[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.

***

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[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.”

[TF] Past Impending 07

There was something ominous about the door to his own quarters, and Starscream couldn’t put a finger on why. He refused to walk away, however. He lived here too, damn it, even if Sunstreaker was in a snit.

Inside, it was dim, and soft music played from their sound system. Sunstreaker was curled up in the window seat – an odd choice from him – and he was holding one of his novelpads.

“Reading anything good?” Starscream asked as the door closed and locked behind him.

“Depends on what you call good,” Sunstreaker replied, his tone perfectly even, his gaze focused on the glowing screen. “I’m surprised you’re here.”

Ah. So right into the argument then. Fun.

“Why wouldn’t I be? Where else would I go?”

Sunstreaker flicked absently through his datapad, but Starscream doubted he was actually looking at it. “I figured Rodimus would need your company tonight.”

Starscream’s optics narrowed. “He said he’d be fine. If anything, he pushed me to come after you, because you were upset.”

“Right.” Sunstreaker snorted.

“And I can see he wasn’t wrong.” Starscream moved further into the room, though he kept to Sunstreaker’s periphery, reading the tight clamp of his roommate’s armor. “You’re still angry with me.”

“I’m not angry.” Sunstreaker’s lips were a thin line.

Starscream frowned. “You’re a very poor liar.”

“I have no right to be angry, therefore I’m not,” Sunstreaker gritted out. He looked over the top of his datapad at Starscream, his optics thin slits of icy blue. “Whatever you chose to do with yourself is no business of mine.”

Starscream vented, sharp and loud. “You’re acting like it’s a bad thing I stood up for Rodimus. Especially when no one else would do it. Most people would applaud that kind of heroics not–”

“Do you love him?”

Starscream blinked. “What?”

The datapad was set aside with a sharp click. Sunstreaker spun on the windowseat, his feet hitting the floor. “It’s a simple fragging question, Starscream.”

“It’s not like that!” he snapped. He folded his arms over his cockpit, his spark hammering in his chassis. “You know good and well that doing what we do, who we are, that sort of thing isn’t even a factor. I’m fond of Rodimus, yes. He’s easy to like. But love? Of course not. I don’t have the luxury.”

“Luxury,” Sunstreaker echoed. He worked his intake. “Well, you’re right about that at least. Love doesn’t enter the picture here. Not one bit.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Starscream cycled a ventilation, struggling to get himself under control. “I’m not going to apologize for caring about Rodimus.”

Sunstreaker pushed to his feet. “I wasn’t asking you to.”

“Then what are you asking?” Starscream demanding, tension coiling inside of him, desperate to be released. He felt like he were falling, and not even his wings could keep him from hitting the ground.

He didn’t understand.

“Not for anything. I just– Argh.” Sunstreaker twisted away, hands clenched into fists at his sides. “Just forget it. I’m sorry I snapped at you about Rodimus. Whoever you want to care about, that’s your business, not mine. He’s a good kid. He’s lucky he’s got you to look after him.”

“Sun–”

He shook his head sharply. “I don’t want to fight.”

Starscream cycled a ventilation. “Who’s fighting?”

“Exactly.” Sunstreaker vented, but the fierce clamp of his armor did not ease. In the reflection of the window, Starscream could see his optics were shuttered, his face a mask of emotion. “So can we just not talk about it anymore?”

“We need to talk.” Starscream hunched his shoulders. “I think that much is pretty clear.”

“No, we don’t. The issue is closed.”

Starscream ground his denta. It wasn’t done, but damn it, when Sunstreaker closed up like this, there was no getting through to him. If he didn’t want to talk, Starscream couldn’t make him.

“Fine,” Starscream bit out. “But will you at least help me with my wing? I need to get the static bandaging off, and I want to make sure my paint isn’t too ruined.”

“Of course I will.” Sunstreaker cycled ventilation and turned, his face a careful mask. “I can’t let you walk out of here looking like a mess. What would the others think?”

The joke was weak, but sorely needed. Starscream snorted and moved into their private washrack. “Appearance is everything.”

Sunstreaker followed him inside. He said nothing as he started the rinse, setting it to a decent temperature, and as he approached, Starscream obligingly turned. There was no one else he’d trust to remove the bandages. Sunstreaker had the gentlest hands, for all that he was the fiercest dom.

“Thank you,” Starscream murmured.

Sunstreaker’s hands carefully landed on his wing, peeling back the sticky mesh away from the dented panels. “What are roommates for?”

Starscream chewed on his bottom lip.

He counted ventilations, listened to the patter of the solvent, and held himself still. His pain patches had worn off long ago, and he didn’t want to jostle his wings anymore than necessary. Wrench had explicitly said he was to take care.

“The welds look good,” Sunstreaker said as Starscream felt the first wisp of warm, damp air ghost over the bared plating. “Should heal without so much as a scar.”

“Wrench is good at what he does.”

“Would have been better if he hadn’t needed to in the first place,” Sunstreaker muttered before his hands rested on Starscream’s shoulders. “Step back a few paces. I want to rinse it off.”

Starscream bit back the sharp retort and obeyed. If Sunstreaker wanted to be snide, Starscream would let him. He was tired of fighting.

Sunstreaker changed the settings and the gentlest of sprays cascaded over Starscream’s wings. Starscream relaxed, his armor lifting away from his protoform to let the runoff slide through his seams and over his cables.

“We live in dangerous times,” Starscream murmured as Sunstreaker tended to his wing with the sort of care only medics had. “I was thinking I should take some self-defense courses. More than the few I’ve had at least.”

Sunstreaker was silent for a moment. Exhibiting restraint? How polite of him.

“That sounds like a good idea,” Sunstreaker finally said. The nozzle clicked into a different setting, a firmer spray against Starscream’s back and aft. “It never hurts to know how to defend yourself.”

Starscream shuttered his optics, determined to enjoy the moment, and pretend he couldn’t feel the tension simmering beneath the surface.

“Or defend those you care about,” Sunstreaker said, almost offhand. The spray swept up and down Starscream’s back. “I think I’ll sign up for a few, too.”

“How dangerous do you think it is around here?” Starscream asked, with a forced laugh, because he didn’t like Sunstreaker’s tone. He couldn’t put a finger on why, except it sounded almost murderous.

“Dangerous enough,” Sunstreaker muttered. He clicked off the spray and set the nozzle aside, the drip-drip of the leaky end abnormally loud in the silence. “Clearly, we can’t rely on the Enforcers to look out for our best interests. So we’re going to have to take care of ourselves.”

Starscream turned, resting a hand on Sunstreaker’s arm, forcing Sunstreaker to look at him. “Turmoil crumpling my wing was not Nightshade’s fault.”

“Of course it wasn’t. Not entirely anyway.” Sunstreaker eased his hand free of Starscream’s grip, and Starscream fought down the wave of rejection creeping into his spark. “It was yours.”

Starscream reared back, wings jerking upright, even the injured one, provoking a hiss of displeasure through his denta. “What?”

“You provoked him,” Sunstreaker said, his tone utterly flat, his expression matching it. “You made Turmoil angry. You knew what he would do.”

Starscream’s hands balled into fists. He took another step back from Sunstreaker, a cold chill racing through his armor. “Do you even hear yourself right now? Blaming me because Turmoil attacked me?”

He jabbed a finger toward Sunstreaker, anger rattling over his plating. His field boiled, and he knew Sunstreaker must have felt it, given the way he flinched.

“Turmoil is a monster. He saw an opportunity, and he took it. If it had been you standing there, terrified out of your processor, I’d have done the exact fragging thing. But go ahead. Tell me it’s my fault again. What’s next? You’re going to tell me I must have wanted it in some way? That Rodimus did, too?”

Sunstreaker’s optics hardened. “You’re twisting my words.” He folded his arms over his chestplate. Defensive. Plating clamped tight. Closing himself off, as he always did when he didn’t want to deal with something.

“No, you just never say what you mean to say,” Starscream spat.

He spun and snapped a drying mesh off the rack. He scrubbed down his frame as quickly as possible, motions jerky, betraying the rattle of emotions in his spark. The washrack suddenly felt too small, and Starscream didn’t want to be in here anymore. He didn’t care about his paint or his polish.

“I just don’t understand why you keep doing this,” Sunstreaker protested with a loud whoosh of his vents. “You act like pain is nothing, like your own safety isn’t important, that you don’t matter.”

Starscream threw down the damp cloth. “Here’s a newsflash, Sunstreaker. We’re buymechs. In the optics of the rest of the city, we don’t matter.” He waved his arms, ignoring the flash of pain as his wing moved at an uncomfortable angle. “We’re the only ones who care what happens to us. We’re all alone.”

“I know that!” Sunstreaker’s engine revved. “But that doesn’t mean you have to keep trying to be some kind of… of hero, or whatever. You’re going to get yourself killed.”

Starscream glared. “I can do whatever I damn well want. And if I want to risk my safety for someone I care about, then I will. You have no right to tell me what I can and can’t do.”

“I’m not saying that I do, I’m just saying that you need to start thinking.” Sunstreaker’s vents wheezed, his optics dark and angry. “You’re too smart to be this stupid.”

Stupid.

First, he’s a masochist, inviting Turmoil’s anger because he wanted it apparently. Now, he’s an idiot?

Starscream narrowed his optics. “I think I am starting to see why you couldn’t keep a roommate before me.” He clipped his words, drew on a frosty anger in his spark. “Have you always treated people like unruly subs who need your hand to master them? Or am I special case because I let you put your hands on me?”

Sunstreaker’s face colored.

“Or wait.” Starscream cocked his head. “I must have wanted this all along, since I’m too stupid to decide it for myself. It’s a good thing I have you to tell me everything I’m doing wrong.”

A strangled sound caught in Sunstreaker’s intake. “Star, that’s not–”

He cut off his roommate with a raised hand. “Don’t.” He drew in a long vent, alarmed to find it ragged. He trembled all the way to his substructure. He didn’t know what hurt more, this or the slice of fire in his wing.

“I’m leaving,” Starscream said, his voice echoing around the polished metal. “I can’t be in here with you right now.” He stalked out of the washrack, making a beeline for the main door.

“Star, wait.” Sunstreaker’s field chased after him, something frantic in it.

“For what? So you can yell at me more? No, thank you.” Starscream snatched a kit off his desk as he passed. He’d have to get Rodimus to at least try and polish up his wing in the morning.

Sunstreaker caught up to him, throwing his body between the door and Starscream. “I don’t want to yell.”

“Move,” Starscream growled.

“No.” Sunstreaker’s intake bobbed. “I’m sorry. I said a lot of things I shouldn’t have, and I let my anger get the best of me. Just please… don’t go.”

Starscream huffed. “I’m coming back. This is still my room, after all.”

Sunstreaker looked at the ground, his lips pressed together in a thin line. “That’s not what I meant.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t. Because you never say what you mean to say.” Starscream cycled a ventilation.

He was tired. He was hurting. He just wanted to recharge. He didn’t want to argue anymore. He didn’t want to fight with the words clawing at his intake. He didn’t want to wonder ‘what ifs’ and call himself a coward over and over again.

He rubbed a hand down his face, pinched the bridge of his nasal ridge. He was just so tired.

“I’m sorry,” Sunstreaker said, again.

He stepped aside, out of the way of the door. Even pressed a hand to the panel so it would open, leaving Starscream free to exit, if he so wanted.

He still wouldn’t look at Starscream though.

Starscream didn’t know which was the heaviest chain: this debt he fought to pay, or the one around his spark, keeping Sunstreaker close, but always out of reach.

“I’m tired.” Starscream spun back around, tossing his kit onto his desk. It slid off the other side with a clatter and hit the floor. “My wing hurts, and I want to recharge. Close the damn door.”

It closed.

Starscream stomped to his berth and climbed into it, rearranging pillows to make it more comfortable for his damaged wing. Sunstreaker hadn’t moved from the door. He hadn’t spoken either.

Starscream cast a glance over his shoulder. Sunstreaker stared at the floor, his expression one Starscream couldn’t read.

“Are you coming or not?” Starscream asked.

“I didn’t think I’d be welcome.” Sunstreaker moved closer to Starscream, tentative, as though he thought any second now, Starscream would lash out at him.

Well, he wasn’t wrong.

“I’m still mad at you.” Starscream sat back on his heels and gestured to the empty space. “But I want a pillow, and I don’t want to recharge alone. I just want to pretend for a little while that everything is fine. Can you do that or do I need to go find Rodimus?”

He had to admit, the last bit was calculated. Maybe Sunstreaker had a point when he said Starscream knew exactly what he was doing. He knew how powerful words could be.

Sunstreaker’s lips pressed together. He worked his jaw. He pulled himself into Starscream’s berth without a word, laying flat, leaving room for Starscream to flatten himself in the crook of Sunstreaker’s frame.

It was much more comfortable this way. The heat of his roommate pressed against him, Sunstreaker’s field nudging his, warm but edged with uncertainty.

Starscream pillowed his head on Sunstreaker’s shoulder. His wings lay comfortably flat against his back. Sunstreaker’s hands rested at the base of his back.

Actions spoke louder than words claimed the old adage.

But words were useful, too. Words meant things.

Sunstreaker never said what he meant.

But then again, Starscream didn’t either.

He cycled a ventilation and shuttered his optics. He relaxed into the dip and rise of Sunstreaker’s frame, soaking in his energy field, pretending as he often did, that there was a real chance here.

The lights extinguished, draping the room in shadows.

“I’m sorry,” Sunstreaker murmured on the tail end of a soft vent. “I should have just told you that I’m glad you’re all right and left it at that.”

Starscream worked his intake. “Yes, you should have.”

