armor, his engine purring.

“I love you,” Sunstreaker says against Prowl’s lips, over and over. It becomes a mumbled litany, and Prowl responds each time with a kiss and a stroke of his field, growing warmer and more urgent.

Sunstreaker’s drowning again, and he doesn’t care about surfacing for air.

Lights pop on around them, only to quickly dim again. They stumble to the berthroom, the berth big enough for two, and the bank of windows peering down at glittering Iacon. From up here, the ground looks very far away, and with it, anything resembling a problem.

Prowl sweeps him up when Sunstreaker trips over his own feet and carries him the last few paces. He lays Sunstreaker on the berth as though he’s something precious, something breakable, and Sunstreaker starts to shake all over again. He clutches at Prowl, trying to drag him closer, even as their lips meet again.

Prowl follows him onto the berth, a blanket of heat and affection and refuge. Sunstreaker holds his head, keeping their mouths pressed together, his optics shuttering. He makes another desperate sound and Prowl matches it with one that reassures, a hum and a purr all at once.

“Shh,” he says, and nuzzles Sunstreaker’s face, his hands tickling over Sunstreaker’s frame, exploring seams and sensors he’s already mapped. “I’m right here.”

Such a simple thing.

“Prove it,” Sunstreaker says.

“I intend to.” Prowl draws back, kneeling as he is between Sunstreaker’s knees, his thighs bracketing Prowl’s. His sensory panels arch behind him, beautiful and vibrant.

Prowl looks down at Sunstreaker, and his optics shine nothing but love.

“I’m going to kiss you again,” he murmurs as his hands rest on Sunstreaker’s knees and slide gently down his thighs, toward his hips. “And then I am going to taste your intake, followed by your clavicular strut, and then your windshield.” His hands continue a path opposite his words, trickling up Sunstreaker’s hips and sides. “I will go further still, until I am faced with your hood and your central seam.”

Sunstreaker trembles, Prowl’s words wrapping around him and lifting him up. They drizzle into his audials, and sweep through his sensory circuits, and float around and around in his processor, until he feels like the world is spinning.

Prowl’s fingers glide inward, over his abdominal armor, and then up, tracing the bottom edge of his chestplate. “And then, if I am lucky, you will show me your spark so I can give it the love it deserves,” he murmurs, hands sliding upward, thumbs lightly dragging along Sunstreaker’s central seam. “Will that suffice?”

Sunstreaker’s spark throbs hard enough to ache. “Yes,” he whispers even as his chesplates jutter, threatening to snap open, spill his sparklight into Prowl’s hands without any restraint whatsoever. Static lurches through his lines, his vents billowing excess heat.

Prowl purrs, hands sliding back down, until they brace his weight on the berth to either side of Sunstreaker’s chassis. “Good,” he says, and kisses Sunstreaker again.

Sunstreaker moans because he knows what is coming next. He already knows the heat of that pleasure, the static-burn of spark-contact. It’s all he can do to keep his spark concealed as Prowl follows through with his promise. As his lips leave a soft, tingling path slowly downward.

Sunstreaker shakes, already on the cusp of overload, charge spilling out from beneath his armor and echoing off Prowl’s plating. He gasps when his chestplates part of their own accord, just a fraction, but the noise audible nonetheless. There’s a moment, a treble of fear, and it cools Sunstreaker’s enthusiasm by several degrees.

Only Sideswipe has seen his spark before now. He hadn’t expected to feel so vulnerable, so bare. And Sunstreaker reacts on instinct, throwing a hand over his parted chestplates, though rays of sparklight peek through his fingers, reflecting on Prowl’s bumper. His other hand grasps at Prowl’s arm, closing around it above Prowl’s elbow.

“I don’t– I can’t– I’m not–” Sunstreaker stutters and growls, angry with himself for his inability to articulate the sudden wave of emotions and fears crowding at his spark.

“It’s all right.” Prowl shifts his weight, rests his hand over Sunstreaker’s, hiding away more of his sparklight. “I only meant to get acquainted. We will bond another night.”

Sunstreaker works his intake. “I want to,” he whispers, his hand trembling under Prowl’s. “I just…”

“Our entire relationship has been a collection of firsts for you,” Prowl says with that keen understanding he always seems to have. “This is yet another of them. Say the word, Sunstreaker, and we will stop.”

He shakes his head. Stopping is the last thing he wants. He aches for it, yearns to feel Prowl’s touch near his spark, for the physical manifestation of Prowl’s love for him.

Prowl starts to move back, and Sunstreaker squeezes his hand. “Don’t want to stop,” he manages out, through a mouthful of static and gasping vents. His fingers curl right around around Prowl’s hand, and he slides his hand away, slowly revealing his spark. “I just…”

“I understand.” Prowl leans over him, his lips brushing over Sunstreaker’s.

The kiss is gentle, sweet, exploring like it is the first time all over again. Sunstreaker sighs into it, even as his spark surges forward, eager where his processor still shouts at him to watch for the morning.

He refuses to be mastered by his fears. He wants this, he does. And if he must, he will reach out and seize it.

Sunstreaker moans into the kiss, his glossa tangling with Prowl’s, the heat of his partner’s frame and field surrounding him, so dizzying.

Prowl’s lips wander away, pressing to the corner of his mouth, across his cheek, and then down into his intake. Sunstreaker tips his head back, and shivers as Prowl ex-vents against his cables, tickling the sensitive structure with heat.

Both hands clutch at Prowl now, backstrut arched, urging his chassis toward Prowl. He can see his spark flickering excitedly, reflecting against Prowl’s armor, and then, in Prowl’s optics. He leans back for a moment, staring at Sunstreaker’s spark with nothing short of appreciation, before his mouth descends.

Sunstreaker whimpers as lips and glossa explore the edges of his spark chambers, barely tasting the most outward corona of his spark energy. It’s like an electric shock straight to his center, and pleasure throbs through his lines. His entire sensornet hums.

Prowl murmurs something, but Sunstreaker can’t make it out through the rushing in his audials. Awareness narrows down to a pinpoint, a focus on the gentle touch of Prowl’s mouth to his spark chamber, the brush of his field against Sunstreaker’s spark. He’s careful, reverent, loving.

Sunstreaker trembles, the last of his apprehension crumbling under a wave of Prowl’s affection for him. Overload flashes through his frame like a thousand tiny fireworks. Sunstreaker moans as his spark dances and the pleasure strips him of every thought, save one.

Prowl’s lips close over his, the kiss gentle and tasting of hot metal, of ozone. His fingers stroke Sunstreaker’s seam, even as his armor automatically starts to close.

“Lovely,” Prowl says against his lips. “Your designation suits you.”

Sunstreaker’s face flushes. He brushes his lips over Prowl’s, energized by the pleasure suffusing his frame. Anxiety, what anxiety? There’s nothing in his spark but delight and joy right now.

“It’s my turn then?”

Prowl smiles. “If you wish.”

“I do.” Sunstreaker sits up and Prowl moves back to give him room. “Switch places with me?”

“Gladly.”

Another hot meeting of their mouths gives way to the two of them shuffling around the berth, as awkward as two mechs with random bits of kibble can be. Sunstreaker chuckles softly, unable to resist touching as Prowl mutters a curse and eases onto his back, flicking his sensory panels into a comfortable position at the last second.

Charge blooms beneath Prowl’s armor, evidence of his own unsated charge. Yet, he’s ever patient as Sunstreaker straddles his hips and makes himself comfortable. Prowl’s hands find Sunstreaker’s thighs, palms warm as they smooth up the length of them before he’s cupping Sunstreaker’s hips.

Sunstreaker shivers and flattens his hands on Prowl’s belly, fingers tickling his visible abdominal cables, hiding in the shadow of his bumper. Prowl’s ventilations hitch, his glossa sweeping over his lips. His field presses against Sunstreaker’s, yielding willingly, but there’s a hesitation in it as well.

So. Prowl is anxious, too. Somehow, that’s reassuring to Sunstreaker.

He leans down, presses a kiss to Prowl’s chestplate, just below his Enforcer badge. “Will you open for me?”

Prowl’s fingers tickle into his hip seams, teasing the cables beneath. “I have… been modified,” he says, and there’s a hint of a blush to his field. “Since Uraya.”

Sunstreaker nods. “More armor?”

“And locks,” Prowl confirms. “I apologize, but my chestplates will no longer part unconsciously. Please don’t consider it a failure on your part.”

