It starts with a laser scalpel.
No one sees the little bit grab it but Sunstreaker. It’s over in an instant, a flash, and the bitlet is safe before anyone realizes what happened. Sunstreaker growling to the bit in a strange garbled language is the rust on the oilcake, before he sets the scalpel high out of reach and stomps back to Sideswipe’s side.
He glares at the room as though daring anyone to comment.
No one does.
Grimlock notices. He can’t help but notice. It’s what Dinobots do. They watch. They observe. They notice. They take down details no one else bothers to find important, but a Dinobot knows. They’re used to being in the background, being ignored. They’re used to knowing the secrets no one else knows.
“Aw, he’s just curious,” Wheeljack says once it’s all said and done and Ratchet goes back to examining the mysterious sparkling.
Curious Grimlock’s aft. That sparkling intended to stick the scalpel in Ratchet and make a break for it. He may be little, but he’s more than half-feral, and there’s a look in the bit’s optics Grimlock knows all too well.
He doesn’t trust them. He’s terrified of them. And he’s been alone too long to know what it means to rely on anyone but himself.
Someone abandoned him. Someone had looked at this tiny, helpless sparkling, and cast him out in the wilderness alone. It’s unconscionable. Said aft better hope Grimlock never finds his identity because there’s no punishment strong enough for such a crime.
It had broken his spark, to see the little shape darting in and out of the debris of the city, far too young to be a survivor of the bombardment from millennia past. At first, Grimlock had thought it a spying cassetticon. Swoop had flown in, snatching the little bit up, and immediately, Grimlock had known the truth.
This was a sparkling. And he needed help. So Grimlock did the only thing he could. He brought the little one to his creator, and in doing so, managed to attract the attention of half the Autobot army.
No one’s seen a sparkling in millennia. Most had died during the war, and those who survived, grew up to be warriors, soldiers.
So many start hovering as Ratchet works on the malnourished sparkling that Optimus has to come down shoo them out. Or at least that’s his excuse. Optimus wants to see the bitlet as much as everyone else. He makes everyone leave, and then Optimus lingers as well, blue optics haunted as he focuses on the tiny frame.
Grimlock doesn’t budge. He sends his brothers away to make for more room in the cramped medbay, but he doesn’t budge. They’d found the sparkling. He feels responsible for it. He wants to make sure the bitlet gets the best care, and that the Autobots and their occasionally flexible morals, don’t decide to treat it poorly if it turns out to be the spawn of a Decepticon.
So Grimlock stands back and he watches, and as a result, he’s the only one to catch the intent in the sparkling’s optics. Well, he thinks he’s the only one. Turns out, Sunstreaker notices, too. And he reacts much faster than Grimlock.
He leaps up from his brother’s side, crosses the room in a flash, and snatches both scalpel and sparkling out of thin air. The sparkling hisses and thrashes like a wild animal, until Sunstreaker gives him a little shake and growls at him. It’s some guttural, incomprehensible language but the sparkling immediately goes still and quiet, his optics wide.
Sunstreaker glares for a second more, optics as warm as a chip of ice, and the sparkling stays quiet. Meek. Obedient. Whatever Sunstreaker says is effective. Only then does Sunstreaker hand him back to Ratchet, without a word and seemingly ignorant to the multiple incredulous stares he’s earned.
Ratchet shakes himself, and Wheeljack is the one who tries to downplay the danger of the situation.
“His curiosity needs to stay away from dangerous instruments,” Ratchet grouses, his voice gruff but his hands gentle. He sets the sparkling back on the exam table and continues, perhaps a touch more wary than before.
The sparkling folds his arms and glares at the ground, pouting if Grimlock has to guess.
“How is he, Ratchet?” Optimus asks. If he’s bothered by the attempted maiming, it doesn’t show in his voice or his posture. Though his optics do dim with sympathy for the sparkling.
Well, that’s Optimus. Soft-sparked for the little ones.
Unless the little ones are big, dumb newly-sparked Dinobots.
