Seven days ago
Skyfire had been sitting at the doors to the medical bay for about forty five minutes.
Although he was not an active combatant that did not mean he shied away from the battle field. There were plenty of times where he transported the Autobots or vital equipment under heavy fire or duress. Also he often played a support role in the war that put him in harm's way. It could be scary at times but had enough bravery suck it up and play his part.
But he couldn't get the courage to walk through the doors before him.
It was kind of pathetic really.
Skyfire sighed, leaned against the wall and drew his knees up.
He looked up and saw Bluestreak waving wildly at him. The little Datsun jogged the last few steps until he was right in front of the shuttle. Even when Bluestreak was standing while Skyfire was sitting the two of them were about optic level with each other.
"Hello, Bluestreak," he greeted warmly. "What brings you this way?" he asked despite probably knowing the answer.
Bluestreak scratched the back of head sheepishly and stared at the doors to Medical. "I heard Sideswipe just got up. Have you seen him yet?"
Skyfire let out a sigh and let his head drop in shame. "I've been trying to get the courage to go in."
"Oh. Well that's understandable. Totally, and completely understandable. I mean I've headed in this direction about six times today but I always found myself veering off or getting distracted by something else. But I finally kicked my tailpipe into gear and here I am!" He splayed his arms out to his sides as if to present himself and grinned widely.
He made no effort to move from where he stood.
Skyfire raised a brow. "Are you going in?"
Bluestreak visibly deflated, the smile wilted off his face.
"Uh yeah, I just…" he scratched the back of his head looking unsure. "I just- I'm not sure what I want to say yet."
"Well that is also understandable." Skyfire nodded sagely. "That is actually most likely why I am still out here as well."
Bluestreak stared at the door, his entire form stiff with obvious discomfort.
"Bluestreak?" Skyfire questioned.
"Uh well maybe…" He fidgeted. "Hey, Skyfire. Can… Could I maybe talk to you first? I just- I don't deal with thoughts on my own well. But talking it through sometimes helps. Maybe if I actually think and figure out what I want to say first I won't make a complete idiot of myself. I don't think Sideswipe needs one of my foot in mouth moments right now."
"Of course, Bluestreak." The shuttle scoot over a bit pat the spot next to where he was seated.
The young gunner seemed relieved from not being turned away, dropped and planted himself to the spot.
For a moment the two sat in a silence that was far more comfortable for Skyfire then it was for Bluestreak and it showed. A part of the gunner was always moving whether he was drumming his fingers or fidgeting his foot. But as he had said it seemed to be taking a while for him to find the words. It was odd for him.
"So what is it you are trying to express?" Skyfire coaxed, trying to help Bluestreak find a starting point.
After a moment the younger mech finally bit his lip before actually beginning to speak.
"I don't know yet. I wanna make sure Sideswipe is ok, but I already know he's not. I mean I can barely wrap my head around everything that's happened. It's just, they were always there you know?" He waved as he spoke for emphasis. "Whenever any of us were in a tight spot or needed saving they would just appear out of nowhere. But it wasn't just that. It was the way they did it. It didn't matter if it was a small firefight or Devastator raining holy hell on our heads, they always just had this attitude like they didn't care. That it was no big deal. Sometimes it was easy to forget just how much aid they were giving us simply because they'd make light of the situation or would treat it like a joke. But it was contagious because even if you were scared for some reason, they just made you feel like maybe the situation wasn't so bad. Maybe it wasn't so out of control and then it would help you relax.
Skyfire nodded, letting the young soldier gather his thoughts before resuming his verbalizing.
"And Sunstreaker," Bluestreak said voice a little more frantic as he got himself more worked up. "I've always liked Sunstreaker. But I know there aren't really a lot of mechs who got along with him well. There was always talk that if it weren't for Sideswipe he'd be the most likely Autobot to defect. And some even went so far as to say he didn't even care about Sideswipe. But…. You don't throw yourself in front of enemy fire for someone you don't like. And even if he didn't necessarily like you he'd still be there to pull your aft out of the fire! And him being gone doesn't… it doesn't make sense. I mean he wasn't the easiest mech to get along with so it's understandable I guess, but even though there were a bunch of bots that would always talk bad about him and stuff and made it seemed like they hated him, it's affecting everyone. Did you know Tracks of all mechs has been on a hair-trigger for the last week? The littlest things are setting him off and usually nothing fazes him that much. Mirage has been quieter than normal. Hound's been downtrodden. And do you know what happened when Snarl found out what happened? He nearly wrecked the rec room! It took Swoop, Grimlock, and Wheeljack to calm him down! I mean just, Jeez, out of everyone I thought would be upset Dinobots were not high on my list."
The words were tumbling out faster, with more fervor. Bluestreak was frantically gesticulating at this point talking equally with his hands as he did with his mouth. "And I think everyone's kinda scared because, well, Six Shot," he said the name as if it was all the explanation needed and truly it was. "We still have to deal with that and now we have to do it without Sunstreaker. And I think everyone is seeing just how much he looked out for us! He'd bemoan his paint, or his finish or about us being obnoxious but that never stopped him from stepping up to the plate when he was needed, ya know? But despite how much he saved us, or had our backs, we never really returned the favor. Maybe it was because some didn't really like him or maybe we all simply figured he didn't need it. He and Sideswipe were a force. But we let them down. We let Sideswipe down. They needed us and we weren't there. I know what the Cons did was sneaky and no one could've known but that doesn't help.