“And here I was thinking you didn’t want me,” Sunstreaker teases. He brushes his lips over Prowl’s central seam, ex-venting into it. “It’s fine. And it doesn’t answer my question anyway. I asked if you would open for me.”

He leans back, rests his hands on Prowl’s bumper, and slides his thumbs down the length of Prowl’s central seam. He had noticed a bit of a change to Prowl’s frame, but considered it a consequence of needing a near-full reframe after Starscream had mutilated him so.

He doesn’t blame Prowl for wanting more security. If anything, perhaps Sunstreaker should consider more of his own. He’s painfully unprotected.

Prowl shivers, his optics darkening in hue. His backstrut curves, and there’s the tiniest of clicks, multiple ones, before his bumper splits down the middle and swings parallel to his chassis. There’s another layer of armor here, and this one needs to split as well, beneath it a third layer which spirals open. The whorls of metal carry the gleam of the newly-forged, but behind it, Prowl’s spark pulses beautifully.

“Thank you,” Sunstreaker murmurs and sweeps his hands inward, gently teasing the edges of each armor plate, as Prowl moans softly. “Sensitive?”

“Yes.” Prowl shifts beneath him, restless, more charge spilling from beneath his armor. His ventilations quicken and his spark reflects it, pulsing faster and faster. “When did you become a tease?”

Sunstreaker chuckles. “Always have been.”

He shifts his weight, leans forward, pressing a kiss to the bottom-most edge of Prowl’s spark chamber. A muffled whimper greets him, and he dares drag his mouth further up, until he can taste the spark-charge on his lips. Prowl’s fingers dig into his hip seams, holding tight. Sunstreaker can feel them trembling, and Prowl, too. His field is hot and heavy, wrapping around Sunstreaker.

“You’re close?”

“Unbearably so,” Prowl murmurs, backstrut curving again, nudging his spark closer to Sunstreaker’s.

“Mm.” Sunstreaker leaves a parting kiss at the lower edge of Prowl’s spark chamber again before he leans back, his hands sliding up to Prowl’s shoulder. “Sit up for me?”

Prowl cycles his optics, but he obeys, both of them shifting about until Sunstreaker is resting on his lap, Prowl’s arms wrapped around his chassis. His knees bracket Prowl’s hips. Sunstreaker slides his arms over Prowl’s shoulder, feeling the gentle warmth of Prowl’s spark wafting against his own chestplate.

He shivers and sweeps his glossa over his lips.

“Better?” Prowl asks.

“Almost.” Sunstreaker steals Prowl’s lips for a kiss, a distraction as he lets his own chestplates part, his spark eagerly revealing itself this time. It leaps toward the warmth Prowl’s offers, though there is a moment of confusion.

Not Sideswipe, it pulses. Not Sideswipe?

No, not Sideswipe, Sunstreaker thinks. Simply the only mech outside of his twin who has ever professed to care for him, and then proceeded to prove it.

Sunstreaker’s spark throbs warmly.

He ends the gentle kiss. Prowl, he notices, is trembling beneath him, as if their roles have been reversed, and now Prowl is the one who needs reassurance and guidance. Both of which Sunstreaker is more than happy to provide.

“I love you,” Sunstreaker murmurs as he presses their foreheads together, the furthest edges of their spark energies starting to mingle, sending rays of pleasure down his spinal strut. “I’m going to be your conjunx.”

Prowl’s hands tremble around his chassis, pressing in on his backstrut. “Yes, and I am going to be yours.”

A low moan slips free of Sunstreaker’s mouth. He tightens his arms over Prowl’s shoulders, brings their chests closer together, the secondary spark corona mingling together, sharing heat and charge.

There are only surface impressions here, the overwhelming bloom of Prowl’s love for him, an indescribable happiness that has to be felt rather than told. But the touch of Prowl’s spark to his is electric, and Sunstreaker moans again, a tremble racing up his backstrut and down again.

He pulls Prowl closer, as close as he can manage, hips rolling, the metal of their armor sliding together in a whisper of contact. The outermost edges of their sparks knit, the secondary layer meeting in little kisses of charge, until the energies of their sparks start to pulse in tandem, sending wave after wave of bliss throughout Sunstreaker’s frame.

He ex-vents a shuddery cycle, a clear sense of Prowl surrounding him. Loyal and determined, stubborn and kind, uncompromising and fierce, guardian and fighter. He briefly wonders what sense Prowl gets from him, but it’s gone and swept away with another burst of charged pleasure, searing through his lines.

Sunstreaker gasps. The merges with Sideswipe, for spark stability, never feel like this. They are warm and soothing, like slipping into an oil bath. But this, even as shallow as it is, feels like electric fire in his lines, loving touches to every one of his sensor nexuses. It makes him shake, like he’s going to rattle right out of his armor, and he’s holding Prowl so tightly he can hear their armor creaking.

If sharing feels like this, will he even survive spark merging?

The very thought makes Sunstreaker moan, his backstrut bowing, overload picking him up and tossing him into surrender. He clutches Prowl, rattling inside and out, as a blaze of heat pulses through his sensornet, flares through his spark, snatching at Prowl’s and dragging him along.

Prowl’s mouth claims his in a desperate kiss, and Sunstreaker returns it, his spark flaring and dancing, pulsing to the same beat as Prowl’s. His frame becomes a thing of motion, pushing and sliding against Prowl’s, charge crackling out and lighting up his armor, extending the overload until he feels like he’s drowning in it. The force of it leaves Sunstreaker weak and shaky in the aftermath, collapsing forward against Prowl, panting for ventilations.

Their sparks part, until only the furthest coronas are barely touching, like a soft caress. Sunstreaker sucks in several gulping ventilations, his forehead pressed to Prowl’s shoulder. He’s still shaking, and it’s the good kind of shaky. He feels like he could recharge soundly for once, without the threat of memory purges.

Prowl’s hands stroke down his back as he leans his head against Sunstreaker’s. “Thank you,” he murmurs.

Sunstreaker struggles to stir. “For what?” he mumbles, seeking coherency somewhere in the echoes of the overload. It’s left him almost giddy.

“For that gift.”

His chestplates start to close, slowly as if reluctant, and the last of their spark energy separates. “Feels like I got one, too,” Sunstreaker says. He hums low in his intake, nuzzling Prowl’s shoulder. “Wanna lay down now, I think.”

Prowl hums a laugh. “Indeed. I did not know a mere spark-share could be so exhausting.” He leans back, putting some space between them, which allows his own chestplates to seal, all three layers of them.

“Though I think to call that mere does it a disservice,” Prowl adds and a shiver visibly runs through his armor.

“It was pretty good.” Sunstreaker leans forward, lips leaving a trail of kisses along the curve of Prowl’s jaw. Their cooling fans rattle and purr, struggling to dispel the heat they’ve generated.

Prowl’s fingers tease along his backstrut. “Only ‘pretty good’?”

“Hush, you. Sound like your brother.” Sunstreaker shifts his weight and forces himself to withdraw from Prowl’s embrace, if only because he does want to lay down. His limbs feel as useful as rubber tubing, and there’s a heavy ache of satisfaction in his lines.

He stretches out across the berth, on his back, and is not surprised when Prowl covers him soon after like a blanket, their legs tangled. Prowl’s bumper notches against Sunstreaker’s chestplate, his sensory panels lying flat against his back, as he embraces Sunstreaker’s chassis.

Like brother, like brother, Sunstreaker thinks, amused. He’s often caught Sideswipe and Jazz snuggling like this, Jazz always on top of Sideswipe like a particularly clingy blanket.

“Do I now?” Prowl asks.

“You two are as different as the colors you share, but you’re the same, too,” Sunstreaker replies with a little laugh. “Except you try and pretend you’re not vain, whereas Jazz flaunts it.” Campily, granted, but flaunts it nonetheless. Jazz enjoys fishing for compliments.

Prowl chuckles. “I will concede to that.” His engine rumbles in tune with Sunstreaker’s, a soothing sound. “Though you are one to talk.”

Sunstreaker snorts a laugh. “Never said otherwise.” He strokes a hand down Prowl’s backstrut, between his sensory panels. “Thank you for asking.”

Prowl’s weight shifts on top of him, until their optics can meet. His expression is soft right now, open, where so often it is carefully schooled for the sake of others. Prowl is in a position of authority, and a certain neutrality is expected for that. But here, in this berth with Sunstreaker, he can be himself, and Sunstreaker thoroughly respects that gift.

