“Could you bring me out another box of the tumblers and a small carton of the swirl straws?” Mirage called out to the back as he surveyed his supplies for the evening’s celebration with a critical optic.
He didn’t want to run out of anything because celebrating drunks could quickly turn into angry drunks if they didn’t get what they wanted. Mirage wasn’t above throwing anyone out of his bar – after all, they weren’t a cred-based economy at the moment, so Visages was a matter of fun for him, not necessity. But he still didn’t want the irritation.
Mirage flicked a glance at the chronometer above the bar, cheerfully letting him know that he had fifteen minutes before he’d officially open. Already, night was taking over, stars dotting the dark sky, and streetlamps brightening one by one. Mechs of all shapes, sizes, and affiliations – some no longer even visibly wearing a badge – clogged the streets.
It was going to be a busy night. It was going to be loud, noisy, and above all else, cheerful. After all, weren’t celebrations supposed to be?
Two boxes thumped to the counter in front of him, where space was left open for mixing drinks in front of the flavoring display.
“Anything else I can get for ya, boss?” Cliffjumper asked as he dusted off his hands and planted them on his hips.
Mirage’s lips quirked into a grin. “It will never cease to amuse me that you call me that unironically.”
“What? Boss? That’s what you are. At least in this place.” Cliffjumper made a vague gesture to the entirety of the bar. “Besides, I call lots of people ‘boss’ these days.”
“Speaking of, how is it working with Glyph? Going well?” Mirage peeled the lids off his supplies, examining them with a critical optic before he started pulling them out to put the extra stock behind the bar.
Cliffjumper shrugged and leaned against the counter. He knew better than to offer to help. “He’s not all bad, for a NAIL.”
Mirage gave him a stern look.
Cliffjumper rolled his optics. “Sorry. Neutral.” He spoke the term with evident distaste, nasal ridge wrinkling. “He’s not bossy like some people, and he lets me work at my own pace. Better than calling some fragging ‘Con boss at least.”
More swirly straws filled the cups lined up behind the bar. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay here tonight?” Mirage asked, giving Cliffjumper a sidelong stare.
Recovery had been a long, grueling process for the minibot. Five years since the treaty had been signed, and Cliffjumper had only been released on parole within the last six months, now that the urge to attack anyone wearing a Decepticon badge had been quelled. He was still angry, still bitter, but he had learned the value of restraint.
Mirage didn’t want to compromise Cliffjumper’s growth. Visages was a bar open to all factions, regardless of badge. There were, of course, a few mechs who had been banned from the establishment, not that anyone would know but Mirage and said mechs. He had subtly informed them that they were not welcome anywhere near him.
Or Cliffjumper, who under the terms of his release, had Mirage for a sponsor. A task which Mirage had volunteered for.
Cliffjumper’s day job involved working with Glyph, further and further from the little metropolis of Polyhex, Nova Cronum, and Iacon. They ventured into databases, crypts, barely standing structures – all to find the lost arts, the lost datanovels, the lost histories. Anything that could be preserved of the Cybertron-That-Was.
It was a good job for Cliffjumper. One that kept him well away from potential Decepticon sightings, but enabled him to feel useful without being used. Plus, it would probably surprise many an Autobot to learn that Cliffjumper – brash, bold, and vulgar as he was – loved history and loved to read.
Cliffjumper nibbled on his bottom lip, his gaze drifting away, to the closed sign on the main door. “Honestly, Mir. I’m not sure. I wanna be, because I hate feeling like this, but I dunno. It might be too much.” He shifted his weight, from one foot to the other. “If one of them came walking in here–”
“They won’t,” Mirage interrupted gently. He closed the space between them, carefully laying a hand on Cliffjumper’s shoulder. “Take my word for it. Not a single one of the monsters we loathe will ever step foot in our safe harbor. I swear it.”
Cliffjumper sighed, but his field relented to the warm push of Mirage’s, accepting the comfort for what it is – a resonance of shared pain. “I believe you. But maybe I should stay in the back for a while. Just in case.”
Mirage squeezed his shoulder. “Whatever you think is best, I’ll support you. And you don’t even have to stay if you don’t want to. I know you worked all day.”
“And miss the party? I get some kind of celebration, too, don’t I?” Cliffjumper grinned, and if it was a pale copy of the old brash smirk he used to have, Mirage didn’t comment.
It was still miles above the Cliffjumper who had barely survived Decepticon captivity.
