[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 II

Clunk!

A tray of dirtied dishware dropped onto the counter above Sunstreaker’s head with enough noise to ensure that Sunstreaker paid the carrier attention.

“Ugh. He’s back again,” Sideswipe muttered, a sneer in his voice.

Sunstreaker bit back a sigh. He didn’t bother to look at his twin, who was no doubt griping about one of his many post-affair lovers. Instead, Sunstreaker focused his attention on arranging the treat display to maximum benefit.

“Who? Recoil?” Sunstreaker snorted a laugh. “That’s what you get for making promises you’re not gonna keep.” As Sideswipe was so fond of doing.

‘I’ll comm ya later!’ he always said, and then never did, mostly so they would get so angry with him, he didn’t have to worry about them contacting him later. Attachments were dangerous, he said. He didn’t want them. Just a bit of fun now and again. It wasn’t his fault mechs kept deciding they wanted more.

Aft.

“I didn’t promise Recoil anything,” Sideswipe retorted, his field screeching offense where it pawed at Sunstreaker’s, as if demanding he agree and offer comfort and attention. “But, no. Not him. That white mech. The Elite.”

Oh. Him.

Sunstreaker rose from his crouch and closed the cabinet doors with a little snick of magnetized metal colliding. He searched the dining tables, but didn’t have to look far. The Elite mech always picked the same table.

He’d been in here often enough, Sunstreaker recognized him. Most of their customers were regulars, true, but none of them stood out as much as this mech. He was pretty, Sunstreaker had to admit. Sturdy and polished, poised like others weren’t around here. He stood out as a result, which made him doubly easy to find.

Sunstreaker honestly didn’t know what Sideswipe’s objections to the mech were. Sure he wasn’t Sides’ type, but he was clean, and if he was Elite, he didn’t plan on sticking around. That meant he was available and not interested in getting clingy.

Completely Sideswipe’s type actually.

“If you don’t want to frag him, just say so,” Sunstreaker said with a roll of his optics. Honestly, his twin’s romantic and/or sexual entanglements were exasperating.

“I would, if it was me he had his sights on.”

Sunstreaker blinked. “What?”

Sideswipe sighed and dragged a hand down his face. “Are you seriously telling me that you haven’t noticed he can’t take his optics off you?”

Sunstreaker’s gaze wandered to the Elite mech, but he wasn’t paying Sideswipe or Sunstreaker any attention. One hand held a datapad, which seemed to captivate his interest, while the other blindly directed energon goodies to his mouth for a nibble.

“No, he doesn’t,” Sunstreaker said with a frown.

“Primus, you’re thick sometimes.” Sideswipe groaned and leaned closer, though he didn’t lower his voice at all. “Yes, he does. Want I should throw him out then?”

Sunstreaker reared back. “What for? He hasn’t done anything.”

“So?” Sideswipe shrugged, and looked a bit gleeful as he scratched at his chin. “It’s obvious he wants to. That’s reason enough for me.”

Sunstreaker rolled his optics yet again. Sometimes, Sideswipe’s overprotectiveness bordered on the absurd. And it was irritating.

“I think you’re just looking for a fight, Sides.” He glanced around the display area and counter, but couldn’t see anything else that needed doing. “I’m going to go sketch.” He slipped out from behind the counter, making it a point not to look in the Elite’s direction.

He wasn’t bothered. He didn’t care. Not one bit.

“Set your timer!” Sideswipe called after him.

Sunstreaker ignored him. Yes, he damn well knew to set his timer. He didn’t need his twin nannying him.

He scuttled off to his art room, but curiosity overcame him. He paused in the doorway, glancing over his shoulder at the Elite mech once more. Steady, blue optics looked up at him, and it felt like a bolt to Sunstreaker’s spark.

Heat stole into his cheeks, and Sunstreaker ducked into his art room, feeling more than a little shaky. No way was Sideswipe right. Or maybe he was and the Elite was just looking for a cheap frag. Well, joke’s on him. Sunstreaker wasn’t for sale. Not now, not ever.

Sunstreaker plopped down in his chair in front of his canvas, rolling his limbs to get himself in the mood. He tossed back the covering and peered at his most recent work. Half-finished, it was, and he felt if he was diligent today, he could complete it.

But the more he stared at it, but the more he felt – not contempt, but disinterest. The itch, the burn to work on it wasn’t there.

It wasn’t often he felt restless like this. He did, however, know better than to work on yesterday’s project in this state. So he pulled it from the easel and set it aside, careful to drape a covering over it to protect the expensive canvas.

He pulled an old canvas from the stack. One where he’d made an attempt at something on one side, but after loathing it the next day, had scribbled all over it. He couldn’t justify tossing the expensive plexifilm out, however, so he kept it for scrap drawings.

Sometimes, what he needed was to draw a series of slag sketches before his creativity would unlock. So that’s what he did. Nothing important. Nothing he’d worry about selling. Nothing he’d let himself judge or critique.

He just… drew.

It wasn’t until he’d covered half the plexifilm in messy circles and squares and sharp, jutting lines that he realized he was being watched. That wasn’t unusual. Their customers often stopped and peered in, and most of the time, it didn’t bother Sunstreaker. Sides kept away the obnoxious ones, and only let the truly interested observe.

This time, however, Sunstreaker’s plating tingled. Peripheral vision identified the observer, and despite Sideswipe’s insistence, he was still surprised that it was the Elite mech.

Sunstreaker froze.

“Looking for something?” Sunstreaker asked, just short of a scowl on his lips. If Sideswipe was right about the mech watching him, he was probably right about what the mech wanted.

“You, as a matter of fact.” The mech’s voice was as pleasant as Sunstreaker remembered, with none of the smarmy notes of the usual customers who thought their creds meant they were owed more than the energon and treats they purchased.

Sunstreaker swiveled about in his stool, clutching his brush. “Why?”

The Elite hovered in the doorway, his hands behind his back. “I fear I may have made a terrible first impression. I wish to rectify that.”

Clever mech. Sunstreaker snorted. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

Sensory panels arched and went rigid. “I wish to get to know you,” he said smoothly, the corners of his lips curving into the smallest of smiles. Condescendingly perhaps.

Did he think Sunstreaker so desperate for attention that he’d swoon at a little conversation? Pah.

“I’m not for sale.” Sunstreaker whipped back toward his canvas and focused so hard on it, he glared.

There was a beat. A ventilation hitch, and then, “Beg pardon?”

Sunstreaker’s armor drew tight. A little politeness would not be enough to sway him either, no matter how handsome the mech or how enticing his voice.

“You’ll find an easier frag elsewhere,” Sunstreaker said, careful to keep his tone icy. “Twice more if you have creds to spare.”

“That’s not–”

“I’m busy, mech,” Sunstreaker snapped, giving the Elite a sidelong glare. “Go find someone else.”

“I–” The Elite cut himself off and continued with, “Very well.” Sunstreaker heard the distinct click-hiss of a mech shifting his weight, the Elite finally buying a clue. “My name, by the way, is Prowl.”

Sunstreaker snorted. “Don’t care.”

“Then I apologize for disturbing you.”

‘Prowl’ took his leave as silently as he’d arrived, and Sunstreaker was left alone with his own thoughts, more than a little surprised it had been so easy. Usually the hungry ones were far more insistent, until Sunstreaker had to growl at them and flash a little blade.

Pah. Whatever. So long as he was gone.

Sunstreaker returned his attention back to his canvas.

Bullet dodged.

[SoF] Tangled Threads

My Sun, 

I love you. 

There I said it. Three little words. Funny how it took me so long to get them out. Yeah, you already knew it, just like I knew it, but the important part is in the saying it. Right? 

It’s too late for them to mean anything, I know. And I’m okay with that. You’re happy with Megatron, and that’s all I could have ever wanted for you. I want you to be happy, to smile, to belong. Even if it’s not with me. 

So I have to go. It’s not because of you, it’s because of me. I have to go because you’re right. I left something out there. And I think if I don’t go back for it, I’m going to regret that even more than never telling you those three words. 

I don’t want to regret anymore. So I have to do this. It’s a matter of–

“How many more times are you going to read that?”

Sunstreaker dimmed the screen of the datapad and tilted it against his chestplate. His gaze slanted to the left, where Megatron’s rumbling vocals had pulled him out of another review of Rodimus’ letter.

“Until I stop feeling guilty,” he murmured as a silver arm slid over him, tugging him into Megatron’s embrace.

Megatron nuzzled against his shoulder, ex-venting a soft sigh. “I believe the purpose of the letter was to assuage your guilt, love.”

“Maybe.” Sunstreaker tipped his head, leaning it against Megatron’s. “I’m starting to wonder if I didn’t say anything, not because I wanted to spare his feelings, but because I was protecting my own.”

“Mmm.” Megatron pressed a kiss to his shoulder armor, his field tangling around Sunstreaker’s firmly. “That may be true. And it may not be. Matters of the spark are never so clear.”

Sunstreaker swallowed a sigh and powered down the datapad, leaning over to rest it on the nightstand. “It doesn’t bother you?”

“I have never doubted your feelings for me.” Megatron’s ventilations evened out as he started a slow-cycle into recharge. “I understand that love has layers, and what we share is different than what you feel for him.”

Sunstreaker let the words wash over him, absorbing their meaning. Megatron did not push, which he was grateful for. He loved that about Megatron, point of fact. That he never became irritated because Sunstreaker was slow to understand the emotional or social implications of things. That he took time to absorb the more abstract aspects of interaction.

Sunstreaker cycled a ventilation. “Sometimes, I wonder if I deserve you,” he murmured, a moment of painful honesty, one he’d never voice where Sideswipe could hear, because he’d already heard Sideswipe’s objections to his own feelings of self-inadequacy.

“Of course you do.” Megatron’s tone was so candid that it rejected argument. “We deserve each other.”

Sometimes, Sunstreaker wondered.

His processor wandered back, to his memory core, to nearly a month prior, when fear had seized his spark and almost sent him into a blind panic. When the force of his feelings, and what they meant, had thundered through his audials, forcing him to confront a truth he’d been burying for years upon years.

It wasn’t the ferocious way Springer had pounded on the door that drew out the terror. It was the look in Springer’s optics as he said one of the worst things Sunstreaker had ever heard. The words washed into his audials and sent a flood of ice through his lines.

“What do you mean he’s missing?” Sunstreaker demanded, voice low and cold, through clenched denta, through control slipping between his fingers.

Sunstreaker did not yell or panic. No matter what anyone said, neither of those reactions emerged from his chassis. It only felt like they did.

“Meaning we can’t find him,” Springer replied, just short of a snarl, his optics narrowed. “Which is the only reason I’m talking to you right now.”

It took all Sunstreaker had not to punch Springer. Though there was still time. He and Rodimus’ batch-brother had never seen optic to optic on much of anything. Springer didn’t approve of Sunstreaker or Sideswipe, not even after they mated the Warchief.

Sunstreaker had no idea why.

No. Scratch that.

He had an inkling.

“I don’t know where he is,” Sunstreaker gritted out, rising to his full height, his armor clamping down tight around his frame. “So why don’t you? Aren’t you his brother?”

Springer’s engine growled. He shoved a fat finger in Sunstreaker’s face. His field surged forward, as aggressive as his tone. “Warchief’s mate or not, I will fight you, so don’t test me.”

“Try me,” Sunstreaker snarled, his hydraulics tensing, his field coiling around him, ready to strike back.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.”

Red armor intercepted them, neatly slotting between Sunstreaker and Springer like he didn’t have a fear in the world. Sideswipe. Of course it was Sideswipe. Probably roused by the same noise that had driven Sunstreaker from his berth and the warm embrace of his mates.

Springer had better hope he hadn’t woken Megatron, too.

“You two can fight over who loves our boy more later, all right? Maybe we should focus on finding him first.” Sideswipe’s back knocked against Sunstreaker’s chassis in warning. He could just imagine the grin on his stupid twin’s face. That easygoing, but warning grin he gave to many a Firebrand thinking they could test the Warchief’s mates.

Springer set his jaw. “That was the plan,” he ground out, but wisely backed off a pace. “He didn’t show up for training, and no one’s seen him since before the storm started.”

“Okay,” Sideswipe said, hands raised still, like he wanted to be a red barrier, like he didn’t want to pound Springer’s stupid face in himself. “When was the last time anyone saw him?”

Sunstreaker kept his mouth shut. Only because his glare said it all, and Sideswipe was right. He cared more about finding Rodimus than he did about teaching Springer a lesson. He could dent the arrogant aft all he wanted after they found Rodimus safe and sound.

