[G1] Just Like This

It wasn’t often that Sunstreaker managed to get Sideswipe still and pliant beneath him, but the times when he did were worth all the more for their rarity.

Like now, when he was curled around Sideswipe from behind, every inch of him covering every inch of Sideswipe, his spike nestled snug in Sideswipe’s very warm and welcoming valve, calipers twitching intermittently.

Their fields were synced, their ventilations matched, and even the push-pull of their spark rhythms came to a perfect harmony. It was the closest thing to peace Sunstreaker had ever felt, and the languid, satisfied pulses along their bond meant that Sideswipe echoed the sentiment.

Until he started to squirm. Because Sideswipe could never be still for long.

His aft pushed back into the cradle of Sunstreaker’s pelvis, his valve twitching increased in earnest. “Wanna overload,” he mumbled, ex-venting puffs of heat over Sunstreaker’s armor.

Sunstreaker fitted an arm beneath him, pressing his hand to his twin’s chestplate, right over the central seam. “Like this?” he asked, purring directly into Sideswipe’s audial, voice low.

Sideswipe shivered. A small whine eked from his engine. “Yes,” he growled. “Fragging love it when you do that.” His aft pushed harder, making small circles, lubricant welling up around Sunstreaker’s spike as charge nipped out.

Sunstreaker chuckled, still dark and low. “I know you do.” Yet, he kept himself still, bearing more of his weight down on Sideswipe, until his twin couldn’t get the leverage to push back, could only lay there, with Sunstreaker’s spike throbbing in his valve, and no other motion to speak of.

“Think you can overload just to the sound of my voice?” Sunstreaker murmured. He licked at the edge of Sideswipe’s audial, just a quick pass of his glossa.

Sideswipe shuddered, his field pulsing a volcanic heat, and their bond skipped. “We could find out,” he said, vents coming sharper, his valve squeezing down tighter and his chestplates juttering under Sunstreaker’s fingertips. “You up to the challenge?”

“The better question is, brother, do you have what it takes to resist?” Sunstreaker murmured and dragged his lips over the curve of Sideswipe’s jaw. “Because I have all night to practice.”

Sideswipe groaned and twisted his fists in the berth cover. “Primus, I love you,” he gasped, his valve quivering with anticipation.

Sunstreaker grinned and tilted his head against Sideswipe’s, his spark pulsing with affection. “I know.”

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[IDW] Break the Chain 03

Double Vision Body Shop is exactly what it says on the tin – to the average consumer at any rate. There are few who know that it’s actually a front for the black market dealings of one-half of the duo of owners.

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. Split-spark twins. Arrested multiple times for petty crimes. Origins unknown. In their youth, they bounced from halfway house to hostel, and Prowl can’t find any record of their sparking on any database. He suspects they were part of some Senate-sanctioned experiment on spark reproduction, but he hasn’t been able to find any proof.

He’s lost count of the number of times he’s arrested them. The charges never stick mostly because Prowl never bothers to show up to prosecute, and Sideswipe is as slippery as hydraulic fluid.

Instead, he’s made informants out of them.

By now, they’ve helped him solve more cases than the crimes he’s caught them committing. They’re his dirty little secret in many ways because if he was as morally righteous as he claimed to be, he’d have tossed them in a cell and threw away the key.

Sunstreaker is the processor, the hard work, and the beauty behind Double Vision. He’s the legitimacy while Sideswipe runs the underground network. But that isn’t the reason Prowl goes to them.

They’re both pretty successful in their respective businesses. Their true earnings, what keeps them out of poverty and the hands of local law enforcement particularly greasy, is their interest in gladiator arenas. They’ve fought in a few of the lower cards and won. They are not as well known as Megatron.

There’s no doubt in Prowl’s mind, however, that they’ll bite and claw and slash their way to the top. As far as they can make it.

Double Vision Bodyshop’s hours are by appointment only. Sunstreaker’s work is valued enough he can get away with it. The doors open by a push, and a cheerful bell announces Prowl’s arrival. The lobby is empty of both customer and proprietor, but Sideswipe emerges from a backroom with a smile. He’s got his business grin on, but it widens into something more friendly when he spots Prowl.

“Well, well, well, look what the turbofox drug in,” Sideswipe says. He’s wiping his fingers clean, perhaps he’d been assisting Sunstreaker. “Is this business or pleasure, Prowl?”

“Neither.” Prowl casts a quick glance around, but Sideswipe’s too good to let any evidence of illegal activity loiter in plain sight. “It’s something of a personal nature.”

Amber optics glimmer with interest. “That so.” Sideswipe rolls a bright red shoulder and beckons for Prowl to follow him. “Come into the back then. Wouldn’t want any of our customers to get the wrong idea. You know, with an Enforcer loitering around.”

“Of course.”

Prowl slides behind the counter and follows Sideswipe into the back room, opposite of where he can faintly hear the noise of an air brush in operation. Sunstreaker must be tending to a customer at the moment.

The back office is at odds with itself, both organized and in visible disarray. There are two desk on opposite sides of the room, and Prowl can tell at a glance which desk belongs to who. So he’s not surprised when Sideswipe kicks back behind the messier of the two, crossing his legs at the ankles on top of a stack of datapads and folding his arms behind his head.

“Have a seat,” he says with a bright grin. “My office is your office. Yada yada yada.” His feet wriggle. “What can I do ya for?”

Prowl picks up a crate of unidentifiable objects and sets it aside before he perches on the only available chair. “I need information.”

“Per the usual.” Sideswipe tilts his head and twirls one hand around on the wrist. “Be more specific.”

“What do you know of the Decepticons?”

Sideswipe’s lips curl into a careful smirk. “Nothing more than the news feeds us,” he says, but there’s something reserved in his words. “And that they apparently killed some high muckety-muck that us here at the bottom couldn’t give a slag about.”

“They aren’t responsible for Chancellor Bracket’s murder,” Prowl says, almost on automatic, though he doesn’t even know why he’s defending the Decepticons so strongly. “And Megatron?”

“What about him?” Sideswipe asks, innocent.

“Ever met him?”

“Nope. Can’t say I have.”

“Watched him fight?”

Sideswipe’s glossa flicks over his lips. “Well, watching a bout is quite different from meeting in person, you know.” His hands fold over his abdomen. His ankles uncross and recross. “There a point to this, Prowl? Or are you just digging?”

Prowl sighs. “There’s a point.” He rubs at his chevron, a tightness coiling inside of his chassis, behind his spark. “To make a long, complicated story short, I need to attend a fight later this week. In the Devos sector.”

Sideswipe stares at him. “Uh, you’re aware that would be suicide. For someone like you I mean.” His gaze flicks pointedly to Prowl’s paint, to the marks on his sensory panels, to everything that he is. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

“I intend to avoid that outcome actually,” Prowl says with a snort. He folds his arms under his bumper, aware that it makes him seem defensive, but it’s always been an unusual case that he can let his guard down around the twins. “I came to you specifically for that reason.”

Sideswipe groans and his head tilts back. “Primus on a pogostick, you’re going to ask for a favor,” he states rather than asks. “What’s so important you’re willing to risk yourself and us, if I may point out, just to get to a fight?”

Prowl works his jaw, decides for honesty. What it says about him, that he trusts these two criminals more than his fellow Enforcers, Prowl cannot guess. “Megatron has contacted me,” he says. “I’m just curious enough to find out why.”

Sideswipe stares at him. His mouth opens, closes. His feet hit the floor as he straightens and his palms flatten on the desktop.

“Prowl,” he says, completely serious now. All trace of his previously playful tone has gone. “Please tell me you’re not single-handedly trying to bring down the Decepticon movement.”

His lips twitch. He tries not to smile. “I haven’t decided yet,” he replies, just to watch the horror dance across Sideswipe’s face before he amends with, “For now, Megatron has extended me an invitation, and I’m inclined to see what offer he has.”

Sideswipe brings his hands together, presses them palm to palm, and then the tips of his fingers rest against his lips. He stares at Prowl for a long, long moment until finally he says, “What do you need us to do?”

“Get me inside, preferably without getting killed,” Prowl says. An ex-vent eases out of him and tension evaporates from his cables. “I know you’re sneaky, both of you. I know you can do it.”

Sideswipe nods slowly. His fingers still hide his mouth. “And what do we get in return?”

“You mean other than the general blind optic I give you?” Prowl sits back, flattening his sensory panels against the broad planes of the chair behind him. “Name your price.”

Amber optics glimmer with mischief. He lowers his hands, but sweeps his palms over his head. “We have a friend,” he says carefully, like he’s picking and choosing each glyph for precision. “Might have found himself into a bit of mischief, as it were. He doesn’t deserve the sentence they gave him.”

Prowl raises an orbital ridge.

“Hundred years manual labor,” Sideswipe clarifies. “For peddling stolen goods.”

Yes, that is more than a little extreme.

“He’s a first-time offender, Prowl,” Sideswipe continues, and he whuffs a ventilation, suddenly looking tired and much older than his usual geniality shows. “He’s just a newspark who got in over his head, and they’re making an example of him because they can. Now, I know you can’t get the charges dropped, but if you could, I dunno, ease his sentence or something, that’d be fair.”

Prowl scrubs hard at his chevron. “Yes,” he finally says. He has a few strings he can pull, a few mecha who owe him enough favor he can certainly reduce the sentence of a first offender. He knows better than to make an outright promise, however. “I will do what I can. Will that suffice?”

“You’re lucky I trust you,” Sideswipe says, and he rockets to his feet. He swivels around the desk and loiters in the doorway of his office, leaning out into the main area to shout, “Yo, Sunny! Office! We got a customer!”

Faintly, Prowl hears the reply, “In a minute!”

Sideswipe ducks back inside, grin stretching his mouth wide. “He’ll kill me if I don’t let him decide how we’re going to do this.”

“Do what?” Prowl asks.

Sideswipe winks. “Give you a whole new look.”

“A whole new– Sideswipe, that’s ridiculous,” Prowl protests.

Sideswipe kicks back behind his desk again, looking as smug as a turbocat which caught the metallocanary. “Look, Prowl. Thing is, you walk, talk and sound like an Enforcer. At the very least, we gotta make you look less like one, since there’s little we can do for the rest. And if that means you get the most garish paint job this side of Praxus, so be it.”

“No one leaves this place looking garish if I can help it.”

Prowl swivels the chair back toward the door as Sunstreaker steps through it, a towel slung over one shoulder and fingers flicking a visor up away from his optics. A few spatters of some metallic paint fleck the apron covering the majority of his chassis.

Sunstreaker grins. “Hey, Prowl,” he says. “You the customer?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Prowl tilts his head in greeting. “I’d be honored to receive a design by you.”

Sunstreaker’s gaze flicks over him, top to bottom, as if assessing and measuring in a single glance. He finds his brother across Prowl’s head.

“Yeah,” he says. “I think I can do something about that. Sides?”

Sideswipe claps his hands together. “This is going to be fun.”

~

The paint is supposed to be temporary. All Prowl has to do is use the solvent in his subspace, and he’ll be back to his usual colors within a washrack cycle.

For now, however, he’s a mix of navy blue, gold, and silver that Sunstreaker swears looks good on him. His Enforcer markings are buried beneath the darker paint, and even his chevron has seen a makeover. He’d looked in the mirror and hadn’t recognized himself.

“You look great, if I do say so myself,” Sunstreaker says from Prowl’s left side, his arm threaded through Prowl’s as though escorting him.

“Extremely fraggable,” Sideswipe agrees from Prowl’s other side. He, too, has an arm, and Prowl is sandwiched between them.

He feels like a protected, escorted date. It would be ludicrous even if it weren’t for the fact they are within a stone’s throw of the arena, and given the attention they’ve drawn so far, Prowl is quite sure he wouldn’t have made it this far without them. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker are well known, well respected, and in many instances, quite feared.

No one dares look twice at Prowl. He sees the appreciative glances. The wondering looks. Those perhaps curious as to whom had caught the attention of the infamous twins this time around.

The looks don’t linger. Or if they do, it’s subtly, in secret. Prowl’s back armor crawls. Tension coils inside of him, and his defensive protocols linger at a light simmer. Danger lurks around every corner, and it’s only the presence of two criminals at his side that keep the villainous at bay.

“Sideswipe is right.” Sunstreaker leans back and takes a long, appreciative look at Prowl’s aft. “I wouldn’t kick you out of our berth if I found you in it.”

“Thanks,” Prowl says without any sincerity.

Sideswipe chuckles and leans heavily against Prowl’s side, his head resting on Prowl’s shoulder. “You know you’d have a good time with us. Time of your life even. A night you’d never forget.” His voice dips into a low purr, one Prowl admits does resonate and form a tight ball of fire in his belly.