"But Sideswipe's alive, and he's probably hurting and I want to talk to him so bad. But I'd probably make it worse. I can't… I had my city fall around me and that was awful. I don't think I'll ever get over Praxus being…. But Ratchet's right. We've all lost things in the war but I can't even comprehend what losing half of you could be like.
For a moment nothing more was said
"It's… it's bad. I want to talk to him. I want to be there and help but…." Understanding dawned on Bluestreak's face. "I don't know what to say." He sagged against the wall with this sudden realization.
Skyfire let his mind drift for a moment to thoughts of when he had first seen Sideswipe that day. The warrior had been torn apart. He had never seen one of the Autobots in that severe of a condition before, not even from their worst fights.
"There was so much energon on the ground," Skyfire mumbled under his breath remembering the electric blue puddle being absorbed into the Earth.
"What?" Bluestreak squawked and looked up in surprise.
Skyfire looked a little surprised too by the fact that he had vocalized such a morbid statement. "I am sorry. I did not mean to say that out loud."
"No it's ok. Sharing is caring as Sideswipe would say. Maybe you'll have better luck then I did with coming up with something to stay." Bluestreak smiled lightly. "And you listened to me prattle on which is more than a lot are willing too. I can stand to keep the old yapper shut in return. I mean just talking about what's bothering you can help I find. I mean, you were one of the first to see him after all, and it was, well, it was bad. Really bad."
"It was," Skyfire affirmed.
He took a moment to collect his thoughts.
"I lost so much time in the ice." It was as good a starting point as any. "Millennia. In that time, everyone I knew, everything I ever considered important or held dear was destroyed. Cybertron was devastated, the science academies I had once been a part of were dismantled, destroyed or turned their efforts to war. Friends and colleagues; I do not know how many of them survived, where they are now or what side they're even on anymore. My best friend…" Skyfire choked back an odd noise not elaborating any further.
"I lost a lot of things to time while I stayed unchanged. But I never witnessed any of it." Skyfire revealed. "I did not see Cybertron get cracked apart. I never saw any of the battles that would devastate entire regiments like the ones in those stories of Ra'el. My closest friend, the mech who used to be my closest friend, at least he's alive. But most of this war I have learned about second hand. I didn't experience it."
"And since I have woken, there have been injuries and hard times but no one died. Not on either side."
"Sunstreaker was the first," Bluestreak affirmed sadly. "That sounds so wrong to say out loud. Just…He would be so pissed."
Skyfire let out a sad laugh.
"You know, when I first was pulled from the ice, in all the confusion and the jarring change there was one thing familiar."
Bluestreak didn't need to ask to know he was talking about Starscream.
"My friend had found me. I was told what happened through the filtered eyes of the Decepticons. Everything was disorienting and completely different and I did not understand how much everything had changed yet. So I tried to act on reason, previous knowledge and logic. I remembered the problems with the caste systems on Cybertron and the corruption, and why would I question the mech I had spent so many of my days with, especially after he had come to my rescue? So, at the time, I did what made sense based on what I was told. I became a Decepticon."
"It wasn't for long," Bluestreak interjected in an attempt reassure the larger mech. " You found your way to us in the end."
"It was long enough," Skyfire started bitterly, "For many to not trust me still."
And it was true. Everyone's impression of Skyfire had improved significantly over time. His cordial and gentle personality was welcome enough but the simple fact that he had ever worn the Decepticon insignia, brief as it was, was enough grounds for most to keep him at arm's length. It could be lonely.
"But then suddenly the truth came out, and I began to get a better grasp of the madness that ravaged everything I had ever known over that long time. But then I was buried under the ice again. I thought I was going to die honestly. Or at least never wake up again."
"But much to my surprise like last time, in what felt like seconds, something was pulling me out. I heard the ice crack, and suddenly I was awake and staring at Sideswipe and Wheeljack. And Sideswipe just gave me this silly grin and asked how my nap was."
"I really didn't think much of it and I didn't see Sideswipe until he and Sunstreaker had attacked Megatron later that day. And Megatron just picked Sideswipe up like he was nothing and threw him."
"So you caught him," Bluestreak smiled.
"I did and he just gave me this huge grin, thanked me and ran off to fight more… Again I thought nothing of it. But later after the battle had been won, while everyone else was keeping me at an amiable arm's length away, Sideswipe completely and utterly ignored my pariah status and asked me if I wanted to help him fill the halls with five hundred thousand Dixie cups filled with water," Skyfire said completely straight faced.
For a moment there was a beat as Bluestreak blinked in confusion. But then he let out a snort of laughter. Skyfire couldn't help but grin.
"I remember that!" Bluestreak cackled and pointed an accusing finger at the shuttle. "He got them in these really perfect rows too. Did you really help him with that? Prowl was furious. You couldn't step anywhere without them crunching and puddles getting everywhere."