“After weapon instruction. Yesterday,” Springer answered, and Sunstreaker heard it like a roar in his audials, a great rushing wind. He knew, immediately, what had happened, just like he knew the guilt echoing in the glyphs of Springer’s answer.

“When he was talking to Silverspire and Torque?” Sunstreaker demanded, already knowing the answer, as the anger started to twist and coil in his internals.

Sideswipe tensed in front of him. “Sunny.”

It was a warning.

“It was a conversation,” Springer said, but his gaze went shifty, and his hydraulics creaked as he adjusted his weight.

It was guilt. Sunstreaker knew it when he saw it. He might be dumb when it came to most social interaction, but Sunstreaker knew the foul stench of guilt.

Sunstreaker’s engine snarled. He spun on a heelstrut and stomped away from both of them, the rage building to a fine froth. Those aft-headed slaggers were taunting Rodimus again, he just knew it.

“That’s not going to help find him!” Springer shouted after him, exasperation thick in his tone, his feet rooted in place like the guilt had sprung glue to keep him there.

Sunstreaker ignored him.

Sideswipe made a noise and chased after him. “What are you doing?” He made a grab for Sunstreaker’s arm, but he twisted out of the way, too quick.

“Getting answers,” Sunstreaker said, the fury thick in his frame, in his intake, boiling out through his lines, drawing his hands into tight fists.

Sideswipe’s engine growled. He balked, his field chased Sunstreaker. He made a sound as if he was going to argue, before he spun on a heel and went stalking back to their quarters. To Megatron, who should still be sleeping.

Good.

Sunstreaker had answers to find. And he knew exactly where to start looking.

Three corridors over, around the curve, and a level down, to the common room where the Firebrands, the newly trained, and the newly hopeful gathered. Times like these, heavy storms on the horizon and roaring overhead, the younger mechs crammed together to play games, chat, wile away the time and burn off restless energy.

Sunstreaker’s prey clustered together in a corner, laughing loudly, crouched as they were over some kind of card game with chore chips as stakes. The common room quieted the moment Sunstreaker was spotted, and a hush followed him as he cut through the crowd with ease. Sometimes, he was glad that his reputation preceded him. Mating the Warchief hadn’t tempered it that much.

His prey spotted him and none of them had the good sense to bolt. Instead, they stared back, like dynadeer in a hunter’s sightline. Questions hovered on the tip of Sunstreaker’s glossa, his engine growling in anticipation.

They started gibbering the moment they saw him. He didn’t even get a chance to pound the truth out of them, which was both frustrating and a relief.

“It’s not our fault,” Silverspire blurted out.

“He’s the idiot who believed us,” Clockwork agreed.

Sunstreaker didn’t raise his voice. He didn’t have to. “Where is he?”

“Probably trying to find the Deathbringer. Like an idiot,” Torque said from half-behind Silverspire’s bulk.

All three cringed behind the table, as if it would protect them from Sunstreaker’s wrath. Clearly, they hadn’t been paying much attention.

“The Deathbringer,” Sunstreaker echoed, and shot them all a scathing glance. “And where would he have gotten an idea like that?” Another ripple raced down his spinal strut. His engine growled.

Torque quailed.

Silverspire squared his shoulders.

But it was Clockwork who spoke. “Not like it’s not a story everyone doesn’t already know,” he babbled, a collection of double-negatives and defiance that petered away into a mumble. “He was desperate and willing to try anything. Can’t blame that on us.”

Could and would.

Sunstreaker set his jaw. He leaned forward; they leaned back much further. Their fields grated against his own, thick with anxiety. Sunstreaker almost snorted aloud. And these were the ones Megatron wanted to accept into the warriors?

Clearly he was being too lenient in his assessments.

“You know that even after accepting the badge, you’re still required to undergo training?” Sunstreaker said, careful to keep his tone as cold and even as ice.

They exchanged glances.

“Yes?” Silverspire ventured.

Sunstreaker smiled.

It was not a kind smile. It had far too much denta, and nothing of humor in his optics. Well, maybe a tad bit of humor. But not the kind that encouraged laughter.

“I will be one of your instructors,” he said and he leaned forward, his field flowing out and over them, caging them in as effectively as energon-laced bars. “And I am neither kind nor forgiving. Remember that.”

He left them with that promise. He spun on a heel and abandoned them to their cowardice. He would point out to Megatron, later, just what he and Wirelight had agreed to bring into their fold. Maybe the three could be salvaged, maybe not.

Liking Rodimus wasn’t a precedence for accepting the warrior’s badge. But being an aft and a bully was not acceptable.

Sunstreaker stalked out of the common room, aware that a pervasive silence settled in his absence. It followed him out, and it wasn’t until he was around the corner that the low murmur of conversation began again, though he was soon too far to pick up anything in particular. No doubt the rumor mill would churn with a fury.

He headed straight for the supply depot, already mentally compiling a list of the things he would need. Travel rations, certainly. Extra, external power packs. A few daggers, easily magnetized to his plating so they wouldn’t get lost in the storm. A thick, sand-resistant tarp to guard against the worst of the grating wind.

There was no guard at the door, and Sunstreaker had a key so he let himself inside. He snatched a travel pack from the hooks and started stuffing things into it, weighing each option carefully. He didn’t want to drag himself down by bringing too much, but he didn’t want to be unprepared either.

It occurred, however briefly, that he was being irrational. Perhaps unreasonable even. But there was a chill in his spark, a clenching squeeze that screeched of guilt. And concern.

Rodimus was his friend. One of his dearest. He was much, much more than that as well, but difficult to put into words, to define. Once, they had been lovers, frag buddies to put it crudely. Sunstreaker cared for Rodimus. Deeply. It wasn’t love, such as was defined by how he felt for Megatron, but it was something of equal worth.

He refused to leave Rodimus to the storm.

“What is this I hear about you terrorizing the Firebrands?”

Sunstreaker didn’t allow himself to stiffen at the voice, one which crept up on him and he should have heard, were he not so intent on his packing. Still, no one was around. They had privacy. He didn’t have to show Megatron the deference he did in public.

“Rodimus is missing,” he said as he shoved another handful of rations into the small pack. He would need to travel light. “And those afts are partially to blame for it.”

“Did they tie him up and throw him into the Barrens?”

Sunstreaker’s armor clamped down, tension coiling in his hydraulics. “Verbal bullying is no better than physical torment. You know that as well as I do.”

“I’m not saying they’re innocent.” Gears creaked and pistons hissed. Megatron moved up beside him, all bulk and presence, his hand falling over Sunstreaker’s, mid-reach to another dagger he could strap to his thigh. “There’s a storm, Sunstreaker.”

“Which is why I have to find him quickly.”

Megatron’s fingers curled around his wrist, tight enough to warn, but not enough to threaten. “You don’t know where he is or how far he’s gotten, and Soundwave tells me there’s a greater electrical interference in this storm. You go out there, and you’ll just get yourself killed.”

Sunstreaker ground his denta. “I have to find him.”

“You’re not responsible for him.”

“I am!” His vents roared as he whipped around to look up at his mate. “If I’d just–” He bit off, unwilling to complete the admission, though Megatron knew it already. He dropped his gaze, staring hard at Megatron’s chestplate. “I should have paid more attention.”

Immediately, he was enfolded in his mate’s arms. Megatron was the only one he let hold him like this, Sideswipe notwithstanding. There was safety here, safety that he could find with no one else. Not even Rodimus, who he loved so dearly.

“It is not your fault,” Megatron murmured, his head tilted against Sunstreaker’s, his hands warm and firm on Sunstreaker’s back.

He clung to Megatron, his rock in the storm of emotion rampaging through his spark. He shuttered his optics. He cycled his vents, alarmed to find them shuddering.

“Say it enough, I might even believe you,” Sunstreaker replied with another shaky vent. He dug his fingers into Megatron’s seams, hooking in, keeping him close. “Did Sideswipe send you?”

Megatron’s engine rumbled. “He was concerned.”

“Tattler.”

The smallest of chuckles rolled out of his mate’s intake. He stroked Sunstreaker’s back again, long and warm sweeps of his palm. “Perhaps. But he was right to be worried.” Megatron’s head pushed harder against his. “As much as you care for Rodimus, I can’t allow you to go after him in this storm. I’ll not lose you.”

His fingers tightened; he heard them creak. His spark shriveled down with the painful truth. “What kind of friend would I be, to leave him out there to die?”

“You don’t know that he will.”

“You’re so certain that death will find me if I go after him.”

Megatron’s silence was confirmation. Another full shudder ripped through Sunstreaker’s frame. He buried his face against Megatron’s chassis, dragged in the scent of him, hot metal and weldfire and plasma energy.

“He’s such an idiot,” Sunstreaker choked out, heat burning like slag behind his optics, and his intake thick and tight.

Megatron’s hands became a lifeline, a point of connection, where they swept steadily up and down his back. “Soundwave estimates the storm will burn itself out in a week, perhaps less if we are lucky. The moment it is safe, I will send out a search party.”

To find something to bury, Sunstreaker assumed. A heavy shudder raked through his armor. He couldn’t get any closer to Megatron, but he tried. His spark ached, and that was when warmth pressed against him from behind, and he knew from the echo, that it was Sideswipe. Who, mercifully, said nothing. Only pressed his forehead to the back of Sunstreaker’s neck and held tight.

Apologies clawed out of his vocalizer and caught in his intake, sticking there. He prayed to a deity he never much gave any credit to, and he hoped.

He hoped that Rodimus remembered what he’d been taught. That the brat had found somewhere to hole up and wait out the storm. That he’d seen it coming and knew what to do.

He hoped and he prayed and wondered if he was fool for bothering with both.

Not long after, and not long enough later, responsibility pried Megatron away from them. He urged both Sunstreaker and Sideswipe to return to their quarters.

Well, urged as in ordered, and Sunstreaker didn’t have the state of mind to disobey. He let Sideswipe drag him back to their room. He let Sideswipe help him disarm all of his extra weaponry, tumbling the daggers and the grenades and the blasters into their weapons bin. He let himself be pulled to one of their chairs, pushed down into it. He accepted the energon Sideswipe handed him.

The need to act coiled like a hungry turbowolf inside of him. Sunstreaker was a warrior, born and bred. Patience was not one of his better virtues. He was not built to wait.

Sideswipe dropped down beside him, lounging on the floor as he was wont to do, his repose lackadaisical but Sunstreaker knew his brother far too well. Sideswipe could spring to action in a moment’s notice. There was wariness in the way he looked at Sunstreaker, like he’d become a type of skittish mechanimal.

Maybe he wasn’t wrong.

Time passed slow, achingly slow, trapped as he was in these rooms, as large as they were. Sideswipe remained his constant companion, offering empty conversation, trying to draw Sunstreaker into some kind of entertainment, a spar or two.

Sunstreaker could only focus on the shriek of the wind, the sound of the ferocious sand as it battered at the defense of their settlement, the gathered noise of their clan, everyone indoors and caged just as he. They were as much nomadic as they were settled, and many of the hunters were eager to get back to their duties.

Sunstreaker started to pace a circuit around their living quarters, a path he could walk in his recharge, so often had he done this. Restless energy did not make for a calm life, especially as he grew more and more agitated. The storm would not abate, and no word had been found from Rodimus.

They wouldn’t, either, not with this storm. Communications were down across the board. They couldn’t even contact the clan nearest to them.

Megatron had all but ordered Sunstreaker stay in their quarters. He didn’t want to risk Sunstreaker looking for Rodimus. In the privacy of their quarters, Sunstreaker could argue. But Megatron had made the proclamation in front of the clan. As Warchief.

Sunstreaker couldn’t disobey.

Or shouldn’t.

His engine growled. He stomped through another circuit, shooting a glance toward the doorway. He felt trapped in here, like a caged mechanimal, a toxicougar who hadn’t fed. He should be out there. Looking. Not pacing around in here like a kept pet.

He needed to be moving. He couldn’t stay in here for the rest of the week. He at least needed to be somewhere else or he’d worry himself into a spark-attack.

Sunstreaker whirled and stomped toward the door.

He was immediately intercepted by Sideswipe. “Where are you going?” his twin asked, with a smile that was far from casual.

Sunstreaker drew up short and narrowed his optics. “Out.”

“Ohhh. I want to go out, too. We should go together.” Sideswipe nodded firmly, as though this was a given and shouldn’t be ignored. He planted his hands on his hips and added a jaunty grin.