“One day we will merge,” Prowl murmurs as he leans up, his lips brushing over Sunstreaker’s in a near-kiss. His ex-vents make for soft bursts of heat. “And I will know all of you, and you, all of me.” He shifts back, resting his head on Sunstreaker’s chestplate, over his central seam.

Sunstreaker trembles. “You might not like what you find.” He doesn’t let his processor wander to the darkness, not here in this sweet and soft place. Prowl knows, of course, of all the gladiator work Sunstreaker has done, the mechs he has incidentally killed as a matter of survival.

He doesn’t quite know, however, how different Sunstreaker is when caught up in the battlelust. He has yet to see Sunstreaker in the grips of survival, denta bared, energon staining his fingers. He’s professed that his memories of his time as Dent are not as clear as they ought, and the most recent of them the haziest. He doesn’t know how thoroughly Sunstreaker had offlined Starscream.

Sunstreaker fears the sight and knowledge might change Prowl’s opinion of him. Prove him for the guttermech he was born, the sort Prowl would have never taken home to his caretakers, Primus protect their sparks.

“I love you,” Prowl says, repeats, his hands stroking up and down Sunstreaker’s sides. “And if there is one thing of which I am certain, that will not change.”

Sunstreaker’s intake bobs. He squeezes his optics shut.

“Nor am I the innocent you think I am. Perhaps it is you who will be appalled by the truths in my spark,” Prowl adds.

Sunstreaker shakes his helm minutely. “Impossible.”

“Well, then. Is it so hard to believe I feel the same way about you?”

Sunstreaker pets the leading edges of Prowl’s sensory panels. “Curse you and your logic.”

Prowl chuckles and noses further into Sunstreaker’s intake. “You are not the first to say that.”

“You do realize that you’ll know Sideswipe, too?” Sunstreaker rebuts with a huff. Not that he’s trying to dissuade Prowl or anything, but a little warning can’t hurt. Sideswipe’s a certain kind of special, honestly.

Sunstreaker loves his brother. He truly does. But they do have their differences.

“A small price to pay.” Prowl ex-vents audibly and his weight settles more firmly over Sunstreaker’s, his field as much an embrace as his arms.

“You say that now, but you haven’t been in his head,” Sunstreaker mumbles, but there’s no heat to it.

He shutters his optics, matches his ventilations to Prowl’s, and lets the soft sweetness of the moment snatch him up. The berthroom is quiet around them, with only the faint glow of Iacon outside the tinted window to break up the dark. That and their biolights.

He’s happy, Sunstreaker realizes. There’s joy in his spark, in his frame. His field is wrapped around Prowl’s, knitting firmly together, and he’s safe and sound. Prowl is a blanket of love and safety, and Sunstreaker need only reach across his connection to Sideswipe to know his twin is annoyed, but equally safe and content.

“Prowl?”

“Hm?”

“I’m happy,” he says, and it’s so quiet. He’s afraid if he says it too loudly, something will come along and snatch it away.

Prowl’s embrace tightens. “As am I.”

His reply is equally soft, equally careful. In this, they are not so different. Starscream’s machinations had left scars on them both.

But here, they are happy. Here, they are safe and content.

For now, it’s a dream, a wish, made reality, and Sunstreaker intends to hold on to it tightly this time. This dream is his to protect, and he’ll fight to do so.

No matter what.

[TF] One Wish 03

Good things, it seemed, were not meant to last.

Sideswipe didn’t bother to knock or announce himself ahead of time. Instead he burst into Sunstreaker’s studio with all the grace of a rampaging bulldozer, his field a frenetic swirl that battered at Sunstreaker and stole his concentration.

He startled, sweeping a broad stripe of bright crimson in the middle of his painting where it did not belong. The thick paint immediately started to drip, smearing the image beneath it.

“What the frag!” Sunstreaker shoved his palette and brush down, whipping toward his brother. “You ruined it! What the slag is your–”

Sideswipe shoved a flimsy at him, right under his nasal ridge. “This,” Sideswipe hissed, rattling the flimsy. “He has to go!”

Sunstreaker snatched it from him, frown growing. “What are you talking about?” he demanded even as his gaze turned to the flimsy, skimming it quickly.

… Oh.

Dread plummeted into his tanks.

It was a statement from the Regent. Starscream had put a new law into effect. Anyone caught assisting or concealing an Empurata mech was to be arrested immediately and the Empura to be taken into custody. It did not say what the punishment would be for those arrested.

Normally, declarations such as these listed minimal fines. That there was nothing here was worrisome. It suggested a punishment worse than fines, worse than imprisonment.

“When did you get this?” Sunstreaker asked.

“Just now.” Sideswipe’s engine rumbled, his field still spiking with concern. “Starscream’s goons were handing them out. Gave me a whole stack to give to my customers.”

Sunstreaker shook his head, the flimsy rattling in his grip. “The Regent’s never cared about the Empuras before. That’s why they’re tossed down here. Cause no one cares. Why would he bother now?”

“I don’t know.” Sideswipe folded his arms. “And I don’t care. All I know is that your pet has to go. I’m not going to prison for him.”

Sunstreaker’s gaze moved to the doorway. Sideswipe was a bit too loud and if any of their customers noticed…

He pushed past Sideswipe to the small door that connected his studio to the apartment. “We can’t talk about this here.”

“Well, we’re going to.” Sideswipe grabbed his arm, his grip firm, but not enough to dent.

Sunstreaker half-whirled toward him as Sideswipe’s field collided with his. There was anger, concern… and beneath it all, fear. Was Sideswipe truly afraid of the Regent? Of what he could do?

Sunstreaker tugged on his arm. “Let me go.”

“No.” Sideswipe flexed his fingers, his optics burning at Sunstreaker. “Look, it was fun while it lasted. I get it, I honestly do. And I was fine with it while it was just a phase, a coping mechanism or something. Now, he’s just dangerous.”

Sunstreaker’s engine revved. “He’s not the one who’s dangerous!” he hissed, his spark throbbing in his chestplate. “I’m not going to just throw him out there. He’ll die.”

“He survived well enough before. He can do it again.” Sideswipe stepped closer, his voice quieting but no less urgent. “I will not let that Empura be what gets us killed.”

“And I’m not going to toss him out!” Sunstreaker shoved on Sideswipe’s chestplate, forcing him to let go. “I’m not afraid of the Regent!”

Sideswipe’s optics flashed. “Well, you should be. You have no idea how dangerous he is!” His field swept through the room, battering against Sunstreaker’s like a physical blow.

“I don’t care,” Sunstreaker hissed, denta gritting so hard he tasted sparks on his glossa. “I’m not making him leave.”

“Primus-be-damned, Sunstreaker!” Sideswipe snarled, his voice getting loud, too loud.

It drew the attention of some of their customers, who peered into Sunstreaker’s studio with gleeful expressions.

Sunstreaker and Sideswipe having a row wasn’t at all unusual. They tended to argue about the stupid things. But this topic alone was enough to get them unwanted attention.

Sunstreaker narrowed his optics, shifting so that his back was to the door, though it left his armor itching. “If you make him leave, then I will, too,” he said, his voice cold and low, only audible to Sideswipe.

“You can’t be serious.”

Sunstreaker lifted his head. “Oh, yeah? Watch me.”

He spun on a heel, stalking toward the door. The customers scattered once they saw him coming. Frequent visitors learned their lessons. Never get between the twins when they were disagreeing.

“Sunny, stop!”

Sideswipe grabbed his arm, yanking him back. Sunstreaker’s engine raced. He didn’t hesitate. He spun into the pull, using his momentum to his advantage, his free hand balled into a fist. He punched Sideswipe, his brother too unprepared to dodge in time, the fist slamming into Sideswipe’s right cheek.

Sideswipe howled, jerking back and releasing Sunstreaker at the same time. He grabbed at his cheek, the dermal plating already beginning to swell, even as he stared at Sunstreaker, optics wide. His vents stuttered.

Sunstreaker tucked his arm back at his side, though his hands remained in fists. His own vents whirred, and his engine rumbled from the wildness of his emotions. He had struck Sideswipe before. Physical altercations between them were nothing new. This, however, had a different taste to it.

“No,” Sunstreaker said carefully, each word enunciated. “I’m not going to lose anyone else, Sideswipe. I refuse.”