“You’re right, too,” Sunstreaker continued, his words stilted and uneven. “It’s not my place to tell you what you can and can’t do. We’re roommates and friends. I’m not your keeper.”

Roommates and friends. Lovers, too, but that was skirting the line of too much, wasn’t it? Could they be lovers if they weren’t actually in love or if it were one-sided or if they couldn’t stay together? Were they friends with benefits? Was there a term that could define them?

“I’m glad you understand that,” Starscream said tightly.

Sunstreaker gently stroked his backstrut. His fingers remained chaste, not venturing further than the small of Starscream’s back. “I’m sorry,” he said, again.

“I know.”

Silence lapsed between them. It was heavy. Starscream was exhausted, he wanted to recharge, but his thoughts kept churning, one after another.

There was something in the air, something tenuous. It reeked of change, but for the better or the worst, he didn’t know. He was almost afraid to find out.

Starscream slid a hand over Sunstreaker’s chassis, making himself as comfortable as he possibly could. He would enjoy this however long it lasted.

For better or worse.

~

Rodimus sighed and flopped over on his berth.

It was eerily quiet. Both of his roommates were out. He doubted he’d see them until Blue Sun reopened. Even then, he couldn’t be sure either of them would come back.

He hadn’t wanted to lie here in the dark. Alone. But he didn’t want to be between Starscream and Sunstreaker either. Those two had issues. They needed to sit down and talk and be honest with each other.

Honesty.

Rodimus snorted.

What did he even know about it? It wasn’t like his track record was full of truths. But still. He’d seen the way Sunstreaker looked at Starscream when he thought Starscream wasn’t looking. He’d heard the longing in Starscream’s voice. They loved each other. Rodimus didn’t know what fool reason they told themselves for not admitting it.

Frustrating, was what it was. Frustrating beyond belief.

Something creaked in the dark.

Rodimus peered into the shadows. He’d left the baseboard runners on. The console they all shared hummed in a ready-state. Lights on the tower blinked, providing a dim glow.

He was alone. It was probably the furniture settling.

Rodimus stared into the dark. His spark started a pitter-patter of discomfort.

Turmoil was arrested. Most of his top followers were arrested. The underlings were being rounded up even as Rodimus and Drift had spoke. There was nothing to fear. There was no one to come after Rodimus, seeking revenge. He was safe.

They’d told him he was safe.

The ventilation system kicked on with a clatter-whoosh, and Rodimus nearly startled right out of the berth. It was a sound he knew too well. It was abnormally loud in the silence.

He clutched a pillow to his chassis.

He wished he hadn’t told Starscream he’d be fine.

He wished he were stronger.

The baseboard lights flickered.

Rodimus surged out of the berth, tossing the pillow aside. He didn’t need to recharge. He could function fine without it. Why, when he’d been Turmoil’s pet, Turmoil had kept him online for a week once, just to see if he’d be more malleable.

Rodimus shivered at the memory. He stormed out of the room, into the brightness of the hallway. It was late, or early, depending on how you looked at it. He couldn’t go to Starscream’s room. He didn’t have any other friends in Blue Sun. He probably wouldn’t have any now, not after this thing with Turmoil.

Streamline was going to be out for energon.

Rodimus scraped a hand down his face and trudged to the lift. The sales floor at least would be brightly lit, and with the construction workers and the environmental staff trudging in and out here and there, it would be well populated. Plenty of mechs to blame any noise on. Hopefully, one of them wouldn’t be a Turmoil plant.

Ugh.

Maybe the refueling room was a better choice? Quieter. Slightly less occupied by unfamiliar faces.

Rodimus pressed the button to the main floor. He pushed his back against the wall, watching the lift descend, his armor rattling.

The lift dinged as it stopped, picking up another passenger. Rodimus worked his intake, telling himself there was no reason to be afraid. He didn’t need to be such a coward.

The door opened.

Drift stepped inside.

Rodimus blinked. “Drift?”

Drift blinked, too. “Rodimus?”

The lift honked, and Drift scurried the rest of the way inside, letting the door close. He glanced at the panel and keyed the button for the basement.

“Thought you were going to berth,” Drift said.

“I was.” Rodimus tried to play it casual, but his smile came out lopsided, and he knew his field was a mess. “Who needs recharge anyway, eh? Much more fun to be had when you’re online. Thought I might go for a walk.”

The lift stopped on the first floor. Rodimus moved to escape, but Drift caught his arm while he was in the doorway.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to walk outside right now. Not alone,” Drift said, his voice thick with worry, his hold gentle. “I mean, we’ve been rounding up Turmoil’s cronies but…”

Rodimus’ shoulders sagged. “But he had a firm hand in this area, and it’s impossible to know if you’ve got them all.”

“And he has a lot of friends.” Drift gave Rodimus’ arm a gentle squeeze. “Maybe recharge is better, yeah?”

Rodimus vented noisily. “No, it’s not.” The lift blatted angrily at them, and Rodimus fidgeted. “I can’t… It’s just… My roommates are out.” He refused to admit he was scared. Not in front of Drift.

“Oh.” Drift shifted and pressed the emergency stop button, so the lift would cease its angry protests. “Most of the guards are out. It’s a little too quiet if you ask me. I could… use the company. If you don’t mind.”

How kind of him to frame it in such a way. Rodimus could cling to his dignity, what little he had. “Sure.” Rodimus shifted into an awkward cant, stepping back into the lift. “I mean, it sucks to be lonely, you know. So if I was there, you’d feel less alone. Because you wouldn’t be.”

“Right.” Drift flicked the switch for the lift, letting the doors close. “I appreciate it.” His gaze swept over Rodimus, echoes of sadness behind his optics. “And I appreciate you being willing to be in the same room as me.”

Rodimus shrugged, tried to play it casual, though it felt anything but. “Anger and resentment are poison,” he said. He’d read it in a book once, one Sunstreaker had given him. “I can’t move forward if I hold onto them forever. And I guess, considering that we were both trying to escape, you were just as much a victim as me.”

Drift’s optics widened as the lift dinged, depositing them in the basement. “That’s unexpectedly gracious of you.”

“I’m learning that I’m a lot of unexpected things.” Rodimus laughed, thinking fondly of Starscream and Sunstreaker and the stuff they helped him learn about himself that he hadn’t known before.

He followed Drift into the guards quarters. It was as silent and still down here as it was upstairs in the residential floors. Where one could usually find a guard or two in the common room, it was deserted. Rodimus would bet many of them decided to jump ship in the wake of Turmoil’s arrest. They’d probably been Turmoil’s pets in some way or another.

“You’re sure about this?” Rodimus asked as Drift led him into the tiny room he called his own. “Staying at Blue Sun, I mean.”

Drift sighed and pulled off his sword, laying it in the stand on the wall. “The Enforcers never officially employed me. I was just an informant. I’m still going to need a job now that this is done. Blue Sun at least gives me some credibility, since I’m still what I always was.”

“An abandoned spark on the streets,” Rodimus murmured. He knew what Drift meant all too well.

It was one of the reasons Turmoil had scooped them up so easily.

“You can have my bunk, if you want,” Drift said. “I won’t mind sleeping on the floor.” He shot Rodimus a crooked grin. “I’ve slept in worse places.”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

Rodimus glanced at the berth. It seemed cruel to make Drift sleep on the floor. They could always go back up to Rodimus’ shared room. There were more berths, and Rodimus doubted his roommates would be back anytime soon.

It felt better here though. Smaller. He could see every corner with ease. No one could lurk behind a curtain.

He chewed on his bottom lip.

He didn’t want to recharge alone. The berths were big enough, weren’t they? Or would it be pathetic of him, to ask Drift to share a berth when he’d been so cold and angry with his former lover before? Would Drift misunderstand the request?

“Roddy?”

Fingers touched his shoulder, featherlight. Rodimus was alarmed to find himself trembling, and his own field a riotous whirl.

“Are you alright?”

“No,” Rodimus admitted, barely above a whisper. Suddenly, the lonely, empty berth was as terrifying as his lonely, empty quarters. “I want to be. But I’m not.”

The fingers vanished from his shoulder, but only because they’d moved to brush the back of his hand. “Come on,” Drift murmured, barely tugging on Rodimus’ fingers with his own. “It’s okay.”

It wasn’t the first time Rodimus heard Drift say those words. It wouldn’t even be the first time he believed them.

He felt numb, detached, as he let Drift pull him toward the berth. It was neat and piled high with pillows in such a garish assortment of colors Rodimus couldn’t help but gape. It was a monstrosity of decadence, and there were frayed bits of pillows where the pointed spurs of Drift’s armor had broken through the woven mesh of them.

“I don’t want to just take your berth,” Rodimus protested.

“It’s okay,” Drift said, and pushed Rodimus toward it, adding in a little flare of warmth from his field. “I’ll recharge in it, too. I mean, if that’s okay with you. If it’ll help.” He paused, cycled a ventilation. “I know what it’s like. I’ve been there. There’s no comparison to helplessness.”

Rodimus’ vents stuttered.

He crawled into the berth, loosing a little moan as his frame sank into the pile of cushions, which rose around him like a fluffy castle. Drift climbed in after him, chuckling as the pillows rolled him against Rodimus, their frames fitting together as easily now as they had before, even after Drift’s rebuild.

Though before hadn’t involved anything like this. They’d never snuggled or cuddled. It had been about ‘facing. Stolen frags in a closet like little acts of rebellion against Turmoil. Quick ‘faces before Turmoil came back or Deadlock had to report to a shift or a delivery. Rodimus lifted up, knuckles pressed to his mouth to muffle his cries as Deadlock consumed him to overload, the only pleasure he ever found.

Honestly, Rodimus wondered why he ever thought himself in love with Deadlock. They hadn’t had anything to love.

Drift rolled against his back, molding against him, his armor warm and silken, his arm extending chaste across Rodimus’ midsection.

“This okay?” Drift asked, his ex-vents puffing against the back of Rodimus’ neck.

Rodimus cycled a ventilation. “Surprisingly, yeah.” He tucked his arms against his chestplate. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. I get it.” Drift’s hand remained where it was, though he didn’t try to stroke or grope Rodimus at all. His field covered Rodimus like a warm blanket. “Though I think this is the first time we’ve done this.”

Rodimus huffed a small laugh. “Yeah. I was just thinking that. We didn’t really share a berth in this sense.”

“I always had other things on my mind,” Drift replied, his tone rich with warmth and amusement. “You could be quite irresistible.”

“Could be?” Rodimus twitched in fake affront, spoiler flicking back against Drift. “I still am irresistible, thank you very much.”

Drift laughed. “Fair enough. Want me to dim the lights?”

Rodimus nibbled on his bottom lip. “Would you tease me if I said no?” The lights were already at half-illumination. Any more and the shadows would start to creep in around him.

“They’re not that bright,” Drift said, by way of answer. He shifted a little behind Rodimus. Peripherally, Rodimus saw him tug a pillow under his head, the mesh giving a little protest at the sharp jut of his finials.

This was… this was better, Rodimus had to admit. The sound of another mech. The tick-tick-tick of cooling metal, the rhythmic rush of vents, the simmering warmth of a field. Better, even, that he knew the other mech was capable of battle if need be. Maybe this time, Drift wouldn’t even abandon him.

Maybe this time, he’d stay to fight.

“I wish it hadn’t come to this,” Drift murmured, as though reading Rodimus’ thoughts. “I wish things hadn’t turned out the way they did. I am sorry, Roddy.”

Rodimus shuttered his optics, swallowed over a lump in his intake. “I know. You’ve said so. And I’ve accepted your apology.” Forgiveness, however, might take a little while longer. Though this was a good start.

Silence fell between them, heavy and expectant, but not uncomfortable. It was far better than the scary nothing of his empty quarters.

“If you want, I can teach you some self-defense,” Drift offered, each word slow and careful, like he wasn’t sure how the suggestion would be taken. “It might help.”

“With the fear, you mean.”

“Yeah, with the fear.”

Rodimus worked his intake. “Did it help you?”

“There’s something to be said about the ability to defend yourself above all else. When you realize that you can fight the monsters that haunt you.”

Rodimus turned his head, rubbing his face into the pillows, the one beneath his cheek a bright, electric green. “Okay,” he said, against the mesh, his voice muffled but Drift should have heard him just fine. “As long as you’re here, I want to learn.”

Drift’s forehead touched his back, between his shoulders, and there was something so intimate and chaste about it.

“We can start in the morning,” Drift murmured. “Don’t worry. I’ll guard your rest. And this time, I’m not going anywhere.”

Rodimus allowed himself to believe Drift. To trust him. To let Drift prove he was not the aft he’d been so long ago.

He shuttered his optics and sank into the pillows, into the protective cradle of Drift’s frame. He listened to the clicks and whuffs of an unfamiliar system – Drift had changed so much.

He allowed himself to dream.

Maybe.

Maybe things could be different now.

Turmoil was gone.

Things could always change.

[TF] Past Impending 05

Every time Turmoil’s laugh echoed through the air, Rodimus flinched, and Nightshade noticed. His optics darkened with concern. He kept shoving treats at them, as though that would help.

“Is he alright?” Nightshade asked, his voice barely audible over the noise of the sales floor.

Starscream stroked his thumb over Rodimus’ bottom lip. “He’ll be fine. We appreciate your concern.” It was a novel thing, a client’s concern for them. It was one of the reasons he adored Nightshade so much.

“Perhaps if we left…?” Nightshade suggested.

Another bark of laughter, and Rodimus’ field went a sickly shade. He ignored the treat Starscream offered, his fingers curling tighter into Starscream’s seams. He was in no condition to service anyone. But with Turmoil here, there was no chance in the Pit Streamline would let Rodimus leave the sales floor with anyone but a patron.