Sunstreaker didn’t fail to notice Sideswipe was between him and the door. He hated that, even for a moment, he considered taking Sideswipe down to make his escape. He could do it and had done it. He won two times out of three when he sparred against his brother.

Sunstreaker cocked his head. He folded his arms over his chest. “What? Are you my sitter now?”

Sideswipe’s grin never lost its steam. “Well, someone has to stop you from being an idiot.” He planted his hands on his hips, thrusting his chassis forward, as if it would intimidate.

Sunstreaker snorted. “Well, I’m sorry I’m the only one worried.”

A flinch and Sunstreaker knew he’d scored. The smile wiped itself from Sideswipe’s face, his optics going hard, like energon crystals.

“You think I don’t care?” Sideswipe asked, his voice low and cold and for a fraction of a second, Sunstreaker had an idea of what those strut-less Firebrands had felt. “You think I don’t wanna find him, too? You think I haven’t considered diving out into that storm to bring his sorry aft back here?”

Sunstreaker set his jaw. Even when Sideswipe flung a hand in a seemingly random direction, but one Sunstreaker knew aimed toward the main entrance and main outer gate.

“Do you think I haven’t already considered every route, every possibility, every cave between here and the rumors?” Sideswipe demanded and his farflung hand trembled. “Just because I’m an inch more of a tactician, an inch more realistic to know that there’s nothing I can do more than I’m doing now, that makes me sparkless? How is getting myself killed going to help anyone?”

Silence. Only because Sunstreaker didn’t have a retort that wasn’t petulant or would add fuel to the flame. Each word landed in his audials like a physical strike, as clear and obvious as the pain in Sideswipe’s vocals.

It hadn’t made him feel better, to hurt Sideswipe the same way he hurt. It never did. Yet, Sunstreaker kept doing it anyway. All his life, he’d done this. Sideswipe still forgave him for it. Every time.

Frag if Sunstreaker knew why.

Sunstreaker dropped his gaze. He stared at the floor around Sideswipe’s feet. There were several scrapes in the swept stone here, flecks of paint caught in the scratches: black, gray, bits of red and yellow. They’d tackled each other more than once, sometimes sparring, sometimes for a bit of playful fooling around.

Sideswipe’s feet moved. He came closer.

His voice gentled, as it always did, when Sunstreaker should apologize and didn’t, because here as always, Sideswipe was the better mech.

“Look, I get it okay,” Sideswipe murmured, his field reaching as much as his voice did, and he tapped on his end of the bond, the strings connecting them vibrating until they touched Sunstreaker’s spark, too. “But just… you gotta wait. We all do. And as soon as the storm clears up, we’ll go look. Soundwave’s gonna send out the bird twins. Wrench is gonna contact some old pals of him. We’ll find him. And he’s gonna be fine.”

It was hard to ventilate. It felt like someone had reached into his chassis, put their hands around his pumps, and squeezed.

“He’s in the desert. In the middle of a sandstorm,” Sunstreaker said to the floor. His own pessimism was a knife to the back.

Sideswipe moved even closer, and he didn’t have to offer his arms before Sunstreaker slipped into them, the tremble in his knees radiating up his spinal strut.

“So? He’s a smart kid,” Sideswipe said.

Sunstreaker snorted, his face buried in the crook of his twin’s intake. Their chestplates knocked together, and he could feel the answering pulse of Sideswipe’s spark, even through their layered armor.

“Okay, so he’s a resourceful one at any rate,” Sideswipe corrected, a touch of humor in his voice, his arms enclosing Sunstreaker much as Megatron’s had. “And we trained him. Have a little faith in him.”

Sunstreaker worked his intake. “There’s a line,” he began quietly, “between trusting in someone’s abilities, and fooling oneself to the practicalities.”

“You’ve been spending too much time with Dead End.”

Sunstreaker opted to say nothing. He shuttered his optics and focused on the rhythm of Sideswipe’s vents and the pulse of his twin’s spark. It was an age-old tactic he’d used to center himself, to ground himself when it felt like his emotions were going to swallow him whole. Sideswipe had always been the steady one.

Sideswipe vented and patted Sunstreaker on the back. “You’re such a drama queen,” he murmured, but there was an affectionate cant to his vocals.

“Shut up.”

“Love you, too.”

Sunstreaker could be incredibly dense sometimes. He missed the subtleties of social interaction. Mostly, he didn’t care whether people liked him or not, so long as he had a few close friends. He was painfully unaware of certain things.

But he was not stupid.

He swallowed down the rest of his plans to go after Rodimus. He knew they were all foolish and suicidal besides. He couldn’t help Rodimus by dying. He could do nothing but be patient. He had to wait.

Until the storm ended, Sunstreaker was agitated and unsettled. He made everyone around him miserable, stalking as he did through the halls, snapping at anyone who dared smirk in his direction. Firebrands quickly learned to give him a wide berth, especially those Sunstreaker blamed for Rodimus’ stupid but understandably desperate action.

The hours and minutes crawled by. Days felt as weeks. Sunstreaker spent a lot of time standing just within the front entrance, staring out into a world that was nothing more than swirling sand, roaring wind, and no visibility, even with his advanced sensors. This was one of the worst storms he’d ever seen, and his only consolation was that the more fierce the storm, the quicker it burned out.

It was a little under a week until the storm dulled enough that they could risk sending out search parties. Sunstreaker volunteered for every one. He didn’t know what he’d find. He was afraid of it.

But he also didn’t want to be back at the settlement when they found him. He wanted to be there, to hug Rodimus, and then slap the sense back into the idiot. He didn’t want to wait for answers anymore. He wanted to find them himself.

He was on his way back from another search party, from another sector, another long circle of sweeping sensors with Laserbeak flying overhead, when Megatron pinged him. When the message came crackling across his comm, and sent a surge of relief through his spark.

Rodimus is home.

Three words and the bottom fell out of Sunstreaker’s spark. His knees wobbled. He would have dropped out of sheer relief, if he’d been alone or around mechs he dared show weakness. Instead, he’d barked orders and turned toward home.

He hadn’t wanted to dare believe. He hadn’t wanted to hope. He wondered if it was a dream, that maybe he was in recharge and imagining Rodimus could have somehow survived that storm and come back to them.

It wasn’t until he came over the horizon, until he sped toward the entrance, following the pull of Megatron on his end of the bond, until he saw that red and orange and yellow armor, the familiar jut of a spoiler, that it felt real.

Sunstreaker owed so many apologies. But later, he told himself, as he swept Rodimus up into his arms, his optics hot and burning at the sound of an adorable, and familiar, startled squeak. As Rodimus squirmed in the embrace and chuckled.

To see Sunstreaker, anyone would think that Rodimus was his lover. Certainly his behavior made it seem so, and he knew it did. He’d looked at Megatron, expecting his mate to be angry, disappointed, jealous even. The cold clench of resignation. A sensation of abandonment.

Instead, he’d found understanding. A small smile on Megatron’s lips. Relief as bright in his optics as it was in Sunstreaker’s spark.

That look had been a comfort, a reassurance. Megatron understood. Sunstreaker loved Megatron, in words that he couldn’t express. He’d accepted Megatron’s courtship and mated Megatron, and there was no one he loved like this more.

He loved Rodimus, too. But not the way he loved Megatron. And there were no words for the gratitude that flooded him then, the way he felt when he realized Megatron understood and wasn’t angry.

It had been that moment, Sunstreaker contemplated back in the present, that he’d fallen for Megatron all over again. So while reading Rodimus’ letter made his spark clench, made the guilt settle in, he could turn into Megatron’s arms, pillow his head on Megatron’s chassis, and know that his mate understood.

It was balm to the burn.

“You’re right,” Sunstreaker murmured as he slid a hand around Megatron’s chassis, feeling the quiet thrum of his mate’s purring engine beneath his palm.

Megatron chuckled against his audial, low and deep. “I always am.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

Another soft laugh tickled Sunstreaker’s audial as Megatron ex-vented soft and warm. “And what if I want to kiss you? Am I allowed that?”

A shiver slipped down Sunstreaker’s spinal strut. “Always,” he murmured, before Megatron’s mouth slid toward his, capturing his lips in a sweet, sultry kiss.

A rush of liquid warmth pulsed through Sunstreaker’s lines. He held on to Megatron, clutching his mate close, and moaned quietly when Megatron shifted to blanket Sunstreaker’s frame with his own. Megatron was larger and heavier, but somehow, held beneath him felt less like being trapped and more like being kept safe.

The kiss deepened, Megatron’s glossa sliding against his, careful and exploratory. The berth dipped beneath Sunstreaker as Megatron braced his weight with an arm, and let the other drag teasing fingers down Sunstreaker’s side. His knees bracketed Sunstreaker’s hips, the warmth and weight of him enclosing Sunstreaker entirely.

He didn’t have to ask for forgiveness, because there was nothing to forgive. That was what he felt in Megatron’s field, which pulsed nothing but comfort and affection at him.

He was lucky, Sunstreaker thought. He was so very lucky.

Megatron’s mouth wandered away, a gentle kiss pressed to the corner of Sunstreaker’s mouth before it followed the curve of his jaw to his audial. He ex-vented a tickling rush into Sunstreaker’s helm vent.

“What else am I allowed?” Megatron murmured in that deep, silken voice of his which never failed to send tremors down Sunstreaker’s spinal strut. “What would you have of me, only one?”

Sunstreaker moaned softly, well aware that Sideswipe still recharged on the berth beside them. “Everything,” he replied in a voice equally hushed.

Megatron chuckled against his audial. “You already have that.” His lips grazed a sultry path into the curve of Sunstreaker’s intake. “You’ll have to be more specific.” Teasing fingers stroked into Sunstreaker’s lateral seams.

A universe of choices then, because there had been nothing Sunstreaker asked for so far, which Megatron had denied him. He had only to whisper, to plea, to demand, and Megatron yielded, with need and affection in his optics.

Sunstreaker’s grip shifted to Megatron’s hips, fingers hooking around seams and pulling him down, as he rolled up and ground against Megatron’s groin. Heat answered him back, searing and hungry.

“Want you inside me,” Sunstreaker panted as the berth creaked and shifted, as he felt the slide of hot armor against his own. His valve ached, cycling into readiness, lubricant already slicking the metalmesh walls and causing his calipers to click restlessly.

Lips burrowed into the hollow of his intake, warm and wet on the sensitive cables. “That I can most certainly do,” Megatron purred, the vibrations of his words sending a thrill up Sunstreaker’s backstrut.

His panels snapped open. Any other time he would have been embarrassed by the need in his frame, but with the appreciative flush in Megatron’s field, and the answering pulse of desire, embarrassment was the furthest from Sunstreaker’s mind.

He swallowed down a moan as Megatron shifted, his mouth sliding down ever so slowly, lips discovering the length of Sunsteaker’s chestplate, over the flat of his abdominal armor, and to the peeping head of Sunstreaker’s spike.

Warmth enclosed the tip, a glossa poking at his transfluid slit. Sunstreaker’s hips all but arched off the berth, were it not for Megatron’s hands cradling them, keeping him pinned. Desire lurched through his frame, pooling southward, sending arousal hot and heavy through his array.

“Not fair,” he hissed subvocally.

A soft chuckle vibrated around the head of his spike. Megatron looked up at him, optics dark with lust and humor, before he let Sunstreaker slip from his mouth.

“All’s fair when it comes to the berth,” he murmured and dipped his head further down, his lips brushing over Sunstreaker’s anterior node.

Fire licked up his backstrut, and Sunstreaker fisted the berth covers, his backstrut curving once more. “This… is not obedience,” he groaned softly, lights dancing in the back of his optics.

Soft ex-vents teased his valve, lips brushing over his swollen rim and a glossa sweeping in to lap up the lubricant trickling free. “Can’t I have a little taste first?” Megatron asked, half-deference, half-plea, fully contrary.

Sunstreaker’s thighs trembled. “You just did,” he said, and hoped it sounded firmer aloud than it did in his head, because he was tempted now. He didn’t know if he wanted Megatron’s spike or his glossa buried between his thighs.

“Ah, but I am ever so greedy,” Megatron said with another long, savoring lick up the length of Sunstreaker’s valve, ending with a suckle to his swollen anterior cluster.

Sunstreaker sucked air through his denta, his valve throbbing. “Megatron,” he moaned, and knew there was no way Sideswipe still recharged, not with all the noise they were making. “Spike me. Now.”

Megatron cradled his hips, pressing a kiss to Sunstreaker’s valve. “As you wish.” He lifted his head, his lips glistening with Sunstreaker’s lubricant.