Skyfire let a wide grin split across his face. "Are you kidding? Of course not! I was enough of an outcast as it was at the time. The last thing I needed to do was alienate half of the command element. Besides, those cups were too difficult for me to pick up properly. Much too tiny."
There was another lapse of silence as Bluestreak calmed a bit from his giggling.
"You know," Skyfire resumed voice softer, "at the time I assumed he was only trying to get me in on that little joke of his because I was new blood and he had thought I would be easy to rope into his schemes. After I refused I thought that would be the end of our interactions beyond the daily goings of the Ark.
"But it wasn't a onetime thing. After, he kept seeking me out and not just to play tricks. But to actually do things like to watch movies or to explore Portland or sometimes just to be there to keep me company even if I was busy with work or an experiment. He kept spending time with me completely out of his own volition despite everyone else being wary of me. And one day I asked him why. And you know what he said?"
"Excuse the language a bit but he said 'How could I not like you? I've dealt with half of these fraggers for years and you're the first person other than Sunny who actually saved me for once in a battle. That and birds of a feather should stick together, right?'" Skyfire rubbed his temple. "It took me a while to figure out what he meant by that since he is just so social and charismatic. But after a while I noticed that sometimes he felt out of place too. He was obviously built to fight and I think that makes a lot of mechs uneasy. So no matter how jovial or likable he is, he is just different enough to be on the outside even when he is smack in the middle of everything. I believe Sunstreaker felt that way too but did not feel the need to even try to sugarcoat what he was. Maybe once upon a time he had according to Sideswipe, but over time he just gave up."
"I didn't know that about Sunny."
"Not a lot of mechs did."
"Sideswipe was my first real friend here," Skyfire managed to say through grit denta. "And I'm just… I'm going to sound horrible and selfish, but I'm glad it was him who survived.
"But also for the second time in this war I am actually angry at something. I felt loss when I learned about what happened to Cybertron. I felt betrayal and spark break when I found out what Starscream had become. I felt rage at Megatron for the role he played in destroying what my friend was and what happened to Cybertron. But this for some reason, this hit close to home and I do not believe I have ever felt such anger for a mech as I'm feeling toward Six Shot."
Bluestreak frowned in understanding and let his helmet tip back until it was against the wall.
"And I want to be there for him like he was there for me when I felt so isolated. But it's like you said, Bluestreak." Skyfire mimicked the gunner and also leaned his head back. He shuttered his optics."What would I say?"
They both sat together in the silence that followed with an odd camaraderie and common ground between them.
But neither found themselves able to go through the doors.
The instant Sideswipe had bolted from Prowl's office; Ratchet had thought that was it. This was going to be the moment Sideswipe would finally die. Against all odds, the trauma of losing Sunstreaker hadn't been enough to do him in the first time, but the second time, having to endure his brother's death a second time would be more than enough to destroy the soldier. He was sure of it.
He had been stunned when on the battlefield, even as Sideswipe's life bled away into the sand, and as his shattered spark stuttered, and began to collapse simply because of the hurt it endured, he stabilized.
It had to have been a fluke. It must've been. Sideswipe was a time bomb.
But that didn't stop Ratchet from trying to do everything in his power to protect Sideswipe. He knew it wasn't rational. He knew there was truly nothing he could do. But he could not let go of the warrior. He refused. Even though for all parties involved it would probably be less painful if Sideswipe just stopped functioning he couldn't let that happen.
But all his efforts were in vain it would seem. When Sideswipe had fled after that rather horrific reveal the remaining four had just stared numbly at the door, not quite registering everything that had happened.
Prowl's doors closed with a soft click.
Jazz, bless him, worked phenomenally well under pressure. He recovered faster than even Prowl and while everyone else was standing like slack jawed morons the Special Operations officer was vaulting over Prowl's desk and giving chase.
"Get, Prime!" He hollered. Then the second the doors reopened he disappeared down the hall. In seconds only the echoes of his voice as he desperately called to Sideswipe were present.
Skids headed the command and went in search of their commander as quickly as he could. Prowl and Ratchet went after Jazz.
By the time they left the office neither Sideswipe nor Jazz were anywhere in sight. They frantically looked down both directions of the hall at a complete loss.
"Where did they go?" Prowl demanded, a rare frustration weaved into his voice.
Ratchet for a moment felt bushwhacked simply from how quickly he figured out exactly where Sideswipe was headed.
"I know where he went." With that he started down the hall Prowl closely behind. "He's looking for Sunstreaker."
"But he does not know where Sunstreaker is," Prowl insisted.
"It doesn't matter. Sideswipe will find him."
"That's not logical."
"Frag logic, Prowl! None of that is applying here!"
So they ran. And as they ran they passed several baffled mechs in the halls which only provided further evidence that they were on the right track.
That notion was furthered cemented when they heard a shriek.
It nearly caused the two of them to stumble. The noise was almost indescribable.
It was horror, rage, and a sadness so profound coalesced into a sound with such volume and depth, that long after its echoes pealed through the halls of the Ark its ghost would remain in the walls.
And at that moment Ratchet though, that was it. Sideswipe would be dead on arrival.
But when they finally made it through the wrecked doors of the storage space that was serving as an impromptu morgue Sideswipe was not, in fact, dead.