Sideswipe stared after him, something bleak and hurting in his expression. Sunstreaker’s spark squeezed into a tiny ball. He hated to see that look on Sideswipe’s face. He hated knowing that he’d put it there.

Yet, he couldn’t bring himself to apologize. Not right now. Not with customers peering at them around the edges of the doorway, and the threat of Dent’s safety hanging in the balance.

Sunstreaker spun back on a heel and stormed out of his studio, the crowd parting. At least, those that hadn’t already abandoned the cafe altogether. Here on the edge of Uraya, there wasn’t much to be had in the way of entertainment. Some were probably disappointed that there hadn’t been any energon shed.

Sunstreaker ignored them all and headed for his shared apartment with Sideswipe. He’d leave Sideswipe to deal with the customers and the questions, give them some space. If he came back in later and spouted that same slag about Dent leaving, they’d have another chat.

Or Sunstreaker would pack a bag. He had enough in his savings to get a small room until he could sell another painting. He’d figure out something. He wasn’t helpless; he didn’t need Sideswipe to protect him.

He wasn’t going to let Dent go. He wasn’t going to lose another one. He wasn’t. He refused.

His spark squeezed tighter.

Sunstreaker closed the door behind him, letting the quiet of the apartment swallow him. His hands ached, and he forced them to unclench. He looked at his right hand, at the scrape of silver paint across his knuckles.

Sideswipe’s paint.

Sunstreaker bowed his head, gnawing on his bottom lip. He hated arguing with Sideswipe. He hated the clench of guilt, the squeeze of his spark. He hated that look in Sideswipe’s optics.

Sunstreaker scraped his hand down his face and cycled a shuddering ventilation. It took several of them before he managed to stop shaking.

He went looking for Dent. Sometimes, just being in the Empura’s presence was enough to bring him calm. There was something soothing about the Empura, something Sunstreaker still couldn’t explain, awkward moments aside.

“Dent?”

He checked the washrack, the berthrooms, the storage-cum-Dent’s room, the main room. He looked in the closets, and it wasn’t until Sunstreaker looked under the berths, too, that he started to panic.

“Dent?”

No signs of a struggle. Nothing in disarray. He hadn’t been taken. He must have left on his own.

Sunstreaker’s spark strobed panic. He rushed to the back door, shoving it open. It was enclosed by a tall fence, mostly as a deterrent and preventative. Anyone could climb over it if they were nimble enough.

Then again, Dent could have walked through the front door while he and Sideswipe argued, and Sunstreaker wouldn’t have noticed.

He went back into the apartment and searched again, just to be sure, but Dent was truly gone. He hadn’t even taken any of the pouches from the cabinet. Of course he wouldn’t.

This was insane! Sunstreaker was sure they’d convinced him he could remain. Unless…

Oh, Primus. Unless he’d overheard Sunstreaker and Sideswipe arguing. The side door from Sunstreaker’s studio into the apartment was right by a storage closet, the one Dent favored for cleaning supplies.

That idiot!

Sunstreaker whipped back toward the cafe, anger and frustration both building inside of him, strong enough to eclipse the fear. He stalked back into the main dining area, his field preceding him in a boil of anger, and causing no few patrons to quail away.

“Come to apologize?” Sideswipe asked, his tone cold.

“No.” Sunstreaker snapped, his plating fluffed out as his defense protocols activated, preparing him for a fight. “I’m leaving.”

“What? Sunny!” Sideswipe threw down his cloth and vaulted over the counter. “You can’t be serious? Where are you going to go?”

“Out.” Sunstreaker stormed toward the door, customers scattering in front of him like frightened turbofoxes.

Sideswipe intercepted him, skidding to a stop and planting his hands on Sunstreaker’s chestplate. “Do you even hear yourself?” he hissed as his hands impacted Sunstreaker’s armor with a loud chime. “You’re acting crazy.”

Sunstreaker stared at him, jaw set. “He’s gone.”

“What?”

He’s gone,” Sunstreaker gritted out, his hands forming fists. “He left because he heard you.”

“Am I supposed to be upset about that?” Sideswipe demanded, his engine revving. “Him being here was putting us in danger!”

“And he’s in danger out there!” Sunstreaker shouted, his field slamming into the room with all the subtlety of a hammer. “Get out of my way, Sideswipe.”

“No!” Sideswipe’s hands grew firmer on his chestplate. “I’m not letting you go storming off into the Wastes after some… some…”

Sunstreaker snarled. “Some what? Go on, Sideswipe. Why don’t you say it? Tell me exactly what you think of him.”

Sideswipe glared at him, vents heaving. “He is not Prowl,” he said, his voice oddly hushed. His cheek was still swollen, energon dried in the cut Sunstreaker’s knuckle had left behind. “And I need you to realize that.”

“I’m not stupid. I know that. I know that he’s gone. I know that he left.” It hurt so much to say. It came out in a strangled sound, something tore from his vocalizer. “I know that he’s not Prowl,” Sunstreaker repeated, as much for himself as much for Sideswipe. “But he is my friend, and that’s all the reason I need.”

Sunstreaker wasn’t Sideswipe. He didn’t know how to charm people. He didn’t know how to connect and carry a conversation. He got lost in the words. He couldn’t read others either.

Sunstreaker didn’t have friends.

Before Prowl, he’d never even had a lover.

It hit him just then. It occurred to him why he’d clung to Dent so tightly, why he’d wanted to protect Dent and give him a place to stay.

Sunstreaker’s vents hitched as he looked his brother in the optics. “I have to find him, Sideswipe. I have to.”

His twin’s shoulders slumped, his head hanging. His hands softened on Sunstreaker’s chestplate. “Fine,” he said, sounding tired. “I won’t fight you on this. I’ll even help you, but please, Sunny. Not tonight. Just trust me. Not tonight.”

Sunstreaker shook so hard he can hear his armor rattling. But Sideswipe’s plea struck a chord with him. There was something in his twin’s optics that spoke of more than his disdain for Dent and what he represented. There was fear.

“Fine,” Sunstreaker gritted out. “But only for tonight.”

He took a step back, forcing Sideswipe’s hands to slide off his chestplate. The anger rattled inside of him like a loose gear. He gave Sideswipe another long look and then stomped back toward their apartment.

He was painfully aware of their audience, of the customers who watched and spoke to each other in hushed words.

“Okay! Show’s over!” Sideswipe said in a fakely cheerful voice, clapping his hands together. “What say you to a free round of engex on the house, hm?”

The cheer that rose behind Sunstreaker was muted and lacked enthusiasm, but hopefully, Sideswipe could get them all drunk enough they’d forget this night happened. Honestly, Sunstreaker wanted to indulge in the engex himself.

Dent was out there while the Regent’s soldiers were distributing those flyers. He had taken nothing with him. Who knew how far he would go?

Sunstreaker worried. He worried more than he could express in words. He feared for Dent, alone in the dark, surrounded by the half-crazed Empuras and the hungry Empties.

Dent was clean and polished. He was in good repair. He would stick out like a noble in Uraya’s main square. He looked like an easy mark.

Sunstreaker gnawed on his bottom lip. His hands clenched and unclenched.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would look. Tomorrow he would bring Dent home.

~

Every moment. Every available opportunity. If he was not minding the counter for Sideswipe, Sunstreaker searched.

He thought he’d lived long enough on the edge of the Wastes to have a decent idea of the layout. He was wrong. The deeper he ventured, the more twisted and confusing it became. Roads simply ended. Rusting, decayed buildings collapsed to create shambling husks of dark hiding places.

Empties peered at him from the dim, denta clicking noisily. Other Empura hid when they saw him coming, as though they believed him to be one of Starscream’s goons.

None stuck around long enough for Sunstreaker to ask them a question. No one would help him. But Dent had to be here. He wasn’t in the handfuls of Empuras Sunstreaker had seen Starscream’s goons lead out day after day.

He’d lived for weeks on his own. He knew how to survive. Sunstreaker still didn’t intend to leave him out here.

Days passed. Then weeks. A month crawled by, agonizingly slow. The distance between he and Sideswipe grew frostier. They barely spoke.

Sideswipe offered to help. Sunstreaker told him not to bother. He had more important things to do.

Sunstreaker kept looking. He returned home dirty and exhausted, his tank pinging him for energon. He had to hide from Starscream’s goons more than a few times, lest he be caught associating with Empuras.