Sunstreaker almost shoved his head back down, save that his valve was desperate for something to pierce it. Instead, he gripped the berthcovers tighter, thighs trembling with anticipation as Megatron sat back on his heels, spike standing proud and glistening with pre-fluid. His biolights pulsed a slow, steady throb of need, and Sunstreaker’s valve ached.

More lubricant trickled free even as Megatron shifted his position, pulling Sunstreaker’s hips toward him. He leaned forward, blanketing Sunstreaker’s frame with his own. The head of his spike nudged Sunstreaker’s swollen rim, sending a shock of need through his lines.

Sunstreaker canted his hips upward, urging with his frame as well as his field. His valve rippled.

“Spike me,” he demanded again, more forcefully this time. “Now.”

Megatron’s optics glittered at him. “Yes, love.” He rolled his hips forward, spike sliding into Sunstreaker achingly slow, filling him inch by inch, until the thick head brushed Sunstreaker’s ceiling node.

He moaned, head tipping back, a shiver rattling him from head to foot. His thighs trembled where they bracketed Megatron, pressing in, keeping his mate close.

Megatron held himself deep, circled his hips, grinding slow and sweet against Sunstreaker’s ceiling node. Sparks of pleasure danced up and down Sunstreaker’s backstrut. He moaned a little louder, grasping at Megatron, pulling him closer.

“More,” he demanded.

Megatron leaned in, nuzzling Sunstreaker’s face. “All you want,” he promised, and withdrew until only the tip of his spike lingered, before he pushed in again, just as slow and steady.

He started up a pace, long and deep strokes that made Sunstreaker’s nodes sing and charge build hot and heavy in his array. He writhed beneath Megatron, holding his mate tight, gasping out demands for more.

Suddenly, Megatron’s rhythm stuttered. He gasped out a hungry sound, optics flaring, back arching. He pressed deep and shivered.

“Don’t stop!” Sunstreaker demanded, urging Megatron on with a press of his knees, a tightening of his grip.

His brother’s head popped up from behind Megatron, hooking his chin over Megatron’s right shoulder. “Is this a private party or can anyone join?” Sideswipe asked, all mischief and lust, one hand sliding around Megatron’s abdomen and the other nowhere in sight.

Though judging by Megatron’s quickened vents and the flush of heat in Megatron’s face, Sunstreaker could guess where it’d gone.

“Stop it,” he hissed as Megatron throbbed in his valve and shook with evident struggle to restrain himself. “You know he can’t hold back when you do that.”

The slick noise of fingers in lubricant was barely audible over three sets of whirring fans. Megatron shivered again, hips rocking as Sideswipe’s fingers slid into him. Two, maybe three? Sunstreaker couldn’t see, and it didn’t matter.

“I can so,” Megatron grunted, but the way he sagged on top of Sunstreaker as blue fire sparked along his frame argued otherwise.

Sideswipe chuckled and nosed his way into the side of Megatron’s throat, lips and denta marking a hot path. “No, you can’t,” he purred and did something to make Megatron thrust harder into Sunstreaker, grinding against his array and tapping his exterior node.

Sunstreaker moaned. He rocked up against Megatron as his mate started to move again, faster now, sharper thrusts that lit up Sunstreaker’s nodes with ecstasy. Sideswipe looked outright devious as he nibbled on Megatron’s throat, and no doubt fingered him without restraint.

Megatron hunched forward, gasping, his optics dark and heavy. His thrusts became erratic, desperate, grinding hard and deep into Sunstreaker. The base of his array was a heavy pressure on Sunstreaker’s external node, licking fire up and down his backstrut. Sunstreaker groaned, trying to drag Megatron closer, trying to cling to the rising coil of need in his groin.

He was so close. Release was within his grasp. He just needed a little more–

Megatron’s rhythm stuttered. He gasped as he stilled, slamming deep into Sunstreaker, transfluid spurting a hot gush inside Sunstreaker’s valve, washing over his nodes and setting them ablaze. It wasn’t enough, however, and Sunstreaker snarled angrily as Megatron slumped over him, vents whirring and frame trembling.

“I told you!” Sunstreaker seethed as he bucked his hips, trying to get friction, any kind of friction really. Need pulsed in his lines and whirred through his spark. His engine hiccuped from the stalled pleasure.

Sideswipe chuckled and curled an arm around Megatron, pulling him back. “Relax, bro. I always get you taken care of, don’t I?” he asked even as he did something to make Megatron shudder, his optics brightening.

“I would apologize, but I suspect Sideswipe has some plan he intends to follow,” Megatron rasped as his hands slid up Sunstreaker’s legs and curled around his knees, tickling the undersides.

Sunstreaker thumped his fists on the berth. “I don’t care about Sideswipe’s plan. I care about getting off!”

Sideswipe’s hand slid down Megatron’s belly, his fingers curling around their mate’s semi-pressurized spike and giving it a squeeze. “The plans includes that, don’t worry.” He nuzzled into Megatron’s throat and nipped with his denta. “Sun’s got such a pretty spike, doesn’t he? Why don’t you taste it?”

Megatron shivered, his optics half-shuttering as the hot weight of his gaze slid to Sunstreaker’s spike. His glossa swept over his lips.

Sunstreaker slid a hand down his frame and fingered the tip of his spike, which extruded pearls of pre-fluid at a rapid pace. “You owe me,” he said. “Both of you.”

Sideswipe was still going to pay later, no matter how much Sunstreaker would enjoy this now. He hated having his pleasure delayed. Sideswipe was the one with an overload-denial kink, not Sunstreaker.

“Indeed I do,” Megatron murmured. Lust darkened his tone into a heavy syrup that drizzled into Sunstreaker’s audials.

Megatron bent forward, curling his arms around Sunstreaker’s thighs from beneath them, cradling Sunstreaker’s hips with his hands. He rubbed his cheek over Sunstreaker’s spike, his gaze holding Sunstreaker’s as he did so. Half in challenge, half in promise.

A shiver danced up Sunstreaker’s spinal strut. He felt every hot ex-vent over his spike. More pre-fluid trickled free, glistening at the tip. His valve clenched, raw with emptiness.

“You two make such a gorgeous picture,” Sideswipe said as he knelt behind Megatron, one hand on their mate’s back, the other gripping his hip.

Sunstreaker couldn’t see Sideswipe’s spike, but he could imagine where it was. Pressurized and needy, the head of it nudging Megatron’s valve, teasing the plush lips before slowly piercing his rim, gradually filling Megatron. He could tell how deep Sideswipe went by Megatron’s rumbles, increasing in strength and volume.

Megatron ex-vented hot and wet over Sunstreaker’s spike. His cheek rubbed the length of it again.

“Stop teasing,” Sunstreaker growled as he bucked his hips as much as he was capable. “Put me in your mouth!”

The vibrations of Megatron’s laugh rattled along Sunstreaker’s spike. He snarled at his mate, hips rolling up again, only to finally sink into Megatron’s mouth, his spike eclipsed in wet heat. Charge licked up Sunstreaker’s backstrut as the head of his spike teased the back of Megatron’s intake before his mate eased off and focused on the head, slurping at it, his glossa poking at Sunstreaker’s transfluid slit.

“Obedience looks good on you,” Sideswipe purred as he gripped Megatron’s hips and ground against his aft, no doubt sinking deep by the way Megatron groaned around Sunstreaker’s spike, his optics half-shuttering in pleasure.

Sideswipe thrust and rocked Megatron forward, driving the pace of Megatron’s mouth on Sunstreaker’s spike. Wonderful heat and suction, the swipe of a clever glossa and the wet sounds it made as oral lubricant mixed with the pre-fluid seeping from Sunstreaker’s spike.

He groaned louder and reached down, gripping Megatron’s head with both hands, holding him in place so he could thrust gently into his mate’s mouth. Judging by the sound Megatron made, the way his energy field rose up and entangled with Sunstreaker’s, so thick with lust, he enjoyed the directing. Only here, in the berth, did Megatron enjoy being told what to do.

Megatron’s hands tightened on Sunstreaker’s hips, his moans vibrating against Sunstreaker’s spike as his intake rippled around the head of it. Sunstreaker shivered and thrust up into Megatron’s mouth, pleasure rebuilding into a crescendo inside of him, lust like a hot knife and a sizzle through his lines.

“Yesssss,” Sideswipe hissed, his pelvis clanging against Megatron’s aft as he thrust harder and faster, yanking Megatron back onto his spike and shoving him forward again, onto Sunstreaker’s spike, forcing him deeper. Sideswipe’s lust spilled into the room, tangling with Sunstreaker’s and driving his even higher.

Sunstreaker growled and tossed his head back, the spiral of hunger building into a tense knot threatening to boil over. His heels kicked at the berth. Charge raced across his armor, breaking up the dim.

“You close, bro?” Sideswipe asked, his optics the blue fire of lust. “Gonna spill in our mate’s mouth? Fill him up?”

Megatron moaned around Sunstreaker’s spike as if begging for it. His hips pushed back into Sideswipe’s thrusts, his hands squeezed Sunstreaker’s hips to the rhythm.

Sideswipe chuckled darkly. “Think he likes that idea.” He slid his hands over and around Megatron’s aft. “Don’t swallow, Megatron. Not yet at least.”

Oh, Primus.

Sunstreaker choked on a gasp, the implication in Sideswipe’s words shoving him over the edge. He bucked up, ecstasy slamming through his frame, making sparks dance in his optics as he overloaded, transfluid pumping into Megatron’s mouth. He held Megatron’s head firmly, only the dimmest focus keeping him from squeezing too tight.

Megatron moaned around his spike, his optics flaring with desire. His hands gripped Sunstreaker’s hips hard enough to dent, drips of lubricant and transfluid dribbling out of the corners of his mouth.

“Yes,” Sideswipe hissed as he bent over Megatron from behind, slamming into him. “Don’t swallow. Hold it in your mouth. Savor it.”

A shiver wracked Megatron’s frame. He tongued at Sunstreaker’s spike, more mingled fluids dripping from the corner of his mouth.

“Adaptus,” Sideswipe breathed and abruptly leaned back, tugging on the back of Megatron’s collar fairing as he did so.

Sunstreaker groaned, releasing his hold on Megatron and shoving a hand between his thighs, plunging three fingers into his valve. Megatron reared upright, hands flailing before they found a hold on Sunstreaker’s knees. His spike bobbed at the apex of his thighs, streaked with the evidence of his earlier overload.

Sunstreaker ate up the sight of Sideswipe tugging Megatron into a sloppy, wet kiss, Sunstreaker’s transfluid staining their lips and passing between them. Sideswipe’s free hand slid around Megatron’s belly, reaching down to grip his spike firmly. Megatron groaned into the kiss, his hands squeezing Sunstreaker’s knees.

Sunstreaker’s fingers plunged deeper, raking the sensitive nodes on the inside of his valve. Megatron’s aborted spiking left him with a lingering ache. He hissed his pleasure, hips pumping up into his fingers, as he watched his mates move together, sharing a wet and heated kiss, Sideswipe’s hands squeezing and pumping as he shoved hard and deep into Megatron.

Primus, they were gorgeous. And they were his.

Megatron stiffened in Sideswipe’s hold, his sounds of pleasure muffled by the kiss, as he overloaded. His spike spurted, most of it dampening Sideswipe’s fist, but the rest landing on Sunstreaker, hitting the back of his hand where he ground the heel of his palm against his anterior node. The taste of the pleasure in his field, tangled so deeply with Sunstreaker’s own, dragged Sunstreaker over, his valve clamping around his fingers.

He shook, head tossing back, as his valve squeezed rhythmically, lubricant seeping out of his valve to soak the berth beneath his aft. Sunstreaker panted and forced his optics open, not wanting to miss a moment of Sideswipe’s pleasure as he broke away from the kiss, shoved his face into the crook of Megatron’s neck and bit down.

Denta-marks were always a clear sign Sideswipe had succumbed to pleasure. His optics streaked white, his field exploded outward and his hips screeched against Megatron’s aft in a deep grind. His hand smacked against Megatron’s belly, coated in transfluid as it was, and the harsh bite of his denta made Megatron shudder.

Ecstasy left Sideswipe in a rush, abandoning him to the lingering tremors of it. He captured Megatron’s mouth again, though the kiss this time was a softer and sweeter. He gentled his hold and they swayed together, the smallest of smiles curving their lips.

Sunstreaker straightened a leg and swatted them both in the sides. “Hey, where’s my kiss?” he demanded as he drew his fingers free of his valve, three digits glistening with lubricant. “Or do I have to do everything myself?”

