This story touches on a bit of Jolt's past, as well as Sideswipe's. And while the latter has a background as laid out in comic canon, Jolt... does not. So, his background is taken from one that a close friend came up with. It's not my idea, so I take no credit for it.
Have I been a sinner?
A lover, a killer?
Cause the world I've discovered
It feels nothing like my heart
I wanna escape it
Or try to embrace it
I keep re-arranging everything I know
Matt Hires, Out of the Dark
It was more out of deference to the humans' schedule that the Autobots had taken to resting at night, than it was out of any real need to do so exactly at that time. Humans were, for the most part, a diurnal species, unlike their metal comrades in arms, who found themselves perfectly capable of functioning at all hours. Not to say they didn't need rest, and, at times, some of them actually enjoyed it. But, the timing simply hadn't mattered until they'd allied themselves so closely with humanity.
Of course, the idea of "rest" was a rather nebulous one. It seemed to fall somewhere between the areas of "tackle each other more quietly", or "bicker over private com-lines", and actually shutting down systems for the Autobot version of a proper sleep. But so long as no massive craters appeared in the tarmac, and no buildings were later found demolished by careless wrestling matches, the human contingent of NEST was content to leave the Autobots to their own devices, come lights-out.
They would have, then, been surprised to know that one of the most active members of the Autobot forces was the one to actually bed down for the night, when given the chance to do so. The tendency had surfaced after Egypt, as the party in question had arrived sometime during the midst of the growing chaos—when rest was hard to come by for man and Autobot alike. In fact, it had cropped up directly after the climactic battle, when he'd curled into a blue ball in the hold of the aircraft carrier, dead to all the world, save for a certain silver guardian, who was never far. And it continued, straight on through the endless rounds of political dealings, the cleanups, and the renovations to the base funded by a suddenly grateful government.
Tonight was no different. He lay curled on the berth, oblivious to the sounds echoing through the partially-completed walls around him—the bangs and clangs of a bickering set of mismatched twins, the low baritone rumble of Prime, passing down mammoth hallways in deep, late conference with the daily dignitary. One long-fingered hand stirred, absently reaching across the flat expanse of the sleeping space, groping, as always, for a familiar form.
And that was where all semblance of normality ended.
Instead of the expected shape, his hand met nothing. Months ago, he would have thought nothing of it. But after Egypt, after a hasty, risky maneuver he'd never expected to work, his solitary resting habits had abruptly changed. Even if his sudden companion had been fully awake, he'd been there. Just within arm's reach—without ever explaining why. His systems came online quickly, shifting to consciousness with a fluid speed human minds would envy.
A simple scan confirmed it—he was alone in the room. It wasn't that worrisome. Something had probably called the silver Autobot's attention away. One of the elders, likely. Some meeting or briefing to attend, or disciplinary action to hand out. It was nothing, absolutely nothing, to worry about.
But even with that mental reassurance, it took him a long while to drop off again. And when morning came, when the base slowly woke for another day on the never-ending job, his companion was right back where he'd been, as if he'd never even left.
The weeks following the odd incident were too hectic to bring the subject up. No one got any rest, least of all the leaders. Multiple incursions at once, different corners of the globe. As much as they'd hoped Egypt was the end, they'd all known the brief peace wouldn't last. All available forces were constantly on alert, shipped to crisscross the globe, cutting off attacks, rerouting dangerous fights, and patch up the wounded. After things began to settle down, the scouting Decepticons neutralized, he was too exhausted to bring the incident up when it happened again. Or when it happened a third and forth time.
By the fifth time Sideswipe disappeared in the night, Jolt was nervous. Nothing seemed to have changed between them—there were still playful shoves, casual sparring, and unspoken support offered when neither party asked, but clearly needed it. They were still close, still friends, always covering each others' backs when NEST planning sent them out together. During their waking hours, Sideswipe was always the same, cocky, borderline insufferable. But the sudden distance during their recharge worried Jolt nonetheless. Had he done something wrong? Something to make his friend retract the offered, nightly company? If so, why was Sideswipe always there when he woke again?