Ratchet pulls a packet of solid energon from nowhere and hands it to the bit, who snatches it from him and starts gnawing on it immediately. Quickly, too. He gobbles it down as if he’s afraid someone will take it from him.
Little thing like that, Grimlock wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case. The war has driven a lot of mechs from Cybertron, but scavengers still linger. They would have no qualms about stealing from a little one either.
It’s every mech for himself.
“He’ll live,” Ratchet says. “He’s severely malnourished. He’s significantly smaller than he should be given his spark size. His fuel pump barely functions. He’s going to need a complete flush of all his lines, and he definitely needs a bath.”
Optimus leans against the wall, arms folded over his chassis. “Is there any clue as to his identity?”
“He’s a sparkling, Optimus.” Ratchet hands the bitlet another strip of hardened energon. “He’s not wearing a badge. And without sparks for comparison, I don’t know who he belongs to. So unless someone comes looking, I’d say he’s ours now.”
Optimus frowns, his forehead wrinkling. “We’re in the middle of a war, Ratchet. This is no place for a sparkling.”
“It’s not like there’s anywhere else that’s safe,” comes a mutter from the other side of the room.
Grimlock follows the bitter tone to Sideswipe, alert on the berth despite being drugged to the gills, a heavy layer of static bandaging over the hole in his midsection. Sunstreaker sits next to him, pointedly not looking at the little one gnawing on his treat. He’s got a deathgrip on one of Sideswipe’s hands, as though trying to keep his brother alive by sheer willpower alone, not that Sideswipe is currently in danger of offlining.
Wheeljack nods. “Sideswipe has a point.” He tries to wriggle a finger at the bitlet’s belly and nearly gets bit for his troubles. “There’s nowhere we can send him. If you ask me, he’s better off with us. I think the army can handle one sparkling to look after, don’t you?”
Wheeljack’s optics are bright with affection, and Grimlock knows, if Optimus doesn’t agree, he might have a fight on his hands. Wheeljack loves little ones. He’s always wanted sparklings of his own. There’s no way he’d be content with sending the bitlet away to a place that may or may not be safe.
“That would probably be for the best,” Optimus says with an audible sigh. His gaze softens as he looks at the bitlet. “Does he have a name?”
Ratchet shakes his head and sets his datapad aside. “Not an official one.”
“Whirlwind,” Sunstreaker pipes up, though his efforts to ignore them are now proven false. “Whirl for short.”
Ratchet’s orbital ridges lift. Wheeljack chuckles, his indicators flickering through shades of pink.
“I like it,” Wheeljack declares. He wriggles a small wrench at the sparkling, who gives him a thousand-yard stare of boredom. “It suits him.”
“That’s because it’s his name,” Sunstreaker retorts. He rolls his optics and whips a mesh cloth out of subspace, scrubbing at a mark on his arm, one Grimlock had noticed earlier.
The sparkling, in his thrashing haste to escape, had nicked Sunstreaker’s arm. It is barely a scratch for warrior’s armor, and couldn’t have drawn energon, but of course, Sunstreaker takes any mark to his paint personally.
“How do you know?” Ratchet asks.
Sunstreaker ignores him. It’s Sideswipe who sighs and gives them a shaky grin. “Once a street rat, always a street rat,” he chirps. “It’s gutter speak. Pretty much the only thing you can talk if no one ever uploads proper language protocols, you know.”
Optimus straightens, pushing away from the wall. “You understand this language?”
“I don’t know if I’d call it a language, but yeah. Mostly.” Sideswipe shrugs, and then winces as it tugs at the wound on his midsection. He reaches out, nudging his brother with his knuckles. “Help me out here, bro.”
Sunstreaker sighs, much put upon. “It has dialects like any other language,” he says without looking up from the scratch. “It’s not universal.”
“So you can’t understand him?” Ratchet asks as Whirlwind makes a few urgent noises, chomping on the last bit of energon and eying Ratchet as though considering taking a bite out of the medic.