Sideswipe ended the kiss with the smirk. “Someone’s feeling a little left out,” he teased as he leaned in and licked the bitemark he left behind. “Now you know how I felt lying there listening to the two of you canoodle.”

“Canoodle.” Megatron rolled his optics. “You are ridiculous, Sideswipe.”

“But you love me anyway, right?”

“Still not getting kissed here,” Sunstreaker reminded them with another kick that barely counted as a kick. The sound it made was little louder than a chime.

Megatron eased out of Sideswipe’s grip and curved forward, back between Sunstreaker’s thighs where he belonged. “My apologies,” he murmured as he crawled up Sunstreaker’s frame, all languid grace like a voltaic cat.

He dropped a kiss on Sunstreaker’s abdomen, his chestplate, his clavicle strut, the curve of his intake.

“Allow me to make it up to you,” Megatron murmured against the curve of Sunstreaker’s jaw before his lips found Sunstreaker’s.

Mmm. Much better.

Sideswipe, however, snorted. “Such a drama queen,” he said, as he shifted his weight and made the berth shift with him. “Can’t stand not to be the center of attention.”

Sunstreaker broke away from the kiss and nuzzled Megatron, making it easier to direct a glare over their mate’s shoulder. “Shut the frag up.”

“Hah. Make me.” Sideswipe patted Megatron’s aft and crawled up the berth beside their intertwined frames, flopping down next to Sunstreaker. “Just for that, you get to sleep in the wet spot.”

Megatron groaned and shifted as well, moving to lay atop Sunstreaker, pillowing his head on Sunstreaker’s chestplate. “Must you two always bicker?”

“It’s part of our charm,” Sideswipe said. “Besides, it stopped him from brooding, didn’t it?”

“I wasn’t brooding,” Sunstreaker retorted as he wrapped his arms around Megatron’s frame, stroking his hands down Megatron’s back.

He actually was lying in the wet spot, but he could tolerate it for a short time if it meant having this. Sure Megatron was heavy and overheating and the width of his frame forced Sunstreaker’s thighs wider than was comfortable. But he’d never say aloud how much he enjoyed cuddling like this.

Sideswipe stretched his arms over his head before folding them behind him. “You were brooding. About Hot Stuff. Because you have a guilt complex larger than this settlement.”

Sunstreaker sighed and shuttered his optics.

“He’s right, you know,” Megatron murmured, his words vibrating against Sunstreaker’s chestplate. “I seem to recall distracting you from reading that datapad over and over again.”

Sunstreaker pressed his lips together and ignored both of them.

Sideswipe rolled over, Sunstreaker felt the berth shift before the warmth of his twin settled against his side. “Kid’s gonna be okay. We taught him well. He’s finally found his happiness.”

“I know that,” Sunstreaker muttered.

“And yet, you’re acting like you just got dumped,” Sideswipe retorted.

“Or a caretaker whose sparkling has left the cradle,” Megatron added.

Sunstreaker growled. “I hate you both.”

They laughed at him. Both of them. His mates who he loved. Afts.

Megatron chuckled and nosed into Sunstreaker’s throat, his lips tracing a path that made shivers dance down Sunstreaker’s spinal strut. “And I love you, Sunbeam.”

Sideswipe cackled.

Sunstreaker groaned. “Great. He’s corrupted you.”

“Eventually, everyone falls for my charms,” Sideswipe said as the berth bounced when he shifted.

Suddenly, a weight bore Sunstreaker down. He grunted, and Megatron did as well. He had only to taste the devilishness in Sideswipe’s field to know what that weight was.

“Get off us!” Sunstreaker growled, trying to shove at the two heavily armored frames making him sink into the berth. “Primus, you’re such a sparkling sometimes!”

Sideswipe chortled. “Who’s king of the mountain now?”

Megatron sighed.

Sunstreaker wished he didn’t love them so much sometimes. Because then he wouldn’t find their behavior charming.

He’d chosen this, he reminded himself. He wanted this happiness, a life shared with his mates. He resolved to enjoy it, forgetting about the datapad on the nightstand.

Rodimus was gone, out living life on his own, seeking his own version of this very annoying, very wonderful romance. That was all Sunstreaker could have wished for him.

Which meant Sunstreaker was now free to do the same.

“I’ll show you who’s king,” Megatron growled as he bucked up, sending Sideswipe tumbling from his back and inevitably, off the berth with a noisy clatter of armor.

“Ow.” Sideswipe’s laughter belied any pain, however.

It was Sunstreaker’s turn to sigh.

They were his mates, and he loved them dearly. And he certainly couldn’t let them have all the fun now could he?

Sunstreaker smirked and tensed his hydraulics to pounce.

After all, there was only one king in this court. And both Sideswipe and Megatron knew frag well it wasn’t either of them.

[TF] Trial by Fire 11

The sound of muffled cursing and dull thumping announced to Starscream that he was no longer alone. He debated with himself how he wanted to handle the intrusion before he decided it would be welcome.

That was when Deadlock’s head popped into view, gold optics narrowed at first in confusion and then in relief. “There you are,” he said as he climbed up onto the roof through the skylight, just as Starscream had done. “Should’ve known you’d be up here.”

“Am I that predictable?” Starscream asked as Deadlock settled next to him, their hips and thigh touching as their legs dangled over the edge, into the open expanse of the tower below them.

“Only to someone who knows you as well as I do.” Deadlock grinned, his fangs glinting in the starlight. “Where’s Saunter?”

Starscream lifted his hands, revealing the drone resting in his lap, not recharging but hibernating. “His glitch isn’t active while the skylight’s open. Silly thing.” He stroked his fingers over the top of Saunter’s frame.

“He’s not the only silly thing.” Deadlock’s voice was rich with humor. He bumped shoulders with Starscream. “What’re you thinking about?”

Starscream’s gaze turned skyward, to the constellations he could pick out, and the far horizon, coincidentally the direction he assumed Rodimus’ clan to be. “You know me so well. You tell me.”

“I don’t think you want me to, Starling.”

He nibbled on the inside of his cheek. “I just needed a break,” Starscream murmured. “I wasn’t making any progress on my work.”

“Too distracted?”

“I’m used to you.” Starscream flicked his wings. “You don’t count as a distraction anymore.”

“So it’s internal thoughts then.” Deadlock nudged his left foot against Starscream’s right. “Wouldn’t happen to be a flame-painted Firebrand now would it?”

Starscream vented a sigh.

“That’s what I thought.” Deadlock rested a hand on Starscream’s thigh, less sly and arousing, and more comforting. “I know he got under your plating.”

“I’m choosing not to acknowledge that,” Starscream replied. He stroked his fingers over Saunter’s frame again, though the drone continued to snooze. Above him, stars flickered and faded, grew brighter and dimmed. In front, the horizon was shadows and dark patches, mountains and flatlands.

Maybe he should go for a flight.

But later.

Deadlock made a noncommittal noise.

“I’m tired,” Starscream murmured on the end of a sigh. He tilted over, letting his head rest on Deadlock’s shoulder. Sometimes, one had to move on. He knew this better than most.

His relationship with Blurr had been a sparkbreaking teacher. Sometimes, you could love someone with all you had, and have them return that love, but still have to separate. Sometimes, you had to make a choice, and love wasn’t enough.

Deadlock’s head leaned against his. “I was thinking I’ll stay longer this time,” he murmured, his tone careful and measured.

Starscream chose not to respond. From anyone else, he would have taken that as pity. Even now, he wasn’t sure it wasn’t.

“It’s getting pretty lonely out there,” Deadlock added as his field nudged against Starscream’s, warm and syrupy. “So you know, maybe it’s good to stick around in one place every once in awhile.”

Starscream offlined his optics. His hand stilled on Saunter’s top panel. “You’ll still leave.”

“Maybe. But not so quickly at least.”

It wasn’t pity. It had to be something else, that both of them didn’t dare name because that was precious and fragile and had to be guarded. Kalis had taught them as much.

Starscream cycled a vent. “Stay as long as you like.”

Deadlock pressed a kiss to the top of his head. It said enough, even without words.

~

“So you’re going to leave without a word.”

Rodimus’ shoulders hunched. He stared guiltily into the trunk under his berth as he dug through it, pulling out various items to stuff into an increasingly heavy travel pack. He didn’t look up at the voice, though he knew the large shadow blocking the doorway belonged to his batch-brother.

“I didn’t know what to say,” Rodimus murmured and pulled out the stack of datapads so carefully hidden, shoving them into his pack as well. He didn’t leave much behind.

Training weapons he didn’t need anymore. A few extra travel kits that would need to be restocked. Polishing kits. A couple of tarps too-small. Blankets for his berth. The next youngling to have this room and this berth could use all of it. This wouldn’t have been Rodimus’ room forever after all.

Even if Starscream turned him down, even if there was nothing left for him in that tower, Rodimus didn’t intend to return to his clan. Not immediately at least.

There was a whole world out there. Surely he could find his future somewhere. Surely.

“That’s not an excuse.” Springer’s tone was both sharp and hurt. “Did you think I wouldn’t care if you vanished?”

Rodimus sighed and braced his hands on the edge of the trunk. He looked at Springer, who blocked the door so completely, arms folded over his massive chassis. “You’re a warrior now. You don’t have to worry about me anymore. You have better things to do. I’d just get in the way.”

“That’s not an answer!” Springer hissed, his face darkening with emotion, his field a thundercloud Rodimus couldn’t interpret.

Rodimus worked his intake and slammed the trunk shut. He rose to his feet, nudging it back under the berth with his knee. “I was going to leave a note this time,” he said quietly.

“A note,” Springer repeated, and he couldn’t have sounded so disgusted if he tried. “Yes, that makes everything better. A fragging note.”

Rodimus picked up his travel pack, giving it a shake. It was heavy, but nothing he couldn’t handle. “What would you want me to say? I don’t want you to try talking me out of it.”

“Who said I would?”

Rodimus scoffed and slung the bag over his shoulder, which creaked in protest. “I know you would. You think I can’t do anything right. That I need you to protect me.” He looked at his brother, who he loved dearly, and wondered just when he’d started to resent Springer a little. “You’d want me to stay for my own safety. Because I’m no good on my own. And you’re probably right.”

He moved closer to Springer, his spark racing, and his engine whining as he made himself throttle it down. “But I’m still going. Because I have to do this. There’s nothing for me here right now, so I have to go find what I’m looking for.” He stared pointedly at the fresh brand on Springer’s chestplate. A brand he’d never earn.

Springer looked sad. But he sighed and uncrossed his arms. “I’m not gonna stop you,” he said as he rested his hands on Rodimus’ shoulder, a heavy and familiar weight. “And you know I’ve always thought you were worth more than others said.”

Rodimus squirmed under the praise.

“If you think you need to go, then go. Just be careful, eh? And take care of yourself. You’re my favorite brother.” Springer squeezed again and then pulled him into an embrace, a spinal strut crushing one that forced out Rodimus’ vents and wrapped him in suffocating heat.

It was wonderful.

Tension seeped out of his frame. “I’m your only brother,” Rodimus grumbled, a common joke between them. He patted Springer awkwardly on the back. “Will you do me a favor then?”

“What?” Springer’s tone took on that of suspicion as he let Rodimus go and stepped back, his optics narrowing.

Rodimus turned and rooted around in his pack, pulling out the topmost datapad. “Would you give this to Sunstreaker for me?”

“Oh, frag no.” Springer backed up a step, holding up his hands defensively. “You wanna skip out without telling the Warchief’s mates you’re not going, that’s your choice. But I’m not gonna be the one who hands them the goodbye note.”

Rodimus snorted. “What? Are you scared?”

“No, I’m just not an idiot.” Springer stepped aside, giving Rodimus room to leave, as though making him stay would have the letter forced on him. “I’m not ashamed to admit that either of them could kick my aft with ease.” He grinned with a confidence Rodimus knew all too well. “Though we’ll see what happens in a decade or two.”

Rodimus snorted again and adjusted the strap of the pack on his shoulder. “It doesn’t matter how long has passed. You’ll never be able to take down Sunstreaker.” Or Sideswipe for that matter.

Springer just grinned back at him, eerily similar to the toothy snarl the turbowolves had given him. “We’ll see.” Seriousness replaced his humor. “You’ll come back, won’t you?”

“This is still home,” Rodimus replied, with what he hoped was a dismissive shrug. He didn’t want to end up emotional and second-guessing himself. “And if I fail, well, it’s the only place I can come back to.”