“That’s probably for the best,” Starscream said. He urged Rodimus out of his lap, and with evident reluctance, Rodimus stood. “We could move to a private lounge if you aren’t interested in a show.”

“Given the circumstances, not until either of you are more comfortable.” Nightshade unfolded himself from the couch, concern casting a pall over his field. “I’d much prefer a more… enthused show and if we need privacy for you to relax, I’m all for it.”

Starscream smiled genuinely, and stood, slinging an arm around Rodimus’ waist and tugging the speedster against him. “And that’s why you’re our favorite. Isn’t that right, Roddy?”

Rodimus managed a smile, a pale shade of his usual exuberance. “One of at least,” he teased and snuggled into Starscream’s side, his fingers flirting over Starscream’s abdomen. “We’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

Nightshade smiled in return. He reached out, gently tweaking Rodimus’ chin. “I already know you will.” He turned to flag down a server in order to reserve a room.

“It’s going to be fine,” Starscream murmured as he felt Rodimus’ tension.

Rodimus snorted. “Easy for you to say.”

“You know, Streamline, I still haven’t received any decent entertainment,” Turmoil said behind them, too loud for it to be anything but a comment their direction.

Rodimus’ fingers shook as they curled in Starscream’s seams. He went so rigid, he could have been carved from Praxian crystal.

“You’ll find something more than decent here,” Streamline replied, his tone a touch annoyed. “If you’re wanting something specific, just say so.”

Turmoil laughed and the sound clawed up Starscream’s spinal strut like a whipping he hadn’t asked for. “You should know what I like by now. Flashy. Small. Meek. Red’s my favorite color, you know.”

Starscream glared over his shoulder. Turmoil stared unerringly in their direction, the sharp red gleam of his visor like a smelting pot. He’d been fondling Aeroline for the past ten minutes, but she was gone now.

Too pink for his tastes apparently.

“Something I’ve sampled before,” Turmoil continued as he tilted his head, his gaze a challenge at Starscream. “Something that screams quite pretty when you get him on his knees.”

Starscream’s lip curled. Rodimus made a sound, like a thin whine, but it was quickly swallowed.

“Sounds like you already have someone specific in mind,” Streamline said. He shifted and gave Starscream a pointed look. “Come here, Hot Rod.”

Rodimus hesitated. His fingers were like hooks on Starscream’s armor. But even afraid, he knew better than to disobey Streamline.

As much as Starscream wanted to haul him back close, he couldn’t. Nightshade hadn’t returned with their reservation. Technically, Rodimus was still unclaimed.

Rodimus unclenched his fingers and stepped out of Starscream’s reach. His armor slicked tight to his protoform, he had to be overheating, and his smile was strained.

“Yeah, boss? You needed me?” False service glittered in his field.

“Need is a strong word,” Turmoil said, intercepting Rodimus’ attention. His visor raked up and down Rodimus’ frame as though interfacing him with a single look. “We have some unfinished business.” He planted a foot against the low table in front of him and patted his lap. “Come here.”

Rodimus stiffened. He went pale all over again.

Starscream stepped in front of him. “I’m terribly sorry, sir. But he’s spoken for already,” he said, in a tone carefully cultivated for their patrons.

Streamline growled a warning. “Starscream.”

Turmoil tilted his head. “So I’ve heard. But it’s first come, first served, isn’t it? That’s what the yellow one told me.” He jerked his thumb in Sunstreaker’s direction before pointing at Rodimus. “And that one’s been mine since before his cute aft got sent here. So technically, I was here first. And as it turns out, I’ve been missing my favorite berthwarmer.”

“I apologize, sir,” Starscream replied through gritted teeth, pulling Rodimus further behind him, “but it doesn’t quite work that way here at Blue Sun. You’ll have to choose another. We have many beautiful and talented escorts who’d be happy to accompany you this evening.”

Rodimus pressed against his back. “Starscream, don’t.” It was a quiet plea, but Starscream felt him tremble. He didn’t want to go anywhere with Turmoil. And Starscream would stand here and make sure that didn’t happen.

Turmoil might just kill Rodimus and hang the debt.

“Hush,” Starscream hissed.

“Yes, Rodimus. Hush. Though you never were very good at that.” Turmoil drummed his fingers on his thigh before he pushed to his feet. “Streamline, are all your employees as insubordinate as this one? Perhaps your discipline is lacking?”

“Starscream is a special case,” Streamline said in a tight tone. Anger flashed behind his optics, but at least he didn’t bow and scrape to Turmoil like a lackey. “He’s also wrong. Hot Rod is not currently engaged by any patron in the establishment. You’re free to take his commission.”

Damn it. Of course Streamline would check the registers and see that Nightshade had, in fact, not hired Rodimus. He hadn’t hired either of them yet. He was still trying to flag down a server, though now his attention was on the interplay behind him.

“Or you could take mine,” Starscream suggested, and added a becoming tone to his voice. “I’m better than Hot Rod in every way. I’ll even throw in a discount.”

Turmoil laughed. “You two fragging or something? Because that’s an awful lot of effort to protect something that doesn’t matter.” He moved closer to them, within reach. “I don’t want you, Seeker. So give me my toy before you get yourself hurt over it.”

‘Star!’ Sunstreaker pinged him, the urgency and concern in his comm enough to make Starscream’s spark throb.

He glanced at his roommate. Sunstreaker’s face was drawn and pale, like before he had an episode, or when he needed a spark charge to keep himself going.

He’d understand. Or at least, Starscream hoped he did.

Starscream squared his shoulders and narrowed his optics. “I get hurt for creds all the time. What makes you think protecting a friend from a mindless brute like you is any less worth it to me?” He tossed his head, suddenly feeling every inch the lord of the skies Seekers were supposed to be. “I’m not afraid of you.”

Turmoil’s visor flashed. “You should be.”

He moved, faster than Starscream thought a mech his size should be capable, hand seizing Starscream’s nearest wing. His grip was like duryllium, and there was an abrupt, sharp pain rippling through Starscream’s sensory net.

He buried a scream behind a hiss and stumbled when Turmoil jerked him closer, his other hand snatching Starscream’s chin.

“If you were less mouthy, you’d almost be cute,” Turmoil said as he turned Starscream’s jaw this way and that. “Though I have a feeling it would be fun to break you.”

Starscream’s processor spun. Error messages lit up his HUD like fireworks as metal creaked and Turmoil’s grip tightened. Something snapped, something important, and a thin whine eeked in his intake.

His hands curled into fists. His vents turned ragged. He couldn’t… he wasn’t allowed to…

“Turmoil, if you break my merchandise, you have to buy it,” Streamline said in a bland tone.

He was such a fragging coward when it came to his business contacts. Knowing that said businesses were worth more than the loss of a single Seeker buymech. Starscream was replaceable, like so many of his kin.

Frag him. Frag all of them. Starscream was worth it, and Rodimus was, too.

“He offered to be broken. I’m only giving him what he wants,” Turmoil said, his grip on Starscream’s chin painfully tight. “Isn’t that right, Seeker? I can take you to a room, and tear you apart, and you’ll let me. So long as I leave the whore behind you out of it?”

Starscream’s ventilations gasped. His wing burned. “Yes, sir,” he gritted out as Sunstreaker’s pings blasted his comm. “That’s what I said.”

Silence fell like a weight through the main room. Starscream felt it, sure as he felt the optics on them, customers and escorts alike watching the events. Sure as he felt Sunstreaker getting closer, grumbling, pushing through the curious throng.

Turmoil chuckled darkly, and something went pop in Starscream’s wing, something that sent a white-hot shock of agony through his frame.

“Stop it!”

Rodimus’ voice cut through the haze.

“Let him go!”

Fire blazed in his wing. Starscream stumbled backward as someone yanked on him, tearing him from Turmoil’s grip. He listed, knees wobbling, and a blur of orange and red planted itself in front of him.

“I’m here. Just take me already,” Rodimus snarled, his hands fisting at his sides, his spoiler trembling.

Turmoil’s visor brightened with delight. “You have a spinal strut after all, pet.” His fingers closed around Rodimus’ wrist, dragging him close, highlighting the obscene size difference between them.

Starscream tried to speak, his vocalizer crackling. He tried to grab Rodimus and missed, and then there were hands on him, holding him upright.

“It’s all right, Starscream.”

He knew this voice, murmuring in his audial, though he’d never heard it with this tone.

“I have this under control,” Nightshade said.

Turmoil slid a possessive hand around the back of Rodimus’ head, and Rodimus’ field sank into a sickly poisoned sludge.

“Hold on a moment, please.”

Starscream did not know this voice. But it cut through the tension like a vibroblade through a mech’s undercarriage.

In his periphery, the Enforcer rose to his feet, and Atomizer beside him, though there was none of the seductive grace in Atomizer’s stance. The Enforcer had a hand pressed to his comm, and a thoughtful look on his face. He nodded, though the person on the other end couldn’t possibly see him.

“You’re certain?” the Enforcer asked as he stared at Turmoil, his lips sliding from a thin press to a small smirk. Atomizer draped against his side, but there was challenge in his visor. “I will not be satisfied with anything less than one-hundred percent.” He paused as Atomizer stroked over the flat of his belly, flirtatious and unconcerned. “Very well. Thank you.”

“Prowl, what is the meaning of this?” Turmoil demanded with a growl that made Starscream’s plating crawl. His hold on Rodimus loosened, and Rodimus tore himself free, scrambling backward, into Starscream’s reach.

“You know, you cause trouble wherever you go,” Prowl said with a soft sigh. His thigh panel popped open, and he withdrew a blaster. “But I’m grateful for that, as it gives me the opportunity to arrest you. And I’ve been wanting to do that for the better part of a century.”

You could have heard energon splatter on the floor.

Starscream froze. He wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly. He swayed, and Nightshade behind him was suddenly as strong and sturdy as a rock.

“The frag?” Turmoil reared back, his engine roaring. “This some kind of joke?”

“No, it’s not.” The harsh whine of a blaster charging ratcheted up the tension as Turmoil’s tall and gangly guard pointed a gun at his master’s head. “Sorry, boss. But as it turns out, Prowl pays better. Plus, he’s a hell of a lot cuter.”

“Tumbler, be quiet.”

Tumbler’s visor flashed with humor. “Sure thing, boss.” The end of his blaster tapped the side of Turmoil’s head. “And by boss, I meant Prowl. Not you.”

Turmoil growled. His field throbbed through the room, heavy with menace, and Starscream swayed a bit more.

He caught Rodimus’ shoulder with one hand, pulling Rodimus back against him, and Rodimus came willingly. He still shook in earnest.

“You should drop it, Tumbler,” said Turmoil’s other guard. He drew his own blaster and aimed it at Tumbler’s head. “Me and the boss, we’re both getting out of here, understand me?”

“You might want to rethink that, pal.”

Starscream stiffened. He knew that voice, too. He followed it right to a lounge along the wall, where Bluestreak had a sniper rifle casually leveled at Turmoil’s other guard. Jazz draped himself across the back of the lounge, and Bluestreak by proxy. He looked as pleased as a cybercat who caught the metallocanary.

“My sparkmate here has the best aim in the universe,” Jazz continued, still with that lazy, unbothered drawl. “Can pick a rivet off a scout ship from half a planet away, he can.”

Bluestreak rolled his optics. “Don’t exaggerate, pet.” His rifle didn’t waver.

“Yes, dear.” Jazz’s grin broadened. One hand toyed with the nearest of Bluestreak’s sensory panels, the other rested possessively over Bluestreak’s ample chassis. “So Turmoil, as you see, you’re out of options. And completely surrounded.”

Turmoil snarled, his field lancing through the room. “This was you, wasn’t it?” he growled, massive finger pointing at Rodimus, who recoiled back against Starscream. “You think you can tattle on me and it’ll save you? You think these Enforcers care about some shareware?

“Actually.” Drift stepped out of the crowd, which had thinned remarkably, many of the escorts slowly but surely vanishing to the exits. “It was me.”

Turmoil stared at him. “Who the frag are–” He cut off as recognition dawned, and then his visor flashed with rage. “Deadlock,” he snarled, and the sound of it sent a shiver of almost-fear down Starscream’s spine.

There was murder most foul in Turmoil’s visor and in his field.

His foot clomped on the floor as he took a step toward Drift, hands clenching in and out of fists at his side, as though nothing else existed in the room but his rage at what Deadlock had done.

“When I’m through with this nonsense, you’ll wish your sparker had never left you to die in that gutter,” Turmoil hissed.

“Through?” Prowl echoed and waved Atomizer off his side with a flick of his fingers. “Turmoil, I don’t think you comprehend what is happening here. Where you’re going, you’ll never see the light of Luna-One again.”

Turmoil swung back toward the Enforcer, as though Tumbler’s blaster against his head was nothing to be concerned about. “If you want that precious artifact you came here to buy, you’d better be prepared to make a deal.”

Prowl didn’t look the least bit ruffled. He arched an orbital ridge, the corner of his mouth twitching as though he wanted to smile.

As if on cue, the main doors opened. Everyone stiffened. Blasters whined. A large blue mech Starscream had never seen before strolled inside, a cybercat at his heels, and an avian cassette on his shoulder, opposite some kind of mounted blaster. Both visor and mouthguard his his face from view. He had a box of some kind in one of his hands.

“Target acquired,” he said, in a monotone that would have envied Compute.

Prowl’s sensory panels twitched. “Thank you, Soundwave. You are always so punctual with these things.”

Soundwave tipped his head. “Compliment appreciated.” The bird on his shoulder chirped.

Prowl accepted the box and gave it a telling wiggle. Whatever was inside clunked as it hit the edges of the box. “Did you mean this artifact?”