It was driving him up a wall.
And I'm never figuring it out by just laying here...
He slid off the berth, as quietly as he could. For once, the base was abnormally quiet. Even the audial-grating sound of the Twins whaling on one another was absent. Maybe recent events had actually worn the little terrors out. All of NEST could hope, at least.
The hallway was just as empty as his quarters. It seemed that, at least, this night, there were to be no interruptions for any of the personnel. None, save for the quiet footfalls of the blue Autobot, cautiously making his way through halls and hangars, poking into storage rooms, and even the dormant medbay. It was decidedly odd to see it devoid of its usual neon tyrant, and, suppressing a little shudder at the oddity, Jolt moved on. He spent enough time in there as it was, trying to process which part of his comrades connected to which broken and damaged piece. Only a few months of work, and already he was tiring of seeing Autobots in pain. How did Ratchet stand it, he wondered, heading into the main hangar.
It seemed like fate wanted him to ask such a question in person, as, heading for the exit out onto Diego Garcia's massive airstrip, he nearly ran straight into the medical officer himself. Standing in the shadows beside the open hangar doors, signal dampened, Ratchet was oddly invisible, due to the glare of the airfield lights. Jolt would never have seen him, had he not turned around at the younger Autobot's approach. His sensors had been too attuned for another Autobot entirely, and while, technically, darkness was no limitation on their sight, Ratchet did have an uncanny habit of blending in until one least expected him to appear—usually to haul the unfortunate party off for a diagnostic. Jolt jumped, no mean feat for a mechanical life form his size, taking several steps back. But before he could speak, the medic held up a warning hand, and a private communication line popped up in Jolt's HUD.
::What are you doing up?:: came the inevitable question. Ratchet shifted, arms folding over his chest. ::I was under the impression you had started recharging hours ago...::
Jolt shrugged, looking everywhere but at the medic. ::I was,:: he admitted. He wasn't about to elaborate further. While they'd made no secret of their closeness—and Jolt rather doubted the silver Autobot was capable of keeping any part of his personal life a secret—actually admitting he was sharing quarters with Sideswipe was another matter. Especially to one of the senior Autobots. However, Ratchet didn't appear to be in the mood to let him get away with that simple answer. ::I can't find Sideswipe,:: he sent back, finally. ::He keeps disappearing. It's getting ridiculous. I just... want to know what's going on. I can't find him, I can't pick up his signal...::
Surprisingly, Ratchet was quiet. His ventilation systems worked, fans whirring softly. Then, without a word, he motioned Jolt forward into the shadow of the doorway. Doing as beckoned, Jolt padded forward, trying to ignore the sudden muffled feeling as the dampening field the medic generated suddenly covered him as well. Hidden from sensors both visual and non, he poked his head around the door, wondering what all the secrecy was about. It took him a moment to realize exactly what he was looking at, and when he did, his spark caught a little in its casing, suddenly possessing a strange desire to sink down to his feet.
He'd found Sideswipe, all right. The silver Autobot stood out on the tarmac, his back turned toward the hangar. From their distance, it was too difficult to see, but from his stance, he was looking upwards, studying a rapidly-clouding sky. His hands twitched, occasionally clenching. But otherwise, he never moved an inch. Even with his wheeled feet, which, to Jolt, had always seemed like a design flaw, he stood perfectly still, and solemn—some kind of silver statue, all hard edges, and long, sharp lines.
And beside him, stood the weapons master, one huge black hand resting on Sideswipe's shoulder. His head was turned, and, from the slight motions he made, he was deep in conversation with an unresponsive listener.
Jolt would have liked, at that moment, nothing more than to crawl back to his quarters and quietly pretend he didn't exist. This was where Sideswipe was slinking off to? To meet with the older warrior? And for what? To have clandestine conversations in the dark? Where no one could sense them? Your processor didn't have to be top of the line to figure out what was going on. He'd known the two knew one another—some whispered gossip about private training after Sideswipe's creation, hand-picked for the special instruction. He wasn't sure how much of it was true, but the connection between them was rather undeniable.