Wheeljack tries to hand him the wrench again. Whirl snatches it up and promptly takes a swipe at Wheeljack, who’s smart enough to lean back at the last moment.
Ratchet turns at the noise, and a wrestling match ensues between two grown mechs and a teeny sparkling. Sunstreaker snorts a laugh, and Sideswipe grins as they manage to mechhandle the wrench away. Or bribe actually as Ratchet hands Whirl another energon chew and like the little survivor he is, Whirl takes lunch over a weapon.
“We can, but you know, it’s not a literal translation or anything.” Sideswipe winces and he must have said something to Sunstreaker over their bond, because Sunstreaker rolls his optics and heaves out of the chair. “We can figure it out though.”
“I am glad to hear it. We could use your help,” Optimus says.
Sideswipe grins, and there’s something practiced in it, something Grimlock recognizes all too well. Put on a front, show you’re not dangerous, prove you’re on their side, again and again, because you’ve too much pride to run away, and you aren’t running into the arms of the other guy either.
Grimlock and his brothers, they’re all in the same boat.
“Whatever you need,” Sideswipe chirps.
Optimus nods slowly. “For now, however, I think it’s best if Whirl stays with Wheeljack and Ratchet. Unless you disagree?” He looks at the aforementioned two, who only need to exchange a glance without words.
They’ve been together so long, they don’t really need them anymore. Grimlock envies his creators for that connection. He wants to have a relationship like that of his own some day. Maybe, if he’s lucky, even a family.
“It’s fine with me,” Wheeljack says with a shrug. He reaches for Whirl, but the sparkling bares his denta and hisses, and Wheeljack decides against it. “Don’t think he likes me very much though.”
Sunstreaker snorts and returns to his stool with a datapad, which he tumbles into Sideswipe’s hands. “He doesn’t like anyone. He’s not going to either.”
“Why is that?” Ratchet asks, head tilted. Of course he won’t understand. He’d been sparked a medic. A talented, gifted medic. He’s never had to want for anything in his functioning.
Grimlock doesn’t hold that against Ratchet. It can’t be helped. But times like these, that lack of experience shows his ignorance.
Sideswipe makes a noise of glee. “You’re so good to me, bro,” he playfully purrs before he shifts his attention to the room at large. “Not trusting people comes with the territory.”
“It is an unfortunate thing,” Optimus says with a tone Grimlock has come to loathe. He calls it Optimus’ Patronizing Pontification tone. “It will be no easy task to care for a sparkling on a military base. We shall do our best to look after him nonetheless.”
“Eh, we’ll manage.” Wheeljack tries to poke Whirlwind in the belly again, and the sparkling squeaks, twisting out of range, grip firm on the energon chew. “We always do.”
Sideswipe and Sunstreaker exchange glances, but Grimlock is the only one to see them do so. They don’t comment. Sideswipe’s attention returns to his datapad. Sunstreaker swipes again at his armor, his optics occasionally straying to Whirl.
Grimlock can’t decide what expression Sunstreaker has. The yellow twin has always been harder to read, not that Sideswipe is an open book either. They both have masks and most of the other Autobots don’t bother to notice.
Then again, most of the other Autobots aren’t Dinobots.
“He’s just one sparkling,” Ratchet says as Whirl makes urgent noises of hunger around the last bite of energon chew in his mouth. “How hard can it be?”
Sideswipe’s gaze shoots toward him then, the curve of his mouth suggesting amusement. “Yeah,” he says. “He’s just one sparkling.”
“You hush.” Ratchet shakes a scanner at him warningly. “I’ll get to you in a minute.”
Sideswipe chuckles. Needling Ratchet’s always been one of his favorite pasttimes. He looks at Grimlock again, however, his energon blue optics sharp and assessing. Curious, perhaps, as though he’s seeing something for the first time.
Grimlock’s not interacted directly with the twins much. They tend to keep to themselves, same as the Dinobots. Grimlock’s heard enough stories to give him a frame of context, but how true they are, well, that’s up for debate.
Mechs tend to let bias form their opinions after all.