It’s there and gone just as quick, however. As attractive as Sunstreaker and Sideswipe might be, Prowl has never viewed them as a romantic or sexual partner. There are times he even hesitates to call them friend.

“I’ll simply have to do without the memory,” Prowl replies, careful to keep his tone warm. “Though the offer is appreciated.”

Sunstreaker snorts. “That’s the nicest ‘frag off’ I’ve ever heard.”

“I have practice,” Prowl says.

Sideswipe laughs.

The arena gates loom in front of them. They haven’t yet been caught by the tide of spectators streaming toward the entrance, but it’s a sure thing. The cacophony of creaks and hisses and clatters of ill-maintained frames is matched only by the stench of them – the unwashed, the rusty, those who reek of high grade and Nox and other illegal substances.

These are the nameless masses who form the faceless crowds. Who pack the balconies and the stands and the bleachers. The rich are already seated, Prowl knows, in their fancy boxes with personal attendants. Enclosed spaces to keep the stench of the poor and barely surviving out of their rich olfactory sensors.

Prowl wonders if this resentment boiling within him is a new thing, or if it’s always been there, festering like an untreated rust infection.

There’s a long line for those still needing to purchase tickets. The arena itself practically throbs from the noise behind its walls. The vibrations of some kind of loud, pulsing music comes through the pads of his feet. Every once in a while, he catches a whiff of spilled energon and spilled engex.

His tank churns.

“So you’re paying for our tickets, right?” Sideswipe asks as he leans in to Prowl’s side, head tucked in against his like they are lovers. His lips brush Prowl’s audials, words a warm puff against it. “I mean, since we’re doing you a favor and all.”

“That will not be necessary.”

Prowl’s not sure who has the most outrageous reaction. Sunstreaker, who growls and whips around with a knife appearing from seemingly nowhere. Sideswipe, who pulls Prowl against him like he’s a civilian in need of defense. Or Prowl, who goes stiff all over, sensory panels rigidly whapping both twins in the shoulder and nearly sending them to the ground.

It would be comical if it weren’t for the gravity of the situation.

Standing behind them is a mech Prowl should recognize in theory. Visored, masked, tall and broad – he’s a dark blue with a transteel forward-facing dock – a carrier mech. An avian cassette – red and black – perches on one shoulder, opposite of a large shoulder-mounted cannon of unknown make.

“Soundwave,” Sideswipe greets, his tone as cold as liquid nitrogen, and his hand tightening where it lingers on Prowl’s shoulder. “Always a pleasure.”

Soundwave’s visor flashes crimson. “Sideswipe. Sunstreaker,” he intones. “Prowl’s safety mine to ensure.”

“Right. Because you’re the trustworthy type,” Sunstreaker says and his shoulder bumps Prowl’s, his field giving a quick flashfire of tension.

Prowl eases out from between them. “I assume Megatron sent you?” He sets aside the two tense and angry twins for a moment.

“Affirmative,” Soundwave replies as Sideswipe says, “He’s only Megatron’s favorite lackey. Of course he did.” It’s accompanied by a sneer.

Prowl senses history. It’s something to ask the twins about later. Preferably not in front of Soundwave. Prowl doesn’t know much about Megatron’s right-hand, but he’s heard several rumors that Soundwave has talents extending into the supernatural. Unsubstantiated rumors, mind, but sometimes those are the ones to hold the most truth.

Soundwave holds out hand, offering two cred-tickets in his palm. “Free attendance with gratitude,” he says, and his gaze shifts to Prowl. “Time is short.”

Sideswipe snatches the tickets with a scowl. “If you break my favorite Enforcer, I’ll find a way to end you.”

Sunstreaker stands next to Sideswipe, broader and angrier, like a great, gold weapon. “Megatron’s not the only heavyweight around here.”

“Understood.” Soundwave turns to walk away, the cassette on his shoulder giving a loud squawk of condescension. “Come.”

A part of Prowl bristles at the obvious command. It is the curious side of him which swallows it down.

For now.

There will be time to address manners later.

“I’ll contact you after the match,” he tells the twins.

“Watch yourself,” Sunstreaker says. He grips Prowl’s shoulder like a silent promise to wreak vengeance should he need it.

“Stay close to Soundwave,” Sideswipe adds. He looks past Prowl, giving the Decepticon a hard look, but if it fazes Soundwave, he doesn’t show it.

It’s a curious addition. Prowl understands it nonetheless. The watchful optics fall back on him as he drifts out of Sunstreaker and Sideswipe’s sphere of influence. It isn’t until he falls in step with Soundwave that the weight of attention abruptly lifts. No one meets his optics. No one’s stare lingers.

No, that is untrue.

The avian cassette has yet to look away from Prowl. Those small, crimson optics focus on him with laser precision. The head cocks to the side, wings tucked against the long length of a back.

There is something unnerving in the stare.

Prowl pays better attention to their surroundings instead. Soundwave leads him not to the main gate and the crush of the crowd, but off to the side, to a smaller entrance. It, too, is guarded, but the two mechs merely nod at Soundwave and step aside, gesturing them through.

He expects a dark, grimy hallway with miscreants lurking in the shadows, rust and spilled energon streaked across the floor, and the distant sound of screaming. Instead, what he finds is a bare, dimly lit corridor that best resembles an industrial warehouse with leaking, rattling pipes and the occasional gouge of heavy machinery. There’s no spilled fluids, and all the rust is gathered around the leaks.

There’s no screaming, save for the roar of the crowd beyond, and the hall reeks of mildew and must.

“I must be quite important,” Prowl says, to fill the silence, “for Megatron to send someone like you fetch me.”

Soundwave doesn’t pause, but his cassette swivels around and stares at Prowl from Soundwave’s shoulder. “Perspective defines importance,” Soundwave says.

“You do realize I am not important in the grand scheme of anything,” Prowl says, drawing his orbital ridge down. “You’ll receive no ransom for me. I know nothing of city or state secrets. I am of little use to your cause.”

“Use to be determined,” Soundwave says as they round a corner to a rampwell and start to climb up and up, passing level by level.

Beyond closed doors on each level, Prowl’s audials vibrate with the clamor of thousands of mechs crammed in a space too small. There’s a voice over a loudspeaker, but he can’t make out the words.

“And what happens if I’m not useful enough?” Prowl asks as they hit the highest level. There’s no more ramp, just Soundwave standing at the door marked ‘No Unauthorized Entry’, his palm resting on the energy reader.

The door clicks open, and the noise of the arena slams into Prowl as though it has physical weight. His sensory panels shiver, crowd hard against his backstrut, and he has to perform an emergency dial-down before the overstimulation knocks him out. As it is, he’s immediately swamped by a headache.

Prowl cringes and fights the urge to run away from it. He won’t get any answers by being a coward.

He steps onto a small balcony, meant to seat less than a half-dozen mechs of average size. There’s no one else present, and Prowl is instantly glad for the solitude. Excluding Soundwave, who follows Prowl inside and shuts the door behind them. The beep of it locking is nearly inaudible over the noise.

Prowl edges to the balcony rail and peers over it. From here, he can see the entire arena. He has a perfect view of the three large vidscreens all of which provide closeups of the battle currently underway in the middle of the paved floor. Here is where all the grunge resides.

The floor is spattered with fluids and bits of mech and the evidence of brutal engagements. The two mechs fight as though their sparks are on the line, and perhaps they are. Prowl’s heard rumors about the undercards. They tend to be fights to the death depending on where one fell in the ranks. If one survived long enough to gain notoriety, then one earned the right of mercy.

It’s an odd way to run one’s business, but who is Prowl to judge.

He takes a seat closest to the balcony and does what he does best: he observes. He takes in the crowds, the faces, all of them unfamiliar, a sea of color, of poverty, of desperation. He expects a wave of Decepticon brands, but either the Decepticons present aren’t brave enough to reveal themselves, or there are few in attendance.

These patrons are regular mechs. Have always been regular mechs. Megatron recruits regular mechs. He’s building an army out of the dregs, the abandoned, the angry, the overlooked. He’s taking in those every else abandons.

Considering that the majority of Cybertron can classify itself as one of the above, Prowl wonders if the elite, the Senate and the Prime and the leadership, even realize annihilation is closer than they think.

Megatron can overpower them with sheer numbers alone. All he has to do is make these mechs believe in the impossible.

He’s already well on his way.

Prowl settles into his chair. He’s here to learn something. Megatron expects him to walk away from this experience with a lesson. Prowl doubts it’ll be the one Megatron wants.

It’ll be interesting all the same.

~

He’s here.

That’s the single, clipped sentence Soundwave transmits before Megatron strides into the arena, ready to face his chosen opponent of the evening. A thrill of excitement chases a flurry of unease up Megatron’s spinal strut, until the anxiety evaporates and only the exhilaration remains.

Megatron resists the urge to track his gaze up to the reserved balcony where Soundwave and Prowl are located. There’s no reason to be this giddy. Prowl is one of many recruits Megatron hopes to entice. There’s nothing special about him.

He focuses instead on his opponent. A triple-changer. A disgraced soldier. Dishonorably discharged and with an axe to grind against the establishment, against other mechs, against the universe in general. Crucible is large and angry, but it’s a cold anger. The kind of anger that burns like a fire and keeps one focused, rather than irrational.

Crucible has a dual-bladed axe in one hand, a shield in the other. Rotors fan out from his back like mini-swords, and Megatron knows Crucible has a habit of yanking them off and throwing them like daggers.

Fortunately, he’s prepared. Megatron knows all of Crucible’s tactics. He doesn’t fear the ex-soldier. Crucible has height on him. Reach. Training. To ask the bookies, Megatron is the undercard. No one expects him to win.

He’s going to anyway.

They’re announced. The crowd breaks out into such a noise, it rattles through Megatron’s feet. He’s used to it by now. It’s no longer a distraction.

Crucible smirks at him. Licks his lips like he’s imagining the taste of Megatron’s energon spraying in the air. He doesn’t like Megatron or the Decepticons, and he’s made no secret of it. He’s the Senate’s disgraced pet, looking to kill his way back into their good graces.

He won’t succeed.

The chronometer overhead ticks down the kliks. For a moment, Megatron is weak. He glances up into the stands, up and up to the safest balcony, where Soundwave guards his newest potential recruit. He swears, even across the distance, he catches the ice-brightness of Prowl’s optics.

The bell shrills.

Crucible grins with a mouthful of purposefully sharpened denta, a mimicry of a wild beast.

Megatron hefts his blade and feels the echoes of manic battle sing in his spark.

~

[G1] Fortune Favors 03

Whirl doesn’t go back to the cabinet.

In fact, he sticks to them like he’s magnetically attracted to their armor. He prefers to be carried, tucked up against their chestplates or their intakes, or sitting on a shoulder. He goes from silent little growler, to a never-ending chatterbox, though the chatter keeps to the gutter language no one else can understand.

Sideswipe only offers once to plug into Whirl and update his code. The look of terror in the sparkling’s optics, the way he wails and returns to the cabinet for several hours, sets Sideswipe’s spark to aching.

Sunstreaker manages to coax. Sideswipe teases his brother, calls him the sparkling-whisperer. Sunstreaker just rolls his optics and spends the rest of the evening with a bright blue sparkling attached to his chestplate, right over his spark.

It’s pretty adorable.

Sideswipe never asks again.

The base gets used to seeing them with Whirl, either separately or together. They get lots of offers for caretaking, but Whirl doesn’t seem to like anyone. He hisses if others get too close – even Bluestreak, who’s about as dangerous to a sparkling as a rust stick. He tolerates Ratchet and Wheeljack at least, which is a relief because Sideswipe starts to miss that alone time with Sunstreaker.

Honestly, who in their right mind could keep their hands off Sunstreaker for longer than a week? Certainly not Sideswipe. He has the will of gelled energon when it comes to his brother.

Still.

Sparkling fever is a thing, even if no one can get too close to Whirl. Sideswipe’s lost count of the times he’s walked out of their quarters and tripped on a gift. Toys and games and treats. The entire base spoils Whirl like they aren’t a crop of battle-hardened soldiers.

Sunstreaker and Sideswipe get more time off, especially together. It’s an unexpected perk, and Sideswipe milks it for all it’s worth. If that means spending more time with Whirl where everyone can see, it’s hardly a trial. Whirl’s adorable, and Sideswipe has to admit, he likes this a lot better.

Whirl’s the sparkling he and Sunstreaker never thought they’d have.

Sunstreaker and Whirl tucked up together on the couch is one of the most adorable sights Sideswipe has ever witnessed. He takes numerous pictures because it’s something he wants to remember forever. Sunstreaker’s got the bit in his lap, and he reads to Whirl, and Whirl follows along with the glyphs with wide optics and full interest.

Sideswipe catches Sunstreaker taking pictures one day, too. When he onlines from his nap on the couch and finds Whirl curled up on his abdomen, sound asleep, and Sunstreaker looming over both of them, his mouth curved in a soft and sweet smile.