“You won’t. Fail, I mean.” There was something dangerously close to pride in Springer’s tone. “You’re my brother. It’s impossible.”

Rodimus smiled, soft and sincere. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

Springer stared at him, and then he suddenly grabbed Rodimus, pulling him into another hug that made his armor creak and his spark throb with affection. “Good luck,” he said, soft and gruff all at once, before he let Rodimus go and spun on a heelstrut, vanishing down the hallway opposite of the direction Rodimus needed to go.

He caught himself smiling as he watched Springer’s back disappear around the corner. It was weird how he felt fully himself for the first time, now that he’d decided to abandon everything he’d been working hard to accomplish.

Rodimus adjusted the pack on his shoulders and started down the corridor. He didn’t have to sneak out. Not truly. There was no rule that said he couldn’t leave if he wanted to. He’d used the cover of night the first time because he suspected someone would stop for him for his own safety. He was, after all, a Firebrand.

He had the feeling now, however, that even if someone did see him leave, no one would say a word. There’d been encouragement in Optimus Prime’s words, and though Rodimus hadn’t spoken with Kup, he had the feeling the old mech would understand. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe already seemed to know what he was thinking. They’d pass it on to the Warchief, and no one would bar Rodimus’ way.

He was sure of it.

Of course, he wasn’t as sneaky as he thought. Because while he’d thought it was better for his spark to leave without seeing the twins, they must have read his processor. They waited for him at the side gate, the usual guards a fair enough distance away to offer an approximation of privacy, while still doing their jobs.

Rodimus sighed. They spotted him before he considered spinning around and heading out the other side of the settlement. He wasn’t a coward, he told himself. And he’d made his choice.

“Thought you could leave without saying goodbye, eh, hot shot?” Sideswipe said as he was the first to intercept Rodimus, literally sweeping him up into a hug that lifted his feet clear from the ground. “Not this time.”

Sideswipe set Rodimus down with a processor-spinning thump before digging in his subspace. “Not to mention I’m not letting you go without a gift.” A sack emerged, which he thrust in Rodimus’ direction. “Treasure it always. It’s not just anyone I’ll give one of my secret recipes.” He winked.

Heat stole into Rodimus’ face. “Thanks, Sides.” He took the sack, tying the extra strings onto a projection on his pack. “And well… it’s complicated.” His gaze slid briefly to Sunstreaker before dropping to the sand. “I chose to leave, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things I’m going to miss.”

“Things,” Sideswipe echoed and sidled in next to Rodimus, slipping an arm around his waist to lean his head on Rodimus’ shoulder. “Or maybe a couple of hot-aft mechs who keep things interesting, hm?”

Rodimus chuckled. “Yeah. Maybe.” He leaned into Sideswipe, soaking up his friend’s heat, and indulging in the touch of their fields, the playful nudge of Sideswipe’s, and the affection swirled in it. He loved Sideswipe, too. Just not in the same way.

“You’re lucky we know you better than you think we do,” Sunstreaker said, his voice soft, but the words sharp enough to sound like a chastisement. “I’d hate to have to chase you into the desert just to kick your aft.”

Rodimus winced.

Sideswipe clicked his glossa. “Sunny, that’s not the way we show we care.”

“Yes, it is,” Rodimus said with a forced chuckle even as Sunstreaker glared at his brother, who slipped his arm out from Rodimus’ waist and held up his hands.

“Don’t hate the messenger,” Sideswipe said, nudging Rodimus with his elbow. “Besides, hot shot knows better now, doesn’t he?”

Rodimus nodded. “I wrote a note,” he said, fumbling with the datapad in this subspace. “Kind of glad it didn’t come to that now.”

“Some things need to be spoken,” Sunstreaker said, with a surprising acuity few knew him capable.

“And that’s my cue,” Sideswipe said. He grabbed Rodimus’ hand, tangling their fingers together and giving it a squeeze. “Take care of yourself out there, Roddy. You don’t want to break our sparks, okay?”

“I learned from the best, didn’t I?” Rodimus replied.

Sideswipe grinned and pressed a kiss to Rodimus’ cheek, one that lingered as if he put all of his affection into it. He squeezed Rodimus’ hand again. “Got your back, hot shot,” he said, and then he pulled away, taking the swirling warmth of his field with him. “We’ll keep a berth for you.”

Sideswipe winked, tossed his brother a knowing look, and then he strode away, a whistle on his lips, nonchalance in the set of his shoulders. Rodimus watched him go, spark simultaneously fluttering and squeezing.

What came next was one of the hardest things Rodimus ever had to do.

He looked at Sunstreaker and prepared himself to say goodbye, while his spark felt too big for its casing. He fidgeted, knowing he should speak, but too many words crowding on his glossa. He wished he had managed to escape and leave the datapad, with the carefully crafted note behind.

He swallowed over a lump in his intake. “Sunny…” Words failed him. He wished he could just shove the datapad into Sunstreaker’s hand and flee into the night.

“I’m glad,” Sunstreaker closed the distance between them, his hands gently cupping the curve of Rodimus’ intake and jaw. “I am glad that you found someone worth risking your spark.”

It’s too hard to look into his optics. So Rodimus didn’t, instead dropping his gaze as he cycled a ventilation. “I think I’ve lost count of the times I’d wondered what would have happened if things were different.”

He didn’t elaborate on ‘things’. Sunstreaker already knew. It was this unspoken secret, this unacknowledged thing between them, growing heavier and heavier with each passing season, until it became too large for words and too hard to declare.

“There is no different.” Sunstreaker’s voice was quiet. “Things happened the way they were meant to.”

Somehow, Rodimus always knew that.

“That doesn’t make it any less valid or valuable though,” Sunstreaker added, his thumbs sweeping a soft pattern over the curve of Rodimus’ cheek. “I do love you, Rodimus. Just…”

“Not the way that makes you mine,” Rodimus finished for him, and managed a smile, despite it cracking around the edges. “I know. And it’s okay. As it turns out, I seem to have a thing for mercurial Seekers anyway.”

Sunstreaker chuckled and pulled their heads together, pressing his forehead to Rodimus’. “I’ll want to meet him someday, you know. Just to be sure he’s good enough for you.”

“If I can convince him to keep me, I’ll make it happen.”

“You will.” Sunstreaker’s optics shuttered, and he cycled a ventilation. “If this Seeker has any sense, he’ll know better than to let you go.”

The lump in Rodimus’ intake grew larger. “Yeah, I hope so.”

Sunstreaker huffed a laugh and pulled back, unshuttering his optics. “You’ll come back to visit.” It wasn’t a question.

“Of course.” Rodimus smiled, easier this time, less broken around the edges, and smoother, like reforged transsteel.

Sunstreaker’s fingers slipped away, though the warmth of their touch lingered. “I have something for you,” he said, before he dug around in his subspace and produced a bag not unlike the one Sideswipe had offered. “So you don’t forget me.”

“As if I ever could.” Rodimus accepted the bag, and coughed his ventilations as heat colored his face. “And uh, this is for you.” He offered up the datapad. It did have a note especially for the twins on it, but it was also a collection of the romantic tales Rodimus knew Sunstreaker didn’t have in his collection.

“Keep it hidden from Sides,” Rodimus added with a little laugh as Sunstreaker tucked the datapad into his subspace. “You know how he likes to tease.” As if Sideswipe wasn’t any less guilty given those terrible detective novels he consumed like cheap engex.

“I do.” Sunstreaker’s lips pulled into a soft smile, one that few had been treated to seeing. “Good luck, Rodimus. Not that I think you’ll need it. You’re an easy mech to love.”

Rodimus’ spark throbbed so hard he felt the crystal structure tremble. Words, again, were unhelpful, traitorous things. So he threw himself at Sunstreaker, into the gold mech’s arms, and felt himself wrapped in a tight embrace. He thought Sunstreaker was shaking, but maybe he imagined it.

“You better go,” Sunstreaker said. “Or I might ask you to stay.”

Rodimus forced himself to pull back, and was glad he did, because he caught something in Sunstreaker’s expression. Something he couldn’t define, that shaded his best friend’s optics a darker hue and filled his field with determination. Then Sunstreaker leaned in and Rodimus didn’t evade, giving in to the brief brush of their lips together.

It barely counted as a kiss.

It was definitely a goodbye.

Sunstreaker retreated, sooner than Rodimus would have liked, but not soon enough for the ache in his spark. Sometimes, it was harder to let something go that hadn’t definitively ended. Or perhaps because it had.

“Be safe,” Sunstreaker murmured.

“Be happy,” Rodimus countered, and didn’t even have to look behind him or over his shoulder to know that Sideswipe and Megatron hovered just inside the entrance of the settlement, watching. Not with jealousy but concern.

They’d take care of things on this end.

Now it was up to Rodimus to take care of himself.

“Ask me something hard,” Sunstreaker said.

Rodimus grinned. He tucked Sunstreaker’s gift into his subspace, to go through it later, and made himself dash through the open gate, before his spark made him linger. Before his determination faltered and he second-guessed his choices.

The easier choice was to stay in the settlement, to grapple with his failures, his unrequited love, and settle for whatever was left. He could bury his hopes, his dreams, and be satisfied with whatever lot life would give him.

Or he could take this chance. He could plunge back into the Barrens, find Starscream’s tower, and see if the Seeker would let him stay. See if there was a future with Starscream, one full of adventure and curiosities and challenge.

Rodimus had never been one to take the easy way out. He certainly wasn’t going to start now.

So into the Barrens he descended.

He didn’t know what his future was going to hold, and for once, that uncertainty didn’t frighten the Pit out of him.

If anything, it set him free.

[TF] Trial by Fire 10

Life settled into a routine far quicker than Rodimus expected it would.

He wasn’t sure why he thought things would be different. He just had this expectation in the pit of his spark that something would have changed. Or maybe the problem was that he had changed. He wasn’t sure.

He bent to his punishment – cleaning duty twofold, no surprise there – and he rejoined his fellow Firebrands in their daily training. He felt apart from them, however, and when they trotted off in little cliques to laugh and brag amongst each other, Rodimus didn’t join them. He was invited, but he declined.

They’d goaded him, and he’d embarrassed himself, and he was having a hard time reconciling it. They were as strangers to him.

Springer gave him long, sad looks. But when Fangry and Twin Twist called for him, he just patted Rodimus on the shoulder and wished him luck in his cleaning duties. Springer didn’t know how to handle Rodimus anymore than Rodimus knew how to handle himself.

He turned over the bits of turbowolf he’d brought with him to the artisans of the clan. They ooh’ed and aah’ed and made appropriate noises of appreciation, already babbling to each other how best to use the materials. They were also grateful for the metal ingots Rodimus didn’t keep for himself.

He’d found the datapads then, buried at the bottom of his pack. His spark hammering in his chassis, Rodimus pulled them out, feeling touched to the core. His finger swept over the titles inlaid on the back, all of them romances and fairy tales from Starscream’s collection. He’d noticed, and he’d given them to Rodimus.

They were now under his berth, in his personal crate, buried deep where Springer couldn’t find them and tease him. Rodimus kept one in his subspace, for the spare moments he had betweeen training and cleaning, when he could wander off on his lonesome and bury his nose in the pages. They, at least, were much better company.

The Festival of Stars approached, as he knew it would, and then it was here. With it came the moment Rodimus had both dreaded and anticipated. Before getting lost, before Starscream, he’d been eager. He thought he had a chance. Now, he knew what to expect.

Rodimus stood in the gathered crowd, with the entirety of his clan who was not on extended watch or guard duty or couldn’t be spared from their various responsibilities. The bonfire crackled and burned behind him, ready for the celebration afterward. Baked treats wafted their enticing odors and a huge display of engex waited for the inevitable congratulations.

All of the Firebrands clustered together, though Rodimus lingered to the back of the group of a dozen or so mechs, his brother among them. Excitement and energy rippled in the air. Not every Firebrand wanted to be a warrior. Some had other aspirations. The soldier hopefuls, however, were most obvious in their pushing to the front, jostling each other with excited elbows.

Rodimus waited, and surprised himself how little he felt on bolts and brackets. It was like he already knew the outcome.

Warchief Megatron stepped forward and gave his speech, his second and third to his left and right – Soundwave and Wirelite respectively. Rodimus stared at the datapad in the warchief’s hand. He knew it contained a list, just as did the rest of his fellow Firebrands.

The speech ended. The crowd politely clapped. Some of the more newly branded whooped, and quite a few of the Firebrands echoed them. Until Wirelite called for quiet, and Megatron lifted his datapad.