For a moment Ratchet almost wished he was. Because the sight of Sideswipe, optics alight like violet fire, face twisted into some horrible mask of uncomprehending anguish, and fury and utter despair as he clawed and clung to Sunstreaker's lifeless form was awful. Every spark wrenching, teeth gnashing, despaired sob that broke from Sideswipe's vocals struck Ratchet in the worst of ways. It was almost too much to bear.
All their efforts had come to this. All their tiptoeing around the soldier to keep him intact had completely failed.
Jazz was already trying to placate him but Sideswipe was beyond reason.
It went by like a blur. At some point Prowl and he had stepped in to assist Jazz but failed miserably. Sideswipe lashed out at them violently, seemingly running completely on feral instinct. None of them were spared from the confused barrage of hits but the worst fell upon Ratchet when the medic caught a wayward fist square in the face. It knocked him flat on his backside.
Dazed for a moment Ratchet couldn't help but wryly think this had to be some sort of Karma.
Just when he started to gather his wits a monster sized mech of red and blue was hurtling past him.
And their commander all but ripped Sideswipe away from Sunstreaker's body a lot more violently than their leader had probably intended. But it worked and the twins were finally separated. Before Sideswipe could recover from the displacement Prime effectively caged the soldier against his own form in what looked to be desperate embrace. Something to placate the wrecked unpredictable force that was Sideswipe while sparring the others present from his violent misery.
And Sideswipe fought with everything he had as he rained down a hateful succession of malediction upon his commander. But Prime only winced and endured the physical and verbal onslaught of one of his most dangerous soldiers, as he held on and tried speaking soft words.
And quickly the fight left Sideswipe as did the words. And Sideswipe locked a vice grip around his commander's shoulders and for the life of him just held on as he screamed.
And Ratchet could only watch in something akin to horror but there was also an element of morbid fascination.
Because even though it was sadness and rage he was expressing there was still so much life in Sideswipe.
How could there be so much vigor of any kind in the twin after all of this?
Was this just the last hurrah? Was this an explosive encore to the young warrior's life?
And then it just stopped.
Coldness gripped at Ratchet's spark and for a brief moment he thought he had been right.
But Sideswipe did not fade to gunmetal gray, limp and expended. He was just unconscious.
It had been too much. His body had shut down from the strain as it had done not a day prior.
But he was still alive, and that was a mystery in itself.
No one knew how long they all stood there as they tried to absorb the whirlwind of events that had just befallen them. They were all somewhat dinged, and more than a little traumatized by proxy of what the red twin had endured. The added fact that they were in the room with the remains of Sunstreaker did little to ease the mood.
Prime was still holding Sideswipe even though the soldier had long since passed out. It was partly because Sideswipe still had a rigor mortis like grip on Prime's shoulder and no one had the heart to pries him off. No one wanted to deny him that one comfort even if he wasn't awake for it. It wasn't like Prime actually had any idea what else to do in the face of this particular situation. It was so unlike anything he had contended with before. He had known many mechs who had experienced loss but nothing of this magnitude. So, though Sideswipe was no longer awake, Prime felt this overwhelming need to be present as a reassurance to his soldier in this time of great loss and pain.
It was a fact that Sideswipe had not been designed to be alone. Yet the soldier had been left isolated for too long as everyone else dawdled and flailed about while trying to find a way to handle both the death of Sunstreaker and the new threat of Six Shot. Sideswipe, a precarious issue, a time bomb that could be set to explode at the slightest provocation, was inadvertently relegated to the side.
It also didn't help that no one wanted to be the trigger that set him off.
Everyone in the Ark knew that Sunstreaker's death was something that would not only be traumatic to Sideswipe but could also be the end of him. Everyone knew the fragile state Sideswipe was in. Even though despite all odds he survived the termination of his brother there was this feeling that his grasp on life was probably tenuous at best. Twins were not meant to outlive each other but as the days ticked by so did the tension of the situation. Everyday Sideswipe improved was terrifying for everyone else because no one wanted to cling to the false hope that it would be a permanent state.
And then Skids, their unit's theoretician who also would moonlight as the squad's psychologist if the situation required it, took the plunge and pulled from a reservoir of courage no one knew he had. He went to talk to with Sideswipe.
And what he found out was probably the most terrifying thing of all.
Sideswipe probably didn't even know Sunstreaker was dead.
And once that bit of knowledge reached the masses everyone became even more terrified of coming into contact with the lonely twin. While there were many Autobots who would have liked to have been there for the red soldier, no one wanted to be the one who said the wrong thing. No one wanted to be the one who brought up the wrong memory when there was the potential that it could completely disintegrate Sideswipe's physical well being. No one wanted to accidentally make him relive what happened in that battle against Six Shot in fear that having to relive something like that would be nightmarish and horrible enough to kill the soldier. No one wanted to inadvertently be the one to push him off the brink.
So no one went to him. No one consoled him.
And Sideswipe hadn't asked about Sunstreaker's absence which was strange but no one questioned the seemingly good fortune.
Because no one wanted to be the one who was responsible for Sideswipe dying.
And it completely exploded in their faces anyway.