That night, after Whirl recharges – in his cabinet because that’s where he likes to sleep when he’s not on top of them, and neither Sideswipe nor Sunstreaker find this an issue – Sunstreaker curls up against Sideswipe and peppers him with kisses.

“Love you,” he murmurs, over and over again, his hands making Sideswipe gasp, a slow throb toward arousal rather than the sharp and fervent joining they usually settle for. “Thank you.”

Sideswipe doesn’t have to poke the bond to know what Sunstreaker means.

He takes Whirl flying, too. The bitlet loves it. He giggles madly and spreads his arms as Sideswipe’s jetpack roars them through the air, not so far above base they are targets, but far enough it’s almost like flying. Whirl keeps saying “again, again!” afterward, and Sideswipe’s weak to his pleas.

They attract a crowd every time they do it. Powerglide shouts up unhelpful opinions. Sideswipe doesn’t need any help with his technique, thank you very much.

Optimus keeps loitering around, casting hopeful optics at Whirl, even if Whirl doesn’t seem to like Optimus too much. Probably can smell the Prime on him, the authority. Guttermechs learn to avoid that kind of thing, if they know what’s good for them.

Sideswipe still chuckles to himself over the memory of Whirl slapping Optimus’ hand away and telling him “bad touch!” in such an offended tone Optimus had reared back and nearly ran over Ironhide in the process.

Ironhide had given Sideswipe a look, like he expected Sideswipe to chastise Whirl for it or something. Instead, Sideswipe had pressed a kiss to Whirl’s forehead.

“Good bit,” he’d cooed. “You tell that mech when you don’t want to be touched.”

Whirl had beamed.

Ironhide had glared.

Optimus had apologized. Profusely.

Less amused had been Tracks the day Whirl clambers out of Sunstreaker’s arms and over the back of the communal couch. He scampers over the cushion and skitters across Tracks’ lap, snatching Tracks’ treat bag all in one swift motion. He then leaps over the arm of the couch and goes pelting across the floor before anyone can really register what happened.

“Hey!” Tracks barks, half-rising as though he isn’t sure he should give chase or not. “That’s mine!”

“Whirl!” Sunstreaker snaps and leaps off the couch, giving Tracks a shove back into it in almost the same motion. “Get back here right now!”

Sideswipe had been on his way back to the couch with an armful of treats for them to share before the movie started. Whirl, per usual, forgets there’s two of them. He isn’t paying attention, and when Sideswipe sticks out a foot, Whirl trips over it and tumbles head over feet.

Tracks’ treat bag flies from his arms and skitters across the floor.

Whirl wails.

Sideswipe, arms laden, lifts both orbital ridges before Sunstreaker scoops Whirl up, scowl firmly in place. He goes from doting caretaker to disapproving guardian in the blink of an optic.

“None of that now.” Sunstreaker pops Whirl on the tip of his nasal ridge. “That was not yours, and you know it wasn’t.”

Whirl hiccups into silence, staring back at Sunstreaker with a look of abject betrayal and consternation. On a full-grown mech, his glare might have been frightening. On Whirl, it it’s adorable.

“Want it!” His hands screw into waving fists, squirming in Sunstreaker’s grip like a wild thing.

Sunstreaker growls and leans into Whirl’s personal space. “Not yours.” He taps Whirl on the nose again. “Behave.”

Whirl sniffles.

Silence descends.

Mechs stare, and Sideswipe feels their judgment like a prickle across his plating. Pah. That little tap doesn’t count as anything. It doesn’t hurt, and it helps Whirl focus on them.

These other mechs, they can’t see the truth. Whirl’s young, but that doesn’t mean he’s not aware of the score. He knows how to twist their sympathies, their perceptions of him. He knows how to play innocent when it suits.

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker aren’t fooled by it.

The other Autobots have no clue.

“He can have it,” Tracks offers, his indignation melting in the wake of the wibbly lip and watery optics Whirl tosses at him. Whirl even throws in a theatrical sniffle as he wilts in Sunstreaker’s hand.

Sunstreaker rolls his optics and tucks Whirl under his arm. “Don’t reward his bad behavior, Tracks.”

“And don’t let him play you like that either,” Sideswipe adds. “He’s spoiled as it is. He doesn’t need to steal, and he knows it.” He flops down onto the couch next to Tracks and Sunstreaker sits beside him, Whirl tucked into his intake.

Whirl sniffles, laying limp against Sunstreaker’s chest, a wan little lump of punished sparkling. Absolutely pitiful.

Grimlock’s the one who scoops Tracks’ treat bag from the floor, offering it back to him. “Little ones have sticky fingers,” he grunts.

“I noticed,” Tracks says, wry. He slants Whirl a look, and tucks his treat bag firmly in an arm compartment, out of reach.

No one holds it against Whirl. He’s a sparkling. He’s adorable. He gets a pass. But Sideswipe and Sunstreaker get a note from Red Alert in their inbox later, cautioning them to teach Whirl better manners and consider other disciplinary techniques.

Sunstreaker rolls his optics. Sideswipe trashes the note.

No one understands. No one will ever understand. But Whirl’s their sparkling now, and no one can take that away from them.

He’s theirs.

And anyway, at least they aren’t the only ones who are getting cautionary notes about their disciplinary methods. The day Grimlock has to wrestle Slag to the ground and growl at him to submit gets the rumor mill tittering, and Red Alert storming to the training room with outrage crackling over his sensory horns.

Slag, dented and puffing curls of grey smoke, stomps out of the training room, Autobots scattering out of his way like a herd of turbomice. Grimlock brushes off his armor and takes Red Alert’s chastisement with a bored tilt of his head, and says nothing, not even when Ironhide finally shows up and drags Red Alert off.

“Optimus’ll handle it,” he says, hand firm on Red Alert’s shoulder, even as he casts a disapproving look over his shoulder.

“Optimus never handles it properly,” Red Alert sniffs.

The training room clears out quickly after that. It can’t be because Grimlock’s aura is murderous and full of rage, because it isn’t. He’s pretty calm considering he and Slag had just gotten into a tussle and tore strips out of the training mats.

Sideswipe’s not worried. He stays on his side of the mat and keeps going through his routine. It’s a rare moment when he’s sparkling and twin free, and he doesn’t want to lose his edge. He needs to train.

He feels the weight of Grimlock’s gaze on him, however, and he glances at the Dinobot leader curiously. Grimlock’s watching him. Then again, Grimlock always seems to be watching lately. It’s often enough even Sunstreaker’s noticed, and he’s usually oblivious when it comes to social interactions.

“You’re not scared,” Grimlock says.

“You’re observant,” Sideswipe says with a laugh and a wink. “And no, I’m not. Why would I be? I’m not a Dinobot.” He rolls his shoulders and launches into another series of movements before a spin brings him closer to Grimlock.

“You don’t disapprove.” Grimlock tilts his head, arms folding over his chassis, a solid and formidable foe, if Sideswipe were inclined to make him one.

Sideswipe rolls his optics. “Do I look like someone who cares one cube about what everyone else’s ideas are?” He shoves a thumb toward his own chestplate. “Guttermech, yeah? Different strokes for different folks and all that. Besides, pretty sure Slag deserved it. He’s a bit of a troublemaker.”

Grimlock snorts. “A bit,” he echoes, and amusement rumbles in his chassis. Or at least Sideswipe assumes it’s amusement. “He challenges. He loses. It happens.”

“I’ll bet.” Sideswipe slips into another series of motions, and the weight of Grimlock’s gaze lingers.

It’s… appreciative. And not in an offensive way. Sideswipe’s used to being ogled. This feels different. He doesn’t hate it.

“You’re good with him,” Grimlock says, and Sideswipe almost stumbles because the comment is unexpected. “Whirl, I mean. And you don’t let them tell you otherwise.”

Sideswipe looks over his shoulder with a trademark smirk. “I don’t let anyone tell me anything.” He pauses. “Well, except Sunstreaker and only in certain situations.”

Grimlock chuckles. “Obedience can be fun sometimes.” He drops his arms and the tension in his frame vanishes. He tilts his head. “You ever need a sparring partner, drop me a comm.”

Sideswipe’s orbital ridges climb into his forehead. “I think if I’m going to spar with you, I’ll need backup. Sunstreaker will kill me if I don’t get him in on it.”

“Bring him. I never said it had to be only one of you.” Grimlock heads toward the door, a huge, loping stride to match his greater mass. “It could be fun.”

“Fun,” Sideswipe echoes. “I’ll let him know.”

Grimlock tosses a wave over his shoulder, and then Sideswipe’s left alone in the training room, his thoughts swirling and confusion holding court. It’s not the first time Grimlock’s surprised him.

Right now, he’s pretty sure it won’t be the last.

Since he and Sunstreaker adopted Whirl, Grimlock’s been around, always hovering in the periphery. Sideswipe would call it stalking except that there’s never anything threatening about it.

He’s helpful. Seems to always show up when one of them needs an extra pair of hands, and he’s always delivering crates of those energon chews Whirl loves so much.

It’s just weird is all.

Grimlock, or any other Dinobot, has never paid attention to Sideswipe or Sunstreaker before. Suddenly, he’s there everytime they turn around. Not menacing or anything. Just.

There.

Sideswipe’s not sure what to think about it. Sunny tells him not to worry. Maybe Grimlock is just fascinated by Whirl like everyone else. Sunstreaker’s never been that fantastic at social interaction though. He’s not completely off the mark, but he’s not on target either.

There’s something there.

Sideswipe just can’t put a finger on it.

~

Grimlock can pinpoint the very moment he realizes his fascination with the twins is not just because of the so-called ‘sparkling fever’. It’s because he’s attracted to them. Both of them. And, he has to admit, attracted to the family they’ve become, and he aches to become a part of it.

That moment is when he catches Sideswipe and Whirl playing chase in the halls.

Whirl runs past Grimlock, giggling like mad, his small feet going pitter-patter across the floor. In his wake, Sideswipe jogs at a pace that lets the sparkling think he’s getting away, a smile on his face, his field light with affection and amusement. Ahead of them, Sunstreaker pops out of a storage room and snatches Whirl off the ground, tossing him into the air and catching him, to Whirl’s shriek of glee.

“No fair!” Whirl cries as he squirms and dissolves into helpless laughter when Sunstreaker starts tickling him. “No fair, no fair.”

Sideswipe catches up to them and laughs. “There’s two of us, bit. Remember that. Always two.”

Sunstreaker rolls his optics. “I’m just glad he decides to play chase before his bath and not after.”

“Hey, you gotta admit, it’s fun to chase him,” Sideswipe says as he nudges his brother with a shoulder. Whirl reaches for him, and Sideswipe slips Whirl out of his hands, tossing the sparkling into the air as Sunstreaker had done.

The delight in Whirl’s optics is beyond compare.

“Bit wants to fly, I think,” Sideswipe says.

“Of course he does,” Sunstreaker sighs, and they turn down the hallway, back the way they’d come, with Sideswipe having a firm grip on Whirl the entire time. “He’s spending too much time with Blades.”

“At least he doesn’t bite Blades.”

“Small favor.” Sunstreaker’s lips twitch with amusement.

His gaze skitters to Grimlock as they pass, but he says nothing. If Sideswipe notices Grimlock watching, he doesn’t comment either. Instead, the small family pass Grimlock by without a word, chattering to each other as Whirl happily leaps from one pair of arms to the other, perfectly comfortable in their presence, though he still fights like a wildcat when most of the rest of the base tries to hold him.

Grimlock’s spark throbs so hard in his chest, he staggers for a second. That’s when he realizes that he’s in trouble. He’s yearning for something so far out of reach, it might as well be on another planet. He doesn’t even know where to start.

His brothers continue to be no help in the matter. Grimlock doesn’t bother to ask Snarl, Sludge, or Slag. Swoop crows delight at him, glad Grimlock’s finally admitting he has interest in the twins. He points Grimlock toward Ratchet and Wheeljack. If he wants advice, that’s the best place to start.

“You want to what?” Wheeljack asks from behind a few bubbling decanters of a liquid that’s probably volatile.

“Get closer to the twins,” Grimlock says, because he hasn’t figured out a better way to phrase it. Date them? Sounds trite. Court them? Sounds too formal. Befriend them? It’s a little bit more than that, he’s sure.

Friends don’t want to nibble down one another’s intake. Friends don’t want to map the planes of armor with their fingertips. Friends don’t want to taste each other’s lips.

Friendship is definitely not what Grimlock’s after. At least, not by itself. Though, granted, if that’s all they’ll offer him, he’ll take it and be grateful.

Wheeljack hums thoughtfully. “Have you tried talking to them?”

“Of course,” Grimlock says with a sigh. “It’s just they’re so busy with Whirl.”