“Besides, Smokescreen’s gonna be here, and you know he’ll pout if I don’t join him for at least one game.” Cliffjumper straightened, his shoulders growing firm, and his field equally so, billowing with strength.
Mirage’s spark swelled with pride. They had both of them come so far. “All right then. If you insist.”
His wall clock chimed a warning sound. Five more minutes to open, and per the usual, his bartender was running late. Mirage would have to fill in until Pipes – who was probably off cavorting with Riptide again – arrived. It would help that friendly competition in the form of Swerve’s – a more raucous and cheap bar across the way – would keep Mirage’s Visages from getting overcrowded.
Mirage stirred into action. “Flip the last of the chairs for me, will you? I’m going to turn on the lights and music.”
Cliffjumper sketched a salute at him. “Sir, yes, sir.”
Mirage chuckled and watched him vault over the bar as though it wasn’t as high as his chin. True minibot mentality that one, no obstacle too large to stand in his way. As indomitable no matter the odds.
What would you think to see us, my love? Mirage wondered as he slipped to the main electrical panel in the back, flipping switches one by one to active the interior and exterior lights.
Would you be proud? Would you be happy? Would you have loved this mess of a world we have left? Would you ever believe me to find a friend and kindred spirit in Cliffjumper?
The world is a strange, strange place.
Mirage flicked on the music and a cheerful, wordless song poured through the speakers. A classic, actually, from Cybertron-That-Was, and a gift from Cliffjumper. One of the first of his finds, an entire datadisc of ancient songs.
I think you would have liked it here, Tracks.
Mirage cycled a deep ventilation, steeling himself for another night, another day in the life of New Cybertron, spinning toward a brighter future. The loss of his beloved was an ache he’d never forget, never lose. But it was getting easier to bear.
“Mirage, it’s time!”
Mirage stepped out of the electrical room and locked the door behind him. Tonight was going to be a good night, he decided. A night worthy of celebration.
He intended to enjoy every minute of it.
Perceptor took one look at the final preparations for the massive colorful display they planned on offering tonight, and lunged across the platform, diving between Wheeljack and Brainstorm in a spectacular display of speed no one could have ever expected of him.
“No! Are you insane?” he demanded as he spun on a heelstrut and planted himself in front of the console, arms splayed wide, defending it with his very spark. “You’ll overload the whole system!”
Brainstorm sniffed and crossed his arms, wings twitching. “What’re you even talking about? The console we’ve built here is more than enough to handle the charge.”
“Yes, for calculations we’ve confirmed thrice over, in a planned display that we’ve tested on countless computer simulations,” Perceptor snapped and flung a quivering hand in Wheeljack’s direction, at whatever newfangled contraption the engineer had appeared with. “That is a disaster in the making!”
Indicators flashed in merry bands of color. “Aw, Percy, don’t you trust me?” Wheeljack asked as he bounced on his heelstruts, craning his frame to look around Perceptor at the waiting console.
“I’ll have you know that my calculations are never wrong, and I’m absolutely sure the addition of this device will not end in disaster,” Brainstorm said with a huff.
“I trust you, Wheeljack.” Perceptor, for the moment, ignored Brainstorm. “I trust that you know what you’re doing, and I trust that since we’re dealing with displays of an explosive nature, your philosophy has always been, the bigger the better.”
Wheeljack laughed. “Well, you aren’t wrong.”
Brainstorm leaned in front of Perceptor, waving a hand wildly in front of his face. “Hey, you’re ignoring me again. That’s still rude.”
“I’ll pay you attention when you have something relevant to say,” Perceptor replied with a roll of his optics.
“This is relevant!” Brainstorm insisted. “We wanted something amazing for the finale, right? Something that would oo and ah everyone?” He flapped a hand toward the box in Wheeljack’s arms. “Well, that’s it right there!”
“We have a finale,” Perceptor retorted through clenched denta. “One we know is safe.”
Wheeljack loudly coughed. “You know, Percy, we could always run the numbers again. It won’t take that long.”
“Come on. We’re all smart mechs.” Wheeljack rolled his shoulders and the brightness of his optics was a peace-making grin. “We don’t need a dozen trials to know if something is going to work or not. I trust all three of us.”
Perceptor sighed and scrubbed at his forehead. He’d lost this battle before it even begun. “Fine,” he said. “Give me your data, and I’ll see what I find.”