Grimlock’s thinking about finding out for himself now. He hadn’t expected to find echoes of camaraderie in Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, but he sees it now.
He wants to know more.
The ‘Call to Arms’ jerks Sideswipe out of a sound recharge, and away from the comforting warmth of a rare Sunstreaker cuddle. He grumbles as he rolls out of his brother’s arms and promptly tumbles off the bed, landing with a clatter on his bad hip.
“Graceful as always, Sides,” Sunstreaker murmurs sleepily.
“Shut up and get up, Sunshine.” Sideswipe clambers to his feet, clinging to the side of the berth, blinking recharge out of his optics. “There’s a battle. Hop to it.”
Sunstreaker growls and rolls over, burying his face in the berth. “Check your heads-up again, dumbaft. It’s a security alert.”
Sideswipe stumbles over to their energon stock and pulls out a cube. Oh, Sunny’s right, he realizes. It’s not a ‘Call to Arms’. It’s just an alert. Wait. Not just.
“Rise and shine!” Sideswipe pauses to chug his energon. “Little bit’s missing, Ratch and Jack are on a rampage, and I’ll bet bolts and brackets no one’s looking in the right place.”
“Because no one around here was raised in the gutters,” Sunstreaker mutters, his voice muffled by the pillow.
Sideswipe finishes off the cube, feeling marginally more alert, and returns to the berth. He climbs on and crawls over Sunstreaker, laying across his brother’s back. He ex-vents into Sunstreaker’s neck, mouth teasing against the back of Sunstreaker’s audial.
“Wake up, wake up, wake up,” he chants as he rolls his hips against Sunstreaker’s aft, mimicking their late night activities with an arrhythmic push that’s a shade annoying.
Sunstreaker growls. “Why are you so damn perky in the morning?”
“Because it’s so easy to love you,” Sideswipe says with a laugh. He tickles Sunstreaker’s sides and plants a sloppy kiss on the back of Sunstreaker’s neck.
He dodges the backward swipe Sunstreaker aims at him and scuttles off the berth. “All right, sheesh. I’ll leave some energon out for you, cranky. I’ll go look for Whirl by myself.”
Sunstreaker lifts his head a little, one optic visible. “Why do you care so much about the brat anyway?”
Sideswipe shrugs. “Because no one around here really gets him like we do,” he says. “And you know, no one was there for us. I kind of feel sorry for him.”
Sunstreaker pushes up on his elbows, both optics squinting at Sideswipe. “You want to keep him,” he accuses, surprise running flush through their bond. “Don’t you?”
Heat flushes Sideswipe’s cheeks. “Is that a bad thing?” he demands, indignant. “It’s not like we can have any for ourselves.”
“Yeah but…” Sunstreaker leverages himself into a seated position, looking so sleep rumpled and delectable it’s almost enough to distract Sideswipe. “They’re not gonna let us, Sides. You know that.”
Sideswipe’s spark shrinks into a tiny ball of hurt. “I know. But maybe we can babysit or something.” He shrugs, tries to play nonchalant. “I mean, Ratchet and Wheeljack are pretty busy, and Wheeljack works around some dangerous stuff. They might need help.”
Sunstreaker looks pointedly around the room, gesturing to the weapons on their walls, the detritus on the floor, the video game cords strewn about. “We’re not any safer.”
“We can fix that,” Sideswipe protests. He knows it’s a losing battle.
Sunstreaker sighs. “Yeah, but we can’t fix what we are.” He slides off the berth and toddles toward Sideswipe, pulling him into a hug, and Sideswipe clings to his brother, his twin. Times like this, when he can lean on Sunstreaker’s strength, are rare enough, and Sideswipe can’t help but indulge.
“Seems like we always get the rust end of the deal, don’t we?” Sideswipe mutters.
“On the bright side, we still have each other,” Sunstreaker says.