He looked. He vowed to never stop looking until he found Dent, or what was left of him. Until he found a clue that would either lead him to Dent, or to the Regent’s Palace.

Prowl left.

Sunstreaker refused to lose anyone again.

~

“He won’t talk to me,” Sideswipe said, frustration spitting static into his vocals. He hit a corner, spun and kept going. “He barely even looks at me. I know he blames me, but frag, how was I supposed to know?”

Ricochet sighed, rubbing his forehead. “Sides, you’re makin’ me dizzy.”

He stopped mid-pace, spinning to look straight at his lover. Ricochet was perched in a chair, leaning forward on his elbows, visor dim.

“Sorry,” Sideswipe said with a cycled ventilation. “I just… I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. And you can’t tell me because you’re compromised or whatever.” He flopped a hand vaguely.

No mixing business with pleasure. He could talk about Dent with Ricochet and be reassured that Ricochet would never tell Starscream about him. But that also meant Ricochet wouldn’t tell him if Starscream had Dent, or what to do about it.

Ricochet leaned back and ran a hand over his head. “That’s one way ta put it. Seems ta me you’re doing everything ya can. All that’s left is ta wait for your brother ta get over it.”

“Right. Get over it.” Sideswipe snorted. “Sunny doesn’t do that. He dwells. He lingers. He already thinks he failed Prowl somehow. And now he’s equated the two in that fool head of his.”

“Is that such a bad thing?”

Sideswipe tilted his head, blinking. “What do you mean?”

Ricochet leaned his head against his fist, bracing his elbow on the arm of the chair. “You objected ta the Empura even before the declaration. Why?”

“Because he’s dangerous!”

“Is he?”

Sideswipe stared at Ricochet. “… he’s an Empura,” he answered, and realized how stupid he sounded.

He sighed and scraped a hand down his face. “You don’t understand. It’s Sunny, okay? I just–”

“–are weirdly protective of him?” Ricochet’s lips quirked in a grin before his free hand gestured to Sideswipe, beckoning him closer. “It’s okay. I get it. My brother’s like that, too.”

Sideswipe blinked and moved closer. “You have a brother?”

“Mmm. An older one.” Ricochet captured his hand and dragged Sideswipe down into his lap, as amusing as it was given their height difference. The chair creaked beneath their weight, but held fast. “He’s a pain in my crankshift. Loves the rules. And he’s protective like you are. Took me forever ta convince him ta let me do what I want to do.”

Sideswipe arched an orbital ridge as he draped his arms over Ricochet’s shoulders. “Huh. I can’t imagine why he would object to you being a thug on the edge on the Wastes.”

“I am far better than a thug,” Ricochet said with a note of fake-offense in his tone. “But that’s beside the point.”

He tugged Sideswipe closer until their frames were flush. He tipped his chin up, putting their lips in proximity.

“There’s a point when ya gotta let go,” Ricochet murmured, his fingers teasing a gentle pattern up the ridges of Sideswipe’s spinal strut. “When ya let him make his own choices, his own mistakes.”

Sideswipe hummed in his intake. “I know that. I’m not his caretaker.”

Ricochet chuckled. “Sometimes, I’m not sure ya know that.” He leaned in, lips brushing over Sideswipe’s. “You’ll get through this. I’m sure of it. Just stop trying ta lead him and start standin’ beside him.”

“Heh. Since when are you so full of sage advice?” Sideswipe asked, tracing his nasal ridge over Ricochet’s cheek, just below his visor.

“Since always.” Ricochet’s engine purred, fingers dipping into Sideswipe’s transformation seams. “So how’s about instead of talking, ya let me distract you?”

Sideswipe’s dermal plating tingled. “Sounds good to me,” he breathed before dragging his mouth to Ricochet’s and capturing his lips for a glossa-tangling kiss.

He had only a few hours before he needed to return to the apartment and make sure Sunstreaker came back safely.

He wanted to make the most of every moment of it.

~

Sunstreaker was running out of places to look.

Granted, the Wastes were large, far more than Sunstreaker ever gave it credit. Given that it was a dumping ground for almost the entirety of Cybertron, could he be so surprised? He was at the point of daring to go underground, something even the desperate were reluctant to do.

Surely Dent wasn’t so foolish as to hide there?

Sunstreaker paused and ducked into an alley. He leaned against a decaying wall, ex-venting softly. He was exhausted. He needed to get home before Sideswipe started to ping him with worry again. He had the unfortunate feeling that someone or something had been following him…

Sunstreaker shuttered his optics, counted his vents. He could spare maybe twenty more minutes of searching before he’d need to start heading back.

He didn’t want to lose hope, but he wondered if maybe he ought to be realistic. Maybe it wasn’t that he couldn’t find Dent, but that Dent hid from him on purpose. Maybe, no matter how hard he looked, he’d never find his friend.

Sunstreaker sighed and pushed himself off the wall. Nothing to it. Once more, into the breach, he reasoned.

He would just have to keep on looking.

“You need to go home.”

Sunstreaker whirled around, his spark throbbing in his chest. There, in the dark and dim, he could barely make out the shape of another mech. But there was no mistaking that field, the familiarity of it, almost reaching for Sunstreaker’s own as if magnetically drawn.

“Dent?” Sunstreaker whispered, taking a step toward the dark shape. It immediately moved back a step and Sunstreaker froze.

“You need to go home.” The sound of pincers clicking together nervously filled the space between them. “It is not safe here.”

“I can take care of myself.” Sunstreaker worked his intake. “Besides, I’m not going home until you come with me.”

The single optic dimmed. “I cannot see you harmed,” he said, voice wreathed with static, the strong flare of his field abruptly dropping into something barely tangible. As though he’d expended what little energy he had.

“Pah. I’m not scared of the Regent.”

“You should be.” Dent slid away another step, until Sunstreaker could barely make out his shape. He wished he had more light so he could see Dent in full. “Dangerous.”

Sunstreaker closed his hands into fists. “You let me be the judge of that.” He cycled a ventilation and peered over his shoulder, out the mouth of the alley.

There was no one around. No prying audials. Well, save for the Empties and other Empuras. But they were as unlikely to betray Sunstreaker, as they were unlikely to offer aid.

“I want you to come home,” Sunstreaker said, his spark squeezing again. He tried inching closer to Dent, and was relieved when the Empura didn’t immediately shift away.

“Sideswipe–”

“Frag Sideswipe!” Sunstreaker hissed, perhaps a bit too sharply, because Dent cringed away from him, and Sunstreaker cursed at himself. “I’m sorry. I meant, Sideswipe’s dumb. Don’t listen to him. You belong with us. With… with me.”

Dent’s optic flared brightly. His vents stuttered. His pincers clicked together again. “With… you?” His field shivered where it gently touched Sunstreaker’s. “Sir, I can’t.”

Sunstreaker flinched. So it was back to that, was it? He gnawed on the inside of his cheek, wishing he was better at this, at talking. How could he help Dent understand?

“Because you don’t want to?” Sunstreaker asked, trying to keep his voice soft. “Or because you think you shouldn’t?”

Dent’s optic grew even brighter. His vocals lay a round of static and he pressed against the alley wall. “I… can’t.”

Sunstreaker’s spark ached. He took a small step forward, reaching for the other mech. “Dent–”

–Sunny!–

He hissed, dizziness cresting over him. Sunstreaker reeled, his shoulder hitting the alley wall as he clutched at his head.

–Sides…? What…?–

–Stay away!–

Their bond flashed, fear and panic intermingled. Sunstreaker’s knees wobbled and he dropped. His focus turned inward, and both hands clutched at his head now. It felt like his processor was trying to split open, such was the volume of Sideswipe’s shout.

–What? Why?–

–It’s the Regent.– Sideswipe’s comm was strained and their bond sizzled again. –Please, for once, just listen to me, damn it. I need you to–

The comm cut off, leaving Sunstreaker with a static-laced silence. He could still feel Sideswipe on the other side of the bond, faint impressions of worry, of false bravado. But no matter how many times Sunstreaker pinged his twin, Sideswipe would not pick up.

“Sunstreaker?”

Warmth. Comfort. Familiarity.

Sunstreaker blinked, looking up to find that Dent had approached him. One pincer gingerly lay on Sunstreaker’s shoulder as that single optic glowed down at him.

“It’s Sideswipe,” Sunstreaker gasped, his mouth dry, his legs trembling. “Something’s happened. I don’t know. I have to… I have to get back.”