Because no one had known just how broken Sideswipe had been left in the wake of his loss. Not only did he not know what had happened he had completely fabricated a facsimile brother in a sense to cope. And left to his own devices, without any one to steer the flow of information or control how the events of that day were distributed to the melee warrior, Sideswipe could not have found out in a worse way.
And so color Ratchet surprised when Earth Shattering Trauma event number two also failed to kill Sideswipe.
It didn't make sense. Based on studies of past twins, one simply did not survive the other. Even when one died in a natural more peaceful manner that would still mean the surviving one would be quick to follow. Usually it would happen within the day.
Sunstreaker did not have a nice, clean death. He had been brutally murdered, his spark literally incinerated, and Sideswipe had been injured enough that his wounds alone should have done him in. But they hadn't. Losing Sunstreaker the first time hadn't either. Losing Sunstreaker a second time still failed to destroy the remaining twin.
It was breaking Ratchet.
"I understand that this next statement is lacking somewhat in tact," Prowl confessed, sounding a little rattled despite his best efforts to sound impassive, "But in light of these recent events does anyone know how we should proceed?"
No one had an answer.
Sideswipe had tried sitting up but the pull at his wrists and torso was preventing him.
He was strapped down.
"Sideswipe. Can you hear me?"
"No." Sideswipe paused then rethought his answer. "I mean yes."
"Could you please state your name and designation?"
"Autobot Sideswipe, mobile artillery soldier. Identification code S774-002." He responded robotically.
'Oh ha, ha.'
"I like sharp things, comic books and long walks on the beach," he elaborated.
"Sunstreaker doesn't like the beach. He thinks the seagulls are out to get him." A chuckle bubbled up from his vocalizer. Everything was airy and loose. He felt like he was floating. "He's a private first class mobile infantry unit. Identification code S774-001. That was supposed to be my code but Sunny was throwing a hissy fit over being second."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah. It's funny. People think we have the same job. We're both frontliners after all. Wanna know why he's classified as infantry while I'm artillery? You have to keep a secret though."
"Why?" the voice through the haze asked patiently.
"Cause I have enough hidden firepower in my subspace compartments to level half of Portland."
"You do?" the voice was actually startled by that.
Sideswipe let out a snort. "Yup. Or I did. Threw it all at Six Shot. Fat lot of help it did though. My brother still got killed and I couldn't do a damn thing."
He laughed again simply because he didn't know what else to do.
"Sunny's dead cuz of Six Shot," he cracked up again sounding borderline psychotic. "Seagulls can't get him now."
Sunny, Six Shot, Seagulls. Heh. Alliteration.
"Sideswipe. Do you know where you are?" The voice asked through the miasma.
Sideswipe did his best to focus on the voice. It was the only thing that sounded grounded amidst the fog of his existence.
Neural buffers were probably involved.
Pain killers were awesome.
"You're in medical."
"Oh. Do I have to be?"
"For the time being, that would be best," the voice answered.
"Ok," he said resignedly.
"I'm sorry, Sideswipe. Ratchet is going to start a stasis program so you can keep recharging."
"Asleep in the sand with the ocean washing over," Sideswipe mused.
"What was that?"
"Dream Brother. It's a song written by Jeff Buckley. I couldn't remember the guys name until now. He's dead you know."
"I wasn't aware."
"He drowned. Just like Sunny drowned in fire. They're both dead and nothing is going to bring them back no matter how hard my mind tries to make me think otherwise. "
"What are you waiting for, voice?" Sideswipe said with more sobriety than before. "I was going to 'sleep' right?"
The world shut off.
So Sideswipe was taken back to Medical. He was sedated, and strapped down as a precaution given the (un)questionable state of his mental health.
Once he woke up, long enough to have a bit of a brief, if not strange, conversation with First Aid. But he had been extremely out of it due to the neural buffers and Ratchet ran a command to send him back into recharge.
Ratchet ran every test he could think of on the soldier only for them to all come up and say the Red one was physically fine.
According to the results Sideswipe's body was perfectly repaired. His systems were up and running, his circulation system was still pumping a healthy charge through the heavy hitter's body, and his spark was still stable. Even his Primus damned cerebral cortex was reading as completely functional.
Ratchet just stared at the data pad detailing Sideswipe's condition with a hatred he usually reserved for the Decepticons. He looked over the Cybertronian glyphs several times in succession with the utmost loathing before pitching the offending thing clear across the room. He nearly took First Aid's head off but the medic in training, long since used to his boss's fits, had developed quite the reflexes over the years and was able to dodge without much effort or fanfare.
The pad hit the wall with a resounding crack and neatly split into two parts.
It. Did not. Make. Sense
Sideswipe was not fine. How could he have been? He apparently had been hallucinating his brother for over a week without anyone knowing. But nothing visible was damaged. Nothing tangible was wrong and that was making Ratchet furious.
Because Sideswipe was a broken thing but the wounds were not something Ratchet could fix. Sideswipe was mortally injured, enduring damage that was killing him, but it wasn't as simple as a broken system or a hemorrhaging fuel line. The damage was to his spark, to his soul. There was nothing Ratchet could do for this type of grave injury.
It would partly be up to Sideswipe whether he pulled through or not but Ratchet wasn't sure he trusted the younger one to be able to do that.