Sideswipe snorts and pulls back, slanting his lips over Sunstreaker’s in a quick kiss. Well, he intends to make it quick. But as usual, the touch of his brother’s mouth to his becomes something he can’t easily dismiss. Sunstreaker’s like an intoxicant, and Sideswipe always feels like he can’t get enough. Especially since Ratchet had specified no interfacing of any kind last night, and for once, Sideswipe had obeyed.
Sunstreaker presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth and separates them. “Go on. Look for the bit. When you come back, I’m fixing that mess on your chassis.”
Sideswipe rolls his optics. “It’s not my fault Motormaster shot me.”
“Should’ve dodged.” Sunstreaker pats him on the aft and grabs the energon Sideswipe left out for him. The reply had been nonchalant, but his clamped armor and narrowing of the bond speaks otherwise.
They have close calls all the time. This one wasn’t any different. Sunstreaker will get over it. After all, it’s not like he has to worry about outliving Sideswipe, right?
“I’ll remember that next time,” Sideswipe says, and backs toward the door. “See you later, bro.”
Sunstreaker waves over his shoulder, but their bond pulses love, and that’s good enough for Sideswipe. He ducks into the hallway and nearly collides with Bluestreak, who giggles and catches his shoulders so they don’t fall down in a graceless tumble.
“Where’s the fire?” Bluestreak asks as Sideswipe regains his balance.
“Sorry, Blue.” Sideswipe slings an arm over Bluestreak’s shoulder and leans on him. He wouldn’t dare do this with most mechs, but Bluestreak is one of the closest things he and Sunny have to a best friend. “Wasn’t paying attention. I heard there was something of an emergency and thought I’d offer my services.”
Bluestreak hooks an arm around Sideswipe’s waist and pinches a cable on the other side, making Sideswipe squeak. “You want to help look for Whirl?”
“Red’s got the whole base on alert. Figured I might as well, since it’s my day off and all.”
“You’re so sweet.”
“As a fresh-baked rust stick,” Sideswipe agrees.
Bluestreak rolls his optics and rises up, pressing a kiss to Sideswipe’s cheek. “Well, if anyone can find him, I’ll bet you can.” He squeezes Sideswipe’s opposite hip. “You and Sunny busy tonight?”
Sideswipe pats the static mesh on his midsection with his free hand. “You see this? I’m going to be in Sunstreaker’s tender care from dusk until dawn. And I’m not walking out until I’m sparkling-new.”
“Ah, good point.” Bluestreak’s sensory panels flutter. “Maybe I can feign an accident myself, get some of that tender care, too. My paint’s looking a little rough.”
Sideswipe laughs and nuzzles into Bluestreak’s neck. “Aw, baby Blue, you know all you gotta do is ask.”
“I hate that nickname,” Bluestreak grumbles, his nose wrinkling in a most adorable way.
“Not when Jazz says it, I notice.”
Bluestreak squirms out from under his arm, his face blushing pink, and his field tinted with embarrassment. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Jazz has a nickname for everyone, you know. It’s pointless to get him to stop saying anything.” His sensory panels arch high. “Anyway, I’ve got to go look for the sparkling, and you should, too. It’s an emergency.”
Bluestreak skedaddles before Sideswipe can tease him further, and Sideswipe opts not to give chase. He can’t help it. Bluestreak is ever so fun to tease. Even better when Sideswipe can catch Jazz and make him squirm, too. One of these days, Sideswipe’s going to play matchmaker, and it’s going to be adorable.
Now. To find Whirl.
If Sideswipe was a sparkling, brought to an army’s home base, where would he go? Where would he hide? It’s not too difficult to put himself in Whirl’s place. Sideswipe had been there before, though always with Sunstreaker at his side. They’d bounced from foster home to safe zone to hidey-hole, always searching for the best place to catch some rest.
Sideswipe moves through the crowds of searching mechs, all of whom are calling Whirl’s name as they open vent covers and peer under tables and rifle through lockers and search all the obvious hiding spots. No, Whirl won’t be in any of those. In fact, Sideswipe would bet all the creds in his subspace Whirl hasn’t gone far. He’d have taken one look at the broad hallway with its lack of cover and gone diving back into the safety of Ratchet and Wheeljack’s quarters. That is, if he could even get the door open, which Sideswipe doubts.