Brainstorm shoved a datastick at him. “You’ll find that my calculations are accurate, and you’re making a big deal out of nothing,” he said as he wiggled the datastick. “You’re not the only genius in here, you know.”
“Just the most reasonable one,” Perceptor snapped.
Brainstorm rolled his optics and snatched the box from Wheeljack. “Then while you go confirm that I’m right, I’m going to go ahead and get this set up.”
“You do that.”
Perceptor glared at Brainstorm’s back, more annoyed by the younger scientist’s attitude than irritated in general. There was something about Brainstorm that turned him into an argumentative child, and he wasn’t sure why.
Huffing, Perceptor turned to the main console and plugged in Brainstorm’s datastick. He uploaded the contents to the algorithm he’d been using to determine the level of danger to be expected with their current explosive set-up.
Somewhere, in the background, Brainstorm sat down with much more noise than was necessary and started to unpack the box he and Wheeljack had brought. The amount of clunks and clatters coming from his direction were absurd and made Perceptor’s hackles rise even further.
“You know, he’s only annoying you because he’s trying to impress you,” Wheeljack leaned in and murmured, his field ripe with amusement.
Perceptor’s fingers flew across the keys, his optics locked on the screen and the cascading calculations. “Yes, I’m aware.”
“So. You gonna cut the kid a break or let him down gently?”
Perceptor tapped pause and slanted a look in Brainstorm’s direction as he considered Wheeljack’s honest query. He and Wheeljack had rarely agreed on many things, but he still considered Wheeljack a brilliant mech and a dear friend. Wheeljack often had a social insight which Perceptor lacked.
“He is brilliant,” Perceptor murmured as Brainstorm excitedly talked to himself and wielded screwdriver as though it were an extension of his frame. “Clever. Well-learned.”
Wheeljack chuckled and knocked his shoulder against Perceptor’s. “Not too harsh on the optics either, eh? Gotta love a mech with a spoiler. As sensitive as Seeker wings they are.” He wriggled his own for emphasis, and waggled his optical ridges.
Perceptor snorted a laugh. “You’re ridiculous,” he said. “But not incorrect. He is aesthetically appealing as well. Any other situation, I probably would have pursued his romantic interest in me.”
“But not now?”
“I don’t think it wise.” Perceptor worked his intake and returned his attention to his calculations, unpausing the system to continue its work. “I worry his reverence for my scientific acumen blinds him to my faults. I fear the inevitable dissolution of a romantic entanglement as soon as he realizes that the old adage is true: one should never meet their heroes.”
Wheeljack squinted at him. “Perce, are you telling me that you’re not gonna give the kid a chance because you don’t think he likes who you really are?”
“Is that so improbable?” Perceptor asked.
Wheeljack stared at him and then smacked his palm against his forehead. “My friend, you are really smart, but also, really dumb.” He half-spun and gestured in Brainstorm’s seemingly oblivious direction. “That kid’s been working beside you for three years, which let me tell you something, is no picnic. I love ya, Perce, but you can be a trial and a half and he doesn’t even have half the history we do. But he’s still here.”
Wheeljack turned back toward Perceptor and poked him in the chestplate, right in the middle of his window. “Nobody sticks around for that long just because they admire you. Trust me. He’s still here because he likes you. All of you.”
Perceptor’s face heated. His fingers paused on the keys as he stared without seeing the calculations scroll by. Wheeljack was probably right. He was always accurate about these things. He understood people far better than Perceptor did.
Perceptor was good at numbers. Theories. Scientific advancements. He understood how machines worked, how the universe fit together. He could make sense of the impossible. He could fathom the unknown.
He did not know how to translate people. He only knew how to be himself, cold and awkward and completely wrapped up in the science.
Somehow, Brainstorm was attracted to him? To that sort of personality? It was more than Perceptor could fathom.
“And yes,” Wheeljack added in a quieter tone. “I’m sure.”
Perceptor worked his intake and tried to focus on his calculations, but his gaze drifted toward Brainstorm, who was peering intently at a panel he was welding.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Perceptor replied, just as quiet. He gave Wheeljack a soft smile. “But for later, yes? Best not to distract anyone with this much explosive material around us.”
Wheeljack chuckled. “You’re right about that.” He patted Perceptor on the shoulder. “Ratch would kill all of us if we lost any limbs or so much as scorched our paint.” He turned away from Perceptor, indicators flashing merrily. “Yo, Stormy. Everything good over there?”
Brainstorm tossed a thumbs up their direction as weldfire sparked at the panel. “We’ll be ready on time.”