And even if you could ignore those rumors, the mission files labeled "BUENOS ARIES" spoke for themselves. He'd never actually read them, as all but Prime, and the lead NEST operatives had access to the details. But the participants were marked all the same.
How was he supposed to compete with someone like Ironhide? He was one of Prime's best warriors, he specialized in every form of weapon known to their kind. He was huge, strong, and hopelessly loyal. Jolt was... Jolt. Reckless, young, untried...
… Easily forgotten.
An old ache sprang up, memories flooding his processor unbidden, bringing with them the stabbing loneliness he'd finally managed to fight off. But, it seemed, even the companionship he'd offered, the friendship he'd found, wasn't meant for him. He'd even allowed himself to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he could possibly have something more than just a friend. It had certainly seemed that way—catching glances he wasn't supposed to, the secretive brushes of shoulders, hands, and legs, not to mention their recharge arrangements. Until now.
He turned, nodding at Ratchet, and began to head back the way he'd come. There had to be a forgotten task somewhere he could occupy himself with. Somewhere no one would find him for a while.
A heavy tread stopped him. He didn't need to turn around to see who it was—the limping step gave it away. There was silence, save for the soft shifting of metal. A discussion, then, between the two older Autobots. Again, he started forward, and again, he was stopped. There was a heavy hand on his shoulder, restraining him.
"You try it," Ironhide growled, speaking aloud and forgoing a private comm-line. "Stopped listening to me long ago..." He snorted. "Maybe you would have better luck."
Slowly, he turned back around, tilting his head up to look at the other two. Both of them watched him, curiously. One of Ratchet's hands rested almost possessively on Ironhide's massive shoulder, and the weapons master stood a few paces too close to the medic. Jolt shuttered his optics, refocused them, and repeated the process. Just what was going on here? "Do... what?" he asked, finally, remembering he'd been asked a question. "What's going on?"
A glance was exchanged between the two old ones. By unspoken agreement, Ratchet took up the explanation, while Ironhide shifted back, his gaze fixed back out the doors.
"Nothing serious," the medic assured him. "As I understand it, the phenomenon is often present in adolescent humans..." He trailed off, only to be reminded of the task at hand by a prod from a black-armored foot. "I believe it's known as an 'existential crisis'. But it's really not as dramatic as all that... Simply a pattern that has been repeating for some time... and we had determined a viable solution, until now, it seems."
"Nothing to fight, and a soldier gets... restless," Ironhide muttered, almost automatically. "Thinks too much. Needs a better distraction."
Ratchet didn't so much as glance in his direction before nodding. "Yes, that was my assessment as well." One dexterous hand gestured back outside. "It would seem that our young friend has a rather heavy conscience, manifesting itself during our downtime. We have taken it upon ourselves to solve the problem..."
"But now he's being Sideswipe, and won't listen to you," Jolt finished, as a weak smile flexed his optical ridges. It quickly disappeared. "I'm... kind of flattered but... I don't think there's anything I can do..."
Another snort from the weapons master. "Please," he growled, rolling his free shoulder. Joints hissed briefly. "Seen the way you two act together. Painfully obvious you two..."
Jolt's flagging spirits poked their proverbial heads up as Ironhide trailed off, his expression bordering on uncomfortable. He had to be serious—Ironhide's borderline legendary distaste in discussing personal matters made it easier to read him, considering he only spoke about such things when absolutely necessary, and, short of implying improbable things about Decepticon mating habits when he thought no one was listening, spoke of them in complete seriousness. The blue Autobot edged forward a step, peering out the door. He didn't have the full story, or even the slightest idea what the elder Autobots expected him to do. But that had never stopped him before. If something had truly been wrong, they wouldn't trust him to this, would they? A small shiver ran across his frame, rattling the armored extensions on his back.