Silence fell.

One by one, Megatron read from the list. Of the names called, Rodimus’ was not among them. It came as little surprise. It didn’t even give him the jolt of disappointment in his spark. He felt too numb for that.

He was not a warrior. He was not suited to be one. He doubted even, by the next commitment ceremony, that he would. Especially since it would be his last. He already knew it was no longer his fate. He was to be a civilian, to serve under the guidance of their Prime.

It was not a terrible fate. It carried its own rewards. It just wasn’t the path Rodimus had always dreamed he’d take. It confined him. Entrapped him. It was not the life he’d imagined for himself.

Rodimus stood back and watched some of his fellow batchmates grin and bow as they rose to accept their brands. Clockwork and Silverspire and Twin Twist, all quivering with pride, bearing the burden as their Warchief personally applied the brands and welcomed them to his warriors.

Silverspire had been the worst of the goaders, insistent that Rodimus’ future depended on him taking this risk. He had always taunted Rodimus, who was one of the smallest of their batch, and never managed to excel at much of anything. He’d always envied Rodimus his friendship with the twins.

They’d turned Silverspire down once upon a time. He never forgot that insult.

Springer was up there, too. To no one’s surprise. He’d taken top marks this time around. His acceptance of the Warchief’s mark was a foregone conclusion. Every one was sure he’d rise to leadership in little time. Many thought he’d take over when Kup retired, if not for the Warchief himself.

And there was Rodimus. At the back of the crowd, counting the demerits on his record and knowing he’d never stand on that podium.

He wondered if he even cared anymore.

Movement in his peripheral vision alerted him to the fact he wasn’t alone. He expected it to be Sunstreaker, offering words of consolation, but the colors were wrong. Bright crimson instead, and of course, Sideswipe.

He grinned at Rodimus, nudging him with a shoulder. “Hey hot stuff,” he said, with that easygoing drawl that never failed to drizzle through Rodimus, igniting heat on the way. “Been looking for you.”

“I’ve been around,” Rodimus murmured. He leaned harder against the wall, as if he could merge himself into the carved metal and become part of the settlement. The sounds of growing celebration felt all too distant to him.

“Yeah, but not in the way I expected you to be.” Sideswipe leaned beside him, their arms touching, the warmth of him both foreign and familiar. “Didn’t see ya at the matches, or the races, or at last night’s game either.”

Rodimus shrugged. “Had other things to do. Besides all that, Kup’s idea of punishment has kept me exhausted.” He scrubbed his hand over his head and offered a wry grin. “You know how that is.”

Sideswipe chuckled. “Sure do.” Once upon a time, he’d been a notorious prankster with boundless energy who was constantly facing Kup’s wrath. “He can be pretty creative when properly motivated, and kid, you scared us all.”

‘All’ was an exaggeration, Rodimus knew. Many folks didn’t notice him missing. In fact, if not for having befriended the twins who made such a big fuss as a result, Rodimus wondered if anyone would have realized he was gone. Sure, Springer had been worried. He’d have probably gone after Rodimus himself if Sunstreaker hadn’t beaten him to it.

But overall?

Rodimus didn’t make much of a mark here.

Rodimus ducked his head. “Sorry,” he said. “It won’t happen again.”

“Oh, I know. I just… you sure you’re all right?” Sideswipe peered at him, gaze dropping to Rodimus’ abdomen but only briefly.

He tried for a pleasant grin. “Course I am. I’m all healed up. Sunny even made me pretty again. Why would you think otherwise?”

“Just a feeling I have.” Sideswipe shrugged, but he didn’t do nonchalant well. He was far too devious for that. “Plus, you’re different, I don’t know. Something about you is different. Not bad, just… different.”

Rodimus squinted at him. “Did Sunstreaker tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Sideswipe scratched at his chin. “You know how Sunny is. He’s a steel trap if he wants to be. Something I should know, hot shot?”

Rodimus shook his head. “No. Never mind.” He shifted his weight and returned his attention to the stage, where the newly inducted warriors lined up behind their Warchief who was preparing to make a speech.

Sideswipe made a noncommittal noise. He pressed his arm to Rodimus’. “You know Sunny and I love ya, right? No matter what you end up deciding.”

Rodimus blinked and gave Sideswipe a startled look. “Deciding? What do you mean?”

Sideswipe shrugged again. “Nothing. Just throwing that out there.” He leaned in close, all but laying his head on Rodimus’ shoulder. “Just in case, you know, you want to go out after whatever’s still got your spark.”

“I-I don’t know what you mean.”

“Sure you don’t.” Sideswipe rubbed his face on Rodimus’ shoulder and looked up at him with a bright grin. “But in case you do figure out what I mean, just know that me and Sunny, we got your back, okay?”

A raucous sound rose up from the gathered crowd then, as their fellow clansmechs clapped and cheered for their Warchief. The newly inducted warriors bowed, beaming with pride. The roar grew louder. The band started to play. The celebration would begin soon.

And Sideswipe beamed up at Rodimus, brimming with affection. It was almost enough.

Rodimus’ spark bloomed with warmth. “Thanks,” he said. “And I mean that, Sides. You and Sunny mean the world to me.”

“We know.” Sideswipe winked and laughed, jostling Rodimus with his shoulder. “You’re staying tonight, right?”

For the dance and bonfire? For the engex and sweet treats and the lead up to mating season?

Rodimus considered skipping it all. He didn’t feel like he had much to celebrate. He no longer had anyone he wished to court.

Kup had given him the evening away from scrubbing, so he could go to the celebration, and a part of him thought maybe he’d rather be cleaning. It sure would be better than standing on the sidelines, staring longingly at all the things he’d never have.

“You know Sunny will be put out if you don’t,” Sideswipe added. “You owe us both a dance. And you’ll also miss out on trying my new, special recipe. One I might even be convinced to share.”

Rodimus managed a smile. “I’ll come.” For their sake, if nothing and no one else’s.

“Sweet.” Sideswipe leaned in and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Save me a dance, okay? We gotta show all these stiffs out here how to really groove.”

Rodimus chuckled. “If you say so.”

“I do, in fact.” Sideswipe grinned and spun away with a little playful salute. “Catch you later.”

And then he was gone, joining the roil of mechs as they seethed away from the stage and surged toward the main courtyard for the party tonight. The bonfire would really grow after sunset, the high grade would be flowing, there would be treats aplenty, and even those on perimeter guard would be spelled later so they could take part.

The Festival of Stars was the single, biggest event in all of the settlement for the entirety of the year.

All in all, it wasn’t a terrible way to spend an evening. Once upon a time, Rodimus would have been jittering with excitement about it. He would have danced with the best of them. He would have joined in the strength challenges and the skill challenges. He’d have drank himself into a stupor, and stuffed himself full of treats until he purged. And he’d have called it a good night.

He supposed he had changed. Maybe even for the better.

Sighing, Rodimus pushed himself off the wall. Best go take a quick rinse, soak, and buff, or Sunstreaker would never let him live it down. He still had to look his best, no matter what. He still had to pretend he belonged here.

It wasn’t like he had anywhere else to go.

~

Starscream leapt across the room and snatched the small box out of Deadlock’s hands before he could think twice about what he was doing. He whipped around, bodily putting himself between Deadlock and his reclaimed prize, while the last few energon treats slid around inside.

“Uh. I take it you don’t want to share those?” Deadlock asked from behind Starscream, his voice richly amused, but also bewildered.

Starscream worked his intake and shook his head. “No.” He edged away from Deadlock and returned the box to the stasis field. “They were a gift,” he added, to clarify. “And I only have so many.”

“A gift.” Deadlock leaned against the counter, watching Starscream intently. “This wouldn’t have something to do with the Firebrand, would it?”

“Insomuch that he made them.” Starscream shrugged and closed the door, sealing the treats safely in the keeper.

“Uh huh.” Deadlock’s grin widened, turning sharklike and feral. “I don’t suppose he made that little car and jet on your desk either.”

Starscream felt heat steal into his faceplate. “As a matter of fact, he did,” he said airily and cocked an orbital ridge at his best friend. “Why?”

“For someone whose existence you claim to be unimportant, you sure do treat the things he left behind specially,” Deadlock drawled. “One might, I dare say, claim that you liked said person.”

Starscream reared back; his wings went rigid. “That’s absurd,” he spluttered, the heat in his face growing. “He was an irritation. An annoyance. A distraction. A distraction I don’t need, if I may remind you, because my very spark depends on it!” He shook a finger in Deadlock’s direction, spilling out the last on the edge of a growl.

Deadlock, however, didn’t so much as flinch in the face of it. “You’re not as solitary as you like to think you are, Starling.” He paused and his voice softened just a tad. “And I’m not around nearly as much as I ought to be either.”

“I don’t blame you for that,” Starscream said and whirled away from Deadlock, his spark doing an unfortunate squeeze-flutter in his chassis. He nearly tripped over Scramble in his haste. “You wander. It’s in your nature. I know that.”

“Doesn’t mean you don’t get lonely.”

“Yes, it does,” Starscream snapped. His spark pulsed harder as if with fear, though there was nothing to be afraid of. “I am not lonely because I like to be alone. I have things to do. My research takes precedence above all else. I don’t have time for… for…”

“Friendship? Companionship?” Deadlock cut him off before he could stalk out the door, leaning toward Starscream with a purr in his vocals. “Romance?”

Starscream folded his arms over his cockpit. “All of the above.”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt you tell yourself that to make the long nights easier.” Deadlock cupped his face, a surprisingly gentle gesture for the often rough and tumble mech. “But behind that snark and bluster, you don’t want to be alone. Otherwise you wouldn’t bother with me, and you never would have bothered with Blurr.”

Starscream stiffened. “We are not talking about Blurr.” No matter how many years had passed, memories of his former lover and current friend would never be easy. Starscream would not admit to the nights he spent pacing the corridors, wondering if he’d made the right choice.

“I know.” Deadlock’s thumbs stroked Starscream’s cheeks. “He’s off-limits, a wound that still isn’t healing. Doesn’t make what I’m saying any less true though.”

Starscream snorted, his gaze dropping from Deadlock’s. He hated it when Deadlock got all schmoopy and earnest. Made it harder to ignore him because he was just so damned sincere.

Made it harder to watch him leave, too.

“What’s it matter anyway?” Starscream asked, and hated how tired he sounded. Tired and disappointed both. “He’s gone. What point in there is admitting that I actually enjoyed his company?”

A small rumble rose in Deadlock’s engine. “You know what, Star. I think you were wrong.”

“Shocker,” Starscream muttered and dragged his optics back to Deadlock. “About what, pray tell?”

“There is someone I need to kill.” Deadlock dragged him close, pressing a kiss to the curve of his mouth. “Soon as you tell me his name.”

Starscream snorted again. He curled his fingers around Deadlock’s hand, slowly loosening them from his face. “For what? Being such a charming pain in the aft?”

“For stealing something without realizing its value,” Deadlock corrected and let Starscream withdraw this time. He knew Starscream too well.

“You’re ridiculous.” Nevertheless, Starscream’s spark did warm. Deadlock’s concern for him was worth all the credits in the universe. “It’s hardly his fault. But I appreciate the thought.”

“You could go after him, you know.”

Starscream rolled his optics and slipped past Deadlock, leaving the energon room as he’d intended to do, and not at all surprised when Deadlock padded quietly after him. Scramble stayed behind, scooping up the crumbs Deadlock had dropped in his grazing.

“No, thanks. If he’d wanted to stay, he would have.”

“Starling, you’re not the most inviting mech. You probably practically threw him out, knowing you.”

Starscream didn’t deign to dignify that with a retort. Even if it was true. He didn’t need distractions, damn it. He didn’t need the hope that Rodimus would stay, however thin it had been. He hadn’t given Rodimus a chance to say ‘no.’

“I have work to do,” he said, without looking over his shoulder. “Kindly entertain yourself for a few hours, if you think you can manage that.”

Deadlock snorted. “Yeah, sure. I can tell when I’m not wanted. I’ll just go down and have a soak. Me, myself, and I. And my hand.” He slipped past Starscream, wriggling his fingers in emphasis. “Alone.”

“Yes, you’re going to self-service. And if you’re attempting to entice me into joining you, it’s not working,” Starscream said, rolling his optics.

“Can’t blame me for trying.” Deadlock winked, bearing a fanged grin. “But if you change your mind…”

“I know where to find you.”

Starscream ignored the irresponsible thoughts that told him to follow and join Deadlock in the oil pool, to take his pleasures when he could.