Turmoil’s field went incandescent with rage. “How–”

“Do not presume to think I am dumber than you.” Prowl’s optics went ice blue and cold. “Unlike you, I do not make mistakes.” He tucked the artifact behind his back and moved closer to Turmoil, the mob boss towering over him, though Prowl looked not the least bit bothered by this. “I will enjoy watching them strip your spark from you.”

Turmoil’s vents heaved. “When I am free, I will rend your head from your shoulders. And then I’ll come for the rest.”

“You may try.” Prowl turned away with a sharp clip. “Arrest him and take him to the transport.”

Turmoil roared.

Chaos reigned.

Mechs rushed forward: Drift and Spinner, Skids from who the frag knew where, Atomizer, the one named Tumbler. They threw themselves at Turmoil.

Starscream stumbled as both he and Rodimus were abruptly pulled backward, and Nightshade surged in front of them. Taller he might be, but there was less mass to Nightshade. Someone like him couldn’t possibly stand up to Turmoil.

“Stay behind me,” Nightshade said in a tone that demanded obedience. If he was at all concerned by the threat Turmoil presented, he didn’t show it.

Starscream’s processor spun. His wing ached. He felt dizzy and swayed, and only Rodimus grabbing his elbow kept him from staggering.

What in Primus’ name was going on?

Past Nightshade, a struggle raged and roared. Someone shot Turmoil with what looked like blue-white fire.

It sizzled and crackled. Turmoil dropped to a knee, mechs draping from his massive frame like extra bits of kibble.

Turmoil’s remaining loyal guard tried to flee. Soundwave’s cassettes – the cat and the bird – converged on him, bringing him down with little effort.

Turmoil raged. Cuffs slapped around his wrist. Starscream couldn’t tell who’d used them on the madness.

Turmoil struggled, but the cuffs dampened his energy, made him weak and pliable. Unfortunately, it didn’t curb his glossa, for he yelled vitriol as they pulled him away. He cursed Prowl. He threatened Streamline. He saved the tastiest tidbits for Drift and Rodimus, words that didn’t bear repeating.

Rodimus threw himself into Starscream’s arms, clinging tight, as if he thought he could mold their frames together.

“I thought he was going to hurt you,” Rodimus said, muffled against Starscream’s cockpit. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault.”

“No, it’s not.” Starscream leaned heavily on Rodimus, his wing aching more and more with each passing moment. There was a bent strut, he was sure of it.

Rodimus’ fingers dug into his seams. “Yes, it is. If he’d killed you…”

“But he did not, and you are safe.” Starscream tilted his head against Rodimus’, sliding his arms around the younger mech’s frame. “You’re free of him now.”

“I’m never going to be free,” Rodimus murmured in a bleak tone. “Never.”

Starscream cycled a ventilation. He wasn’t one to give false hope. But he wasn’t one to wallow in despair either. There was always the chance Turmoil managed to evade justice. He’d done it before, though under different circumstances.

Arms enfolded Starscream from behind, though careful of his wing. Starscream caught a whiff of expensive polish before he could relax.

“You fool,” Sunstreaker whispered, fierce and angry and relieved into Starscream’s audial. “You utter fool.”

For once, Starscream allowed the chastisement. His roommate was not wrong. Turmoil could have killed him.

“It’s fine,” Starscream replied. “It’s over now.”

“You need to see Wrench,” Sunstreaker said, arms tight around Starscream’s abdomen, his field a nauseating swirl of worry and anger.

“Later.” Starscream cycled several ventilations, but there was a rattle in his vents, in his knees.

He’d never been more aware of his mortality until now.

Investigative forces trooped into Blue Sun. Turmoil vanished out the door, probably to be stuffed into a transport and hopefully, he’d be discarded into a deep, dark pit where no one would ever see him again.

“Don’t ever do that again,” Sunstreaker murmured.

“I’m so sorry,” Rodimus whispered.

A deep, dark pit wasn’t good enough, Starscream decided.

There wasn’t enough justice in the world.

[TF] Past Impending 04

Hexic was banned, if Streamline was to be believed. Rodimus didn’t put much stock in it. Besides, Hexic was gone but there were others. There would always be others. Turmoil had so much influence that it was a moot point.

Rodimus’ wrist healed. Wrench did good work. He always did.

Blue Sun returned to normal. Or normal-ish.

There was a tension between Sunstreaker and Starscream now. One both of them ignored and pretended wasn’t there, but Rodimus could feel it. Other escorts could feel it. The tension was in the air, the atmosphere, it was infectious. But if you asked either of them, they’d say the same thing: nothing was wrong.

“They’re never going to figure it out, kid,” Wrench said as he examined Rodimus’ wrist, checking the welds for issues or microfissures. “Not unless something happens to make them confront their feelings.”

“What kind of something?” Rodimus asked.

“Something neither of them can ignore,” Wrench grunted. He sighed, looking sad and old, as he sometimes did. “And something tells me that’s coming sooner rather than later.”

“I hope so,” Rodimus said.

“Me too, kid.” Wrench patted him on the wrist. “You’re all set. Literally. Do me a favor and don’t come to see me again soon. Unless you’re not injured and just want to spend some time with a cranky rust-aft.”

Rodimus laughed. “You’re not cranky.”

“Notice you didn’t deny the rust.”

“Well, I’m not that generous.”

Rodimus grinned as Wrench gave him a playful push toward the door, and out he went. He was ready to get back to work, so rather than return to his dorm room, he altered course and headed for Streamline’s office.

Wrench would probably send him a message to let him know Rodimus was ready for duty, but Rodimus wanted to start as soon as possible. The longer he was out on med-leave, the less creds he made, and the longer he’d be stuck at Blue Sun. It wasn’t the worst place to work, honestly, but Rodimus wanted more for himself than this.

Streamline’s door was open, but the manager wasn’t inside. Rodimus frowned, about to ping Streamline for his location, when he heard a commotion down the hall, coming from Compute’s office. He picked up Streamline’s voice amid Compute’s monotone. It didn’t sound like an argument, but something else.

Curious, Rodimus crept toward the doorway, loitering just outside of it. He shamelessly eavesdropped, wondering what kind of gossip he could pick up on this time.

“I’ve always kept those accounts separate,” Compute said, his fingers going clickity-clack over his keyboard. “They are ready to transfer and close at a moment’s notice.”

“Then do it. I don’t need any more attention than I already have,” Streamline snapped. “What about transfer tracking?”

“All accounts are owned by a subsidiary company untraceable to you.”

“You’re sure?”

“I am always certain.”

It was easy to tell their voices apart, Streamline’s higher in pitch and near-hysterics, Compute a steady, stern monotone that held no inflection whatsoever. Rodimus had no clue what they were talking about. Untraceable creds? Tracking? Accounts? Was Streamline planning on going somewhere?

“That fragger is not going to drag me down with him,” Streamline snarled, and Rodimus heard the distinct sound of a datapad hitting the ground, the screen cracking, and then the crunch of a foot stomping down on top of it. “I told him to be careful. I told him to stop playing those games. But did he listen? Of course not.”

“Of course not,” Compute echoed. “Transfer complete.”

“Good. Erase all evidence the account ever existed in the first place. I may have to do this one last job, but I’ll damned if I keep records of why. As far as anyone else is concerned, he’s just another customer.”

“Algorithm running. Should be deleted within the hour.”

“I knew there was a reason I paid you so much.” Streamline laughed, but it was a dark laugh. “Alright. I’ve got to get back on the sales floor before anyone gets suspicious. You can handle things here?”

Frag.

Rodimus nearly tripped over his own feet in an effort to scramble away from the door, missing whatever Compute’s reply had been. He raced down the hallway and around the corner, spark pounding in his chassis. He shuttered his optics, cycled a ventilation, and planted a smile on his face. He counted to three, and then he started forward again, a whistle on his lips. He rounded the corner and nearly collided with Streamline.

“Boss!” Rodimus greeted cheerfully. “Wrench cleared me. See?” He waved his newly repaired hand in the air. “Can you please put me back on the sales floor?”

Streamline pinched the bridge of his nose. “Your medical leave extends through the rest of the evening shift, Rodimus.” His field was a chaotic, if not muted, swirl of agitation. His face was pinched with agitation, and if he meant to run, Rodimus couldn’t tell.

“But I’m okay now.” Rodimus waved his hand again, flopping his wrist to make a point. “Come on, boss. You know I need the creds.”

“Fine.” Streamline flicked his fingers. “Go to the sales floor. But you’re only to take conventional clients. Nothing hard-edged. If you get injured again, you’ll be worse off than before, and I’m going to tack on an extra percentage to your interest. Understand?”

Rodimus tucked his hands behind his back, rising and falling on his heels. “Clear as Praxian crystal, boss.”

“Go on then. Get cleaned up.”

Rodimus saluted and made himself scarce. Work at Blue Sun long enough and you became an excellent actor. Good enough to even fool Streamline it seemed.

Rodimus headed back toward his dorm. He was glad to get back to work, and he would need a wash up and wipe down before he did so. But what he’d overheard lingered in his head. What did it mean? Who was Streamline talking about? Who was going down? What last job?

Rodimus knew Streamline had many business contacts, most of which were black market dealers or ran illegal businesses. Streamline seemed to prefer the shadier deals. They earned the most money.

Blue Sun was an excellent front for all kinds of trade: stolen artifacts, drugs, information. Streamline peddled it all. He was an excellent middleman.

So which of his other halves finally got outed by the Enforcers?

Rodimus might never know. It didn’t matter. Streamline wasn’t going to get caught with his business contacts, and he still owned Rodimus’ debt. So long as those two constants remained, well, constant, Rodimus was stuck here.

For better or for worse.

~

Tension simmered in the atmosphere of Blue Sun like one of Wheeljack’s experiments, vents held for the moment it would explode. Ever since the Hexic incident, it felt like everyone was snappish, short of temper.

Rodimus jumped at shadows, Sunstreaker was unapproachable, and Starscream lingered in a constant state of agitation. Something was coming, Starscream was sure of it. His instincts had served him well a week ago, when Rodimus got injured. He’d bet a week’s earnings his instincts were right today as well.

The foreboding intensified when Starscream hit the sales floor and found a flurry of activity. Custodial staff were in a frenzy of cleaning and polishing. Preppers rushed to fill cisterns and pile plates high with goodies. Other escorts primped and preened in front of mirrors and each other, chattering excitedly.

Streamline oversaw it all, his lips in a firm line, his orbital ridge drawn into a glower. One would think they were about to go to war, rather than opening for the day. It made Starscream very uneasy.

“What’s going on?”

Beside him, Sunstreaker’s optics narrowed. “Why would I know?” He moved past Starscream, focused on the dais where he usually perched. He had a session scheduled with Sideswipe much later, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be on the sales floor now, trying to encourage more purchases.

Starscream cycled a ventilation before he snapped at his roommate, who had been colder than usual as of late. “Do you think it has something to do with what Rodimus overheard?”

“It’s none of my business, whatever it is,” Sunstreaker said. He paused and looked over his shoulder, something flickering over his face before a mask of indifference fell over it again. “And none of yours either. We’re here to work. That’s all that matters.”

Hurt throbbed through Starscream’s spark. He chased it away with irritation. “Thanks for the reminder. I needed that,” he snapped and spun on a heelstrut.

“Star–”

He ignored Sunstreaker. Easy enough, as Sunstreaker had been a frigid roommate for the past week. Starscream instead scanned the sales floor.

Everyone was in place. Even Rodimus had arrived early for once, standing over to the side with his roommates, a tight smile on his face, his armor taut to his frame.

Starscream drifted toward him, scanning the floor again. Streamline still stood, lord of it all. There was a guard at every position, Drift and Spinner stationed together near the double doors leading back toward the receiving rooms.

The first of the days customers trickled in, greeted with laughs and smiles by the escorts nearest the front doors. They were ushered to seats, plied with treats and drink. A couple of them were familiar faces, though Starscream hadn’t serviced them before.

“Everything all right?”

Starscream blinked out of his fugue at the light touch to his arm. Rodimus looked up at him with a frown, his field wafting concern.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Starscream offered him a thin smile and hooked his elbow with Rodimus’. “Come on, rookie. Let’s go greet the customers.”

“Uh, isn’t that usually a job for the actual rookies?” Rodimus asked, but he went along anyway, his field reaching out to Starscream’s with a mixture of affection and comfort.

“Never hurts to provide some extra incentive,” Starscream near-sang, and winked playfully.

His comm pinged, the ident code belonging to Streamline. Starscream went rigid, glancing over his shoulder. Streamline’s visor burned his direction. Fantastic. What had he done to incur the boss’ wrath this time?

Starscream patted Rodimus on the arm. “Entice a rich one,” he purred. “I’ll be right back.”

Rodimus’ frown deepened. “You sure everything’s okay?”

“I’m sure.” Starscream hoped he sounded more reassuring as he felt.

He urged Rodimus toward the door, and turned back to the main room. He slipped through the gathered escorts and servers to make his way to Streamline lurking at the back, per the usual. Streamline was visibly tense, his armor drawn to taut, that he appeared a statute, one that might shatter if touched.

“Yes, boss?”

Streamline pointed to the floor directly next to him. Starscream obediently moved closer, his wings twitching and his instincts clawing for attention.

“We have an important client today, Starscream.” Streamline stared hard at the front door, focusing hard on each new arrival. “And I know you’ve formed an attachment to Rodimus.”

Starscream’s orbital ridges flattened. “What does one have to do with the—oh.”

“Yes. And you are not to interfere. Do you understand me?”

Starscream’s hands drew into loose fists. “Why should there be any need to interfere?” he asked with false cheer and a smile. “Blue Sun protects its staff, does it not? Certainly you wouldn’t allow for any harm to come to one of your escorts.”