Grimly he meandered over to the broken pad and began collecting the pieces when a voice cut through his wallowing.
"Why didn't you just tell me?" Sideswipe's voice was cold, void of emotion.
Ratchet, bent over and caught mid reach to retrieve the data pad, went absolutely rigid.
Slowly he straightened and turned to face Sideswipe.
He must've just come back online. This was the second time but it appeared that he had a better grasp on his faculties from not being as bogged down by neural buffers.
Sideswipe's face was blank, fixated on the orange ceiling.
For a moment Ratchet didn't know what to say. But don't let it be said that he didn't learn from past mistakes. There would be no evading the problems any more. Sideswipe deserved directness at the very least.
"We thought you knew," Ratchet said honestly, matching Sideswipes deceptively even tone. "We thought you were coping. When you kept shutting down we thought it was simply the trauma you suffered from Six Shot. We didn't realize you were protecting yourself from the truth."
"I was acting like myself," Sideswipe choked out. "I was joking and annoying and you thought I knew that my brother was dead? How could you think I was so ok with that? How could you think I would act even remotely happy if I knew my twin was-?"
"Sideswipe, we didn't want to lose you too. When in the beginning you seemed fine we thought maybe you were handling everything better than we could've imagined but we didn't want to trigger anything that could jeopardize your health. But when we realized you didn't know we couldn't figure how..." He stopped to search for the words to better explain the situation but there were none.
"How to break it to me that Sunstreaker had his spark burned out of his body?" Sideswipe mumbled.
Ratchet had nothing to say to that. Silence reigned.
"You know," Sideswipe began voice still eerily placid, "Sunstreaker didn't want to go with me on that mission."
Ratchet marched over to the berth where Sideswipe was laid up and slammed a hand down next to Sideswipe's head.
Sideswipe didn't even flinch.
Barely restrained Ratchet snarled, "You glitch, don't you even dare of thinking of going down that road. The only one to blame for what happened to Sunstreaker is Six Shot and Six Shot alone. Be damned grateful your brother was there with you because if he wasn't you wouldn't be here."
"But," Sideswipe rationalized disturbingly serene, "If he didn't go, he'd be here."
The brief rush of anger that had surged in Ratchet, something he already was feeling a bit of regret in expressing to the hurting mech, completely dissolved out of him.
"I'm not sure he would, Sideswipe," Ratchet said softly, honestly. Truly, if the tables had been turned and the twin's places were reversed, would Sunstreaker be bizarrely persevering in the land of the living despite the odds? Or would the golden twin's spark have fizzled the moment Sideswipe's did as was the fate of all the twins' before them?
"He'd be here," Sideswipe grit caustically. "He'd be here for real. You should have told me."
"Sideswipe," Ratchet tried, sadly wondering just what the red twin was seeing.
He was interrupted.
"Neither I nor the voice in my head feel like speaking to you. Now if you would leave me with my crazy thoughts that would be greatly appreciated, Doctor," Sideswipe spat the last word with contempt.
Ratchet didn't bother defending himself. He simply got up and left.
A day ticked by. More tests were run. Sideswipe was unconscious for most of it but even when he wasn't he didn't speak to anybody. He just stared at the ceiling like it was the most fascinating thing in the world.
And test after test came back with the same results. That Sideswipe was perfectly healthy and fit for duty.
So Ratchet discharged him.
Without word he had undone the straps keeping Sideswipe on the berth and sent the young warrior back to his quarters.
Skids and Prowl had wanted to keep him under psychiatric watch but Ratchet just leveled them both with a look that could strip the paint off a chassis.
"His room is familiar. Maybe it'll do some good," Ratchet eventually explained though he wasn't sure of the truth behind those words. For all he knew being around anything that had the potential of reminding Sideswipe of Sunstreaker could set him off. But for some reason Ratchet didn't believe Sideswipe would go into a frothing rage again.
He didn't believe Sideswipe had it in him.
But some time after Sideswipe ambled out of the medical wing, and Ratchet began putting his things in order, he was approached by First Aid.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" First Aid asked quietly.
Exhaustedly Ratchet mumbled, "Keeping here won't make any difference."
"Oh. Well…" First Aid fidgeted. "But shouldn't we keep an eye on him? Don't you think his spark might be unstable?"
"Physically he's perfectly fine," was the insipid reply. "There's nothing more we can fix."
"But his mental state. Aren't you worried he might try to…" First aid trailed off looking a little ashamed by that train of thought. He lightly scuffed the floor with the tip of his ped.
Ratchet leveled First Aid with a flat look. Colorlessly he finished the thought. "To what? Kill himself?"
First Aid's head whipped up in alarm but he quickly did his best to look anywhere but at the Senior Medic. He quaverred, "Well I'm just saying that maybe he'll-"
"No." Ratchet curtly ended whatever clarification First Aid had been scrambling to come up with before it really began.
First Aid fretted, "Are you sure there's not even the slightest-"
A surprisingly assured, "Yes," was the return. With that Ratchet turned his back to the Protectobot and went about cleaning his tools.
For a moment First Aid just watched the other medic work. Ratchet hoped the other's instincts were telling him that Ratchet intended for the conversation to end there but alas the other soldiered on. After a moment, against better judgment, First Aid timidly asked, "How can you be so certain?"