“They don’t notice you,” Wheeljack finishes. “Sounds like what you need is a caretaker.”

“I have two.” Grimlock tilts his head.

Wheeljack laughs and turns down the burner so his liquids bubble at a gentler rate. “Not for you, my silly bit. For Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. For Whirl.”

Grimlock folds his arms. “Not a bit,” he grumbles, embarrassment pulling heat to his cheeks.

“You’ll always be a bit no matter how big you get,” Wheeljack reaches up and pats him on the shoulder. “You’ll be my little bit. But that’s beside the point.” He waves and goes back to the table, picking up a datapad with his free hand. “Get the twins a caretaker so they can have a night without Whirl, and you’ll have your opportunity to talk to them.”

It makes sense.

Grimlock hums thoughtfully. “Whirl doesn’t like most mechs.”

Wheeljack’s indicators flash an amused yellow. “Oh, he likes some just fine. But he prefers Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, so he pretends otherwise.” He taps his blast mask with one finger. “Tell you what, me and Ratch will offer to take Whirl for a few hours. I’m sure they’ll be grateful for it, and you can make your move.”

“My move?” Grimlock echoes. He laughs, shaking his head.

“I know you have some.” Wheeljack winks playfully. “You learned them from me.”

Grimlock is swept up in such a surge of affection for his pseudo-creator that he pulls Wheeljack into a hug, causing the engineer to squawk and awkwardly pat him on the back. “You are ridiculous, but I appreciate you anyway,” Grimlock rumbles as he sets Wheeljack back down on wobbly feet.

Wheeljack coughs and thumps his chestplate. “I appreciate you, too, Grim.” His indicators flush a warm pink. “Now shoo. I have to convince Ratch to caretake for a night, and you have to go plan a very seductive ambush.”

“It’s not a battle!” Grimlock retorts.

Wheeljack shakes his head and raps his fingers over the desk. “Oh, bitlet. You have so much to learn.” He tilts his head, optics bright with amusement. “Love is a battlefield.”

~

“Nice of Ratchet and Wheeljack to take Whirl for the night,” Sideswipe says as Sunstreaker finishes polishing up the last of the armor on his back. Sideswipe can’t remember the last time he was so shiny.

Sunstreaker grunts. “Yeah. Nice.”

“What? You don’t think it is?”

Sunstreaker’s silence speaks volumes. Maybe not to other mechs, but Sideswipe can read every hitched ventilation, every careful sweep of his fingers, every creak of his armor.

“Or you’re just worried about Whirl,” Sideswipe states. It’s not a question. “Which, I gotta admit, is super adorable.”

“Shut up.”

Sunstreaker whirls away from him and tosses the cloth into the bin for cleaning. His field retracts, pulling inward, but embarrassment still radiates from the bond.

“Aww.” Sideswipe embraces his brother from behind, pressing a kiss to the side of his neck. “It’s okay. I’m going to worry about him, too. But we gotta have a break every now and again, or we’ll go crazy. Well, crazier anyway.”

Sunstreaker snorts a laugh. He leans back into Sideswipe’s arms. “You’re right.”

“Oh, what did I do to deserve that little treat?” Sideswipe nibbles into Sunstreaker’s intake, rocking against Sunstreaker’s aft. “Are you angling to get spoiled tonight?”

“I was actually thinking about pinning you facedown on the berth, but we can arrange terms if you want,” Sunstreaker replies with a purr of his engine.

A thrill runs through Sideswipe’s circuits, heat pulsing in the wake of it. “Is that so? Well–”

He breaks off as someone chimes their door. They both pause.

“Are you expecting someone?” Sideswipe asks.

Sunstreaker eases out of his arms, a frown marring the tease that had been in his field earlier. “No.”

They exchange a glance.

Sideswipe answers the door while Sunstreaker stands tensely behind him. They don’t get visitors, especially ones that come unannounced. What friends they do have know better than to drop by unannounced.

The door opens. Grimlock stands on the other side of it, clutching a neatly wrapped package, his shoulders hunched a little as though in a vain attempt to make himself appear smaller.

Sideswipe blinks. “Can we… help you?” he asks, head tilted.

“This is for you,” Grimlock says, as clear as a bell, without a trace of processor damage in his vocals. Something he’s been doing around them as of late, but not around anyone else, Sideswipe’s noticed.

He thrusts the crate their direction.

Sideswipe stares at it and makes no move to grab it. He doesn’t think Grimlock would give them a bomb, but stranger things have happened. It wouldn’t be the first time the Decepticons – or one of their many enemies – used a friendly face to get close to them.

There’s a reason they aren’t friends with Crosscut anymore.

“Why?” Sunstreaker asks.

Grimlock, of all things, fidgets. “I’m told it’s customary to bring a gift before you ask someone to join you.”

“Join you?” Sideswipe’s orbital ridges draw down. “For what? A revolution? Are you planning a mutiny, Grim? Because I gotta tell you, I don’t think it’s going to go as well as you think it is.”

Grimlock stares at him for a long moment before he chuckles, low and rumbling. “No, Sideswipe. I’m not planning a revolution, but it’s good to know where you stand on that front.” He shifts his grip on the package. “I meant on a date.”

“A date,” Sunstreaker echoes flatly. “With Sideswipe.” Tension radiates through the bond, and Sideswipe feels the hot jealousy rise up in his brother before Sunstreaker adds, “You do realize he’s mine, right? That we’re bonded?”

Sunstreaker moves closer, and Sideswipe feels him bump against his side, one hand flattening against Sideswipe’s lower back. It’s a blatant claim if Sideswipe ever saw one.

Grimlock’s vents sputter. “The invitation is for both of you,” he says hastily. “I would never presume to take one bonded from another. But I had heard you occasionally sought out a third…?” His voice cants upward at the end, a question, not a statement.

“Sometimes, yeah. If we’re interested enough,” Sideswipe says. He pointedly looks Grimlock up and down while slipping one hand back, patting Sunstreaker to calm him down. “But we don’t do one night lays anymore. And we’re not for sale.”

Now it’s Sunstreaker who’s patting him, his field reaching out, wrapping around Sideswipe, offering comfort. It’s Sunstreaker murmuring in his audial, urging calm, and only then does Sideswipe realize how aggressive he sounds, how his engine is revving.

“I would like more than a single night,” Grimlock says. He doesn’t flinch in the face of Sideswipe’s aggression. Doesn’t back down. Doesn’t get angry. “If you’re interested, I mean. It’s up to you. I’ll leave now, if you want that. Or I can stay and we can go on a date and see where the future takes us.”

Sunstreaker curls a hand around Sideswipe’s nearest elbow, squeezing gently. “Why?”

And that’s the most important question of all, isn’t it?

The package dips a little as Grimlock shifts out of his almost military-grade stance. He cycles an audible ventilation, and the glow of his visor turns warm, softening.

“I could tell you the obvious,” Grimlock says. “That I find you both beautiful. Intelligent. Charming. Fascinating. It would even be true.” He pauses, his voice taking on a silkier, rhythmic cadence. “I am intrigued by you. I find your strength and your skill something to admire. But what captured my attention most is the way you care for Whirl.”

Sideswipe sways a little, and Sunstreaker’s grip keeps him upright. There’s something in the way Grimlock looks at them, the way he says those things so frankly, that reeks of honesty. He’s not being complimentary because it’s the quickest way to get under their plating. He’s saying such things because he honestly believes them to be true.

“Other mechs would probably say different,” Sideswipe says, his will crumpling in the wake of Grimlock’s earnestness.

“All I see is a happy sparkling, one who adores his adoptive caretakers, and is learning to trust again. I see results.” Grimlock rolls his shoulders, though there’s nothing dismissive in the motion. “Others may be blind, but I’m not. I see you for who you are.”

Sunstreaker’s hands tightens on Sideswipe’s arm. “And who do you think we are?”

“Two mechs who love each other to the ends of the universe,” Grimlock says. “Who try to do the right thing, and who took in a sparkling no one else understood so he wouldn’t feel the same loneliness you did.” He pauses, shifts a little, and his field reaches for theirs, tentative but warm. “I see two mechs I’d really like to get to know better, if they’ll let me.”

He offers the gift again.

This time Sideswipe takes it.

The box fits easily in his hands. The wrapping crinkles under his fingers. It’s light to the touch – too light to be a bomb. He imagines Grimlock carefully wrapping it with over-large fingers. Or perhaps he had help.

“A date,” Sunstreaker says, his tone somewhere between confused and concession.

Sideswipe peels away the wrapping and peers into the box. He huffs a laugh as the wrapping flutters to the floor, and he takes stock of the contents.

A new game for Whirl. A set of very nice paintbrushes Sunstreaker had been eying on the intranet but hadn’t allowed himself to buy. A stack of datapads bound with a ribbon. And a smaller wrapped box, the label on the outside enough to make Sideswipe’s mouth lubricate.

A lot of thought had gone into this gift.

Sideswipe looks up at his brother. He pokes the bond as Sunstreaker’s optics meet his, and an entire conversation passes between them in the space of a few sparkbeats.

‘Let’s do it.’

Sideswipe hands the box to Sunstreaker, who takes it into their quarters to find somewhere to stash it. Whirl will want the box later, to play with, but for now, best to keep it away from tiny, thieving fingers.

“All right,” Sideswipe says, and reboots his vocalizer to clear away the unexpected rattle of static in it.

“We’ll do it,” Sunstreaker says as he returns to Sideswipe’s side, presenting a united front. Not that Sideswipe thinks Grimlock is going to attack.

It’s the principle of the thing.

“Tonight?” Grimlock asks, and the delight in his field makes Sideswipe’s armor tingle with anticipation.

It rattles along the bond, too. Sunstreaker presses harder against his side. Always did have a taste for the big ones, Sunny does. Likes those who can hold their own, who can pick him up and hold him down.

Sideswipe tilts his head. “Hmm. You asked Ratchet and Wheeljack to caretake for us tonight, didn’t you?”

A low rumble of laughter rises in Grimlock’s intake. “Guilty as charged.” He leans a bit closer, the rough baritone rolling through their audials. “Does that put me out of the running?”

Sideswipe’s glossa flicks over his lips.

Sunny might like the big ones. But Sideswipe has always favored the sneaky and the crafty.

Sunstreaker huffs a laugh. “If anything, it put you at the top of the list.” He moves forward, out of the doorway, and tugs Sideswipe with him, so their door can close. “I hope you have something good in mind. We’re not that easy to entertain.”

“Especially since we planned to catch a quick drink before we spent the rest of the night fragging ourselves silly,” Sideswipe says with a lazy grin. He pointedly looks Grimlock up and down. “So, you know, top that.”

Grimlock’s visor brightens with heat. There’s no mistaking the look he gives them. “Oh, I intend to,” he purrs, and oh Primus, the deep rumble of it goes straight to Sideswipe’s array. “As many times as you’ll let me.”

Sideswipe absolutely does not swoon. But there’s a surge of charge racing through his lines, and Sunstreaker’s grip on his arm spells heat.

“Then the plan stays the same,” Sideswipe declares with tons of bravado pulled from the depths of his tank. “We grab some drinks, we briefly mingle, and then we come back to the suite.” His glossa sweeps over his lips. “Fair?”

Grimlock’s field slides against his, dizzying and full of charge. “Fair.”

Oh, Primus.

Sideswipe exchanges a glance with Sunstreaker, and the heat in his brother’s optics is all the answer Sideswipe needs to know Sunstreaker is on board with this.

Sideswipe’s lips slide into a smirk and he sidles up to Grimlock’s side, threading his arm through the Dinobot’s. “Well then,” he purrs as he slides his field along Grimlock’s with a purposeful surge of heat. “Shall we?”

“Yeah.” Sunstreaker doesn’t so much as sidle as he snatches Grimlock’s other arm and gives it a tug. “We going?”

No seduction in that one sometimes. Tsk, tsk. Honestly, if they didn’t share a spark, Sideswipe would swear they aren’t related.

The press of Grimlock’s field turns sly and accommodating. “Every which way we can,” he boasts.

Sideswipe laughs.

This is going to be great.

[G1] Fortune Favors 02

The moment the door closes behind them, sealing the three of them in the room, Whirl squirms and wriggles until Sideswipe relents and sets him down. Whirl stands there, plating taut, optics round, still clutching the energon bar Ratchet had given him before they left.

“So. We’re really doing this,” Sunstreaker says as he eases around Whirl and stares helplessly at the mess of their quarters.

Nothing to do but start tidying.

“Yep. We’re doing this,” Sideswipe says. He crouches and gathers up an armful of used mesh cloths while Whirl takes a tentative step or two forward. “You sure you’re okay with it? I mean, I know you didn’t want to disagree with me in front of Optimus and them but–”

Sunstreaker cuts him off. “I’m sure.” He pulses love across their bond and starts grabbing spare weapons parts and cartridges first.