The door is closed. Locked. Both Wheeljack and Ratchet out searching. It’s nothing a little lock-picking can’t handle, so Sideswipe overrides the door and lets himself inside.
It’s quiet and still. He stands in the center and turns in a slow circle. The air vents are too high for a sparkling to reach. The berthlocker is sealed shut and locked, as is the weapons locker. Smart mechs. There are a couple cabinets at ground level, but there’s one that catches Sideswipe’s optics the most. It’s in the corner, tucked away, looks as if it’s barely used.
“What you doing?”
Sideswipe, to his credit, does not screech as he whirls around, spark pounding in his chassis. It’s just Grimlock, standing in the open doorway, head tilted as he peers curiously at Sideswipe.
“Primus, Grim!” Sideswipe clutches at his chestplate. “You almost gave me a sparkattack!” He staggers playfully. “Don’t sneak up on a mech like that.”
Grimlock’s visor flashes. “Why you in Mama Ratchet and Papa Wheeljack’s room?”
Sideswipe coughs a ventilation. “Whirl’s gone missing, you know. I’m helping look.”
“They look here.” Grimlock’s weight shifts. “And they been calling for him.” His expression is impossible to read behind mask and visor, but there’s accusation in his tone.
Honestly, Sideswipe’s always found the Dinobots hard to communicate with, and Grimlock especially. Not because they’re big, dumb brutes as most people assume. But they are rather insular. Then again, Sideswipe doesn’t have any room to talk. He and Sunstreaker have a world all their own, too.
Sideswipe winks and falls into a playful role, sure to put Grimlock at ease. “Yeah, but I’ll bet not in the right place.” He gestures to the cabinet in the corner. “What if I told you, I’d bet he’s in there. He’s probably made himself a nest, stole some supplies, and he ain’t coming out until the coast is clear.”
Grimlock’s massive arms fold. “Prove it.”
Sideswipe flexes his fingers together, popping his joints. “I’m about to do just that.” He winks and spins toward the cabinet.
He approaches slowly, stepping louder than necessary, just to give the bit warning. He crouches down and eases the nearest door open. Inside, it is dim and shadowy and something hisses at him.
“Oh, he’s in there all right,” Sideswipe murmurs.
He lowers himself further and peers inside. Purple optics glare back at him from the far back corner of the cabinet. There’s a dim glow of energon – someone’s been making himself a nice stash – and pale lines of biolights.
“Hey, Whirl. Whatcha doin’ in there?” Sideswipe asks.
Whirl growls at him and spits a garbled mess of a language. “Go away!”
“Aw, I can’t do that,” Sideswipe replies in kind, or at least an approximation of it. “Need you to come out. Don’t worry. We won’t hurt you. Come out and you can have all the fuel you want. Promise.”
Whirl pushes back further against the far end. “Don’t believe promise.”
Sideswipe spark squeezes with sympathy. “I know.” He sets his hands down, palms open, to show he’s not carrying anything. “You remember my brother, right? Sunstreaker? He talked to you yesterday.”
“Yeah, yellow.” Sideswipe grins. He can already hear Sunny bitching that he’s not yellow, he’s metallic citrine thank you very much. “He’s safe, right?”
Whirl inches forward. “Maybe.”
He’s not quite in reach yet, but Sideswipe only needs him to come a bit further, and he grab the bitlet. Though honestly, it’s not like he’s unsafe where he’s at. There’s nothing but meshcloths and spare static bandages stored down here. As far as Sideswipe’s concerned, Whirl can live here until he feels safer.
Everyone else will probably protest.
“Want me to get him?” Sideswipe asks.
He hears the door open, but doesn’t dare look away to see who it is. It’s not Sunstreaker, he knows that much.
“You found him?” That’s Ratchet, sounding suspicious and surprised. He’s also getting closer.
Whirl squeaks and vanishes further back into the cabinet, behind his rampart of mesh cloths. Sideswipe has to swallow down a sigh.