“Great!” Wheeljack grinned and did a little dance of celebration. “Then we can get this party started.”
Perceptor chuckled and glanced at the screen, pleased to find the calculations had finished – and proven Brainstorm’s theory correct. It was going to be a beautiful show, a celebration truly worth what Cybertron had become.
His gaze slid to the side, where Brainstorm had finished his welding and was patting the panel with a satisfied air about him. His little winglets flicked up and down, a rather adorable little quirk in Perceptor’s opinion.
Yes, tonight was going to be something to remember.
In more ways than one.
Chaos and Noise.
They’d come up with the name together, and it was a perfect fit. This wasn’t a quiet place for weary mechs to come and rest and relax. No. Chaos and Noise was for play and games and social interaction, for laughter and loudness and remembering what it was to have fun.
It wasn’t a club, nothing so fancy. The only music to be found were the various theme songs pouring from the different game consoles spread around the open-floor interior. Arcade machines constantly beeped and dinged and burbled cheerful success. They served basic energon and snacks, but no intoxicants.
It was an arcade. In all honesty.
Frenzy chuckled to himself as he leaned over the ledger and scribbled down another note. He liked to pretend that his and Eject’s business was something grand and important, but really, it was an arcade. It was a collection of different types of game systems, some modeled after those on Earth, some recreated from Cybertron-That-Was, others scaled up versions of Earth consoles, but all of them with a plethora of games that could be enjoyed by the Cybertronian masses.
Pinball was both a classic and a favorite.
Frenzy saved his calculations and powered down the datapad, leaning back in his chair to stretch his arms above his head. He groaned as cables twanged and joints popped. They were open already, but unsurprisingly, no one had come yet. Most mechs were waiting for the party to get started before venturing out of their homes.
Honestly, Frenzy would be surprised if they were any kind of busy tonight. Well, maybe with competitions. Happy mechs tended to get a little competitive. DDR was always popular when it came to wanting to beat the tar out of your enemy, but without blaster or missile.
He glanced at his messy desk, visor spotting a note he’d tacked up there after closing yesterday. A reminder.
Frenzy groaned and leveraged himself out of the chair. “Yo, Eject!” He stuck his head out the doorway.
A voice hollered back at him from the front room where Eject was propped up behind the front counter, ostensibly working. “What?”
“The Atari’s busted again. See if Graham or Doc Green have the time to look at it.”
“Call ‘em yourself!”
“They like you better!”
Frenzy didn’t hear Eject’s response, but was sure it contained nothing polite. Chuckling to himself, Frenzy ducked back into the tiny room they deemed an office and glared at the piles of paperwork sitting discarded on his desk.
Frenzy did not like paperwork. Or datawork. Or arithmetic. Or… this administrative slag. They really needed to think about bringing in a third partner, someone to handle the business side of things while he and Eject had all the fun. Someone who liked datapads and numbers and hassling with Swindle for their supplies.
Frenzy dug out the bottom-most datapad, battered and beaten all to the Pit, but still perfectly functional and the life’s blood of Chaos and Noise. It was their ledger, listing every console, game and prize available in the arcade.
And yes, there were prizes. Just like some of those places on Earth where people could play games of chance and earn tickets to spend at the prize shop. Currency wasn’t much of a thing on New Cybertron, but prize tickets hardly counted as currency, did they?
Frenzy flicked on the power and swiped the screen to the prize list, which was updated by the hour as tickets were earned and redeemed. They were running low on a few quick and easy prizes, as well as one of the larger, surprisingly popular ones. A talk with Swindle would have to be in order.
Frenzy hated dealing with Swindle. He always walked away feeling like he’d been cheated, though he’d squinted at the terms of their agreements with a practiced optic.
Maybe he could convince Eject to take one for the team.
Frenzy flicked the switch to off and tucked the datapad into his subspace. He fled the office, cutting off the lights behind him, and joined Eject behind the front desk instead.
Sure enough, the cassette was sprawled out in a chair, feet propped up on the counter, the long length of a controller cord drawn taut between his hands and the Sega Dreamcast arranged on a rolling cart. The console was connected to a moderately sized flat-screen monitor and was one of many mobile systems they had. The Dreamcast was Eject’s favorite, while Frenzy was more partial to the 64.
“You know, you could at least pretend to be working,” Frenzy said with a snort. He hooked the other rolling chair and plopped his aft down into it.