Streamline’s optics narrowed. “Do not take me for a fool, Starscream. You may be one of my most valuable escorts, but you are not irreplaceable.”

He shifted, slowly enough that his hydraulics creaked, and he glare. “Mind your own business. Make sure the whelp behaves. And we’ll all end the day much richer than we began it. Understand?”

Starscream grinned, and if he happened to bear his sharpened denta, so be it. “Yes, boss. Clear as Praxian crystal.” He swept into an exaggerated bow, wings canted across his back in fake deference. “Shall I get back to work now?”

Streamline flicked fingers at him. “Go.”

Starscream didn’t have to be told twice.

He returned to the sales floor, further convinced that there was reason to be wary. If Turmoil was going to be here, that could only mean trouble. Turmoil had not set foot through the doors of Blue Sun since abandoning Rodimus here. Or if he had, Starscream was not aware of it.

More customers had trickled in, which wasn’t unusual. This day of the week, they were often packed early, so much so Streamline had considered extending their hours of availability. Turmoil had not yet appeared. Starscream’s anxiousness notched up another level, more for Rodimus’ sake than his own.

There was a new arrival in one of the booths, however. Starscream recognized the black and white paint and symbols on the mech’s sensory panels as belonging to the Enforcers, and a high-ranking one at that.

What on Cybertron was a high-ranking Enforcer doing here? In the middle of the day? Not even making the least attempt to be furtive? He currently sat between Atomizer and Flare, his expression one of disinterest despite being surrounded by such pretty specimens.

Starscream frowned.

It wasn’t the rarity of an Enforcer. No, they were common enough in Blue Sun. They were more likely to indulge in the newer and therefore cheaper patrons. But it wasn’t illegal to purchase the services offered by Blue Sun. Nor was it something an Enforcer would face censure for.

Someone as high of rank as this mech, however? That was the unusual part. Starscream could not recall a single instance of a high-ranking Enforcer sitting casually in the main service hall. They, as a rule, seemed to prefer the private rooms, booking their companion for the evening prior to their arrival so as to spend as little time being recognized as possible.

Cool blue optics caught Starscream looking. They were as cold as liquid nitrogen, and they had all the sharpness of a vibroblade.

Starscream shivered and looked away. He did not like that mech.

He sought more comforting ground and caught a familiar face in the thickening crowd. Nightshade was a bit earlier than usual, but that wasn’t suspicious. It had been some time since Starscream had least seen one of his favorite customers. His spark rippled with delight. Starscream checked Rodimus’ position – still greeting at the door – and made his way to Nightshade’s side.

Nightshade hadn’t selected a booth for once. Instead, he’d picked a stool at the bar, and he lounged comfortably atop it, sipping on one of his favorite concoctions – a weak energon spritzer.

“My favorite wings,” Nightshade purred and gestured to the empty stool beside him. “Do you have time for me today?”

“I always have time for you.” Starscream leaned in, giving Nightshade a chaste peck on the cheek. It was the only physical contact Nightshade welcomed without invitation and without flinching. “By which I mean, I’m not spoken for already, so whenever you want a little privacy, let me know.”

Nightshade chuckled and slid an arm around Starscream’s waist. “You do know how much I enjoy observing first.”

“I do.” Starscream leaned in close, though he struggled to hold on to his usual flirtatious banter. “Perhaps later you might want to observe me with another? I know Rodimus is free as well.”

“Mm. He is a delight.” Nightshade sipped at his drink, his optics sharply assessing. “Is everything alright, Starscream?”

“Now that you’re here, of course it is,” Starscream replied with a laugh. He teased Nightshade with his field, though his attention wandered to the sales floor. “Wouldn’t you rather a booth? They are far more comfortable.”

“I would. I was simply waiting for you to escort me.” Nightshade slid down from the stool, offering Starscream his elbow. “They do seem to be filling up fast.”

Starscream slipped his arm through Nightshade’s. “A lot of new faces tonight, I’ve noticed.” He tried to hold on to his cheer. “If I’d known you were going to be here so early, I’d have reserved you a booth.”

“Mm. I did notice the new high spenders.” Nightshade swept up his drink from the bar with the other hand. “Prowl even took my favorite booth.”

Prowl? Was that the Enforcers name? How did Nightshade know of him?

Starscream tucked himself against Nightshade’s side, his field stroking apologetically over his patron’s. “You know this Prowl?”

“I know of him.” Nightshade’s jaw visibly clenched. “Even in circles such as mine, there are certain designations to remember. His is one of them.”

They slipped into the lounge area, choosing one of the empty two-cushioned lounges. Nightshade sat first, drawing Starscream down next to him.

“He’s an Enforcer,” Nightshade continued as he deftly grabbed a engex cooler from a passing server and handed the delicate goblet to Starscream. “With an interest in, shall we say, unique artifacts.”

Starscream glanced in ‘Prowl’s’ direction, but Prowl was taking no more notice of him. Instead, the Enforcer’s attention was on Atomizer, currently whispering into his audial.

“So he’s dirty,” Starscream said, no louder than a murmur. He hadn’t meant to voice the observation aloud, but he couldn’t hide his disgust either.

There were few things he despised more than a crooked lawmech, and there were plenty of such to found in the city.

“Perhaps.” Nightshade rubbed a thumb over the curve of Starscream’s jaw. “But that’s nothing you should worry about. No doubt he is here for the same reason anyone else visits Blue Sun.”

Starscream made a noncommittal noise. He sipped at his engex cooler – it would no more impair him than the weak spritzer – and settled in closer to Nightshade. He would be here the rest of the evening, he suspected.

So he pinged Sunstreaker and hoped his roommate was in a helpful mood.

‘Sunny, can you do me a favor?’

‘Oh, are you talking to me now?’

‘I’m serious. Can you watch after Rodimus? Turmoil’s supposed to be here later.’

From across the room, he saw Sunstreaker stiffen and his optics narrow. ‘Fine.’

He rose from his lounge, languid, gleaming grace. Starscream’s spark tightened with want at the sight of them. Their little cold war had meant frigid berths for the both of them, and Starscream missed Sunstreaker something fierce.

‘Thank you.’

There was no reply. He didn’t expect one.

At least Sunstreaker had agreed.

Starscream returned his attention to Nightshade, trying to bury his tension down deep so it didn’t interfere with his client’s time. But if he kept one sensor trained on Rodimus, no one could hardly blame him.

~

Sunstreaker had never set out intending to care about Starscream’s little pet project. But somehow, Rodimus had not only squirmed his way into their lives, he’d wormed his way under Sunstreaker’s armor, and between him and Starscream. Rodimus had become a nuisance, and an issue, and someone Sunstreaker thought he should protect.

Starscream’s request jolted Sunstreaker off his lounge before he thought twice about it. He, like Starscream, had been steadily cultivating a loathing for Turmoil.

To have that piece of garbage come here, to a place of relative safety, it was intolerable.

Sunstreaker couldn’t take a client right now. At least, not one who’d want him for his unique skills. Not with Sideswipe scheduled to arrive in an hour. Skids had already been by to drop off a small box Sideswipe wished to use during their session. But Sunstreaker’s presence on the sales floor would facilitate more transactions.

Starscream had to entertain Nightshade. Sunstreaker would see to Rodimus.

He moved toward the front door, trying to make his pace unhurried, as though he drifted through the growing crowd not because he had a purpose, but because he was a king mingling with his throng. They were busy already, an hour after opening, and all but one of the lounges were taken up with the richer of their patrons.

The empty one, perched between an Enforcer Sunstreaker did not recognize and Nightshade and Starscream, had a Reserved placard placed upon the seat. Sunstreaker had little doubt it was meant for Turmoil. Prime seating, of course. Streamline had to keep his business contacts happy.

Ugh.

Sunstreaker paused by one of the emergency exits, guarded by a single mech as there was no handle to enter from the outside. It only required a guard because there was the occasional patron who tried to skip out on his bill. Or snatch an escort and run.

“All’s well, sir,” Scorch said. He dipped his head out of politeness, the sort only the new guards bothered with. He’d only been here a week. He’d learn it wasn’t necessary.

Streamline was hiring an unusual amount of help lately. But then, they’d had a few mechs disappear, never to arrive for their shifts so perhaps he was only replacing lost employees. Times were hard. Sometimes, mechs lost themselves to the gutter.

Sunstreaker offered a thin smile. “I’m not your superior in any fashion. You don’t have to call me ‘sir’ though I appreciate the respect.”

“Oh. But you are Sunstreaker, right? The top, um, dom here?” Scorch’s crimson face darkened in hue. He shifted his weight, hand tightening around the shaft of his energon lance.

“I am Sunstreaker. And I am the highest paid escort here in Blue Sun,” Sunstreaker confirmed. He liked the kid, awkward though he was. “So nothing out of the ordinary then?”

Scorch shook his head. “Not unless you count the stray cybercat I saw rooting around in the bins. Its been loitering for a week now, from what I hear though. Guess it’s hoping for a free meal.”

“Aren’t we all,” Sunstreaker murmured. Cybercats were of no interest to him.

He skimmed the gathered crowd, growing in abundance now. Another of Starscream’s favorite clients – Bluestreak – was here with his sub, the two of them unaccompanied for now. They curled together on one of the smaller lounges against the wall, looking as though they were about to put on an erotic floor show. Streamline would stop them before things got too messy.

Sunstreaker moved on.

Business was brisk. Clients moved into the back with their chosen companions. The cheaper, for lack of a better word, escorts were in high demand today. It would be a good day for sales.

Despite that, Sunstreaker’s internals twisted into a knot. Starscream’s worry had left him with a tension all his own. Or maybe that was the sudden ripple of unease in the ambient fields, like a dark shroud had dropped on the gleam and glitter of Blue Sun.

Sunstreaker turned toward the door and located the source of the tension.

Turmoil darkened the doorway, massive and broad, his armor dark as though it had been blackened by the Pit. He had facemask and visor both, the latter a crimson hue.

And Rodimus was in the greeting line. Rodimus turned into a statue. His spoiler went still. Color bleached from his face. His smile froze in place, better a grimace.

Had no one thought to warn him?

Turmoil’s head swiveled toward Rodimus as though there was magnetic attraction. His visor flashed, and if he hadn’t had a facemask, Sunstreaker knew he’d be smirking, like a predator who’d cornered his prey.

Sunstreaker moved before he had to tell his feet to do so. He managed to get to Rodimus’ side in enough time to catch the tail end of Turmoil’s undoubtedly inappropriate comment.

“–favorite,” Turmoil rasped in a tone that was just shy of lewd. “I’d say it’s a shame what happened, but from what I hear, you’re serving my mechs well.”

Rodimus’ vents stuttered. He fell back a pace, and collided with Sunstreaker’s chest, his entire frame jolting with surprise.

Sunstreaker stared hard at Turmoil as he put a gentle hand on Rodimus’ shoulder. He leaned forward, speaking into Rodimus’ audial, though he kept Turmoil’s gaze.

“Nightshade’s summoned you, Hot Rod. Attend to him.”

“What a shame,” Turmoil said, his voice like gravel in gears. “I was hoping I could experience your services for myself.” He leaned in, and Sunstreaker did not miss the way Rodimus leaned back, into Sunstreaker’s embrace, as though Sunstreaker could and would protect him.

Sunstreaker smiled, wishing he could bare sharpened denta like Starscream. “Unfortunately, we are first-come, first-serve here.” He patted Rodimus on the shoulder again. “Go on, Hot Rod. You know Nightshade doesn’t like to wait.”

Rodimus shuddered beneath Sunstreaker’s fingertips. “Yes, sir,” he said, in the quietest, most subservient tone Sunstreaker had ever heard from him.

He slid across Sunstreaker’s frame as though moving even a step closer to Turmoil would be his undoing, and then he fled to the circle of lounges, where Nightshade and Starscream had taken up perch. He would still be close to Turmoil unfortunately, but Nightshade had premier status in Blue Sun. If anyone’s influence could protect Rodimus, it was Nightshade’s.

Turmoil watched Rodimus go with hunger burning in his visor. Anger flashed hot and ferocious through Sunstreaker’s frame.

In that moment, he understood why Starscream protected Rodimus so adamantly.

“Such a shame,” Turmoil repeated before his gaze slid to Sunstreaker. “Then will you escort me to my seat?” He looked Sunstreaker up and down. “You don’t look as breakable, but I think we could have some fun nonetheless.”

“I’m spoken for as well,” Sunstreaker said. “But I’d be happy to arrange for someone else to accompany you.” The script tumbled from his lips on rote. “If you’ll follow me, I believe we have a lounge reserved for you.”

He didn’t wait for Turmoil to agree. He turned and expected Turmoil to follow, though his spark broiled and anger simmered. He led Turmoil to the reserved lounge, and since Streamline didn’t ping him to contradict, Sunstreaker knew he’d been correct.

Turmoil paused before sitting, however. He glanced over at Nightshade, dismissing him immediately, but his attention lingered on the Enforcer to his other side.

“Prowl,” he greeted in a tone that reeked of glee. “I see you arrived before me. Already partaking of the delights, too.”

Prowl, apparently, tipped his head, one hand stroking down Atomizer’s thigh. “Unlike some mechs, I understand the value of time. I am never late.” His statement was pointed.

Turmoil barked a laugh and flopped down into the lounge. “They said your glossa could be cutting.” He spread his arms across the back of the seat. “It’s a bit dull to me, but who I am to judge?”

“I was being polite.” Ice-blue optics narrowed. “I’ll make sure to dispense with the formalities from this point forward.” Prowl set his jaw. “Did you bring me the item I asked for?”

Turmoil waved him off. “Please. Let me get my entertainment before we talk official business. That’s what we’re here for.”