Behind him, he hears the rapid patter of little feet and then a loud crash. He whips around just as a precariously balanced jar of paint topples off a cabinet and hits the ground, shattering. “What in the–”

“Moves quick for a little thing.” Sideswipe laughs. “Guess that cabinet is home for now.”

Of course. Because it’s only the one where Sunstreaker stores his drop cloths, cleaning meshes, and abandoned canvasses. At least it’ll be comfortable for Whirl. Maybe in time they can coax him out, but Sunstreaker doubts it’ll be immediately. Wariness comes with the territory of surviving in the gutters.

“He won’t be underfoot while we’re cleaning at least,” Sunstreaker says.

Sideswipe grins and casts around, probably looking for the easiest thing to tidy, the lazy jerk. “I was a little worried about stepping on him. Whirl’s a survivor though. He’ll look out for himself, too.”

Sunstreaker stands there, with an armful of dangerous detritus, and wonders if they are in over their heads. “Sides, really, what do we know about raising a sparkling?”

“I thought you were okay with this?” Sideswipe crouches in front of a cabinet and winds cords from their entertainment system, tucking it into the drawer beneath. “You just said so.”

“I am. It’s just…” Sunstreaker nibbles on his bottom lip and looks down.

Grenades. Spare cartridges. More than a couple spare blasters. Three different sized vibro knives. A charger for Sideswipe’s jetpack.

And that was just one small corner of the room.

“It’s not like we had caretakers to show us how to do it right,” Sunstreaker finally finishes. “What if we screw the bit up, and he ends up just like us?”

Sideswipe slams the drawer shut with a loud enough noise to make Sunstreaker startle. “What’s so wrong with us, huh?” He whirls around to glare at Sunstreaker, exasperation writ into his field. “If you ask me, we turned out all right. And pit, if it were us, don’t you think we’d have wanted any caretaker as opposed to none?”

Sunstreaker licks his lips, his vents rattling. “Not any,” he says, quietly. He taps Sideswipe along the bond, reminding him of the foster family in Ibelex.

Sideswipe should remember the one.

Sideswipe’s shoulders sink. “Yeah, okay, I exaggerated. Sue me.” He spreads his hands and picks his way across the room. “Still, I think the bit would rather have us than no one. We’re not like them.”

Sunstreaker falls silent. He doesn’t want to admit his other worry. It’s selfish and not the way a proper caretaker should think, which just goes to prove he shouldn’t be doing this. Mechs don’t like Sunstreaker. He’s violent and selfish and cruel. He shouldn’t be trusted around a sparkling.

“Hey,” Sideswipe murmurs, and is suddenly there, close enough to cup Sunstreaker’s face and bring their foreheads together. “We’re going to do great. And you? You’re going to do amazing, because yeah, you don’t like people, but Sunshine, you love me a heck of a lot. And when you love someone, you move mountains to protect them. Right?”

Sunstreaker swallows over a thickness in his intake. “Right,” he says, ragged.

“And you can’t tell me that you aren’t looking at Whirl and wanting to keep him safe,” Sideswipe continues, murmuring at Sunstreaker in that familiar, hypnotic cadence Sunstreaker can never disobey.

“I do,” Sunstreaker murmurs.

Sideswipe’s mouth slots over his, lips moving slow, glossa slipping inside, a teasing kiss. Sunstreaker melts into it, tension seeping out of his spinal strut, confidence returning in a rush.

“You’re going to do just fine,” Sideswipe says. “You and me, bro. We’re going to be the best caretakers Whirl could hope for. Aren’t we?”

Sunstreaker shutters his optics. “Yeah,” he agrees. Because Sideswipe said so and therefore, it must be true.

He feels Sideswipe smile against his mouth, and then Sideswipe pulls back. “Now,” he says as he stoops to gather more stuff. “Whirl’s probably gonna hide in there for a bit, so that gives us time to tidy up and make things safe for him. Well, as safe as it can be anyway.”

Relief flutters in Sunstreaker’s belly. He glances at the cabinet, and sees Whirl peering out at them from behind the protection of the door. There’s wariness in the look, but that he doesn’t immediately squeak and dive for cover, well, that’s progress already.

They can do this, Sunstreaker decides.

Whirl deserves a better life than the one he and Sideswipe had. Together, they can make sure that happens.

~

Grimlock’s pacing, and his brothers notice, but Swoop is the only one to say anything.

He laughs. “Grimlock’s gotta crush,” Swoop sings and tosses a balled up piece of fabric until it bounces off Grimlock’s facemask.

Grimlock ignores him.

He does, however, stop pacing, and heavily drop down into the couch they’ve assembled of abandoned bits of detritus. It’s a hodgepodge of blankets, pillows, discarded berth pads, and strips of mesh cloth. It’s big enough for all five of them, yes even Sludge, so long as they squeeze together and don’t mind a little touching.

They don’t.

“You Grimlock look confused,” Sludge intones as he flops onto the couch beside Grimock, sending up a cloud of dust. His field is a gradual, ponderous thing as it pokes at Grimlock.

“He’s got a crush,” Swoop repeats, and cackles before burying his attention back in the blanket he’s attempting to weave together from bits and pieces of scavenged mesh.

“You no crush Autobots,” Sludge says, wisely. “They no like that.”

“He doesn’t mean literally crush, you dumb aft,” Slag speaks up, stomping past and swatting Sludge on the back of his head. It makes a little pinging noise, but Sludge doesn’t seem to notice the strike.

He’s a bit thick. Everywhere.

“Shouldn’t crush on Autobots though. You right about that,” Slag adds with a snort of fire. “They don’t understand.”

Sludge frowns. He slumps further into the couch, fitting his bulk into the morass of fluff, and lays a head on Grimlock’s shoulder. “Little bit okay?”

“He’s fine,” Grimlock says. He raps his fingers over his knee, his thoughts swirling chaotically, and his siblings not helping at all. “The Twins have him.”

“Twins. Hah.” Slag grunts and drops down in front of their salvage chest, digging out bits of wire and circuits.

“You hush,” Swoop says. Another bit of mesh sails through the air, pinging off the side of Slag’s head. “They be good to bit. Understand, yeah?”

“Yes,” Sludge agrees.

The door bangs open as Snarl stomps inside, gaze swinging left and right, before his optics alight on the partially occupied couch. “What me miss?”

“Nothing,” Grimlock grunts as Swoop pipes up, “Grimlock has a crush.”

“Crazy twins,” Slag adds with a puff of smoke curling from his nostrils, legs curling beneath him while he starts twisting wire together. “Crazy choice.”

Snarl squints. “Twins?” He tilts his head and flops down onto the couch on Grimlock’s other side, bracketing him between his brothers now. “Good fighters. Good brothers. Good choice.” He nods as though that settles it.

“All Autobots bad choice,” Slag says.

“Autobots only choice,” Snarl points out.

“Not only. Just… con-ven-ient,” Sludge observes, carefully sounding out the latter word, taking his time with the syllables while they patiently wait for him to finish.

Swoop glares darkly and flicks a third piece of discarded weaving at Snarl’s shoulder. “Decepticons not choice.”

Grimlock offlines his optics and buries his face behind his palms. “None of you are helping.”

Swoop cackles.

Sludge pats him on the thigh. “You can have crush. Them good choice. We help.”

“You’ll help. Want no part of it,” Slag growls. He tosses a bolt in Swoop’s direction, but Swoop easily ducks to avoid it.

“I’ll help,” Swoop chirps.

Snarl digs around in the couch and produces the remote, clicking on their ancient vidscreen. “This stupid,” he says and starts shuffling through the channels, too quick for him to possibly see what’s on.

Grimlock lowers his hands. No, his siblings are of no help whatsoever. But they’ll stand by him, he knows. Even if he’s not exactly sure what for yet.

He is interested in the twins. He’s interested in Whirl. He’s interested in a lot of things right now.

Patience, right now, is his best friend.

“Grimlock has a crush,” Swoop sings, ever so softly, and a rolling chuckle spills into the room, barely audible over the quick flash of the changing channels.

Yes, Grimlock is going to need quite a lot of patience.

~

It’s Sunstreaker who Whirl chooses to trust first, which baffles Sunstreaker and has Sideswipe moping around like a lost puppy.

Whirl lives in the cabinet for three days. They don’t try to coax him out. They make sure the dangerous items are put away and out of reach. They keep the main doors locked and the air vent tightly screwed. They leave energon bars and toys outside the cabinet, and when they aren’t looking, the offerings vanish back into Whirl’s safety nest.

Otherwise, they continue on, business as usual.

Sideswipe plays games or reads. Sunstreaker paints or watches videos. Sometimes, one or the other of them leaves for monitor duty or patrol, nothing too serious. Ratchet and Wheeljack pop in daily, and are as bothered by Whirl living in the cabinet as Sideswipe and Sunstreaker are unbothered by it.

“He’ll come out when he’s ready,” Sideswipe says.

Sunstreaker shrugs and glares at his canvas.

On the morning of the third day, Sideswipe leaves for a weapons class with Ironhide, and Sunstreaker sleeps in because he can. Later, peripheral sensors startle him awake, but he onlines slowly, his surroundings slowly filtering in to identify a presence on his chassis. One that chirps at him.

Sunstreaker onlines his optics, and stares right at Whirl, who’s perched on his chest, legs dangling over the edge of it, a smile on his face. “Safe,” Whirl babbles and pokes Sunstreaker in the cheek. “You safe.”

Some might disagree with him on that observation.

Sunstreaker sits up, and Whirl tumbles into his lap with an outraged chitter. Sunstreaker scoops him and draws him to optic level.

“Safe, huh?” he repeats, and wrinkles his nose. “You need a bath. You stink.”

Whirl hasn’t bathed since they found him, and that was a week ago. He’d apparently raised mighty hell when Ratchet tried, so they let him be.

“Don’t!”

“Do,” Sunstreaker argues, and pokes Sideswipe along the bond, sending him a quick snap of Whirlwind. “Repaint, too.”

Whirl wriggles in his hands, but not enough to escape. “No!”

“Yes,” Sunstreaker says, and his lips twitch. He can’t help it. Whirl’s amusing. “Repaint, too. But I’ll be nice and let you pick the color, so long as it isn’t obnoxious.”

He tucks Whirl against his chest and scoots off the berth, rubbing the last of recharge from his optics.

Whirl gnaws on the edge of his windshield, probably out of some form of payback. “Blue,” he says, word mumbled by lips and denta leaving little scrapes in Sunstreaker’s armor.

He swallows a sigh. He’ll have to fix that later.

“Fine. Blue,” Sunstreaker agrees as Sideswipe’s response pours down the bond, a mixture of outrage and affection. Unsurprisingly, Sunstreaker’s comm starts pinging relentlessly moments later.

Sunstreaker ignores it. Sideswipe’s supposed to be concentrating right now. He’ll be nice though and take plenty of pictures for Sideswipe to go sparkle-opticked over.

“Hungry!” Whirl adds and the incessant grind-grind-grind of his denta makes Sunstreaker twitch.

His paint is never going to be the same.

“Bath first,” Sunstreaker says as he keys open the door and steps into the corridor, wondering what smart-mouthed idiot he’s going to run into first. He can’t pound anyone with a sparkling in his hands, but he can run a tally and take names if he’s gotta.

But the hallways are empty, and it takes Sunstreaker too long of a minute to realize why – it’s the middle of a fragging work-shift. Most mechs are either on duty someplace, or recharging after coming off a graveyward shift. Sunstreaker’s just not used to seeing the halls like this because he’s usually on shift.

It’s kind of weird.

“Quiet,” Whirl observes.

“Yeah. I know.” Sunstreaker loosens his grip on Whirl, and it’s just enough for the sparkling to squirm out of his hands and scuttle up Sunstreaker’s frame, tucking in against his intake in a little huddled ball. He’s quivering, Sunstreaker realizes, and clutching on to Sunstreaker like he’s afraid of falling.

Or being left behind.

Sunstreaker leaves him be. He doesn’t have to tell Whirl to hold tight. Little hands like claws get a firm grip on his cables, tight enough to make Sunstreaker wince. But he doesn’t say anything. If it makes Whirl feel safe, Sunstreaker’s inclined to keep his mouth shut.

He draws the line at biting though, so if Whirl tries to bite him for whatever reason, he’s getting a thumping.

The communal washrack is thankfully deserted. Sunstreaker doesn’t want an audience to witness his weakness, and he thinks Whirl will be more comfortable without an audience, too.

Sunstreaker picks the furthest rack, wishing he had some way to corral Whirl inside it. He flicks on the spray as Whirl tenses against his neck.

“Alright, bitlet,” Sunstreaker says. “Time to get clean.”