“You’re not the boss of me,” Eject retorted without looking away from the screen, his fingers flicking fast over the controller.
Frenzy rolled his optics behind his visor. “Right. ‘Cause we’re partners.” He pulled out the datapad and tapped it against Eject’s shoulder. “And here’s your share of the work, partner.”
Frenzy gently whapped him on the head with the datapad. “Pause it, dorkus. This is important.”
Eject uttered an exaggerated sigh and paused the game, plucking the datapad from Frenzy’s fingers. “You always give me the scut work.”
Frenzy shouldered him aside and snagged the controller from his limp grip, taking over before Eject could say a word. “Well, maybe if you acted like you were doing work more, I wouldn’t hafta.”
He unpaused the game – Marvel vs. Capcom, so predictable Eject – and continued punching the slag out of Spiderman. The graphics were terrible, the music was tinny, and he’d seen better final blows from a Gameboy, but still. Better a little fun than no fun at all.
“What? Negotiate with Swindle? No way. It’s your turn.” The datapad smacked Frenzy in the chest as Eject tried to wrestle the controller away from him.
Frenzy wrenched his frame to the right, putting his back and shoulders between Eject as he tried to maintain control. “Too late. Datapad’s yours.” He snickered as he thumbed through the player selection and tried to pick a cool one.
Eject threw himself at Frenzy, nearly toppling them both to the floor. Frenzy shouted, the controller flying from his hands, as he fought back. He couldn’t stop laughing as the datapad squirted out of the scuffle, clattering to the floor. Good thing it was durable.
“You’re not the boss of me!”
“You said that already!”
Frenzy froze; Eject did, too. Their limbs were thoroughly entangled. The television continued to blare the opening credits of the game.
They had a customer standing in front of the counter. Though honestly, Blaster hardly qualified as a customer. No doubt he was just here to check on one of his “kids.” Pfft. Eject wasn’t the one he should worry about. He should be stalking Rewind and that once-Neutral mindwarper he was dating.
“Hi, boss!” Eject chirped and squirmed his way free of Frenzy’s super-effective grappling technique. “What’s up?”
Blaster grinned at them, an orbital ridge raised. “I came by to see if you wanted to watch the fireworks with me, but it looks like the show is here.”
Eject rolled his optics. Frenzy righted himself and snagged the datapad off the floor, making a show of dusting it off.
“I’m working,” Eject said with an indignant tone.
Frenzy snickered behind his hand. “Yeah,” he agreed with a smirk. “We’re working. Can’t ya see how busy we are.” He gestured to the empty playroom.
“Ah, yes. Silly me.” Blaster rummaged about in his subspace and pulled out a box, setting it gently on the counter. “Well, here’re a few snacks for the hard-working cassettes so that they can still enjoy their evening.”
“Snacks?” Eject’s optics got big and round. He pounced on the box, ripping it open with little sounds of glee. “Gummies! Jellies! Rust sticks!? Boss, you really do love me!” He shoved a candied oilcake into his mouth.
No manners that one. Frenzy eyed the box with ravenous intent. As soon as Blaster left, he was going to be all over that thing. There was an energon donut calling his name, iron sprinkles and all.
Blaster chuckled. “Yes, brat, I do. But make sure you share.”
Eject snorted, his mouth coated with powdered sweetening, his cheeks puffed out. His field was all the answer Frenzy needed. They were going to have to fight over that yummy looking nuts and bolts cookie.
Blaster shook his head and turned away, waving goodbye at them. “Alright, I’ll leave you two to your work. Try and stay out of trouble, and yes, I mean you, Eject. Frenzy has been perfectly behaved… for a cassette belonging to that nuisance.”
That nuisance being, of course, Soundwave.
Their rivalry had become a tad more friendly over the years, but Frenzy would never call the two of them friends. There was a lot of history there. It would take more than half a decade for them to get over it. Blaster could seriously hold a grudge.
“Yeah, thanks for the love,” Frenzy shouted at Blaster’s back.
The moment the other dock was out of sight, Frenzy dove at the box of treats in Eject’s clutches. “He said for you to share!”
Crumbs flecked in all directions as Eject tried to refuse around a mouthful of rust cakes. And was that a mercury glaze? No fair! Eject even stuck out his glossa, losing more crumbs in the process, as he tried to run away with the box of yummies.
Frenzy gave chase.
If any customers came in, well, they’d get over it. The arcade was called Chaos and Noise after all. What else could they expect?