Prowl sniffed and flicked his sensory panels. “If you insist.” He turned into Atomizer’s neck, his hand sliding further up Atomizer’s thigh, toward his groin.

Atomizer giggled, a sound Sunstreaker found wholly unappealing, but Prowl seemed to enjoy it.

Turmoil spread his thighs, taking an obnoxious amount of space in the lounge. His two buffoon guards took up point behind me.

“Now you,” he said, directing his growl at Sunstreaker. “You’ve already denied me the tasty treat I wanted to ruin, so why don’t you bring me something else?”

Sunstreaker twitched. He planted a fake smile on his face. “I’ll see what I can do.” The script demanded a ‘sir’.

He refused.

One of Turmoil’s guards – the tall, gangly one – leaned down and murmured into his boss’ audial. Turmoil’s visor turned stormy, his engine revving harshly.

“I don’t need the reminder,” he growled. “This is business, too.” Turmoil flicked his hand at Sunstreaker. “Shoo. Get me your master instead. I’m sure he can give me what I want.”

It rankled, the casual disrespect. But Sunstreaker pressed his lips together, tipped his head in a bow, and dismissed himself. The further he moved from Turmoil, the better.

He pinged Streamline, not that it was necessary. Streamline was already making his way through the crowd, heading straight for Turmoil, his optics narrowed and his face pinched. Apparently he didn’t like being summoned anymore than Sunstreaker appreciated being dismissed.

Sunstreaker returned to his perch. Rodimus was safely with Starscream and Nightshade. He curled in Starscream’s lap and fed Starscream treats which Nightshade must have purchased for them to enjoy.

Voyeurs like Nightshade were beyond Sunstreaker’s capacity to fathom. He couldn’t imagine getting pleasure from watching and never participating. Or spending the amount of creds Nightshade did just to enjoy a view.

It was baffling.

Sunstreaker reclined in his perch, but couldn’t relax. He felt the tension in the air, like an itch under his plating. Turmoil laughed loudly where he sat, and grabbed one of the passing escorts, tossing the femme into his lap. Luckily, Aeroline was not the sort to protest. She only squeaked cutely, tossed her feet, and giggled. Either she didn’t know who Turmoil was, or it made no difference to her.

Aeroline could take care of herself.

Streamline made gestures, but Turmoil only seemed to be paying half attention to him. The rest was split between the treat sprawled in his lap – Aeroline – and the occasionally exchanged conversation with Prowl.

Whatever their business was, Turmoil seemed to be amused by delaying it. His loud barks of laughter occasionally burst through the low hum of conversation. Prowl’s frown grew deeper, no matter how hard Atomizer pressed to his side.

Tension simmered, like a frayed serpentine belt moments from snapping.

Sunstreaker would have to be ready to act. Starscream was too close to Turmoil, and far too protective of Rodimus.

Who knew what he would do.

[TF] Past Impending 03

The number was a countdown, an ever declining balance toward his escape. Rodimus checked his account every week, especially after a particularly generous client, just to feel like he was accomplishing some kind of forward motion. A faster forward motion now that Starscream had helped hone his abilities.

Starscream was never going to let him live that down.

He kept a running balance at the back of his processor, but it never hurt to double-check his own accounting. Math had never been his strong suit. He hadn’t been programmed with it.

He woke up after a late night with a demanding, but generous client, and rolled over and out of the berth. His roommates were already gone for the day, leaving Rodimus free to use their shared console without them peering over his shoulder. He sipped on coolant as he logged into his account, still shaking off the last vestiges of a deep, for once dreamless, recharge.

The page loaded. Rodimus cycled his optics. He rebooted them.

He swallowed a gulp of coolant.

That wasn’t right.

There was a significant decrease in his balance, one he couldn’t account for. It didn’t have a client name attached to it. It was labeled as an anonymous donor.

Dread pooled in Rodimus’ tanks. What if… What if this was Turmoil’s way of making Rodimus owe him further? What if he was playing some kind of mind game? What if it was all a trick or a trap or…?

Rodimus leapt from his stool, hurriedly logging out of his account. He didn’t have to be on the sales floor until later. Which was good, because he needed to solve this mystery now.

Streamline didn’t manage his own accounts. He paid someone else to do it for him. Compute’s office was down the hall from Streamline’s. It was small and cramped, but then, so was Compute.

He was just a shade too tall to be considered a minibot, and without an altmode, had no kibble to get in the way either. He crouched behind a desk that was much too tall, his feet dangling over the edge of his stool, and he hunched over his computer, peering at it like his optics weren’t up to the challenge.

He had all the personality of a wet meshcloth, but his door was always open. Literally.

Rodimus shifted from foot to foot, waiting to be noticed. Compute’s door was open, but his attention was bestowed upon you when he chose and no other moment. Interrupting him, especially in the middle of a complicated calculation was not a good idea.

“Yes?” Compute asked without looking away from his monitor.

“I think there’s an error. In my account,” Rodimus said.

“Impossible. I don’t make errors.” Compute’s fingers continued to move, but he turned to look at Rodimus ever so slowly, staring up the bridge of his nose. “To which transaction are you referring?”

“The most recent one. The anonymous donation. I don’t think–”

“It is yours?” Compute interrupted without a change in his tone. His gaze shifted back to his monitor, keystrokes pausing, possibly as he pulled up Rodimus’ account. “Hm. Yes, this deposit is meant for you.”

The knot in Rodimus’ intake tightened. “Um, I know it’s anonymous but–”

“It was made by one of our new hires,” Compute said as the low drone of his typing resumed. “He has requested that the majority of his wages be deposited into your account rather than his. We have no rule against this, so long as he understands donations are not the same as purchases of time. He signed a waiver.”

Rodimus’ spark squeezed. “Who?”

“Drift.”

Rodimus’ mouth dropped. He went still, thoughts racing, his spark stuttering. “I… what? I don’t understand. Why?”

“That is not a question I can answer. You will have to ask him.” Compute sounded annoyed, or as much as Compute could sound annoyed. “Are there any further queries I can clarify?”

“No. Um, thanks. That was it.”

Rodimus backed out and left. He doubted Compute noticed. Numbers were really all the accountant cared about. Not that Rodimus’ world-view had just taken a severe beating. What the frag was Drift thinking? What was he doing? Was he trying to buy Rodimus’ forgiveness? Trying to force Rodimus to talk to him?

Anger and confusion broiled like an overheated smelter pit. Rodimus staggered from Compute’s office, unsure what to do with this information. He wanted Starscream’s advice, but Starscream was offline. Probably cuddling with Sunstreaker. Rodimus couldn’t interrupt that.

No, he didn’t need advice. He needed answers. He needed to check the posted schedule.

Drift was offline. Drift wasn’t on shift. Drift was, more than likely, in his quarters in the basement, where all the other guards and bouncers bunked if they didn’t have off-site housing. Which most of them didn’t. Too expensive to live off-site. Streamline paid well, but not that well.

Rodimus went downstairs and hoped most of the guards were on shift and not in a mood to leer at him. Or ask him if he came to offer a freebie. Some of the other escorts did. They liked courting favor from the guards in hopes of earning extra protection and the like. Or maybe they just liked fragging someone they didn’t have to impress if they didn’t want to.

Luck was on his side. Only one guard was in the common room, and it was Spinner, one of Rodimus’ favorites. He was younger, and a halfway decent mech. Probably got this job because he figured it was the only thing he was good at. He didn’t ogle, and he didn’t try to sneak a grope.

“Hey, Rodders, what you doing down here?” Spinner asked, looking up from the cleaning and reassembling of one of his blasters.

“Looking for Drift. He around?”

Spinner clicked a piece into place. “He’s in his room. Meditating or something.” He lifted a shoulder and tilted his head in the direction of one of the closed doors. “That one there. Don’t tell me you’re here to offer him a freebs.”

Rodimus wrinkled his nose. “Absolutely not. You know I don’t do that.”

“I know. That’s why I asked.” Spinner bent back over his blaster. “Go ahead and bother him. It’s all right. But you know, shout if you need me.”

“Will do. Thanks, Spin.”

Rodimus gathered his courage, his anger, his agitation, and he let all three carry him to Drift’s door. He knocked and waited for the door to open.

He’d thought he was prepared for when it did, but his insides still squeezed into a tight knot when Drift opened the door and gave him a startled look. “Roddy? What are you doing here?”

Anger spiked. “Don’t call me that.”

Drift gnawed on his bottom lip. “Right. Sorry. I forgot.” He peered over Rodimus’ shoulder. “No guardians?”

“They’re not my guardians.” Rodimus set his jaw. “I need to ask you a question. It’s up to you whether or not you answer it with an audience.”

Something flickered across Drift’s face before he stepped back and gestured Rodimus inside. “Hopefully, I got an answer.” The door shut behind them. “Listen, Roddy. I’m glad you came. I’ve been wanting to–”

Rodimus shook his head. “Don’t care. I didn’t come here to listen to your apology. I just want to know what the frag you think you’re doing giving me your creds.”

Drift moved away from the door, as though making it clear Rodimus could leave anytime he wanted. “You weren’t supposed to find out.”

“Well, I did,” Rodimus snapped. He hovered near the door, unwilling to step any further into a room that looked warm and cozy and private, even if it was small. How unfair. “And I don’t fragging need your creds so stop it!”

“Yes, you do.” Drift’s gaze was steady.

Rodimus scowled and folded his arms over his chest. “I didn’t ask you to do that.”

Drift cycled a ventilation and swept a hand over his head. “You won’t let me apologize, and I can’t change the past. I can’t even make up for what you’ve been through. It’s impossible.” He dropped his hands, shoulders sagging. “So the least I can do is help you get a better future. It’s my debt, too.”

“It’s not going to make me forgive you,” Rodimus spat. He backed toward the door, suddenly feeling trapped by the small space, and the earnestness of Drift’s expression.

Drift shook his head. “I’m not asking for that. I don’t even care. If I did, I wouldn’t have made the transfer anonymous. I just want you to be happy.”

“Happy!?” Rodimus demanded, and hated himself for how it came out too high-pitched to be irate. He wished he had something to throw. “Frag you! I never asked for your pity, and I definitely don’t want it!”

He was done here. Maybe he couldn’t stop Drift from giving away his creds, but he didn’t have to be fragging grateful for it.

“Roddy, please. Wait,” Drift said. His engine revved. His field flared, snatching at Rodimus’, thick and heavy with urgency.

“I don’t need you,” Rodimus hissed over his shoulder, without so much as looking at Drift, who he couldn’t look at without feeling that squeeze in his spark, that longing of what could’ve been.

“It’s not that.” Drift’s hand closed around his wrist, gentle enough Rodimus could pull free, but it was the desperation in his tone that made Rodimus hesitate before he could storm out the door. “Listen, something is going to happen soon, and I’m going to do my best to keep you out of it, but it’s not all in my hands, all right?”

Rodimus pulled himself free, but not to leave. Instead, he faced Drift. “What are you talking about?”

Drift shook his head. “I can’t tell you the details. Just… keep your head down and I swear, I’ll do my best to make sure they don’t get you, too.”

It sounded like another trick. Then again, that’s what all Drift’s words sounded like anymore.

Rodimus rolled his optics. Lies and half-truths, Drift was full of them. He’d say anything to come out less the villain. Aft.

“Just leave me alone,” he hissed, and yanked the door open, letting himself out.

He braced himself for Drift to give chase, but he didn’t. All the better. Rodimus wasn’t interested in talking anymore.

~

Five minutes past the time Rodimus was supposed to meet him for their pre-sales floor polish, Starscream shrugged and gathered his supplies.

Ten minutes beyond that, and Starscream got annoyed. It wouldn’t be the first time Rodimus was late, and he usually showed up full of grins, vents ragged, still rubbing recharge from his optics or rust stick dust from the corner of his mouth. He was such a child sometimes.

Perhaps it was time for another lesson in punctuality.

With fifteen minutes until they were supposed to be on the floor, annoyance turned to worry. By now, Rodimus would have at least pinged him to let him know he couldn’t make it and why, or for Starscream to go ahead without him, or to explain why he hadn’t shown up.

Starscream’s armor was already perfection. Sunstreaker had seen to that before he’d left for his prepurchased session. His third with Sideswipe, the greedy little merchant. Two weeks and on his third session? Someone was spending a heck of a lot of creds to be ground into the dirt.

Starscream would be offended, if he wasn’t already aware of how amazing Sunstreaker was as a Dom.

Rodimus didn’t answer Starscream’s ping. He was listed as offline.

Worry prompted Starscream to ping Spinner, one of the guards most of the escorts universally liked, because he was just a nice kid.

Rodimus wasn’t already on the sales floor. He had, however, been down to the guard barracks earlier today, and he’d had some kind of verbal altercation with Drift. Spinner didn’t know why. He wasn’t the sort to pry, but Rodimus had been pale and his armor clamped when he rushed out.

Starscream sighed. He should have known.

He gathered up a travel kit – one Sunstreaker had stocked for him – and stuffed it into his thigh compartment. He headed straight for Rodimus’ dorm. If Rodimus wasn’t hiding in Starscream’s room, he was probably there.

When he arrived, Rodimus’ roommates were leaving.

“He’s inside,” Lockstock said with a thumb pointed over his spiky shoulder. Lockstock looked like someone who should be armed and standing out front, not servicing clients, but it took all kinds to satisfy.

Starscream’s association with Rodimus had not gone unnoticed by the Blue Sun employees. Even Streamline had commented on it last week, but only with approval. Rodimus earned more creds now, and he was attracting new clientele. More creds made Streamline happier.

He’d mentioned starting a mentoring program, since teaching Rodimus had proven to be so effective, but Starscream refused. Rodimus had been a one-time deal.