He pushed himself back to his feet, bracing himself against the wall. His entire frame wobbled. Sideswipe hadn’t leaned this hard on their bond in centuries. Not since they were trying to scrap out a living in the Wastes.

“I will go with you,” Dent said.

Sunstreaker stared at him, vision wavering before it clarified. “But–”

Dent approached, sliding an arm around Sunstreaker’s waist and encouraging him to lean against Dent’s side. “You will need help.”

Sunstreaker leaned hard into him, his knees like gelatin but holding his weight. “Does this mean you’ll stay?”

Dent’s pincer twitched at his side. “I will see.”

It was enough.

“That’s fair.” Sunstreaker took one careful step, grateful for Dent’s support. “We can worry about Sideswipe first.”

After all, if the panic in Sideswipe’s voice was anything to go back, Sunstreaker might not have a home to go back to.

~

Sideswipe finished wiping down the display bottle of engex and returned it to the shelf behind the bar, fighting back another sigh. There was a certain degree of energy any good bartender knew to maintain. He simply found himself struggling to keep it up day after day.

Tense was too soft a word to describe the atmosphere between him and his brother. Sunstreaker was mad at him, perhaps rightly so, but he didn’t understand, damn it.

It was all Prowl’s fault, when Sideswipe traced everything to the roots. If Prowl hadn’t come here and swept Sunstreaker up into romantic fantasies, none of this would be happening now.

Sideswipe’s engine grumbled. He set his jaw and reached for the next bottle to dust. His cafe was already sparkling clean, but he needed something to do that wasn’t pacing back and forth behind the bar, anxiously watching the door.

Sunny was out there again, searching for that fragging Empura, and there wasn’t a damn thing Sideswipe could do to stop him.

The tiny bell dinged. Customers.

Sideswipe planted a smile on his face and turned. “Welcome to Color and– Oh.” He steeled himself, spark throbbing with anxiety as Starscream, Ricochet, and a handful of mercenaries crowded into his cafe. “What can I do for you, Regent? I didn’t know we had a meeting.”

Starscream grinned and sauntered toward the counter. “We don’t,” he said, something in his tone making Sideswipe’s spinal strut shiver. “I came here for another matter. An official one.” He tilted his head, resting a single clawed hand on the counter. “I hear rumors, Sideswipe, and I am very disappointed.”

“Rumors?” Sideswipe repeated, keeping up his grin. From his peripheral vision, he could see Starscream’s goons scaring his customers right out of the cafe.

Frag.

Fragfragfragfragfrag.

“Of what sort?” Sideswipe asked even as he sent a ping to Sunstreaker’s comm, which predictably, was sent straight to his inbox. So Sideswipe sent another. And another.

Starscream leaned against the counter, only the space of it separating them. “I’ve been informed that you are hiding an Empura,” he purred, crimson optics bright. “Which we all know is an offense that demands an immediate arrest.”

Sideswipe very slowly set down the bottle of engex. “I don’t know what you mean. There’s no one here but you and me, your guards and well, not any customers though. Seems you scared them off.” He braced his hands on the counter and grinned.

Sunstreaker didn’t answer his ping. Damn it.

He only had one tactic left, and Sideswipe hated to do it. He had no choice. Sunstreaker couldn’t come back here. Especially if he’d found Dent.

Sideswipe leaned on their bond. He tapped on it. He beat on it. He shoved into it like he hadn’t in decades because it tended to send Sunny reeling.

Starscream grinned. “Perhaps. So I’m sure you won’t mind if I have a small look around, just to be sure.” He lifted a hand, making a gesture that prompted his squad of guards to make a beeline toward their apartment. Only Ricochet stayed behind.

“Sure.” Sideswipe shrugged nonchalantly. “The door’s unlocked. You won’t find anything.”

“I hope I don’t.” Starscream’s optics flashed and he moved, quicker than Sideswipe could have expected. His hand shot across the bar, snatching Sideswipe’s jaw and holding it firmly. “It’s unfortunate, really. You were my favorite supplier.”

Sideswipe’s spark rang with fear. He jerked back, away from Starscream, as Sunstreaker finally answered the ping. He shouted a warning at his brother over the comm.

“I still can be.” Sideswipe’s vents stuttered, uneven. “There’s no one here so you have nothing to worry about. We can quash that pesky rumor and get back to business.”

Starscream’s smirk showed too much denta for Sideswipe’s comfort. “Yes,” he said. “Business. As it turns out, I have need of you and your brother for a little venture.”

“Can I say no?”

Starscream’s smile widened. “That depends on what I find in your apartment.”

Sideswipe worked his intake. His glance skittered to Ricochet, but his lover was stone-faced and silent. He stood there like the silent but deadly guard he was, arms folded behind his back.

Right. Never mixing business with pleasure. Sideswipe could expect no help on that front.

“Then let me go ahead and turn you down gently,” Sideswipe said brightly, pretending to wipe down the counter and easing away from Starscream. “Because, as I said, there’s no one here but me and my business, which is sadly, now empty.”

The apartment door shoved back open. “He’s telling the truth,” one of Starscream’s hired guns said as he stepped out, another on his heels. “There is no one here.”

“But we did find these,” the second said as he tossed a handful of energon pouches onto the counter.

Sideswipe worked his intake. “So?”

Starscream walked to the end of the counter, dragging his clawtip along the top of it until he came to the pouches. “You have a mouth,” he observed idly. He picked up one of the pouches, examining it. “No need for these.”

“I run a cafe.”

Starscream thumbed the tip of the pouch, designed to accommodate an auto-injector. “This is specifically designed to fuel an Empura.” He gave Sideswipe a sideways look. “I don’t imagine you have too many paying customers of those, do you?”

Sideswipe set his jaw. “I make it a habit of stocking everything.”

“Mm. Sure you do.” Starscream tossed the pouch onto the pile, his wings flicking left and right. “Where is your brother?”

“Out.”

Starscream’s lips curved into a smile that Sideswipe had learned to be wary of. “Out the back, I suppose. Perhaps the moment you saw us walk in?” He shook his head, clicking his glossa. “I’m so disappointed, Sideswipe. I thought we had something special.” One hand lifted, gesturing toward Sideswipe.

The two goons rushed around the bar. Sideswipe held up his hands, hoping to forestall violence, thinking cooperation might gain him some slack.

Cooperation didn’t stop the two mechs from slamming him face first onto the counter and roughly cuffing his hands behind his back. Perhaps they’d been warned. Maybe they expected resistance.

Ow. Sideswipe started to think he should have started with resistance. His shoulders ached where they wrenched his arms back too suddenly. The cuffs were strong when he tested them, Enforcer grade if he had a guess.

The shipment he’d gotten for Starscream two months ago – courtesy of Swindle – was coming back to bite him in the aft.

“I didn’t do anything!” Sideswipe growled.

They hauled him back upright, each gripping him by the shoulder, as they mechhandled him around the counter.

“Harboring an Empura is prohibited,” Starscream said dryly as he watched his mercenaries drag Sideswipe to the center of the cafe. He strode closer, tilting his head. “Where is he?”

“He’s out!” Sideswipe snarled, grinding his denta. “Why are you so interested in my brother anyway.”

Starscream rolled his optics. “Not your twin. His pet.”

Sideswipe’s engine growled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re not as good a liar as you think you are.” Starscream whirled on a heelstrut. “No matter. He’ll show up eventually. Let’s go.”

He strode toward the door, Ricochet preceding him and his guards dragging Sideswipe out behind him. His customers had all scattered, Sideswipe noticed sourly. Outside, he could see a few curious faces peering his direction, mostly from the position of onlooker. No one offered help.

No one wanted to cross the Regent.

Sideswipe should have known. At least he would be relieved to know that Sunstreaker was far, far away by now. He should have gone to their bolthole, grabbed the supplies and ran, if he knew what was good for him.

Because Sideswipe had the discomfiting feeling that he might not make it out of this alive.

~

Sunstreaker ran.

He hated the roads, the clogged and cluttered pathways that made transforming impossible. He hated that he still felt weak, that his knees wobbled, but worry eclipsed all else. Worry kept him going, putting one foot in front of the other, ducking down alleyways and climbing over debris.

Dent was on his heels, surprisingly able to keep up, though his ventilations puffed and stuttered and he made as much noise as Sunstreaker did.