He was already stepping through the doors when one final word of advice pinged his com-lines.
::He's in no real danger, I promise you,:: came Ratchet's voice, clipped and slightly annoyed. ::The humans would just prefer he did his self-destructive brooding indoors where some rogue satellite cannot pinpoint our location. Again.::
Well, if that weren't slightly ominous...
Thunder rumbled in the distance as he padded quietly toward his friend, only adding to the slight feeling of apprehension creeping over him. He was only a few feet away, and still, Sideswipe made no notice of his presence. All of his attention was focused upward, studying darkened, cloudy skies. Jolt sidled closer, shifting his weight uneasily from foot to foot. His armor extensions, like blue spines against his back, fluttered a little.
"Hey," he said, finally, wincing as the word rang harshly in the silence.
No response. Not even a nod. Nothing to indicate the slender Autobot had noticed him. He took another shuffling step closer, until their shoulder armor nearly touched. Silence reigned for a few moments, broken only as the clouds began to break, and rain drummed against metal skin. Jolt's armor twitched, shaking off droplets even as more water beat down on him. They stood in silence for several more minutes, letting the storm roll in and over them, thunder shaking the tarmac under multiton feet.
He knew he should say something, anything, just to break the pall of quiet. His vocals worked, but no sound would come. The longer they stood there, the harder it was to think of something to say. Why did he think he could have done anything, when the more experienced Autobots failed?
"If there were no war... what would you have done? Something... with your plants?"
The sudden voice startled him. He jumped, feet skidding on the wet tarmac. Even knowing that voice as well as he did, it took several seconds for Jolt to realize it was his friend speaking. Sideswipe still did not look at him, yet his attention had somehow shifted all the same.
"If we were on Earth... maybe?" Jolt shrugged. The question threw him. Of all the things he'd been expecting, that wasn't it. "I don't know. I mean, I can't really think about that. Since..."
There came a low, dark chuckle, with no real mirth in the sound. "Since war is all we know."
"Well... yeah. That's when we were made and... all."
Sideswipe's reply was almost drowned out in the rain and thunder around them. "That's all we were made for," he murmured, dropping his gaze to study the rapidly forming puddles. He raised one hand, studying it in the cast-off lights of the landing strip. The blade glinted along his forearm, wicked and deadly, as much a part of him as the symbol etched into his chest armor. It slid free of its sheath, etchings along the blade all but shining with damp and reflected light.
Without meaning to, Jolt shrank back a few inches. "I don't... think so," he said, hesitantly. Already, he didn't like the tone of this conversation. "I mean, Ratchet picked me up for medical work pretty quick. I don't think fighting is all we can do." A shrug, and he closed the distance between them, turned slightly to face his friend. "You shouldn't think so either—you're smarter than that."
"I didn't have a choice," Sideswipe shot back, his tone suddenly hostile, bitter. He was finally looking at Jolt, optics narrowed. "You do—you can be a medic, you can go... play scientist in the forest." There was a rumble of the Corvette's engine, and Jolt was suddenly, keenly aware of the other Autobot's speed, and the deadly weapon attached to his arm. Especially as Sideswipe's gaze lost focus, while he turned back to glower at the pavement. "What can I do? Maybe I wanted to race? To be an acrobat or... something. What do I get? What do I have?"
Slowly, Jolt raised a hand, letting it settle lightly on the other's arm. "You have your incredible ability to be an idiot, that's what you have," he said, quietly, firmly. There was too much affection in it to be insulting. He just hoped it got through that thick silver skull. "Quit being so... melodramatic. When the war's over, I'm sure you'll figure something out."
"When the war's over, I'm still a killer."
The words were so flat, so matter of fact, they stunned Jolt into silence. That was it, wasn't it? Some bizarre hangup of his friend's that the elders had been unable to fix. But, even so, what was he supposed to do about it? "You're a soldier, there's a difference," he said, finally, quietly.