Carbonate held the door open, long enough for Starscream to slip inside, where it was dim and smelled faintly of exhaust. He wrinkled his nose. Thank Primus he shared a room with someone as conscientious as Sunstreaker.

It was quite obvious that the roommates had each chosen a wall to make their own, with hastily erected barriers of metalmesh drawn over thin metal rods. Only one was closed and words had been hastily scribbled over the mesh.

‘Hot Rod’

Starscream swept the curtain inside and invited himself into the closet-sized space meant for Rodimus alone. It was just as dim here, but there was a lump on the berth with visible bright red and orange biolights.

“Rodimus.” Irritation and relief both swept through Starscream. “You have to be on the floor in ten minutes. What are you doing?”

“Is it that late already?” Rodimus replied, his voice oddly hollow. He lifted his face, however, and the blue of his optics were oddly subdued. “Sorry, I didn’t realize. I must have missed meeting you. Sorry.” He scrubbed his hand down his face.

Starscream hacked into the lights and brought them up to thirty percent. Rodimus looked like the Pit. His expression was drawn, his armor dull, and there were tracks on his face as though he’d been weeping, as much as it was possible for them to weep.

Anger vanished in the wake of concern. Starscream sat next to Rodimus, though he kept a careful eye on his chronometer, and his optics rounded as Rodimus threw himself over Starscream’s lap.

“What happened?” Starscream stroked the back of Rodimus’ spoiler, long and heavy strokes, not meant to arouse but comfort. “Or since I know you spoke with Drift, I should better ask, what did he say?”

Rodimus buried his face against Starscream’s thigh. “I found creds in my account this morning. When I asked Compute about them, he said they were from Drift. He’d donated them.”

Starscream set his jaw. “Did he now?”

“Yes.” Rodimus’ field flashed with a mixture of emotions, too fast to catch. “I told him I didn’t want his creds, but he says he owes them to me. I told him he couldn’t buy my forgiveness either, and he said it didn’t matter.”

The anger returned, though now it was directed elsewhere. “Do you believe him?”

Rodimus was silent. His armor shivered.

Starscream stroked down his backstrut and gentled his tone. “I know you want to believe him. But I can’t think of this as anything but another manipulation.”

“I’m sure it is,” Rodimus muttered, and he sounded disappointed. He gusted a ventilation and pushed himself back up. “Might as well take his creds though, if it means I can get out of here faster.”

“And if he tries to force you to speak with him because of them, I will make him learn the error of his ways,” Starscream said as he tweaked Rodimus’ chin. “Now. Get up. We have less than ten minutes before you are to be on the floor, and you are nothing I would buy right now.”

Rodimus scowled but then he looked down at himself. “Yeah, I guess you have in point.” He brushed faintly at a streak of old grease on his chestplate. “Good thing you’re here to make me pretty again.” He managed a smile.

“Indeed. Your appearance reflects on me now,” Starscream said.

He urged Rodimus up from the berth and set to making him shine in all the right places. Rodimus was not a hard sell. He was flashy and adorable, and he had an aft any rich customer would like to slap. Starscream wouldn’t mind laying palm to it himself, truth be told. Perhaps some day, if Rodimus was not so determined to set himself on the path to dom.

“You can’t keep letting him get under your plating,” Starscream advised as he swept the polishing cloth over Rodimus’ spoiler, letting Rodimus attend to his own arms. They were running out of time. “You need to learn how to be stone, unshakable and unmovable. That’s the only way to survive.”

Rodimus sighed. “I know.” His spoiler twitched under Starscream’s hands. “It’s just… when I see him, he reminds me of everything, why I’m here, what Turmoil did to me, the stuff I try my best to forget.”

Starscream embraced Rodimus from behind. They had enough time for it. “I know,” he said gently, and gave the younger mech a squeeze. “But you were strong enough to make it this far, and you’re even stronger than that.”

“At least someone believes it,” Rodimus said with a sigh. But he patted Starscream’s hand. “Thanks, Star. Guess we better get to the floor now. Before Streamline fries a circuit.”

“Indeed.”

They hit the floor precisely on time, though Starscream felt Streamline’s optics on them immediately. He shooed Rodimus onto the main floor, and Starscream himself kept to the periphery. Nightshade would probably be here tonight, and if he didn’t snag Rodimus, he might grab Starscream instead.

Hopefully.

Lore was here as well, and Starscream did not like that particular customer at all. He paid well, but there was something in the way Lore looked at you. It was as if he wanted to peel apart Starscream’s head plating and poke at his processor. Rumor had it he was one of Turmoil’s cronies, too.

It was early yet. There were more escorts than patrons, though that would change soon enough. Sunstreaker, of course, was not here. Sideswipe had booked him for the majority of the afternoon and evening. Probably would have bought more of his time if Sunstreaker had not put his foot down.

Starscream was not jealous.

Much.

Starscream made a few broad circles. Lore continued to eye him, though Atomizer was doing his best to capture Lore’s attention, plying him with his favorite engex and making himself enticing.

There were a couple new faces here, patrons Starscream didn’t recognize. One in particular didn’t look like he had the creds to afford even their newest arrival, who went for cheap until he got more practiced. The new patron’s armor didn’t qualify as polished, it was dented, and he slouched where he sat in one of the chairs.

He was massive, empty sheaths to indicate where he usually went armed, and he leered at the escorts like they were all cheap buymechs off the street. Normally, mechs of his kind wouldn’t even be allowed in the front door.

Starscream sneered. He was probably one of Turmoil’s minions. Streamline let them in regardless of their appearance.

On impulse, Starscream checked on Rodimus. At the moment, he was tagteaming one of their repeat customers with Fraction. Sweet of him, but even Starscream new the patron would be walking out with Fraction.

Sometimes, customers just had their favorites.

Drift was here as well. Starscream had noticed him immediately, and while he watched Rodimus, he didn’t try to approach. Wise. Starscream did not resist the urge to bare his denta at Drift as he passed in his circuits.

Drift tilted his head in acknowledgment. Well, he wasn’t stupid at least.

Two cycles later, and Starscream hadn’t caught anyone’s optic yet. Not that he was trying. He felt on edge for some reason, as if there was something in the air, and he knew it.

Starscream had learned to trust his instincts. They’d served him very well so far.

Tension shattered when he heard a ruckus from the other side of the room. Starscream’s attention whipped toward it, anger pooling in his tanks when he found Rodimus’ wrist caught in the grip of the new customer Starscream had pegged for being one of Turmoil’s.

Rodimus was trying to yank himself free, every inch of his frame trembling with refusal, as he had every right to do, especially now that he commanded a higher price. No more could Turmoil’s cronies demand him for a freebie, Streamline had said as much.

The new customer snarled and yanked Rodimus closer to him, the sound of crumpled metal horrifyingly loud over the commotion.

Starscream was across the room before he knew what he was doing, aware that other guards were closing in, Drift included.

Starscream headed Drift off with a snarl. “He doesn’t want your help,” Starscream hissed, and arrived at Rodimus’ side just as Spinner and Outrigger leapt into the fray as well.

The two guards knocked the customer back, as Starscream snapped a blow against the mech’s wrist, forcing him to release his grip. Rodimus stumbled, and Starscream swept Rodimus up into his arms, away from the brute.

Spinner and Outrigger wrestled the patron down, and Drift joined them, appearing with a pair of restraints. Starscream ushered Rodimus away as Rodimus trembled against him, cradling his hand. The customer shouted, his voice audible above the bedlam, none of it complimentary.

All of it directed at Rodimus.

“You owe me, whore!” he spat, oral lubricant spattering from his lips, his field a furious thing, lashing around in denied entitlement. “You owe all of us!”

Rodimus’ shaking increased in earnest. He tucked his face against Starscream’s throat, as though trying to bury himself in Starscream’s arms.

“Get him out of here!” Streamline roared, appearing through the main doors, more guards in his wake, his expression one of thunderous outrage.

Four guards – Drift included – hauled the customer out, still spitting obscenities and threats, before the slam of the emergency exit door cut the sitting room into silence. A shocked, appalled silence.

“I apologize,” Streamline said as the remaining patrons stared, wide-opticked and uneasy, and other escorts flittered around as though not quite sure what to do. “We take your safety very seriously here at Blue Sun. Please, enjoy some refreshments and when you decide upon your companion for the evening, be assured you will be compensated appropriately.”

It was, of course, the right thing to say. Free treats and a discount for their chosen companion? Even if anyone was truly unsettled – which Starscream doubted – that was enough to soothe their concerns.

It wouldn’t be the first time an unruly customer had been dragged out of Blue Sun. It wouldn’t be the last, no matter how hard Streamline screened their clientele.

Custodial staff rushed in to clean up the overturned table, smashed dishes, and spilled energon. Conversation in the background returned to a low murmur. Someone started the music again.

Starscream stroked a hand down Rodimus’ back as Streamline stomped toward them, all but spitting fire through his nostrils.

“Want to tell me what the frag happened here?” he hissed. His biolights flashed in unappealing flickers of red and green. Honestly, Streamline had no taste.

“Rowdy customer,” Starscream said in a flat tone. He thought it was rather obvious. “One who might have broken Rodimus’ wrist.”

Streamline’s gaze fell to Rodimus, but nothing in it softened. “You’d better have a good explanation, Rodimus.”

“Rowdy customer,” Rodimus echoed, his voice muffled as his face still sat half-pressed to Starscream’s chassis. “Wanted a freebie, got mad when I refused. You said I didn’t have to do those anymore.”

“Indeed I did.” Streamline vented, his lips twisted with visible annoyance. He ran a hand over his head. “Fine. I’ll deal with it.” His gaze slanted to Starscream. “Are you booked?”

“Not yet.” Starscream gripped Rodimus’ shoulders and turned him away from Streamline, pointing him at the exit doors. “I’m going to take him to the infirmary.”

Streamline sighed and scrubbed harder at his forehead. “You do that.” He pointed at Starscream with a firm finger. “But I want you back on the floor afterward. I need you out here making sure I get sales. You hear me?”

“Yes, sir.” Starscream’s tone was icy.

Sometimes, he hated Streamline.

He hurried Rodimus off the sales floor and to the infirmary. Wrench was more than capable of taking care of Rodimus. Starscream didn’t need a close examination to know Rodimus probably had a fractured ulnar strut or, at the very least, a sprain. Pain leaked into his field, and it was the only thing keeping the shame at bay.

“He was one of Turmoil’s. Wasn’t he?” Starscream asked.

Rodimus’ gaze stayed planted on the floor. “Yeah. Name’s Hexic. Didn’t like him before I got sent here, certainly don’t like him now.”

Starscream worked his jaw. “Blue Sun doesn’t do freebies,” he said, careful to keep his tone not so much a question but a statement. Rodimus could answer if he wanted.

A ripple ran over Rodimus’ armor. “Streamline owns my debt.” His shoulders hunched and he cradled his aching wrist. “But Turmoil had conditions. If I wasn’t bringing in creds, then I should at least be friendly to his crew.”

Friendly.

Starscream’s mouth curved with disgust.

“I’ve got regulars now though,” Rodimus said with a small smile. He nudged Starscream with his uninjured arm. “Thanks to you. I’m climbing up the ranks in my earnings. So I don’t have to do freebies anymore. Hexic didn’t like that.”

“I’m sure he didn’t,” Starscream murmured. He controlled himself so as not to squeeze Rodimus too tightly, as anger burned bright and fierce inside of him.

He hoped he never met Turmoil in person.

Starscream ushered Rodimus into the infirmary and straight to the tender mercies of their medic on staff. He was an old mech, so old he hadn’t bothered refreshing his nanites anymore, and he carried a rusty look about him.

He called himself Wrench. Starscream suspected that wasn’t his original designation.

“Well, well, well. What have we here?” Wrench emerged from the back, wiping his hands clean with a cloth, his amber optics assessing the situation in a glance. “Broken wrist. Fractured ulnar it looks like. Starscream, you want to tell me something?”

“It wasn’t Sunstreaker,” Starscream said with a sigh. That had been a one-time mistake for Primus’ sake. “This was a customer. Hexic.”

Wrench frowned. “I know the name. He’s sent others to me before, usually a bit more dented. I thought he was banned.” He pulled out a stool and patted the seat of it. “Come here, kid. Let me take a look at that.” He snagged a wheeled chair for himself and sat down with a squeak of hydraulics.

“Someone didn’t get the memo,” Starscream muttered. He urged Rodimus toward the stool. “Go on. He’s not going to bite.”

“Much.” Wrench winked and bared his denta, for all that they were blunted with age and not the least bit threatening. “Don’t worry. I know how to handle a delicate thing like you.”

“I’m not delicate,” Rodimus huffed. He dropped down in the stool, thrusting his crumpled wrist in Wrench’s direction.

Wrench, true to form, took his hand gently, a scope lens dropping down in front of his optic. “You are to me. You speedsters, all speed and flash, but not much in the ways of sturdiness.” Wrench carefully turned Rodimus’ hand this way and that. “Still pretty though.”

“Thanks,” Rodimus said.

Wrench had a way of giving a compliment that made it seem like he meant it, and not just as a means to burrow his way beneath your plating.

Wrench vented softly. “Yeah. It’s definitely fractured. I’m going to have to weld this.” He looked up at Starscream. “You can leave him here with me, you know. He’s safe enough.”

Starscream found a nearby wall and leaned against it. He could handle Streamline’s complaints and a dock in his pay. “I’m staying.”

“Suit yourself.” Wrench tucked Rodimus’ wrist back into his lap and gave him a gentle pat. “Don’t worry, kid. I’ll get you fixed up in no time. Won’t even hurt a bit.”

Rodimus scowled. “I’m not a kid,” he said. “And I’ve felt worse pain.”