Ratchet placed both of his hands wide apart on the table's edge, a tool still in one of them making a clink as it hit the expanse of metal. He let his head drop and let out a long sigh. Sounding drained, and without turning to face First Aid he explained, "Because Sideswipe won't destroy what's left of Sunstreaker."
"He is. But Sideswipe's not." Ratchet straightened and resumed wiping down the forceps he had been holding before setting them neatly on the table.
For a few moments longer nothing else was said.
"I don't understand," First Aid finally conceded.
"Sideswipe is Sideswipe. But Sideswipe is also Sunstreaker. And Sideswipe will not harm what's left of his brother." He picked up another tool, they looked like pliers and began running a cloth over them despite his mind being elsewhere. "On the field, when Sideswipe's spark was red, while it was collapsing, do you know what I think made it stabilize?"
"I said Sunstreaker's name," he mused.
"And I think that some part of Sideswipe realized that if he died, nothing would hurt Sunstreaker more. He realized that if he let himself go, that would truly be the end of his brother as well. "
Ratchet was motionless, the cloth was still pressed against the pliers but no action was made beyond that.
"And I'm thinking Sideswipe loves life. He loves life with such ferocity that he's defying all logic to stay alive. I think subconsciously he's doing everything in his power to adapt to this situation to survive. But he's not just doing it for himself you see. He's doing it for Sunstreaker too."
First Aid had nothing to say to that.
"So do I think if left to his own devices Sideswipe will kill himself? The answer is no."
He set the pliers down.
"If he dies it won't be because of that."
The conversation ended there.
There was nothing left to say.
Sideswipe liked Greek Mythology.
Something about the fantastical tales of Ancient human gods fascinated him.
It all started when he accidently ran into the Parthenon in Greece, completely obliterating one of its walls. Apparently the building had really crappy luck because that was the second time it had been partially destroyed. First time was in some war way back when, when the invading army thought it would be a great idea to store all of their explosive artillery in it but that's getting off topic.
Point is, while he was forced to help with the reconstruction, some really old French archeologist overseeing the project would tell stories of the ancient Greek mythos. Nothing like sharing your planets cultures to those from other worlds (Especially when they didn't have a choice in the matter.)
Thing was, Sideswipe had fun listening to the old French dude. The man was extremely passionate about the subject and a great storyteller. And the more time he spent in Greece, the less time he had to actually do military work back at his base.
That was several months ago. When he finally finished rebuilding the Parthenon Sideswipe had gotten Perceptor to download a whole cache of the ancient stories onto his personal data pad and had a blast reading them all for three days straight when he was assigned to restrictive duty by Prowl.
He never was much of a reader, but those human stories were just so outlandish and fun. There were tales of winged horses, Minotaurs, fawns, monstrous humans with snakes for hair, haughty gods that were always at odds with each other and fought by meddling in the affairs of humans, tales of heroism in the cases of Perseus and Hercules while there was tragedy in the stories of Antigone and Pandora. These myths had everything: drama, romance, humor, and violence. It was awesome.
There was one story though that Sideswipe remembered a little better than the others.
It was the story of Prometheus. He was a wily Titan who stole fire from the head honcho god Zeus and gave said fire to the mortal humans. This didn't go over well with Zeus. Zeus caught the Titan and punished him for the crime he had committed against the gods. Prometheus was bound to a rock doomed to forever be killed by a great eagle that ate his liver. Only his death would never be permanent. For every day he would come back to life and his liver would grow back only to be eaten again the next day.
Sideswipe felt like Prometheus.
Not in the sense that he had stolen a metaphorical fire from a metaphorical Zeus or anything.
It was Prometheus's fate he felt akin to.
Every waking moment he was in agony, feeling like he had his own giant eagle of despair killing him. Not by eating his liver though. Obviously he didn't have one of those.
No, everyday it ate his spark.
And everyday Sideswipe would awake functioning, against all odds.
It had been two days since Sideswipe finally realized what happened to his brother and he had pretty much hunkered down in his room.
A few mechs had finally, finally tried talking to him. They would knock on his door and try to speak with him but all were ignored . There were a couple of apologies said outside his door that he could hear and condolences but he couldn't tell you who said them.
He didn't care anymore. He didn't want to see anyone anymore. He felt like even if he was around other people it would never overcome the complete isolation he was feeling.
It was bad. You knew it had to be bad since the command element left him alone. No Prowl breathing down his neck over all of his missed work shifts. No Ironhide lecturing the young bot for ceasing to contribute anything to the war effort. Even Ratchet left him alone. He was sure Red Alert had him on tabs just in case he went on a rampage.
He barely had the energy to get up.
Huddled in the farthest corner of his room he sat there. The smell of gun oil, acrylic and mint julep was no longer a comfort but merely another constant reminder of what he had lost. He had been sitting there so long he wondered when he would start rusting into the wall. He just didn't have the motivation to move.
Sunstreaker was gone.
Sunstreaker was gone.
Sunstreaker was gone.
There it was again. There tearing at his spark. The eagle was coming to feast on his misery.
Maybe it would be permanent this time.