“If you get any more polished, you’ll blend right into the scenery.”
The soft chuckle from behind Sunstreaker was the first indication he wasn’t alone. He should have seen movement in the mirror, but Drift was as sneaky as any one of Jazz’s special ops mechs. How someone with nearly all-white armor could walk around and not be noticed, Sunstreaker would never know.
Sunstreaker snorted and glared harder at the mirror, examining his finish with the sort of intensity he reserved for lining a difficult commission. “Maybe that’s the point.”
In the mirror, he spied white arms encircling his frame from behind before he felt the heat of them, and their owner, pressing against his back. Drift’s engine revved gently, vibrating against Sunstreaker’s armor. His face appeared, chin hooked over Sunstreaker’s shoulder, a gentle smile curving his lips and baring his pointed denta.
“But how is anyone going to compliment you if they can’t see you?” Drift murmured into Sunstreaker’s audial. His palms flattened over Sunstreaker’s ventral, black against black.
Sunstreaker cycled a vent, alarmed to find it shuddery, and rested his hands over Drift’s. “I doubt anyone will want to.”
Drift nipped his audial. “You know better than that,” he chastised, though his gentle tone meant it barely qualified as one.
“I know reality,” Sunstreaker retorted and dropped his gaze from the mirror. He turned away from it, easing out of the comfort of Drift’s embrace. It wasn’t rejection.
Drift’s voice followed him anyway. “You’re just nervous.”
Sunstreaker made a noncommittal noise. He pulled a polishing cloth out of his subspace and focused on an invisible mark on his arm. His back was cold without Drift’s warmth, but it was hard to accept that right now. The anxiety was turning his spark inside out, reminding him all too much of that time spent in Shockwave’s custody.
“Okay!” The door to the dressing room slammed open and Sideswipe came strutting inside, a big grin planted on his lips. “We are ready for opening night. In less than ten minutes, we’re going to razzle dazzle everyone.” Sparkles all but glinted in his optics, his field a rolling burst of excitement, nearly enough to combat the tension in the air.
“Not if no one comes,” Sunstreaker muttered, which he thought was overshadowed by Drift’s excited, “Great!”
Unfortunately, Sideswipe heard him. “What?”
Drift rolled his optics. “He’s nervous.”
“It’s not nerves!” Sunstreaker snapped, his fingers clenched around the polishing cloth, which he only barely resisted from tossing at his idiot twin and their just as idiotic partner.
Sideswipe’s mouth twisted in contemplation. “Bro, we’ve been working on this for months,” he said, and he used that tone. That calm, collected tone Sunstreaker simultaneously hated and craved. “We’ve got a line of mechs out there waiting to see the fruits of our labor. We don’t even have to worry about whether or not we’re going to be a hit. It’s a done deal.”
Sunstreaker nibbled on his bottom lip. Every ventilation was a trembling one. He shook his head. “I changed my mind. This is a bad idea.” He tossed the polishing cloth into a bin and spread his hands. “We’re not opening.” He turned toward the door, fully ready to tell everyone not to bother.
Sideswipe intercepted him before he could take more than three steps. He cupped Sunstreaker’s face, hands gentle as he pulled them together, foreheads coming into soft contact.
“Sunny,” he murmured. “You can do this. We can do this. We’re not alone anymore.”
“No, you’re not,” Drift agreed from nearby, close enough to touch, but always waiting for permission, to be invited, especially in moments of weakness like this.
They were bonded, yes, at the spark even. But they weren’t yet mates. It was a very fine distinction. It was a bond they hadn’t made. They were working on it, little by little, month by month.
Drift understood all too well the kind of life Sunstreaker and Sideswipe had survived. He’d been there with them, before the war, and he’d suffered agony of his own.
He was their first choice, five years ago when Ratchet had told them their options. Former Decepticon or not, Drift was kin. He knew the circumstances which birthed them. He’d clawed his way out of the same gutters.
And this? This terrifying, uncertain, glorious event? It was something Sunstreaker had always dreamed of, even in the dark and the dank and the rot. During the war, he’d buried the longing down deep. He stopped thinking of it as a possibility. Frankly, he didn’t think he and Sideswipe would survive the war.
Now here they were, on the precipice, with everything Sunstreaker had ever wanted, and he was too afraid to seize it. He was too afraid of what failure would mean. Too afraid to even try.