The main road back into Uraya came into view, but Sunstreaker skirted around it, coming up behind Color and Conversation instead. As he did, he caught a glimpse of what appeared to be the Regent and a handful of guards.

Sunstreaker skidded to a halt and ducked behind a pile of garbage, pulling Dent down beside him. His spark thudded in his chassis.

The Regent, a handful of assorted guards and – Sunstreaker leaned out long enough to look before ducking back – yeah. They had Sideswipe. Frag.

“Sunstreaker?”

He muttered another curse under his vents and pulled out his blaster, checking the charge. Half-power. Not enough.

“I don’t know why Starscream wants Sideswipe, but he can’t have him,” Sunstreaker said, pushing back to his feet.

He kept to the shadows, to the cover offered by buildings and piles of refuse as he tried to plan his attack. Not that there was much he could plan. He was outnumbered and outgunned. All he had was the element of surprise.

“The Regent is dangerous,” Dent said as he followed along, keeping himself hidden far better than Sunstreaker did.

“Not as much as I can be.” Sunstreaker ducked into an alley, trying to ignore the tremors in his spark.

Why did Starscream linger? What was he waiting for?

No. That answer was obvious. This was a trap, and Sunstreaker was going to walk right into it. What other choice did he have?

“Stay here,” Sunstreaker said. His spark pounded in his chest. “I can’t do this and worry about you, too. Okay?”

Dent’s optic brightened at him. “You will need assistance.”

“I can do this on my own.” Sunstreaker gripped his blaster and cycled a vent. “It won’t be the first time. Just… stay here.”

Dent lifted his head in a nod, his single optic dimming. “Very well.”

Sunstreaker worked his intake and then pushed to his feet. He felt he should say something else, but there was nothing to say.

He crept to the edge of the alley and peered out. No one had moved, though Starscream had taken to pacing. Sideswipe looked obstinate. Two of the guards looked bored, their hands resting casually near their blasters.

It was most definitely a trap.

But it wasn’t the worst odds Sunstreaker had ever faced. He’d already lost Prowl. He wasn’t going to lose Sideswipe, too.

Sunstreaker flexed his grip around his blaster. Starscream spun on a heel, his back to Sunstreaker’s position. His wings twitched. He looked to be in the middle of some speech.

Now or never.

Sunstreaker emerged from his hiding place. He let his blaster announce his appearance, firing at the two guards who looked bored. One shot struck true, straight through the chassis. The other guard dodged and Sunstreaker took out his knee, firing again when he collapsed to blow up his blaster.

Two down, two to go, and Starscream.

Sunstreaker pointed his blaster at the Seeker, keeping his focus on Starscream and the guards in his peripheral. “I have no qualms about killing you,” he said, his voice cold. “Let my brother go.”

Starscream grinned, folding his arms over his cockpit. “Thank you for saving me the trouble of finding you,” he purred.

“Let him go!” Sunstreaker snarled, the blaster giving off a charging whine.

“No,” Starscream replied, in the same moment that Sideswipe threw himself forward.

“Behind you!” Sideswipe shouted as the two guards yanked him back.

Sunstreaker spun as a fist swung toward his face. No time to move, no time to avoid. It slammed into the side of his head, sending his processor into disarray. Strong fingers gripped his wrist, yanking him forward, off-balance. He dropped the gun, fingers lacking input, and Sunstreaker swung blindly.

He connected, heard the dull impact of metal on metal, and a low curse. Ricochet. He knew that voice.

Stars danced in his optical feed as another open-palmed smack struck the opposite side of his head. Static overlaced it all, audials ringing. Sunstreaker stumbled. Everything was a rush, a blur, until sensation snapped into sharp relief with the inhibitor cuffs that were slapped around his wrists.

Sunstreaker’s knees buckled and he slumped forward, knees hitting the ground. His arms were cuffed behind his back, numb from the elbows down. His tanks lurched as the disorientating pulse of the inhibitor cuff swept through his frame. How did Ricochet get hold of those?

“Now,” Starscream said, his voice as if from a distance. “Perhaps we can discuss this like civilized mecha. Ricochet, bring him here.”

“Yes, sir.” Ricochet hauled Sunstreaker back to his feet and dragged him across the ground, only to shove him down next to his brother.

Sunstreaker’s processor whirled. Lights danced in his optics. It was hard to focus on anything except the lurching of his tanks. This morning’s energon wanted to re-emerge.

Sharp pain echoed through his head, where Ricochet had struck him the first time. Sunstreaker groaned, his fuzzy vision clarifying into Starscream leaning over him.

“Pay attention,” the Regent said. “I asked you a question.”

Sunstreaker forced himself to focus, to look up at Starscream, building belligerence into his expression. “I’m not answering any questions,” he slurred.

The Regent held out a hand, one of their guards slipping a blaster into it. He flicked a thumb over the charging node. “I may be able to change your mind,” he said, and aimed the blaster toward Sideswipe. “Now where is he?’

Sunstreaker’s spark skipped an oscillation. His optics widened. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course you don’t.” Starscream rolled his optics. “Don’t play games with me, brat. Where is your pet, the Empura, the mech you’re protecting.”

“What? I’m not protecting anyone except my brother!” Sunstreaker said and wriggled beneath the grip of on his shoulder.

Starscream cycled a ventilation, his lips pressing to a thin line. “Then suppose you tell me how you found out,” he said, an odd shift of gears as he made a broad gesture with his blaster. “Did you realize it on your own, or is there actually something left of Prowl in there?”

Sunstreaker’s vents caught. He worked his intake, rebooting his audials. “Prowl? Prowl’s gone,” he spat, forcing anger into his vocals to hide the fear. “He left months ago.”

“I am not an idiot, Sunstreaker.” Starscream leaned closer, looming without trying, the tip of the blaster forcing Sunstreaker’s chin up so that their optics could meet. “You’d taken it into your home. You sheltered it, fed it, polished it. You’ve known it was Prowl all along, didn’t you?”

Sunstreaker’s optics widened. His world ground to a halt. He rebooted everything, his gaze sliding to Sideswipe before a tap of the blaster barrel redirected it back to Starscream.

“He’s… he’s Prowl?” Sunstreaker repeated, barely above a whisper, too small for his comfort. He swayed, processor spinning. “Oh, Primus. That makes so much sense now. But I don’t understand. How…”

“You didn’t know.” Starscream sounded disappointed. He spat a barrage of static at Sunstreaker and straightened. “Of course you didn’t. That would have been too easy for me.” He muttered something else, but it sounded like static to Sunstreaker’s audials.

Sunstreaker shook his head slowly, the realization crawling over him in a hot, burning wave.

Prowl. His Prowl. And Dent. Beaten. Battered. His sensory flats gone, the nubs on Dent’s back. Scorched off. Torn off. Did it matter which?

His face, oh his beautiful face. His hands. The same hands that had been gentle, that had coaxed Sunstreaker into overload, that had taught him to dance.

He’d thought. He’d thought Prowl had left him. He’d thought he’d been abandoned. But Prowl had been there all along, without even knowing it.

“You….” Sunstreaker’s engine raced as he dragged his gaze up, his entire frame going still, fury burning deep within his belly. “What did you do to him?”

Sideswipe made a distressed noise. “Sunny–”

“No!” he growled and shook his head, plating vibrating. “All this time, I thought… and then you… you mutilated him!”

Starscream stared at him, not an ounce of expression in his face. “Yes,” he said coldly. “Because his spark means nothing to me.” His wings twitched. “There’s only one spark I’m interested in saving, and it’s none of yours.”

Sunstreaker’s engine whined. He shook.

Prowl had been next to him the entire time, and he’d never known it, hadn’t recognized. How could he not know?

“I tire of these games,” Starscream said, sounding bored. “Is your little pity party over? Because there is still a question I have need of answering.”

Sunstreaker shook his head slowly, his processing capabilities still sluggish. “You think I would offer him up to you after this?” He dragged his gaze up, to Starscream, letting the fury blaze brightly in his optics. “You can rust in the Pit.”

“I thought you might say that.” The blaster returned, pointed at Sideswipe yet again, though close enough now that Sideswipe could probably feel the heat of the barrel.

“So let me make this abundantly clear,” Starscream continued as he hit the charging node again. “While I have use of you and your brother, I suspect the answers I need are within Prowl. You are expendable.” He tilted his head, crimson optics incisive. “Is one Iacon brat worth the life of your brother?”