Removing Whirl is like trying to get a scraplet off a tasty bit of plating. Whirl clings with every bit of strength, and Sunstreaker thinks he loses a few strips of paint in the process.

“Not dirty!” Whirl wails like a wild thing. “Not dirty!”

Sunstreaker can’t decide if he’s amused or annoyed. Maybe both.

The moment the spray hits him, Whirl starts caterwauling like the water is made of acid, and it’s eating away at his insides. He tries to flee, and Sunstreaker has to snatch him back, wrestling with one hand while trying to aim the spray with the other.

In the end, he doesn’t know who’s more soaked – himself or Whirl – but the sparkling’s gone from a dingy gray-red shade, to a dingy gray that’s at least clean. He’s protoform gray. Never had a lick of paint on him. It’s enough to squeeze Sunstreaker’s spark. That is, if his audials will stop ringing long enough to focus.

Primus, he had no idea sparklings could scream so loudly.

“Need a hand?”

Sunstreaker looks up from his losing match to see Grimlock hovering, too far to be considered a threat, but close enough to be present.

“Come to see if I’m killing the sparkling?” Sunstreaker demands, his face heating with embarrassment underneath the disdain.

Grimlock shakes his head and inches closer, looming without effort, but nothing threatening in the motion. “He doesn’t like baths.”

“Yeah. Tell me about it.” Sunstreaker snorts and gives Grimlock a sidelong look. Sideswipe’s not here to be of service, the little punk. Might as well. “I’ll hold him, you spray?”

Grimlock’s optical band brightens. “Sounds good.”

Whirl’s caterwauling reaches new decibels. He splutters a bit when some of the rinse gets into his mouth, but it only muffles his shouts briefly, before he’s back to kicking up quite the racket.

Sunstreaker grimaces and holds on tight. He’s not sure what to expect when Grimlock takes over the sprayer, but the gentle, yet thorough dousing he gives Whirl speaks of experience. Perhaps with his younger brothers? Everyone knows Swoop and Sludge were of the second batch of Dinobots.

Suds swirl down the drain. Whirl’s snarling and hissing peters out into pitiful sniffles. Sunstreaker’s spark would ache for him, except that he’s literally only getting a much needed bath. So overdramatic.

He and Sideswipe are going to get along great.

“He’s good,” Grimlock finally grunts, and cuts off the spray, shifting to return the showerhead to the hook.

“I don’t think he agrees,” Sunstreaker says with a little laugh as Whirl tries and fails to swat at Grimlock’s retreating hand.

Grimlock snorts a laugh.

“Well, I think this is as clean as you’re going to get,” Sunstreaker sighs as he holds up the dripping sparkling who looks the most disgruntled Sunstreaker has ever seen someone look.

A towel appears in his peripheral vision. “You might need this,” Grimlock says.

Sunstreaker cycles his optics and tucks Whirl against his chest, grabbing the towel with his free hand. “Thanks.” It’s weird, for others to be nice to him when Sideswipe’s not around. Sunstreaker’s not sure what to think about it.

Drying Whirl off is only marginally easier than washing him. Whirl keeps trying to grab the fabric to investigate it, and one corner of the mesh finds its way to his mouth. Sunstreaker lets him chew on it if it’ll keep him occupied and not wanting to gnaw on Sunstreaker’s armor instead.

“He’s gray,” Grimlock observes. “Bare.”

“Yeah, that’s what happens when you don’t get fed right.” Sunstreaker’s spark aches in memory. “Color nanites are the first to go. He’s gonna need a nanite primer.”

“Blue!” Whirl growls, denta gnawing holes in the mesh.

Sunstreaker rolls his optics. “Yes, I remember.”

Whirl’s dry, but not he’s letting go of the mesh. Sunstreaker opts to let him keep it, even swaddling the bitlet in it. That’ll make it easier to keep him contained at least, and Whirl doesn’t seem to mind. That’s his mesh cloth now. It can go in his nest, if he continues to recharge in the cabinet at any rate.

Grimlock chuckles. “He knows what he wants.” The light behind his visor is soft as he looks at Whirl, kind of with the same dopiness in his field as Sideswipe has.

Of all the mechs in the base to get sparkling-fever, it kind of surprises Sunstreaker Grimlock is one of them. Though, he’s got to admit, Whirl is absolutely adorable. He supposes, too, that mechs would say the same thing about Sunstreaker, so maybe he shouldn’t judge so much.

“And what he wants is blue,” Sunstreaker says with a sigh. “It’s such a boring color, but to each his own.” He glances down at his own paint, mourning the state of it. He can’t tend to it properly while he’s looking after Whirl.

Sideswipe is going to owe him for this.

Grimlock’s laugh echoes in the washrack. “Blue’s not so bad,” he says. “It’s a good color for optics.”

Sunstreaker pauses mid-step, the comment catching his audials. Is that… is Grimlock giving him a compliment?

He looks over his shoulder, but there’s nothing in Grimlock’s frame language or expression to give Sunstreaker a hint. And Sideswipe’s not here to do the reading for him either.

“I guess so,” Sunstreaker says diplomatically. Grimlock’s visor, after all, is an amber hue. Whirl’s optics aren’t blue.

No, that would be too vain to assume Grimlock meant flirtation. Mechs don’t flirt with Sunstreaker. That’s what Sideswipe is for.

“But it’s whatever he wants really,” Sunstreaker adds. “Something tells me the bitlet never got to choose much for himself until now.”

Grimlock tilts his head, something flashing through his visor. “I know the feeling,” he says, crystal clear.

Only then does Sunstreaker realize Grimlock’s been conversating in clear Cybertronian the entire time, without a hint of the hodgepodge of syllables he and the rest of the Dinobots seem to rely upon. It’s like he’s letting Sunstreaker in on a secret, and Sunstreaker’s not sure how he feels about that.

“Yeah. Me, too.” Sunstreaker hesitates, not really sure, but then Whirl slaps at his chestplate, and Sunstreaker shifts the sparkling’s weight. “Um. Thanks again,” he says, and skedaddles before the heat in his cheeks becomes too telling. He doesn’t even know why it’s there really.

It’s embarrassing is what it is.

Sunstreaker idly pats the towel around Whirl’s frame and pointedly doesn’t look back. “Come on, bit. Let’s go find you some paint.”

~

The next time Grimlock sees Whirl, he’s blue. A very bright blue. Possibly the brightest blue Grimlock has ever seen. It should clash with his very purple optics, but somehow, it all manages to come together in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

No doubt Sunstreaker has something to do with that.

Still, Grimlock can’t help but stare at the blue sparkling on Sideswipe’s shoulder, chirping excitedly in his audial.

“What?” Sideswipe asks.

“He’s blue,” Grimlock says, and knows he sounds dumb. It’s not even pretend this time.

Sideswipe laughs and strokes a hand over the top of Whirl’s head. “Yeah, Sunny’s pretty miffed about it. But it’s the color he picked out, and he wouldn’t settle for anything, uh, tamer.”

Amusement dances in Grimlock’s spark. “It’s a good color,” he says, and feels even dumber because he should have something smarter to say, but he doesn’t. “Pretty.”

“Aww, I’m glad you think so.” Sideswipe leans closer, voice lowered conspiratorially. “Don’t tell Sunny I said so, but I think it’s cute.”

Warmth flushes Grimlock’s spark. “I agree.”

Sideswipe pats him on the shoulder, rising up on his feet to reach. “Glad you do, big guy.” He gestures over his shoulder with a thumb. “Well, me and bit are off for a little high speed racing. So I’ll see you around.”

He waves and goes and Grimlock watches him. Watches Sideswipe reach up and tickle Whirl, and Whirl reach over and pat his adoptive caretaker on the cheek.

He really is quite blue.

[G1] Fortune Favors 01

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.

Sunstreaker retreats.

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?”

Grimlock snorts.

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.

Still…

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.

“Ow.”

“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.

Bingo.

“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?”

Oh, right.

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.”

“Yellow?”

“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.

“You promise!”

“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.

Optimus nods.

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.

Theirs.

Wow.

***

[IDW] Pet Ownership

At first, Thundercracker ignored the odd scraping, scratching noise. He was too busy exploring the sweet taste of Sunstreaker’s mouth to pay it much attention. Especially since Sunstreaker had become a mech of desperate hands and billowing, needy heat. He made all of those lovely, enticing noises and Thundercracker wanted more of them.

Sunstreaker was gorgeous and responsive and Thundercracker had been waiting a long time to get his hands on the yellow mech. He wanted nothing more than to keep exploring seams and tasting slick, glossy armor and… and…

–and what the hell was that noise!?

Thundercracker tore his mouth away from Sunstreaker’s, though reluctantly. “What is that?”

“It’s just Bob,” Sunstreaker said and tried to tug him back down, his inner thighs rubbing against the outside of Thundercracker’s. “He gets jealous. Ignore him.”

Jealous? What?

“Does he think I’m going to steal you from him or something?” Thundercracker asked, bewildered.

“Or something,” Sunstreaker purred. His lips curved. “After all, you do have all my attention right now, don’t you?” He rolled his hips upward, scraping their panels together.

Mmm. Attention reacquired.

Thundercracker chuckled. “Yes, I do,” he murmured and leaned back down, intending to recapture Sunstreaker’s mouth.

Scrabble.

Bark! Bark! Scrabble!

Scrape! Skritch-skritch-skritch. Bark!

Sunstreaker’s mouth turned away from his at the last second. “That’s not all Bob,” he said.

Thundercracker groaned. “No, it’s Buster, too.”

Bark! Skritch! Scratch! Scrapity-skritch!

Sunstreaker sighed. “Sideswipe fails as a nannybot apparently.” His pedes thumped back down to the berth and he flopped back. “Let them in.”

“You can’t be serious.”

Sunstreaker grinned up at him, all smirk and sass, a smile that fluttered Thundercracker’s spark. “We can try again later.”

“Not while they’re in here!”

Sunstreaker snickered. He didn’t understand Thundercracker’s aversion to having an audience. Well, okay, a little show in front of fellow Cybertronians to stake a claim was one thing. ‘Facing in front of their pets was completely different.

“You’re adorable when you’re horrified.”

“Shut up.” Thundercracker bent down and stole a quick kiss before he forced himself to get off the berth and head to the door, where the noise of two jealous pets was becoming raucous indeed.

Better luck next time, he supposed. They just needed a better nannybot.

[TF] Past Impending 06

Blue Sun was closed, for a week at minimum according to Prowl, pending an investigation. Streamline worried whether or not they’d ever recover.

Starscream was less concerned. Mechs would always have creds to spend on pleasure. Their customers would be back.

Fewer escorts jumped ship than expected. Only a handful quit, though Streamline wasn’t interested in filling their slots anytime soon. He was too preoccupied with keeping his aft out of prison.

Apparently, Streamline had made a deal with the Enforcers – he’d turn over everything he knew about Turmoil, as well as provide a stage for the final exchange, and they would not prosecute him. They would pretend he’d never been involved. He would, more or less, escape cleanly.

Good news for him.

Bad news for Rodimus, who’d held a thin hope that Turmoil’s arrest might make his debt disappear. But Streamline owned his debt, and if Streamline couldn’t be prosecuted for it, then Rodimus was still liable for it. Maybe he wasn’t wrong when he said he couldn’t escape. Maybe none of them would.

Those who stuck around for Blue Sun’s eventual reopening treated the week like a vacation. There was not an escort to be found within the four walls. They’d all scampered elsewhere, enjoying their temporary vacation. Starscream wondered how many would actually return, and how many would be lost to more… dangerous temptations.

Starscream managed to convince Sunstreaker that they, too, needed to be free of Blue Sun, even if only for a day. More than that, Rodimus needed to see what freedom would mean, once he earned enough creds. He also should be far from the investigators poking into the nooks and crannies of Blue Sun, the ones who kept giving Rodimus speculative looks like they wanted to arrest him as well.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Rodimus asked as they ventured out the front door of Blue Sun, polish toned down to blend with the crowd, their face paint and markings scrubbed clean of their frames.

Well, Starscream’s and Rodimus’ polish was muted and appropriate for the common masses. Sunstreaker couldn’t be convinced to leave looking anything less than perfection, though he’d removed the markings easily enough.

“Of course. It’s not like we have to be on shift anytime soon,” Starscream assured him with a smile. “And I think we all need to get out of Blue Sun for awhile.”

“It might even be safer now that Turmoil is behind bars,” Sunstreaker said.

Starscream shot him a look. Rodimus stiffened.

He laughed and scratched at his jaw, though the smile didn’t reach his optics. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said, and spun around, tucking his hands behind his back. “So where to first?”

“Wherever you want.” Starscream injected brightness into his tone. “But there’s an exhibition at the Pavilion if you’re looking for suggestions?”

“What kind of exhibition?” Rodimus spun back around, walking backward, his spoiler twitching upward with evident glee, like it hadn’t in days.