Drift moved closer, reaching with his field first, and when they reached back, Drift once again embraced Sunstreaker from behind. Surrounded by his mates, their warmth and their support, the clatter in Sunstreaker’s armor softened.
This was too hard to do alone.
But he wasn’t. He never had been. He’d always had Sideswipe. And now they, together, had Drift. He felt emboldened by them, drawing strength from the bond.
“All right,” Sunstreaker said as he cycled a ventilation, still shaky, but not unbearable.
He had stood down combiners, super soldiers, and Megatron. He might not have always emerged unscathed, but he’d faced them with his head held high, and a fury in his spark. Surely he could face this, these mechs come to view the very spark of him.
“I guess we shouldn’t keep them waiting,” he said.
Sideswipe grinned and pressed a kiss to Sunstreaker’s forehead. “I’m proud of you.”
“As am I.” Drift squeezed Sunstreaker a little tighter, his lips brushing across the back of Sunstreaker’s shoulder. “Now, should we not get out there? Wouldn’t want to be late for opening night.”
“No, we wouldn’t,” Sunstreaker agreed. He pulsed affection and gratitude into his field.
“Now that it’s settled. Here. Put these on quick.” Sideswipe pulled something from his subspace and handed them to Sunstreaker and Drift.
They were small sacks. Sunstreaker frowned and drew open the drawstring, peering inside. It was some kind of fabric? He tugged out something long, flat, and black, and it took him several long seconds to realize what it was.
Sunstreaker rolled his optics. “I’m not wearing a bowtie, Sideswipe,” he said flatly.
“Why not?” his idiot of a twin brother asked. Already in the midst of tying his own white bow and adjusting it at the base of his intake, Sideswipe was all but glowing with glee. “I think it’ll make you look dashing.”
“I can’t wear a hat,” Drift said as he held up what could only be a tophat, sized for Cybertronians of course. And with his helm spurs, Drift couldn’t wear it even if he wanted to.
“Then just put on the bowtie,” Sideswipe said as he whipped out a tophat and planted it on his head, cocked at an angle to avoid the issue of his own sensory horns and give him a somewhat dashing air, if not ridiculous. “There. Perfect.”
Sunstreaker sighed. He swept his palm down his face. “No one’s going to take us seriously if we walk out there looking like this.”
“I don’t know. He may have a point about the tie,” Drift replied as he moved to admire himself in the mirror, the bright red bowtie quite fetching against the black of his intake. “It’s simultaneously nonsensical and charming.”
Sunstreaker groaned. If Drift was already falling for Sideswipe’s madness, then Sunstreaker had no choice. He would have to play along as well.
He was not, however, wearing the stupid tophat. Let Sideswipe be the only of them sporting the ugly accessory.
“Looking good, handsome,” Sideswipe purred as he draped himself along Drift’s side and nuzzled his cheek against Drift’s, careful not to disturb his tophat. “And thank you for locking up those swords tonight. We can’t be scaring the customers away.”
Drift nibbled on his bottom lip. “You’re welcome,” he said quietly and after a long moment.
That had been a point of long discussion between Sideswipe and Drift for the past month. Sunstreaker had stayed out of it. Privately, he agreed with Sideswipe. But he also understood Drift’s point.
It still felt anathema to Sunstreaker to walk around without being visibly armed. Of course, no one knew about the blades hidden beneath his forearm armor, or the blaster in his thigh compartment. But visible armament was often a warning and deterrent. He felt vulnerable without them, and knew Drift, who had spent far too long in the company of Decepticons, shared the same apprehension.
With a sigh, Sunstreaker tightened the bowtie around his neck. The weight was negligible and he barely felt the smooth touch of the fabric. He peeked into the mirror and had to admit, it didn’t look as bad as he thought it would.
Like the Pit he’d admit it though.
Suddenly, Sideswipe hooked an arm around his midsection and tugged him toward the mirror. He had Drift on his other arm, and he grinned at the sight the three of them made: shiny armor, bowties, and a lone, crooked tophat.
“We look fantastic,” Sideswipe declared.
Sunstreaker rolled his optics. He folded his arms over his chestplate, the perfect shine catching a glint of overhead lighting. Though Sideswipe had a point. They looked great.
“Alright, enough preening,” Sunstreaker said. “It’s time to open.”
Time for all of them to realize their dreams.
His mates smiled and Sideswipe tugged them in for a tighter embrace.
It was a brand new world, after all. They need only reach out and take it.