He had work to do. He had to focus on it. His work was the only thing that mattered.

Nothing else.

~

Rodimus shone like a newly sparked mech. His paint gleamed and sparkled in the light of the bonfire, and once upon a time, he would have been in the middle of the seething mass of mechs dancing and spinning around to the cheerful beat. He would have been laughing, darting from partner to partner, trying to sneak a grope or two maybe, and getting groped in return.

The sense of celebration in the air was suffocating. The buffet table was laden with treats, savory and sweet, from Sideswipe’s fancy candies to puffy oil cakes and metal wafers, and big drums of high grade and sweetened juices for the younger mechs. Later, there would be a fireworks ceremony, courtesy of Flotsam and his love of all things explosive.

Rodimus found himself hovering on the edges, however. He had a cube of high grade, the same one he’d started with, and only half-full besides. He sat on one of the benches scattered around for the elderly and easily fatigued. He sat alone.

He watched everyone: the dancers, the chatters, those hanging out on the fringes, and those up to mischief as they huddled in a small group and whispered together. Even Warchief Megatron was here, a cup of high grade in one hand as he was deep in conversation with Soundwave. Sunstreaker was next to him, Megatron’s arm around his waist, resting casually on his lower back.

Sometimes, he’d lean in to say something to Sunstreaker, who’d smirk around his own engex. Or Megatron’s lips would brush over Sunstreaker’s audial. Flirting in public, the gall Warchief had, but in the end, it was Megatron who blushed while Sunstreaker only looked more sly.

Until Sideswipe came strutting by, clutching a cube of engex, a swagger in his step. He had the audacity to swat the Warchief’s aft with a wink, causing Megatron to startle and whip around, fixing Sideswipe with a glare. Sunstreaker was more demonstrative, socking his twin in the shoulder with a punch hard enough to dent Sideswipe’s armor.

Sideswipe laughed it off, dodging the next swing. Megatron looked more amused than concerned. The twins, after all, made a habit of fighting and wrestling each other. Sunstreaker had yet to kill Sideswipe.

Though the key word here was ‘yet’.

It was nice, Rodimus mused, to see the three of them like this. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe and Megatron. They were all good for each other. The affection they felt was clear. The love and the trust.

Rodimus’ spark twinged. He wanted it, too.

He sipped at his energon and shifted his attention, if only to spare his feelings. He watched the dancers instead. He watched Springer and the other newly branded as they talked and laughed together, their brands shiny even at night.

He found himself wandering if Starscream liked to dance. Probably not, he thought. Starscream didn’t seem like someone who enjoyed noise or crowds. He’d probably like the buffet table though, Rodimus thought with a snicker. Starscream did enjoy the treats Rodimus made.

He probably wasn’t one for dancing though. Which was a shame. Rodimus thought he might like to see Starscream out there, glittering and grinning as he twirled and spun and wriggled with the beat. Or maybe he’d sit back and scowl about how noisy everyone was as he gorged on treats, probably hovering over the buffet table, staking claim on a plate of sour-sweet gummies.

Rodimus grinned at the thought, Starscream hissing and snarling over anyone who came too close to the treats he favored. Maybe he’d even have one of his drones, probably Swift, beeping and honking in further threat.

“Now there is a sight I’ve not seen as a late.”

Rodimus startled, whipping around to see Optimus Prime approaching him. Rodimus leapt to his feet, hastening into a shallow bow.

“Sir! I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.”

Optimus waved off the apology. “Probably because I was being sneaky.” He gave Rodimus a conspiratorial look. “I’ve found that if I don’t, people spend far too much time worrying about being polite and proper, and not enough time having fun.”

Rodimus blinked. “You’re the Prime, sir.” He shifted uneasily, feeling far more uncomfortable under Optimus’ stare than he did Megatron’s. There was something about Optimus, as though the weight of millenniums of experience peered back at Rodimus. “We should hold you to the highest respect.”

“Mmm.” Optimus lowered himself to the bench Rodimus had just abandoned, leaving enough room for Rodimus beside him. “Centuries since we’ve lived in the city, and still some things linger like an untreatable rust infection.” He gave Rodimus a long look. “I am a mortal mech, and the only thing which makes me worthy is that I have earned the respect of others.”

Rodimus shifted again, and felt his face flush. He dropped his gaze. “Yes, sir.”

“That wasn’t meant as a chastisement, Rodimus. Merely an observation.” Optimus patted the bench beside him. “Come. Sit. I didn’t mean to take your bench from you.”

Somehow, it felt less like an offer and more like a command. Rodimus sat, though cautiously. The last thing he needed was anyone accusing him of offending their Prime. Or insulting him. Or imposing himself. Or anything really.

“You’re, uh, you’re not dancing?” Rodimus asked, trying not to squirm. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen their Prime dancing. Soundwave was not one for letting loose either.

Optimus accorded him a smile, which softened his more stern features. “Not at the moment, no. I haven’t a sense of rhythm, you see, and as large as I am, I fear many the flattened foot by the end of the evening.” He chuckled, low and soft. “Wrench might have my head yet.”

Rodimus grinned, though he couldn’t imagine their stately leader being uncoordinated at anything. Still, it was an amusing mental image.

“And there it is again,” Optimus said, tilting his head.

Rodimus blinked. “What do you mean, sir?”

“You’re smiling.”

Heat stole into Rodimus’ cheeks. He resisted the urge to duck his head. “Yeah, I… uh…”

“That wasn’t a chastisement either.” Optimus chuckled, and his gaze slid away, toward the happily spinning dancers. “You aren’t among them. Though I seem to recall you were often a participant in these celebrations. Am I mistaken?”

Rodimus shook his head. “No. You remember correctly. I’m not in the mood for dancing, I guess.”

“Mm.” There went another one of those non-committal noises. “Might that be because you expected to be among those who were granted their warrior’s badge today?”

Humiliation burned at Rodimus’ finials. This time he did drop his gaze. “Yes, sir.” He stared down at his hands, watched his embarrassingly shiny fingers tangle together. “I’m sure you’ve heard all about my many failures.”

“I did hear you’ve had something of an adventure, yes. Though I don’t recall there being any mention of failures,” Optimus conceded. His hands flattened on his thighs, fingers rapping a rhythm painfully off-beat to the music. “Why do you want to bear the warrior’s badge, Rodimus?”

He startled, not expecting the blunt question. He fidgeted, picking at one of his seams. “It opens up things to me. Things I want. And well it’s the only thing I’m good at.”

Optimus’ gaze turned back toward him again, and somehow it burned. “Is it really?”

Somehow, Rodimus felt like he’d given the wrong answer. “Yes?” he said, though it didn’t sound as firm as he liked. “I mean, Springer’s one. Most of my batchmates are either sworn already, or are on their way. And warriors are important.”

“Whereas civilians aren’t,” Optimus surmised, his tone carefully even.

Oh, Primus. There he went, insulting the Prime, as he hadn’t meant to.

Rodimus flushed. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know.” Optimus was silent for a long moment, his gaze on the dancers, his face in profile, stern but kind. “Megatron and I chose to leave the cities for many reasons, but one of which is that we were through with being judged by our function. And yet, we have somehow carried some of those traditions with us. We still divide ourselves with brands, giving ourselves labels, even when sometimes, some of us don’t fit into those walls.”

Rodimus scrubbed his hands down his thighs. “But that’s the way people are though. We like to have ways to describe ourselves.”

“True. But one must also consider that when presented with a choice of either and or, there leaves little room for those who are neither.”

Rodimus blinked, something in Optimus’ tone suggesting that his words were very important. “What are you saying, sir?”

Optimus audibly cycled a ventilation. “Sometimes we don’t know that there are other options until fate throws them into our path, seemingly by coincidence.”

Rodimus squinted at him. “What?”

Finally, those bright blue optics turned back toward him, almost frightening in their sincerity. “You did not repair yourself.”

Rodimus’ mouth fell open. He fully intended to defend himself, defend his lie, truth be told, but Optimus held up a single hand.

“I am not accusing you or intending to punish you, Rodimus,” he said. “This is merely an observation. We have no law against making friends with outsiders, even those of the Seeker persuasion. Indeed, if you are capable of seeing beyond the rumors and the horror stories, then this is something I wish to encourage.”

There the heat was again, stealing into his face, making his internal temperature rise. “How did you guess?”

Optimus chuckled. “Wrench was the first to suggest it had been Starscream, but I’d always suspected your story was not entirely made of truth.”

“You know his name?”

“Wrench informed me.” Again, Optimus laughed, though it was not so much jest as inner amusement. “They were acquainted, apparently, at some point.”

Rodimus’ jaw dropped once more. He tried to imagine the surly medic interacting with Starscream, and all he could see was a disaster in the making.

“You’ve been quite different since you’ve returned,” Optimus added, though his gaze wandered away again, as though he knew the effect it had on Rodimus. “As if your spark is no longer interested in the paths laid before you.”

“Oh. That.” Rodimus hadn’t even realized Optimus noticed. After all, Rodimus was just a Firebrand, one of many unbranded mechs training and learning as they set their sights on which brand they wanted to bear.

Rodimus scuffed one foot against the ground, watching the dancers as the music changed tempo, to something slow and sweet, forcing the eager singles to the periphery and the couples – mated or otherwise – to the center.

“Just been doing a lot of hard thinking lately, I guess,” Rodimus admitted, something in his spark giving a hard pang as he watched the lovers swaying together. “My frame’s here, but my processor is back out in the desert, watching a Seeker hard at work. It was only a week, I don’t even know why I’m still thinking about him. Or what the point of it is.”

“The point, I would assume, is that you want to see him again,” Optimus said quietly.

Rodimus shook his head and stared down at his lap. “Even if I did, why would I? He likes his privacy. He was pretty darn eager to see me go. The last thing I want to do is intrude again.” He cycled a long ventilation. “Besides, my place is here. I belong here.”

“Belonging is all a matter of the spark,” Optimus corrected and turned to face Rodimus entirely. “Rodimus if there is something – or someone – you want, you should allow yourself the opportunity to seek it. There is no greater regret than never knowing what answer you would have found.”

Rodimus looked up at their spiritual leader and nibbled on his bottom lip. “So… you’re telling me that I should follow my spark?”

“In more words, yes.” Optimus smiled, and it was so genuine and encouraging that Rodimus felt his own spark flutter. Especially when the Prime rested his hand on Rodimus’ shoulder. “We came to the wilds to be free, to choose for ourselves our fate, and not be obligated to any set path. If you find that yours isn’t here, then you are no more required to stay here than any other. Just know that there will always be a home for you here.”

Rodimus’ spark fluttered. “Sideswipe said that, too.” He scratched at the side of his nose. “I guess I’m not very subtle, huh? Since everyone seems to know what I didn’t figure out until now.”

Optimus squeezed his shoulder. “Sometimes, we are blind to the most important things.” His hand slid away, but his field wrapped around Rodimus, warm and encouraging. “You are free to make whatever decision you wish, Rodimus. Though if you do decide to follow your spark, you might want to tell Sunstreaker first.”

Despite himself, Rodimus barked a laugh and gave Optimus a sidelong look. “He was that much a nuisance, I take it?”

“He was very concerned for you,” Optimus confirmed and his optics sparkled. “And quite forceful in his defense of you. He had my brother in quite the mood.”

Rodimus chuckled softly, suddenly feeling lighter than he thought possible. “So I’ve heard. I’ll tell him.” He rolled his shoulders. “I mean, if I decide to go. I still don’t see much of a point, but I guess I’ll never know if I don’t try.”

“And I wish you luck.” Optimus rose to his feet, the smile on his lips shifting targets as he noticed his own bondmate across the way, beckoning to him. Megatron had been dragged to the dance floor by Sideswipe which left Soundwave on his lonesome. “With such a prospective mate, I am certain you will need it.”

In that, like so many things, Optimus was right.

Rodimus smiled as Optimus moved away, keeping to the periphery of the dancing crowd so as not to intrude, as he met up with Soundwave. They pressed their foreheads together, a brief and chaste moment of intimacy, before Soundwave tangled the fingers of his left hand with Optimus’ right. Something was spoken and off they went, vanishing into the crowd and the night. No doubt to join the celebration in their own way.

Where Sunstreaker had gone, Rodimus didn’t know. But he banished thoughts of finding his dear friend and coaxing out a dance.

Sunstreaker was not his to entice. Not that he’d ever truly been.

Rodimus fiddled with his energon before he tipped it back and drained the cube. He had a decision to make. And he could not do so while sitting here.