“All kinds.” Starscream followed him, Sunstreaker in step beside him. “It’s sort of like a shopper’s fair for new merchants. They’re competing for five open storefronts in the new center they’re opening up, so they’re all trying to build a customer base to prove they are suited for business.”

“Let’s go there!” Rodimus’ face brightened. He grinned, and Primus, it was unfair how adorable he was. “Sounds like fun.”

Starscream grinned. “You know the way?”

“Yep. Follow me!” Rodimus whirled back around and pointed ahead of him, picking up a rapid pace as he pushed through the crowd like he’d lived here all his functioning.

And well, he probably had. Blue Sun and this particular market district were all within Turmoil’s stomping ground. Had Rodimus ever walked these streets freely? With creds in his subspace? Creds he could spend?

Starscream and Sunstreaker maintained a more sedate pace. Rodimus was full of restless energy, so he could be forgiven for near-skipping.

Starscream could not blame him. He’d been pulled in for multiple interviews in the wake of Turmoil’s arrest, and it had been Drift who ensured Rodimus would suffer no punishment for anything he participated in under Turmoil’s control. But he had given the Enforcers several key details they’d been lacking.

With any luck, Turmoil would never be free of his cage ever again. If there was truly a fair deity, he’d get the ultimate punishment of spark imprisonment.

“Not to echo Rodimus, but are you sure this is a good idea?” Sunstreaker said suddenly. He made a pointed glance to Starscream’s splinted wing. “Shouldn’t you still be resting?”

Starscream would have shrugged, but that would have caused pain to radiate from his right wing, disproving his point. “I can’t rest anymore. Besides, it’s a walk. What harm is that going to do?”

Sunstreaker’s mouth opened as though he wanted to say something else, before it clamped shut again. His expression rippled, and then he tore his gaze away. “You’d know best.”

“I appreciate you being worried about me though,” Starscream said, keeping his tone gentle, trying to aim for the camaraderie that used to come so easy to them. “Been a long time since anyone cared what happened to me.”

Sunstreaker sighed and stared hard at the backs of the mechs walking in front of him. “It would be difficult to train a new roommate.”

Starscream’s lips curved. “You’d be lost without me.” He rolled his optics. “And you know it.”

“Yeah, I guess I would,” Sunstreaker said, but it was almost absent, like he’d let it slip without meaning to.

Starscream stared at him, his spark pounding hard in his chassis. “Sunny, what–”

“Hey, come on you two! Stop lagging behind!” Rodimus shouted ahead of them. He waved his arms wildly to get their attention, standing in a mill of mechs all trying to get into the exhibition hall.

Sunstreaker twitched. “Guess we better hurry before he gathers even more attention.” His pace quickened. “Slow down, Rodimus. We’re coming.”

Starscream lagged behind, only because Sunstreaker had left him so stunned. Sunstreaker caught up to Rodimus, the two of them exchanging some conversation that made Rodimus laugh. They moved into the exhibition hall, leaving Starscream milling outside with the rest of the crowd.

Damn it.

He hustled to catch up.

~

“Look what I found!”

Rodimus’ gleeful announcement distracted Starscream from his perusal of more storypads that he didn’t need anyway.

“What is it?” Starscream turned to face the other mech.

Only for a finger to poke between his lips, painting his glossa in something tartly sweet. Rodimus beamed up at him, half-innocence, half-mischief, his spoiler canted high.

“Edible paint,” he said with obvious glee. “Tasty, huh?” He drew his finger free, and Starscream’s glossa swept over his lips in its absence.

“It is not unpleasant,” Starscream admitted, and he peered at the container in Rodimus’ hands. The substance was frightfully glittery. “You didn’t pay too much, I hope.”

“I wouldn’t know if it’s overpriced or not.” Rodimus laughed. His field poked at Starscream’s, rich with amusement. “But I thought it would be fun to play with.” He thrust the container toward Starscream. “This one’s for you and Sunstreaker.”

“Did you pick something out for yourself?” Starscream accepted the container and peered at the ingredient level. One could never be too careful. For all he knew, this stuff was toxic to a Seeker.

Rodimus peered at his finger and poked it in his mouth, swirling it around to lick it clean. Apparently Starscream’s own glossa hadn’t done the trick. “I did,” he said around his mouthful. “But I’m not going to tell you what it was.” He pulled his finger free with a pop. “It’s a surprise.”

“I wait with bated breath,” Starscream drawled. He sniffed at the so-called edible paint.

It was an interesting concoction. Perhaps he could reproduce it on his own, design several more colors to go with it. Garish bright orange was not appealing in the least.

“Where’s Sunstreaker?” Rodimus asked. True to form, by the time Starscream had entered the exhibition hall, both Rodimus and Sunstreaker had vanished.

Starscream had shrugged and started shopping on his own. He’d spied Sunstreaker a few stalls back, but he’d still been keeping an optic out for Rodimus.

“Arguing with the mech selling canvases,” Starscream replied absently. “Apparently they are of poor quality, and it offends his artistic sensibilities.”

Rodimus crinkled his forehead. “Okay, but… why bother? No one says he has to buy them?”

“Yes, I know. It’s offensive that they exist, he says.” Starscream rolled his optics and tucked the paint into his subspace. “To each his own.”

Rodimus made a noncommittal noise. “I guess.” He shrugged and looped his arm with Starscream’s. “Well, come with me then. I found something I know you’re going to like.” Starscream allowed himself to be dragged. Rodimus’ enthusiasm was gratifying to see.

“You know me so well, do you?” Starscream asked.

“By now? Yeah, I do. Better than you know yourself, I’ll bet,” Rodimus said. He tucked in against Starscream’s side, guiding them effortlessly through the crowds. “Or, well, I mean, better than you’re willing to admit.”

“Well, aren’t you the little know-it-all.”

Rodimus smirked. “I know enough,” he said, his tone smug. He pulled Starscream through a makeshift gate and into a very small seating area. It was occupied by a few mechs.

On the far end was a long counter of display cases. Cheap lights flickered over a glittery selection of treats. Oh, my. Starscream’s mouth watered. Were those… were those oil cakes? And magnesium puffs? Rust sticks? Rust chews?

He didn’t press his nose to the case, but it was a near thing. His tank rippled, reminding him that while he’d had his daily dose of energon, it was nothing like satisfying a craving. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had genuine pastries.

“The spiced roll is particularly good,” Rodimus said from his right side. He pointed to a tray of twisted treats, dusted with some mixture of metallic shavings.

“I want two,” Starscream groaned, even though he knew he shouldn’t.

“I thought you might,” Rodimus said, absolutely smug. He stepped up to the register, catching the attention of the smiling clerk on duty. “Could I get two slushes, two of the spice rolls, a strip of sweet taffy, and anything else he wants.”

The mech, whose nameplate read Rocky, grinned. “Sure thing. You know I can do an assortment plate, too. How about that? It’s a little bit of everything.”

Starscream tried not to show evident interest. He pretended the spice rolls were the only thing that appealed to him. But he must have betrayed himself somehow, because Rodimus laughed and said, “Yeah, I think that’s best. Star’s going to want to try it all.” He whipped out a cred stick and handed it over. “The assortment plate, plus two extra of the spice rolls and the slushes.”

“Sure thing.” Rocky winked one of his three optics, and the cred stick vanished. “Have a seat. I’ll bring it out to you.”

“I’m not a youngling, you know,” Starscream muttered as Rodimus pulled him over to one of the tables. The chairs didn’t look capable of bearing anyone’s weight.

“So that means I can’t spoil you? Or say thank you?” Rodimus pushed him into a seat and sat across from him, folding his arms on the table. “You think I don’t know what you did for me?”

Starscream sat gingerly and squirmed. “I did nothing special.”

“You saved my life. In more ways than I can count.” Rodimus shook his head, a darkness flickering through his optics. “If it hadn’t been for you, I’d still be a freebie in Blue Sun. I wouldn’t have made any creds toward my debt. And Turmoil probably would have had his fun with me half a week ago. Do you have any idea how terrified I was?”

Starscream chewed on the inside of his cheek. “Some.” He remembered how much Rodimus had trembled, how his field had become this sick, curdled thing.

“The kind of thing we do, what we are, most mechs wouldn’t care. But you did.” Rodimus nibbled on his bottom lip and ducked his head. “Most mechs wouldn’t have bothered. So yeah. I’m grateful. I don’t think I can ever repay you. If treating you to some sweets I know you wouldn’t get for yourself is all I can do, I’m going to do it.”

Starscream’s wingtips fluttered. “I… you’re welcome.” His face flushed with heat.

What else could he say? Clearly, his actions had meant a lot to Rodimus, whatever Starscream’s original intentions had been. Starscream was not so cruel as to spit in the face of Rodimus’ gratitude.

Rodimus smiled, soft and sincere, echoes of the young, bright youth he must have been.

“Here you go!” Rocky arrived, dispelling the moment.

His cheerful tone slipped between them as he whisked a platter filled with over a dozen treats onto the table. He set some type of small, chilled glass before each of them as well. Starscream received his own plate of spice rolls.

“I hope you enjoy!” Rocky said as he gestured to the plate with one of his primary arms. “If you do, please make sure to leave us a favorable commentary on the board, that way we can continue to provide this service.”

Rodimus grabbed a small puff and popped it into his mouth. “Done deal, mech. Your stuff is delicious.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.” Rocky bobbed his head in gratitude and scuttled off, leaving them to sample his fare without standing over them.

“Well.” Rodimus spread his hands. “Dig in. Eat as much as you want. Whatever’s left we can take with us.”

Starscream, for once, listened. They were on vacation, weren’t they? So what if he wanted to consume himself into another ache? He had every right. So he piled his plate high with at least one of everything, and started to eat.

There wasn’t a single selection he didn’t like.

The treats were sweet and savory, tart and delectable. They were chewy or smooth; some melted in his mouth. He hummed his delight, though Rodimus was right, the spice rolls were his favorite. Even the slush tasted good, though it was unusual. It was a chilled energon, with little nodules of some kind of gelled energon, and it had an odd texture to it. But it was sweet and cool and puddled in his tanks, offering little spurts of energy. Starscream resolved to save some of it, if only so he could run tests and see how it was created. Perhaps Wheeljack would have some ideas.

“I should have known I’d find you here.”

The little flick of delight in his spark was wholly warranted, but Starscream had long since learned his spark didn’t obey him when it came to Sunstreaker. His roommate slid into the empty seat beside him, his optics assessing the array of treats spread across the table.

“Did you buy the whole case?” Sunstreaker asked.

“I didn’t buy anything,” Starscream retorted. His wings flicked back. “Rodimus did.” He pointed his fork at Rodimus and promptly speared a spice roll, plopping it down onto his serving plate. They were only a handful of bites, but he still wanted to savor each and every one. They were delicious.

Rodimus laughed. “Yes, but I bought them for you.” He scooped up one of the drizzled oil cakes and slid it over to Sunstreaker. “Here. I know you’ll like this one.”

“I doubt it. Sunstreaker’s not fond of sweets,” Starscream muttered around a mouthful.

“It’s not sweet,” Rodimus said, and nudged it closer. “Go on. Try it. Expand your horizons.”

Sunstreaker’s optics narrowed. He stared at the cake as though it were created to personally offend him. He poked it with a fork.

“Did you manage to badger the salesmech into submission?” Starscream asked, his tone carefully innocent.

Sunstreaker rolled his optics and cut into the cake. “We came to an understanding. He won’t sell his product under false pretenses anymore, and I won’t report him to the Enforcers.” He selected the smallest piece, peered at it, and then poked it into his mouth. That he didn’t immediately spit it out was a good sign.

Rodimus propped his elbows on the edge of the rickety table. “Look at you. The picture of law and order. We should all live by your example.”

Sunstreaker huffed and forked more of the cake into his mouth. He didn’t dignify Rodimus with a response, which in Sunstreaker-speak meant, he knew Rodimus was right but refused to admit it. Stubborn mech.

“Did you buy anything?” Starscream nudged his slush toward Sunstreaker in silent suggestion he try it.

“Not yet.” Sunstreaker sniffed at the slush before giving it a tentative sip. He made a face and gave it back. “But we’re not even halfway through the exhibition. I’m sure I’ll find something.”

“I thought I saw a stand selling waxing kits and supplies.” Rodimus nonchalantly dropped something onto Sunstreaker’s plate. “We could check that out.”

Starscream’s lips curved with amusement. “You really do know us well.”

Rodimus winked and stuffed more puffs into his mouth. “Better than you think.”

Sunstreaker snorted and rolled his optics. But he kept eating the cake Rodimus had given him, thereby proving Rodimus’ point.

~

Reality returned with a vengeance as they rounded the corner, and Starscream caught sight of who waited for them in front of Blue Sun. If they were trying for inconspicuous, they both failed miserably.