First Aid didn’t exactly leap out of his chair when he heard the chime for the main door go off, but he was close to it. Excitement made his spark skip an oscillation, and he might have flung himself at his office door, hurrying out to greet his visitor. Or well, he hoped it was a visitor and not a patient at any rate.
When Ambulon came around the corner, spotty paint and all, First Aid’s optics brightened in a smile. “Thanks for coming!” he said as he greeted Ambulon with a massive hug, something the self-contained medic had finally opened up to a couple years prior.
Ambulon’s field was amused and appreciative as he returned the embrace with a quick squeeze. “You don’t have to thank me for this kind of thing.”
“Well, I kind of do.” First Aid shrugged and released Ambulon. “I know I didn’t have to be on shift. We’re all supposed to be dismissed, but someone has to be ready for all the high grade related mayhem.”
Ambulon’s smile was soft and sincere. “To be honest, that kind of noisy revelry is not something which appeals to me. I wouldn’t have attended on my own. I would have stayed in Nova Cronum for the same reason.”
First Aid chuckled and turned, gesturing for Ambulon to follow him. “Then it’s a good thing you’re here. You’ll have a better view of the fireworks later, and my window overlooks the stage.”
“All of the entertainment without any of the crowds or ambient noise,” Ambulon murmured. “Yes, that is quite preferable to me.”
The Autobot medbay in Polyhex was located in a building that faced the neutral territory in the middle, where the three cities had started to merge together to form a sort of triumvirate. The memorial obelisk and the spacebridge also occupied this tri-state area and it was where the ever-growing celebratory festival set up every year. Though this year was truly the first time it could be called a festival.
First Aid had a wonderful view of the events, though he didn’t want to attend in person. It had only been five years. He still wasn’t ready to accidentally bump into a Decepticon, former or otherwise, and he’d rather serve his purpose as a medic. Besides, he was on the fast track to being Chief Medic, what with Ratchet gradually stepping back in his duties.
Ratchet, after all, had a youngling to raise.
“And what if I told you our night might involve inventory?” First Aid teased as he led Ambulon to the rather spacious and lush break room. They would still be within audible range of the front chime.
Ambulon twitched. “… even so,” he said.
First Aid chuckled and gestured Ambulon toward the most comfortable seat in the room, located at the best table with the best view of the tri-city area. “Well, we won’t be entirely without fun.”
“Oh?” Ambulon slid into the seat and braced his elbows on the table.
First Aid rummaged in the cabinet for the basket he’d stashed earlier in the week, when Ambulon confirmed that he’d once again be present for their yearly observation of the festivities. It had a delicious array of tasty treats and a few bottles of sweet engex far too weak to get them intoxicated, but pleasant enough to pass the time.
He emerged victorious with the basket and plonked it down in front of Ambulon, sweeping off the cover with a flourish.
“You came prepared,” Ambulon observed with one of his small, telltale grins. He plucked a small box of mercury meltaways from the stack. “And you remembered.”
“That those are your favorite? I sure did.” First Aid dropped into the seat opposite of Ambulon and started laying the spread across the table. “It’s the least I can do if I’m going to steal you away for the evening.”
Ambulon chuckled as he peeled back the wrapping around the meltaways. “Spending time with you is hardly a trial.” He sniffed the candy before he popped it into his mouth – an odd little tic he’d had as long as First Aid knew him.
First Aid grinned behind his mouthplate. “Good to know.” He glanced out the window, where bright lights were already making the night a smear of colors and hundreds of mechs had started to crowd the narrow streets.
Maybe one year, he’d actually go out and join them.
“How’s Nickel by the way?” First Aid asked to change the subject. The former medic for the DJD had been released on parole six months ago and assigned to Ambulon’s supervision in Nova Cronum per her request.
“She’s doing well. She’s made friends with Catscan.” Ambulon took a sip of the engex, his gaze falling to the window as well. “She still despises Autobots, but she has no love for the new Decepticon command either. Very little has changed in that regard.”
First Aid made a noncommittal noise. “It is difficult to blame her. She still hates Grimlock for Tarn’s death, despite knowing he would not have surrendered, and she grieves for Vos.”
“Even murdering psychopaths have someone who love them,” Ambulon murmured. He shook his head. “Our world has become a strange and unusual place.”
First Aid deactivated his mouthguard and snagged one of the rust sticks. “But a better one though. Right?”
Ambulon ate another of the meltaways and made a humming noise of approval in his intake. “Getting better by the day.”