"Sideswipe," someone said.
He didn't acknowledge them.
With dead optics Sideswipe looked up.
Sunstreaker was looking down at him. His brother took a couple careful steps forward to be in front of Sideswipe.
But it wasn't really Sunstreaker. It was a mockery of his brother, a phantom created by his own heartbreak and misery. It was all in his head.
Not real. Not reality.
If he reached out to touch his brother, to tap him on the shoulder, or touch his cheek nothing would be there. It would be like communicating with one of Hound's holograms.
"This isn't like you."
Fake Sunstreaker, for all his efforts, was ignored.
Silence oozed through the room like a thick murky fog. Its presence was blaringly obvious to everyone.
Well to Sideswipe anyway. Sunstreaker wasn't really in the room. Nope it was just crazy Sideswipe with his crazy hallucinated bro.
Maybe you should listen to yourself.
Oh. And the voice in his head was back. As Sunstreaker would say, fan-tucking-fastic.
Fake Sunny was a lot more patient than real dead Sunny because usually at this point he'd get pissed off at Sideswipe's wallowing and smack him over the head. Fake Sunny simply dropped to his haunches and sighed. He gave Sideswipe a look.
"Sideswipe," he said more sternly.
"I know," Sideswipe mumbled listlessly. "I don't need a figment of my imagination to point it out."
"Apparently you do. If you didn't, you'd get through your seven steps of grief, get off your ass, and go do something productive."
"Shut up!" Sideswipe snarled with more spirit then he had in while. "You have no right to tell me how to feel! My brother is dead! I have a right to mourn!"
"Mourn? Mourning is sharing stories of the good times with those idiodic friends of yours in remembrance. You're letting this whole thing consume you!"
Sideswipe wanted to deck him so badly, but refrained only since it wouldn't work on something not real.
"Thing? You call this a thing! YOU'RE DEAD! A PART OF ME IS DEAD! I SHOULD BE DEAD!"
The False Sunstreaker moved as quickly and fierce as the real one had ever and slammed his hands on either side of Sideswipe's head. His face was uncomfortably close, optics glittering with rage. It seemed so real. It almost fooled Sideswipe into believing it really was his brother.
Yet despite knowing that this shadow of his brother couldn't do anything to him, that all he had to do was simply walk past and through the phantom of his mind to get away, he couldn't move. He stayed where he was.
"Don't," Sunstreaker breathed, "ever say that. You should not be dead. Don't you dare make what I did for you mean nothing or I swear to Primus I will kill your ass in the afterlife."
"But it shouldn't have been you," Sideswipe's voice cracked ever so slightly. "He wasn't aiming at you."
"We were both going to die, Sideswipe."
That did sound a lot like Sunstreaker. The mech was always brutally honest.
"Even if I didn't save you I was going to die. He was stronger than me. I never could have beaten him on my own and he wouldn't have stopped until I was deactivated. He only did because he thought we were both dead. "
"Primus, now you really don't sound like him," Sideswipe snorted bitterly. "He'd never admit someone was better than him."
"No," Sunstreaker snapped. "He is not better than me. He is not better than us. Don't give that bastard the satisfaction of killing us both. As long as you live he failed."
The fake Sunstreaker dropped his arms but remained in front of his sibling.
"Do you remember back in the day when we were little?"
"We were never little in any sense of the term."
"Fine, when we were younger you ass. Stop interrupting."
Sideswipe only drew his knees in closer to his chest.
"When we were younger (there you happy?) you had an identity crisis," Fake Sunstreaker explained.
"So did you," Sideswipe retorted.
"Not as bad as yours."
"You were worried that we were the same mech. That there was no you. That you were just a copy of me or something ridiculous like that."
Sideswipe did not confirm nor deny the statement.
"Well in a way you were right," false Sunstreaker conceded, " but you were also wrong."
"We're separate. We're individuals. We always have been. But at the same time we're the same. We aren't just halves. It's more like we're each one and a half. We're ourselves but we have a piece of each other too."
"I don't understand. And you, apparently, suck at math because that equals three and last I checked we don't have a triplet. Unless Red Alert's not telling us something," Sideswipe said with a glimmer of his usual snark but then he frowned.
This wasn't his brother. He would not let himself be pulled into the illusion again.
Fake Sunny stood, placed his hands on his canted hips, and was looking severely annoyed. "Look here you clodpoll, I'm trying to explain a really complicated, intangible concept and you're not exactly making it easy. All I'm trying to say is that you're my back up file. Everything I was and know is in you."
"Everything you were?" Sideswipe choked out a short mirthless laugh. He stood and got in the figments face. He pointed an accusing finger and jabbed it at the phantom just short of touching. "You are not my brother. You are a figment of my damned imagination! And that means you have to do what I say. Now GO AWAY!"
Fake Sunstreaker just stared.
"You were lying to me!" Sideswipe screamed. "You made me think you were really him!"
"I've never lied to you," The illusion of Sunstreaker said coldly. "You've been lying to yourself."
And then he was gone.
And then Sideswipe slumped back against the wall face in his hands. And he wondered why was it that even when he was technically dead and was being imagined up by Sideswipe's crazy head, that Sunstreaker still managed to be smarter than him.