Sunstreaker’s ventilations wheezed. His armor clattered. The taste of betrayal, he knew, would be bitter on his glossa.

“Decide quickly.” Starscream’s tone was cold, empty. “My hand grows weak.”

“I–” Sunstreaker faltered. It wasn’t that he couldn’t decide. In the space of a sparkbeat, he knew he would choose Sideswipe. He would always choose his brother.

It was in the idea of losing Prowl again that he faltered.

“Starscream.” Ricochet stepped into view, one hand landing on Starscream’s wrist and gently pushing it and the barrel of the gun away from Sideswipe’s head. “Look.” He tilted his head.

Sunstreaker followed the gesture as Starscream whipped around, the outrage in his field echoed by the loud snap of his wings. There, stepping out of the alley, each step measured and careful, was Dent. Or Prowl.

Sunstreaker’s spark sank.

“Well, now,” Starscream purred as he turned fully toward the oncoming Empura. “Isn’t this interesting? And here I thought you didn’t remember anything.”

“What are you doing, idiot?” Sunstreaker shouted, trying to move forward, but only effecting a dull shuffle on his knees. “Get out of here! Run!”

Dent’s single optic focused on him. “No.”

“Goddamn fool of an Empura,” Sideswipe snarled beside Sunstreaker, and then there was a blur of motion.

Sideswipe threw himself to the side, aiming at the guard to his right, tackling the mech to the ground. He slammed his shoulder into the guard’s chestplate, though it was Sideswipe’s plating that gave way. He howled, scrambling to get the upper hand, but the other guard was on him in an instant.

A blow to the head left Sideswipe reeling long enough for the guard to drag him back over and plop him into place beside Sunstreaker. His head hung and dents showed up in stark relief against the red of his armor. His bottom lip pulsed energon.

“Why would you do that?” Sunstreaker asked.

Sideswipe’s lips curved. “Because.”

Above them, Starscream huffed a ventilation. “That was pointless,” he said, wings flicking. “Ricochet, retrieve Dent.”

It was over. Not that it ever had a chance to begin. Starscream was right: pointless. Then again, much of Sunstreaker’s functioning had been a pointless rage against the machine. He’d fought for so many things he didn’t deserve, and all of this right here, right now, was proof of it.

“Ya know what, sir?” Ricochet pulled one of his blasters out of a thigh panel. “How about no?”

The blaster whipped up and Ricochet squeezed the trigger, faster than any of them could register. The guards to either side of Sunstreaker and Sideswipe crumpled, smoking holes in their chassis. The distinct scorched scent of expended spark rose thickly in the air.

Sunstreaker stared, sucking in a sharp ventilation. What in the name of Primus…?

“What do you think you are doing!” Starscream shrieked, whirling toward his bodyguard.

“What I should have done ages ago,” Ricochet growled as he advanced on Starscream, blaster leveled and steady. “Starscream, you are under arrest by order of the Enforcement Guild of Iacon.”

Arrest? Like Starscream was going to go quietly.

Starscream stared at him, frame taut, his wings hiked up. “No,” he said with a slow shake of his head. “No, I refuse,” he growled.

“It wasn’t a yes or no question,” Ricochet hissed as he stepped again to the side, firmly planting himself between Dent and Starscream. “For what ya’ve done to my brother, I should kill ya. Yer lucky that idiot infected me with somethin’ like moral principles.”

Starscream was distracted. Sunstreaker’s processor spun. His hands were numb, his tank unsettled.

He looked at Sideswipe, who was gathering himself up, getting one foot beneath him. He met Sunstreaker’s gaze and nodded.

Enough waiting.

“Drop the blaster,” Ricochet said.

Starscream laughed. It was a high-pitched eerie sound. His wings twitched. His flight engines spat fire from his thrusters.

“All of my work,” he said, in between hiccups of his vents. “All of it to be undone in this moment.” He cackled, the eerie noise echoing in the air. “And it was all because of you.”

The last was a snarl as Starscream shoved himself into the air with a pop of his thrusters, his blaster aimed unerringly at Ricochet.

No. Not at Ricochet. Behind him.

At Dent. At Prowl.

No.

No.

Sunstreaker snarled and lunged to his feet. He ignored the heat of Starscream’s thrusters. He ignored the lurch of his tanks, the pain in his chassis. He threw himself at Starscream, reaching with hands he hadn’t realized were released from their bonds until his fingers wrapped around Starscream’s ankles.

He pulled.

Starscream yelped.

One thruster spat fire at Sunstreaker’s face. The other sputtered. The Seeker tilted, dropping in the air.

It was enough for Sunstreaker to get a hold of his knee, his hip, to pull and pull until Starscream growled and twisted toward him.

“You are grit in my articulators,” he snarled as Sunstreaker stared into the barrel of a blaster.

Spark pumping, he threw himself back, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the agony that exploded in his chassis. Heat lanced through his entire frame, errors streaking across his HUD.

He stumbled backward, legs feeling as strong as putty. Something ground in his chassis, wet and grating. His spark pulsed, erratic.

Starscream shouted. He dimly saw Sideswipe take him down, saw Sideswipe snarl as he pummeled fist after fist on the Seeker. He saw them struggling, saw the blaster waving about, saw Starscream’s claws rake across Sideswipe’s upper chestplate, dangerously close to Sideswipe’s main intake line.

Sunstreaker didn’t see red. He saw a kaleidoscope of colors that sparkled in his optics and tripped through his spark. He roared, a wordless sound, and threw himself into the fray. His ventilations staggered as he grappled with Starscream, trying to get the blaster away before it could do harm to any of the mechs Sunstreaker loved.

Starscream snarled beneath him, spitting obscenity and insults. It sounded like static, a buzz in Sunstreaker’s audials. His fingers shook. He felt weak, his distant sensory lines tingling. The warnings shrieked at him, louder, and louder.

Someone screamed his name.

Sunstreaker had a grip on the blaster. He wrenched it away, turned it around in his fingers. He had a knee on Starscream’s abdomen; he had a gun in his hand. He had it pointed the right direction.

Starscream went still beneath him. His fans spun. One wing was crumpled. One optic shattered. Energon bubbled around his sharpened denta. His glare was a challenge.

“Do it,” he rasped, his field pummeling Sunstreaker with too much emotion, more than he could hope to identify. “If I can’t save him, I’d rather die here.”

Sunstreaker’s ventilations heaved. His fingers shook. “It was you,” Sunstreaker said as his processor spun and wind rushed in his audials. “All this time.”

He dimly heard someone call his name. The blaster wavered.

He thought he’d been abandoned. He’d thought he’d been left behind. But no. Instead, his Prowl had been tortured, had been maimed, all because of Starscream. Who knew what else the Seeker had done?

“It was you,” Sunstreaker whispered.

“Sunny!”

Starscream’s energon-stained lips curved. He twitched beneath Sunstreaker, maybe intentional, maybe not given the way electricity crackled beneath his plating.

He would have killed Sideswipe. He would have killed them all.

They were in Uraya. No one cared about the Empties in the Waste. No one would care about this one either.

Sunstreaker shuttered his optics and squeezed the trigger. He heard the rapport of the blaster through the static in his audials. He squeezed until the charge ran dry, until the scent of scorched energon and metal became too much to bear.

He shoved himself away from Starscream, stumbling backward, dropping the blaster in his haste. He unshuttered his optics as pain returned to his awareness. As he realized the damp on his frame was not Starscream’s energon alone.

What… had he done?

Sunstreaker looked down, saw the energon spilling out of his abdomen. He touched the raw, ragged edges of the wound. He thought that it should hurt. No. It did hurt. His spark squeezed into a tight ball, smaller and smaller.

“Sunstreaker!”

His knees hit the ground. He shuddered and tasted energon at the back of his throat, half-processed, gritty and sour. He tilted forward, catching himself on one elbow, the purge spilling out of his intake into a gross splatter beneath him. It contrasted mightily with the bright energon dripping out of his chassis.

A spark for a spark, he thought grimly. How poetic.

Energy fields assaulted him, comfortingly familiar. He felt hands on him, but his visual feed was a blur, a blur that clarified into a single bright optic.

Dent. No. Not Dent. Prowl. His Prowl.

“Prowl,” Sunstreaker whispered, reaching up to touch the side of Dent’s optic with energon-stained fingers. He managed a smile.

Prowl hadn’t left him after all.

And then the world went dark.