"Tell that to everyone in Buenos Aries," Sideswipe retorted. He laughed again, tilting his head up to the rain, expression and vocals empty of anything resembling humor. It was unnerving past the point of irritation, and something in Jolt's chest went cold.
Optics shuttered, closing against wet and damp. The blank look on his face shifted, morphing into a bitter sort of smile. "They never let you see the mission files... did they? I'm... not entirely surprised." He shifted on his wheels, rocking away slightly, avoiding contact with his friend. Silence stretched, and as curious as the stocky blue Autobot was to hear this explanation, he didn't press. He didn't move. Systems seemed to pause, standing frozen in contrast to Sideswipe's sudden, restless movements. His blades worked helplessly through the air, as he spun in a slow circle.
"I killed humans, Jolt," he said, the words hollow, all but forcing themselves out of his vocal processor. "And I didn't care. I would have kept on going, if... the old timer hadn't pulled me out. It didn't matter. My enemy got away. I was pursuing—no matter the cost." He looked up, finally meeting Jolt's optics. Water ran in rivulets down his faceplates. "I was made to kill. I do it... well. Too damn well. And I like it. What does that make me? What am I supposed to do, knowing that? What can I do?"
It was the most vulnerable Jolt had ever seen another living being—least of all Sideswipe. The other stood before him, raging against things he had no power over, arms and weapons spread wide, rainwater streaming down plates and seams, creating liquid scars in otherwise perfect bodywork. And he'd chosen Jolt to lay himself bare before, to rest everything on, when no one else seemed to understand. He'd turned them all away, only to confide in Jolt. He stayed still, expecting and dreading an answer, his optics never leaving the blue armored body.
"You can stow it."
That, apparently, was not the predicted answer. The silver body rocked, stunned by the harshness of the other's tone, by the emotion underlying such simple words. "What?"
Now Jolt stepped forward again. He didn't shake, didn't so much as waver from his course. Long-fingered hands came to rest on silver shoulders. They were roughly the same height, which made locking gazes was far easier than it should have been. Sideswipe did not move. He appeared to be in too much shock.
"I don't... care, okay?" Jolt said, fierce, almost painful fondness in his voice. "I don't. I think you're being an idiot, and you're thinking too much." His hands tightened on Sideswipe's shoulders, holding him there, making him hear every word. "Whatever... happened back there, it's done with. You wouldn't hurt anyone again. We know it..."
He trailed off, trying to put everything he felt for the other into his voice. How dangerous this line of thinking was, how much it scared him, and the spark-deep assurance that Sideswipe was hopelessly wrong. "I know it. And you... you have to be good at taking down Decepticons. We all do, or we die."
Or they abandon us, they leave us alone to rot because we're not good at it. It was the way their world worked, now. Survival, companionship... all of it went to those who could fight, who knew what they were doing. Why couldn't his friend see that, accept it? He was throwing so much away—so much Jolt would have given anything for. "That's just..." he began, cutting himself off when his voice broke. "That's just how things are! It's not your fault, it's not anyone's fault, and no one's going to blame you, because I won't let them!"
Rain pounded against them, suddenly loud in the stillness that followed. He'd run out of words, run out of strength. And still, nothing had changed at all. Jolt sagged, dropping his head to rest it lightly against silver chest armor. "So just... stow it," he murmured, unable to raise his voice anymore. "Think about something else... and get your aft back inside so I can recharge. Okay?"
Every moment of silence that passed was agonizing, every moment a lash against his spark. He wanted to leave, to run just as he had before this entire endeavor had begun.
But he couldn't. There were arms around him, the soft shing of retracting weapons, and faceplates pressed against the top of his helm. Another body pressed against his, supporting as it drew on him for the same. The silence was pushed back by the whirr of another's active systems, the barest pulse of another spark.
Words, this time, would only have been a hindrance.
In these violent days,
I only wanna be where you are
Even fools they say
can find a way out of the dark
Of the dark
Help me out of the dark
--Matt Hires, Out of the Dark