“What are Nightshade and Drift doing here?” Sunstreaker asked as ahead of them, Rodimus’ eager pace slowed.

“I have no idea,” Starscream murmured and caught up to Rodimus. “It’s okay. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.”

“How are you so optimistic suddenly?” Sunstreaker appeared on Starscream’s other side before he passed them, soldiering on as though determined to prove he wasn’t afraid and never had been.

“Because I have to be.” Starscream hooked his arm through Rodimus’. “Come. Let’s go see what they want.”

“I’d rather run away,” Rodimus muttered, but he let Starscream pull him along.

They warily approached the waiting mechs. Sunstreaker angled to put himself between the four of them, his broad, gold shoulders a protective wall.

“Afternoon,” Nightshade greeted, his tone carefully pleasant. “You three are looking very well.”

“Spare us the niceties. Why are you here?” Sunstreaker said, ever polite that one. His armor ruched up, aggressive and angry.

Starscream sighed. He unloosened his arm from Rodimus’ and placed a hand on Sunstreaker’s shoulder to tug his roommate back a pace.

“What Sunstreaker means to say is that the week has been stressful enough. We don’t have the patience we ought.” He offered Nightshade a genuine smile. He ignored Drift. “What can we do for you?”

“You can relax, to start.” Nightshade shifted into a stance that better qualified as ‘at rest’ while Drift lingered in ‘attention’. “We are only here to talk.” He looked at Rodimus. “If you have a moment, Rodimus, Drift would like to speak with you.”

Starscream glanced at Rodimus, but where he expected there to be anger, staunch refusal even, Rodimus only cycled a ventilation. He shifted the weight of his packages.

“Yeah,” Rodimus said with a sigh. “Okay. That’s fair.” He tucked his parcel under one arm. “Let’s go. I’m not going to talk this out where everyone can eavesdrop, even if I am going to tell Star all about it later.”

Despite the situation, Starscream chuckled softly. He was delighted to see Rodimus regaining some of his usual attitude.

Rodimus gestured for Drift to come with him and the two entered Blue Sun.

“I feel as if I owe you several explanations,” Nightshade said once they were gone. His tone was gentle. Apologetic even.

Starscream shook his head. “You don’t owe me anything. You are a client. Whatever you do when you are not within the walls of Blue Sun are your business.” He paused and leaned in closer to Sunstreaker. “But if you’d like to tell me, I wouldn’t mind.”

He had so many questions, he wouldn’t even know where to begin.

“I understand. Come with me.” Nightshade tucked his hands behind his back and turned toward Blue Sun’s main entrance, where Rodimus and Drift had gone. Strange that he should be allowed to come and go so freely.

Blue Sun felt odd, quiet and dim as it was, without the usual bustle of activity on the sales floor. Everything had been cleaned and put to rights after Turmoil’s arrest, but it still didn’t feel the same. Something in the atmosphere had changed.

Rodimus and Drift were nowhere in sight. They must have sought privacy elsewhere.

Nightshade selected a comfortable chair while Sunstreaker and Starscream shared a lounge across from him. Starscream sat, rigid and waiting. Sunstreaker might as well have been carved from stone beside him.

“It is probably quite obvious I am not entirely who I claimed to be.” Nightshade laced his fingers together, resting them in his lap. “I am not a merchant who earned his creds through smart investing and family inheritance, though the latter is true in part.” He looked perfectly at ease, one leg crossed over the other.

“I am, in fact, superintendent of an elite investigative task force who operates in the shadows of Iacon and if you were to ask the Prime, whom I report to, whether or not we exist, he would deny it. I am listed on no personnel record or employment docket. If anyone were to look into my past, they would see only what I’ve shown you, Nightshade, merchant and entrepreneur.”

Starscream had read about the act of jaws dropping and gaping in surprise. He didn’t think people did it in real life.

Until now.

“The Enforcers have been after Turmoil for a very long time. Longer, even, than your Rodimus has known him,” Nightshade continued. “Long enough that their superintendent stooped to asking for my assistance in a joint operation to finally bring him down. For decades, we have been slowly infiltrating Turmoil’s reach at every level, including placing agents here.” He gestured to Blue Sun as a whole.

“As you probably guessed, Atomizer is one of my own. As are Jazz and Skids. Spinner and Bluestreak are Enforcers under Prowl’s leadership. Tumbler is one of Prowl’s as well. Drift, as I understand it, is a free agent.”

“That…” Starscream searched for words and failed. He shook his head. “If I hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Nightshade nodded slowly. “It’s a lot to absorb, I know.” He shifted, angling his frame into the comfort of the chair. “But I want you to understand that while we were here to bring down Turmoil, that doesn’t mean we didn’t have personal reasons as well. I, for one, quite enjoyed our sessions, and with your permission, I’d like to continue them in the future.”

Starscream flushed.

“It’s nice to know it wasn’t all business,” Sunstreaker said, his tone tight with annoyance. His face pinched, his armor drawn taut.

Nightshade’s gaze shifted to Sunstreaker. “You are angry,” he observed.

“No.” Sunstreaker’s lips formed a thin line as he vented. “I’m furious. You put us all in danger, and we didn’t even know we were at risk. More than that, you put Rodimus and Starscream in danger. They could have been killed. But I’m sure we were considered acceptable collateral damage, yes? We are, after all, only buymechs.”

“Sunstreaker!” Starscream hissed, embarrassed on his roommate’s behalf. “That’s–”

“No. It’s quite all right.” Nightshade held up a hand. His gaze softened. “He’s right to be upset. While we made every effort to ensure the safety of the employees here, there was always the possibility someone might be hurt. It was a calculated risk. If I could have obtained your consent without compromising the integrity of the operation, I would have.”

Sunstreaker’s field buzzed with agitation. “That’s not an apology.”

“Because I can’t give one. We accomplished our mission. Turmoil will never harm another again.” Nightshade audibly cycled a ventilation, his posture relaxing. “By proxy, Rodimus is also free of Turmoil’s influence.”

“But not his debt,” Starscream commented.

Nightshade shook his head. “No. That is owned by Streamline, and through the lines of the deal we struck, he cannot be prosecuted for it, therefore, the debt stands.”

Sunstreaker’s engine revved. He shot to his feet, hands forming fists at his side.

“It must be nice,” he snarled, “to be safe and comfortable in your tower while the rest of us are pieces moving around your game board. If you’re looking for congratulations, you’re not going to get them from me. Any of us could have died, and we’re worth so little to you, it wouldn’t have mattered. Not one fragging bit.” He whirled on a heel, stomping away from them.

Starscream half-rose. “Sunstreaker, wait–”

“Let him go,” Nightshade said. “In some ways, he’s not wrong.”

Starscream settled back into the couch, though he frowned at Sunstreaker’s back. Things between them had been so strained, and he was at a loss how to fix it. It was like they were back to the beginning, when Starscream had first met Sunstreaker and they walked on bolts and brackets around each other.

“He cares for you very much,” Nightshade said.

Starscream worked his intake. “We’re roommates.” He managed a thin smile. “And only that.”

“I think you undervalue what is between you.” Nightshade’s voice quieted.

Starscream cycled a ventilation. “I’ve learned the perils of putting too much hope in an impossibility.” He sat back in the lounge, but his attention kept drifting to where Sunstreaker had disappeared down the hall. “So. What happens next?”

Nightshade waved a hand. “Blue Sun will reopen in due time, once our investigation is complete. Streamline has been very cooperative, perhaps in an attempt to speed up the process. Afterward everything can return to business as usual.”

“No, I meant…” Starscream nibbled on his bottom lip. “Your agents.”

“Ah.” Nightshade nodded. “Well, Atomizer is not going to return. Blurr will have to find a new bodyguard. Bluestreak and Jazz, as I understand it, will still seek out your services, though I leave that up to them to discuss with you. You will have to ask Drift his intentions.”

None of it was surprising.

Starscream scrubbed a hand down his thighs. “And you?”

“Well, as I said, if I am welcome, I would like to visit again.” Nightshade smiled, and it was so soft, it felt genuine. “I have enjoyed our time together. That was neither a lie nor a pretense.” He chuckled. “I would welcome Rodimus join us as well. He is quite adorable.”

“Yes, he is.” Heat flushed Starcream’s face. “I’d like it if you returned. And Bluestreak, too. Though I’ll be sure to tell him that myself.”

Nightshade’s field reached out, tentative and warm. “I’m glad to hear it.”

A door clicked open behind Starscream. He turned as Rodimus and Drift stepped into view, emerging from the kitchen staging area. An odd place to have a private chat, but who was Starscream to judge.

Rodimus’ armor was open. His field locked on to Starscream’s immediately, and in it was relief. He looked pensive, but not harried. Perhaps he and Drift had come to an accord of some kind.

Drift was smiling, also. There was relief in his optics as well.

Good.

Starscream had no intentions of liking Drift anytime soon, but if Rodimus saw fit to forgive or at least listen to him, then Starscream wouldn’t interfere. Rodimus’ life was his own. But if Drift had thoughts about bringing more pain into it, Starscream would show him the error of his ways.

“I’ll let you get back to your vacation,” Nightshade said. He stood, rotors flicking as they readjusted around his frame, settling against his hips and thighs. “And to your roommate as well. I gather you two need to have a conversation.”

“Or two,” Starscream sighed.

He pushed himself out of the chair, and blinked when Nightshade unexpectedly reached for him. Starscream offered his hand without thinking, and was surprised when Nightshade gently grasped his fingers.

“I’ll see you again,” Nightshade murmured as he bent to brush his lips over Starscream’s fingertips, the most forward behavior he’d ever displayed.

“Don’t wait too long,” Starscream said. His hand slipped free of Nightshade’s, tingling where his favorite patron had touched him.

Nightshade left, taking Drift with him, but not before Drift pulled Rodimus into a quick hug, one Rodimus tightly reciprocated.

“You okay?” Rodimus asked as he bounded up to Starscream, spoiler twitching.

Starscream managed a smile. “I should be asking you that. Everything all right with Drift?”

“It’s better.” Rodimus nibbled on his bottom lip and rubbed his hands down his thighs. “I let him apologize for real this time. I didn’t really forgive him, but I can work on that. I guess I can’t blame him for everything.”

“Just most of it.”

“Yeah. Just most of it. I never really hated him, you know.”

Starscream slung his arm over Rodimus’ shoulders, pulling the younger mech into a half-embrace. “Yes, I know. You were disappointed in him more than anything.”

“That, too.” Rodimus looked around. “Where’d Sunny go? I thought he was with you.”

Starscream sighed. “He didn’t take Nightshade’s revelations very well. He’s sulking in our room.”

“He was mad you got hurt, wasn’t he?”

Starscream gave him a sharp look. “How did you guess?”

Rodimus scratched at the side of his nose. “He’s as transparent as you are. I really wish you two would get your head out of your afts sooner rather than later. Honestly, it was funny at first, but now it’s just sad.”

“What are you even talking about?”

“I don’t know why I bother,” Rodimus sighed. He threaded an arm through Starscream’s, tugging him toward the lift. “Come on. You and Sunstreaker need to talk, and I need a nap.”

The role-reversal amused him. “Do we now?”

“Yes,” Rodimus said as though it were a foregone conclusion.

Starscream allowed himself to be silenced. It wouldn’t hurt for Rodimus to win an argument for once, or be given some measure of control. Considering all that had happened lately, it was no surprise Rodimus felt he needed some. His life had been a whirlwind, out of his handling from the moment he’d been sparked.

The quiet of Blue Sun wrapped around them. Rodimus’ field was a warm, content presence against Starscream’s own. He leaned into Starscream’s side, offering and demanding comfort, and Starscream patted the arm linked around his.

“I am glad your conversation with Drift went well,” he murmured. “Though I’m annoyed the Enforcers couldn’t do the least for you and erase your debt.”

Rodimus’ shoulders sagged. “Being sent here was one of the worst things I thought could happen to me.” He looked up at Starscream and grinned. “But I met you out of it, so I guess it’s not all bad.”

There was something absolutely wrong with a universe which could cause such pain to a mech as sweet as Rodimus. That he could hold onto that sweetness, even through the agony, was a testament to his inner strength.

Starscream tweaked Rodimus’ chin. “You are pretty lucky, aren’t you?” he teased, and pressed a kiss to Rodimus’ forehead. “You going to be all right by yourself tonight?”

“Pft. I’ll be fine. Besides, I don’t want to get in the way of the storm waiting for you in your room.” Rodimus winced and patted Starscream’s arm. “Go gentle on him though. He was worried about you.”

Starscream snorted. “I don’t know what you think I’m going to do.”

“Probably the wrong thing, knowing you two.” Rodimus rose up and pressed a kiss to Starscream’s cheek. “See you in the morning.”

“Good night, Rodimus.”