Something flickered across Wrench’s face, an expression that Starscream had seen in the mirror all too often – outrage and anger and resignation. “Yeah. I know.” He stood up and started rifling through his cabinets, looking for whatever he’d need to fix Rodimus’ wrist.

Starscream settled against the wall, arms folded over his cockpit. He would wait until Rodimus was repaired, then he’d return to the sales floor, and not a moment sooner. He trusted Wrench, but he didn’t want to leave Rodimus alone, not with the wild flare to his field, and the way his armor kept fluttering. Rodimus needed to know someone cared.

Starscream intended to make sure he was certain of it.

~

Sunstreaker received the notification ping as he was drying himself off after his session with Sideswipe. The merchant was currently conked out on the berth, face down and sprawled across it as though he owned it and didn’t merely rent it. Sideswipe’s guard stood outside the door, and would watch his master once Sunstreaker left. Sideswipe could afford to recharge here as long as he wished, with or without escort company.

It must be nice.

Sunstreaker scowled into the mirror, the reflection of his crimson client visible next to his right shoulder. He supposed he was being unfair. Sideswipe was a good customer. He tipped well. He did not push boundaries. He respected Sunstreaker’s space and time. He obeyed enthusiastically, and he submitted beautifully.

Sunstreaker could not fault him for being rich. Sideswipe had been sparked into it, true, but continued prosperity had been his to earn.

Ruminations on Sideswipe, however, would have to wait. The notification ping sent alarm ringing through Sunstreaker’s systems. He dried off as hastily as possible, spark pounding in his chassis.

Starscream was in the infirmary. There was no explanation. Truthfully, Spinner was under no obligation to provide details. It had been a kindness for him to inform Sunstreaker there’d been an incident. It wasn’t as if he and Starscream were actually beholden to one another.

Though Sunstreaker had made a point to change his sparked will. When he died – not if, but when, given the instability of his spark – Starscream was to have all of his earnings. Sunstreaker might be forever trapped, but some day, Starscream would find his freedom, even if Sunstreaker had to die to ensure it.

Starscream was unaware of this. Sunstreaker intended to keep it that way.

Sunstreaker paused before he opened the door. An odd hesitation curled through his lines, as if he couldn’t bear to leave. It was like his spark didn’t want to, giving an odd lurch when he looked back at Sideswipe.

It wasn’t love or affection, it couldn’t be. Sunstreaker knew what that felt like every time he looked at Starscream. It was something else. Something he didn’t understand.

Sunstreaker ignored it. He made himself open the door as his spark shivered.

Starscream needed him. That was reason enough.

Sunstreaker firmly closed the door behind him and nodding a greeting at Skids, Sideswipe’s usual guard. Sunstreaker had met no other, though he had little doubt Sideswipe employed more than a few for personal protection.

“Boss sleeping?” Skids asked. He leaned against the opposite wall, positioned directly in front of the door.

To the layman, his pose was lazy, nonchalant even. Sunstreaker was not fooled by it. Menace coiled beneath the layers of Skids’ bright blue armor and behind the easygoing grin.

Sunstreaker nodded. “He set an alarm, I assume.”

Skids grinned. “I’m sure he did.” He crossed his arms behind his head. “Just like I’m sure you worked him over good. Think the boss is smitten.”

“They usually are.” Sunstreaker tipped his head.

He left Skids to guard his master’s rest.

Usually, Sunstreaker took this opportunity to return to his room for an in-depth polish, or he hit the sales floor to observe the others. Right now, the notification summoned him to the clinic. He tried not to run, so no one could read the slight panic in his field. Starscream was too willing to intercede for the other escorts, putting himself in harm’s way despite the fact they had hired soldiers to do that. The fool.

Sunstreaker gritted his denta. He both loved Starscream for that determination, and hated him for it. Someday, one of the crazy patrons might decide fists weren’t enough. Maybe they’d slip a blade or a blaster past the screeners. And maybe Starscream wouldn’t be able to avoid a killing blow.

He was not allowed to outlive Sunstreaker. They would have words.

The lift deposited Sunstreaker on the appropriate floor, and he headed directly for the infirmary, barging inside. Wrench would understand. He and Sunstreaker spent far too much time together, second only to Starscream.

Sunstreaker scanned the infirmary interior. Wrench and Rodimus both looked up at him, the former bent over Rodimus’ right arm and hand, scope lens glinting over his optic. Starscream was… Starscream was not immediately in sight.

“I’m right here.” Starscream sighed.

Sunstreaker turned and found his roommate leaning against the wall by the door, rubbing his face.

“And I’m not injured,” Starscream added with two raised ridges. “I assume Spinner told you.”

“He was short on the details.” Sunstreaker slid his hands to Starscream’s shoulders, looking him up and down. “You have to stop doing this. Blue Sun pays for guards for a reason.”

“And sometimes they are too slow,” Starscream grumbled. He wriggled out from under Sunstreaker’s hands. “Besides, I’m not the one who was injured.”

Sunstreaker struck down the rising hurt.

“Yeah, what he said,” Rodimus piped up, like a fool who didn’t know when it was best to be silent. “Broken wrist and all.”

“Fractured ulnar strut,” Wrench corrected as he bent back over Rodimus’ wrist. “You’ll live.”

“Who?” Sunstreaker demanded.

Starscream waved off his concern. “A patron. Don’t worry. It was handled.”

Sunstreaker sighed and crossed his arms. Irritation bubbled inside of him, warring with the worry for control. He leaned against the wall, near where Starscream had been standing, his lips pressed together. He would not have this argument again. Or at least, not where others could hear. Besides, when it came down to it, he had no right to ask anything of Starscream. He had no right to anything.

They were only roommates.

“Aren’t you supposed to be with a client?” Starscream asked as he moved to the wall beside Sunstreaker.

“The session is over,” Sunstreaker bit out. He focused on Wrench and Rodimus, the former who was teasing the latter and making him laugh. Wrench was so very good at soothing the injured and afraid. “I am not so unprofessional as to leave a client in the middle of a session, no matter the reason.”

“I didn’t mean to imply you were.” Starscream rolled his optics, back and wings hitting the wall with a loud tap. “Turmoil’s cronies are getting more demanding by the way. They don’t like that Rodimus is actually succeeding where Turmoil expected him to fail.”

Sunstreaker made a noncommittal noise. Starscream would move the earth if it meant he could protect Rodimus, apparently.

“That’s for Streamline to handle. Not us,” Sunstreaker said.

Starscream snorted. “Streamline doesn’t care. He puts his loyalties where the creds are. If Turmoil fusses loud enough, Rodimus will have no choice but to bow to whatever whims he decides.”

“And?” Sunstreaker prompted.

“And what?” Starscream’s optics narrowed.

“And if that happens, what are you going to do? Put yourself in front of him again? Hand over your own savings to make sure he stays safe?” Sunstreaker worked his intake over a lump, he felt like he were choking. “What do you think you can do to protect him? More than that, why try so hard? What makes him so special?”

Starscream’s jaw firmed. His glare hardened to coal-fire pinpricks. “They always told me you were sparkless,” he gritted out, his voice just low enough for Sunstreaker to hear and no further. “I didn’t believe it until now. Have you ever cared for anyone but yourself?”

It felt like a punch to the abdomen. Why, why, why was Rodimus so important? Sunstreaker didn’t understand it. Not one bit.

“Star–”

Starscream held up hand, cutting him off, the other rising to his comm unit. He stared at Sunstreaker as he answered the ping.

“Yes, Streamline. I remember. I heard you. I’m on my way now. I understand.” He lowered his hand and cycled a ventilation. “I have to go to the sales floor before Streamline pops a clutch. Can you make sure Rodimus gets back to his dorm or is that too much to ask?”

“He can stay here. I’ll look after him,” Wrench offered up, the eavesdropping aft he was.

“I don’t need looking after,” Rodimus grumbled.

Sunstreaker gnawed on the inside of his cheek, feeling the sting of Starscream’s words like a slap to the face. “I’ll make sure he gets to a berth.”

Starscream gave him a long, searching look before he nodded and turned his attention back to Rodimus. “Get some rest, rookie. I’ll come check on you later.”

“You don’t have to nanny me, Starscream,” Rodimus muttered, but there was heat in his face. His spoiler fluttered with delight.

Damn, but Starscream spoiled him. Even offered Rodimus one of those soft, fond smiles he didn’t give to anyone else. Did Rodimus have any idea how hard Sunstreaker had to work to earn even a fraction of that softness?

Starscream left. Sunstreaker seethed.

His thoughts collided one against the other, until he felt dizzy from them. He’d always known so many truths, but it was hard when he kept clinging to small hopes. Pointless hopes really.

Starscream would never truly be his.

“Alright, kid. You’re all fixed up.” Wrench rose to his feet and easily set Rodimus upon his own. “Try not to move that wrist for a day or so, and don’t lift anything heavy for a week. No handcuffs, ropes, or other restraints either.”

“Aw, take all the fun out of it, why don’t you,” Rodimus drawled with a playful wink and twitch of his spoiler. “Does that mean I can’t put them on other people either?”

Wrench rolled his optics and gave Rodimus a push in Sunstreaker’s direction. “I gave him a shot of analgesic so he might be a little loopy. Other than that, he’s all yours.”

“Relatively speaking,” Sunstreaker corrected with a sigh. He caught Rodimus as the younger mech stumbled toward him, optics a little glazed and carefully cradling his injured wrist. “Come on then. You need rest.”

Rodimus wriggled up under Sunstreaker’s arm, pressing close, his field warm and cuddly. “Ooo. Are you going to take me to berth?” he purred. “Is it my turn now?”

Primus help him.

Wrench burst into loud laughter. “Oh, you have fun with that.”

Sunstreaker tossed him a Look before he tucked an arm over Rodimus’ shoulder and half-pulled, half-guided him out of the clinic. “You’re going to a berth, but not mine.”

He would put Rodimus in Starscream’s berth. He suspected that was where Starscream wanted him anyway, and not left alone in his bunk.

“You’re no fun.” Rodimus nuzzled the side of Sunstreaker’s chestplate, surely leaving smears behind. “No wonder Star’s mad at you.”

Sunstreaker stiffened. “That’s none of your business.”

“You two make it my business.” Rodimus sniffed and stumbled a bit, forcing Sunstreaker to rebalance them. “You drive me crazy, and I always end up in the middle.”

Sunstreaker snorted. “I think you have that backward. You’re the one who’s always bringing the trouble.”

Rodimus listed against his side as Sunstreaker tugged him into the lift and selected his and Starscream’s floor. “Not like this.” He squared his jaw and looked up at Sunstreaker, or at least attempted to do so. His optics didn’t seem to focus. “You should just tell him already.”

The lift deposited them on the proper floor. He hauled Rodimus out, going through an array of choices before settling on the only logical course of action.

Denial.

“Being vague doesn’t suit you.” He unlocked the door and half-dragged, half-carried Rodimus inside.

If Rodimus noticed he hadn’t actually been taken back to his dorm, he didn’t show it. He dug in his heels, looking up at Sunstreaker with petulance written across his face.

“Being stupid doesn’t suit you,” he retorted and stuck his glossa out at Sunstreaker. “You’re pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about because you don’t want to face it. Neither of you do. And it’s the most frustrating thing in the universe right now, I swear.” He wobbled as though his feet had ceased functioning.

Sunstreaker growled and scooped Rodimus over his shoulder. Rodimus made a strangled noise and scrabbled for a handhold, not that one was needed. Sunstreaker took less than a half-dozen strides before he tumbled Rodimus onto Starscream’s berth, the flame-colored rookie bouncing amid a pile of pillows.

“You exaggerate,” Sunstreaker said.

Rodimus wriggled, burrowing into the pillows with his injured arm outflung, laying across one of the larger pillows.

“You wish I did.” Rodimus finally settled, optics drifting shut. “Starscream’s wrong, by the way. You’re not sparkless. You’re a coward.”

Sunstreaker pressed his lips together. He swallowed his anger. Rodimus was only speaking truth, even though he had no right to say it.

“Do you need anything?” Sunstreaker asked.

Rodimus snorted. “Don’t pretend to be kind. It doesn’t suit you.” He dragged a pillow under his head with his uninjured hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll tell Starscream you were a good nanny.”

Sunstreaker gnashed his denta. He left Rodimus to the comfort of Starscream’s berth. No doubt Starscream would join him on it later, leaving Sunstreaker to chilly solitude.

He couldn’t ask for anything different. He couldn’t demand any of Starscream’s time or attention. He was owed nothing.

“Kindness is a trap, you know,” Rodimus said, even though it was clear Sunstreaker considered their conversation over. “Kindness and charity. It’s all a way to ask for something and pretend you’re humble about it.”

Sunstreaker drew his orbital ridges down. “What do you mean?”

Blue optics were firmly shuttered. Rodimus twitched, burying himself further in the pillows.

“You. Drift. You’re so much alike.” Rodimus’ glossa swept over his lips. “You can’t say what you mean. And he uses creds to apologize because he knows I won’t accept it otherwise.”

Sunstreaker concentrated on the mess scattered across the floor. Dirty cloths and empty cans of wax and all matter of detritus Starscream tended to leave laying about. Somehow, it seemed more important than Rodimus’ truth.

“Is that such a bad thing?” he wondered aloud, not sure he wanted an answer.

Rodimus’ engine revved. “In our world?” His voice grew softer, as though the medicine had finally taken hold and was dragging him under. “Kindness is a lie.”

Sunstreaker frowned. But Rodimus had already drifted off, his energy field evened out to the beat of his ventilations.

Kindness is a lie.

Perhaps that was what angered Starscream most of all.

Sunstreaker returned to his cleaning, his thoughts as disordered as before, without an answer to put them to rights.