“Yeah, I did, but he might not come out if you crowd him,” Sideswipe hisses over his shoulder. He can’t see Ratchet yet, but Grimlock is still very much there, looming in Sideswipe’s peripheral sensors. Watching. It’s kind of disconcerting.
Well, until he crouches anyway. Far enough from the cabinet not to be a threat to Whirlwind, but close enough that he can tap Sideswipe’s shoulder with something.
“Here,” he grunts.
Sideswipe looks. It’s one of those hard energon bars. The ones Whirl liked yesterday.
“Thanks.” Sideswipe grins and ducks his head to peer into the cabinet again. “Hey, Whirly-bird. I got another one of these for you. Want it?” He wriggles the energon bar and the wrapping crinkles. “Gotta stock up whenever you can, right?”
The bitlet’s engine gives the tiniest rev. “No hurt?”
“Never,” Sideswipe promises.
Whirl inches within reach. “Like me?”
“Yeah.” Sideswipe doesn’t move, doesn’t dare twitch. “Me and Sunny both.”
Whirl pauses as though thinking about it, and then he scuttles out, snatching up the energon bar lightning quick. Fortunately, Sideswipe is fast, too. He scoops Whirl off the ground and tucks the bitlet against his chestplate, while Whirl yowls and hisses and wails.
“And I’m not hurting you,” Sideswipe retorts with a roll of his optics. He turns toward the room at large, startling a bit at the audience he’s drawn.
Little fingers dig into his seams, Whirl even tries to bite him, but Sideswipe taps him on the nose, and Whirl startles. He blinks up at Sideswipe with a scowl before biting viciously into the energon bar.
“Mean,” he grunts.
“Why isn’t he speaking clearly?” Optimus asks from the doorway. He’s blocking others from coming inside.
Ratchet sighs and scrubs at his forehead. “He won’t let me plug into him. I can’t update his software.”
“He doesn’t trust you,” Sideswipe says.
In his arms, Whirl gnaws on the energon bar and settles, pushing hard against Sideswipe’s armor as though he wants to crawl under it. One foot keeps swinging out, kicking Sideswipe, but it feels petulant more than anything else. At least he’s not fighting anymore.
“Can’t blame him either,” Sideswipe adds as old memories wisp to life in the back of his mind. “Me and Sunny, we didn’t like big mechs either. Especially ones who looked important.”
Ratchet frowns, and his field unfurls, sadness gathering at the edges of it. “Medics should be viewed as universally safe.”
“Yeah, well, they aren’t,” Sideswipe bites out. He gestures to Whirl with his free hand. “I promise you, he’s gonna keep hiding and running away.”
“Until…?” Optimus asks.
Sideswipe shrugs. What else can he do? “Until he feels safe? Until he gets away?” He sighs and looks down at Whirl, his spark aching for the mechlet. “When you’re alone, you learn that’s all you’re ever gonna be.”
Whirl shoves the last of the energon bar into his mouth and looks up at Sideswipe, his cheeks stuffed. “We go now?”
Sideswipe nibbles on his bottom lip. “Well, I do. But you gotta stay, bit.”
Whirl starts squirming. His hands claw at Sideswipe’s armor like he’s trying to climb up his chassis. “No! I go!”
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Ratchet moves closer, and Whirl immediately hisses at him, his fingers digging into Sideswipe’s seam.
Sideswipe’s hold on him tightens. “He wants to stay with me.” He cycles a ventilation and rubs the back of his neck with his free hand. “But that’s impossible.”
“Why?” Grimlock asks, and Sideswipe startles. He’s forgotten the Dinobot leader is here. “Him Whirl like you. Why impossible? You no like him?”
“That’s… I mean… It’s not a good idea, right?” Sideswipe says. He searches for Ratchet and Optimus with his gaze, and find them both thoughtful.
Ratchet thumbs his chin. “He does seem to trust you the most. And you are capable of communicating with him.” His gaze slants to Optimus. “Honestly, Optimus, Wheeljack and I are so swamped, it’s hard to care for a bitlet this small. At least, full-time anyway.”
“But me and Sunny, we’re warriors,” Sideswipe says, not really a protest but a reminder. “If there’s a battle, we gotta be there. We can’t bring him into battle.”
Optimus tilts his head in that way he does when he’s giving deep thought to something. “Is that a protest because you are uninterested, or because you believe that we find you unsuitable candidates?”
Sideswipe works his intake. “Well, we are what we are,” he says evasively. “Not good role models at all.”
“What does Sunstreaker think?” Ratchet asks.
“Sunstreaker thinks that the only ones who are gonna understand Whirlwind is either us, or someone like Jazz,” comes a voice from the hallway as Sideswipe’s spark gives a pulse along their bond.
Optimus half-turns as Sunstreaker ducks under his arm and eases into the room, his mouth set in a scowl but his optics finding Sideswipe’s and softening. He inclines his head – agreement. Whatever Sideswipe decides, Sunstreaker will back him up.
Good old Sunny.
“We’ll look after him, Prime,” Sunstreaker says, his arms folding over his chassis as though daring Optimus or Ratchet to protest. He takes up position beside Sideswipe, forming a united front.
“You’re certain?” Optimus asks. He shifts his weight, his gaze solemn. “It is a heavy task you set before you. I would not want you to undertake a burden if it is more than you can manage.”
Sideswipe curls his other hand around Whirl, and his spark throbs with warmth as Whirl grips his finger tightly. The bitlet trembles in his hold, and he’s too young for Sideswipe to tell if it’s fear or excitement, but it’s probably the latter. There’s a lot going on over his head he can’t possibly understand.
“We can do it,” Sideswipe says.
Love floods across their bond.
“Very well,” Optimus says. “Sideswipe. Sunstreaker. I will leave Whirl in your care. You will be excused from the majority of your duties so only one of you may be on duty at any one time. We will take battles on a case by case basis, and in the event we are forced to evacuate this base, your first priority is to get Whirl to safety. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” they agree in perfect unison.
“You don’t have to do it alone either, kid,” Ratchet says gruffly. “Wheeljack and I can step in and lend a hand whenever. Maybe one day he’ll even trust us.”
Sideswipe smiles softly. “We’ll work on that.” He looks down at Whirl, poking the bit in the belly and laughing when Whirl takes a swipe at him. “Is he good to go, Ratchet? He’s fixed up, right?”
Ratchet rubs a hand down his face. “Yeah. He’s as healthy as he can be. Just keep feeding him energon. I’ll send you the files, too. See if you can’t get him to agree to an upload.”
“We’ll ask,” Sunstreaker says. “But that’s as far as it goes. You want anything from him, he says yes first.”
“Of course, Sunstreaker,” Ratchet replies. “Whatever makes him comfortable.”
It’s cute, how protective Sunstreaker is over the bit already. Sideswipe had thought Sunny only interested because Sideswipe is, but clearly that’s not the case. He’ll tease Sunstreaker about it later.
Lovingly, of course.
“Can we take him now?” Sideswipe asks as Whirl squirms in his hands and Sideswipe tucks him closer. Mostly to keep him from jumping out of Sideswipe’s hands, hitting the ground, and taking off.
Which is what Sideswipe would have done, if he were Whirl and surrounded by strangers, only a couple of whom were even remotely comprehensible.
Ratchet flops a hand. “Yeah. Bring him back in a week and I’ll check him again. I’ll have Wheeljack bring you a box of those energon bars later, too.”
“Thanks!” Sideswipe offers Ratchet a blinding smile and slides through the small crowd for the exit, Sunstreaker so close he’s all but pressed to Sideswipe’s backplate.
They pass Grimlock, who watches them with an unusual scrutiny. Sideswipe can’t put a finger on it, save he doesn’t register threat in the look. He tucks away that little observation to discuss with his twin later, and skedaddles from Ratchet and Wheeljack’s quarters, their new sparkling tucked against his chestplate.