Six Months After the Verdict:

The laser blast slammed into Prowl's chest. He grunted, systems alerts and warnings flaring. His rifle slipped from his hands, clattering to the dirt, and as Prowl pitched forward, the last sight he saw before he slipped offline was Soundwave standing over his body, rifle clutched in his hands, staring down at him.

Figures, Prowl thought.

Two Weeks after the Verdict:

Life on the Ark rolled forward deceptively calmly despite the shocking nature of the verdict at the tribunal. For the most part, the crew didn't speak of it, and instead, everyone defaulted to operating as if there weren't two unspeakable goliaths living on board their ship.

Jazz and Soundwave kept to their shared quarters – Jazz's quarters – and stayed out of the crews' way. Prime requested information from Soundwave several days after the verdict, information on the Decepticons and their unexpected flight from Earth. Soundwave agreed to provide what he could when he could, but he refused to take up arms against his former comrades.

One week after the verdict, there had been a mild anxiety attack of full battle station proportions as two Decepticons signals honed into the Ark, flying at their perimeter with speed. Alerts blared, the squads were assembled, and the entire contingent rolled out to meet what turned out to be the disheveled duo of Ravage and Laserbeak, huddled in the dust and the dirt, underpowered, raggedly looking, and begging for Soundwave.

Soundwave and Jazz emerged then, racing to the Ark entrance at the first word of the cassettes. Red Alert and Ironhide were hesitant, not ready to let Soundwave near his symbionts, but Prime gave the final word, and Jazz and Soundwave knelt down in the dirt and scooped both up, carrying them to the medbay for Ratchet to check on. Energon rehydration and some recharge later, and Jazz's quarters increased by two.

It had been awkward, seeing Jazz cradle Ravage in his arms. Jazz hadn't met any mechs' gaze as he returned to the Ark with their brood.

It was another week, however, before Jazz dared venture to the Command Deck. It was mid-morning, past the shift change, and Prime and Prowl were in Prime's office, looking over an aerial recon map of the former known Decepticon strategic locations. Jazz was escorted in by Ironhide, the weapon's specialist grouchy and irritable and staring too-hard at Jazz.

"Thank you, Ironhide," Prime had said pointedly, dismissing Ironhide as Jazz stood uneasy in the center of Prime's office.

For Prowl, it was the first time he'd been able to see Jazz since the tribunal. He stared him over, peering at the changes. Jazz's Autobot sigil was gone, removed, and in its place, just to the right of his chestplate seams, were the carved and etched impressions of Soundwave's name scrawled in Cybertronian glyphs. It was an old tradition, dating back to early Cybertron, the vertical columns of glyphs the sign of mated and bonded status. There was no denying their love now.

"You wanted to speak to me, Jazz?" Prime was as polite as ever.

Jazz nodded, trying to speak. "Yes," he grunted. "I'd like to ask-" He shifted again. "I'd like to ask permission for Soundwave and I to… go. Go away for a few days. Spend some time alone, off the Ark." They hadn't had any time to themselves, really, since everything had begun. He needed time and space, freedom to be with Soundwave, to learn him inside and out. They needed to be away from the Ark, for just a little while.

Prime and Prowl stared at Jazz, then at each other. "You want to take a vacation?" Prime clarified, trying for levity.

Jazz nodded, chewing on his lip. "We can wear monitor beacons. You can track our comms, make sure we're not calling the Deceptions, watch where we are, see if anyone makes contact with us." He sighed. "We just want to go away for a while. Disappear. Be together."

Prowl spoke first. "Makes sense," he said, his doorwings straightening crisply. "I think spending time together would do you both a world of good." He nodded to Prime, his vote of assent.

Prime's optic ridges arched, but he turned to Jazz and nodded as well. "You both may go," he said. "But we will want to know details of your planned trip and where you will be. Exact times of departure and your expected return."

Jazz nodded, a tight smile crossing his face. "Understood," he said softly. "Thank you."

Jazz chose to take him and Soundwave camping, of all things. They headed out that weekend, disappearing into the wilderness north of the border, miles and miles from anyone or anything. Prime decided not to fit them with audial monitoring beacons, but did request they activate their locator and sensor beacons. They'd know, if anyone came by. Prowl stayed out of it as much as he could, focusing instead on the day to day duties that the Ark had slipped back into. Still, as Friday drew to a close, Prowl found himself obsessively checking the weather for those forest coordinates, checking up on the conditions over the coming days, and rechecking the beacons again and again.

Sideswipe's interruption, when it came in the evening, was a welcome one.

"Hey." Sideswipe's helm pushed into his office as he leaned in from the corridor. "Whatcha doin'?"

Before, Prowl would tolerate Sideswipe's presence as he continued to work. Now, he smiled as he focused his whole attention to the red twin. "I need to get out of here," he chuckled.

"That's convenient!" Sideswipe slid into Prowl's office, still smiling. "Cause I have a place to go." Prowl's optic ridges rose. "There's this street art show in downtown Portland tonight, and Sunstreaker is taking Bluestreak. However," Sideswipe grinned, rocking back and forth. "There's also a 'Shakespeare in the Park' play happening, too, just around the corner. I was wondering if you wanted to come with me?" Sideswipe bounced on his feet, his body twisting back and forth as he smiled. "Just as friends," he amended, his voice light.

"Sunstreaker is taking Bluestreak, huh?" Prowl asked. He peered at Sideswipe. "How are those two doing?"

"Good." Sideswipe nodded. "Moving slow. Starting at the beginning, finally." He shook his helm. "Getting to know one another."

Prowl murmured as his optic ridges flicked upward, once. "What a concept," he quipped. The weather alert for the Canadian forest chirped on his terminal screen. He glanced down at it, sighing. "What time does the Shakespeare start?"

"8:30. We'd have to leave soon to get there on time." Sideswipe bit his lip, trying to hold back his smile. His optics were shining.

Prowl offlined his terminal and stood. "Well then, we don't have any time to waste." He couldn't help it; he smiled back at Sideswipe's beaming grin.

Unbelievably, Prowl loved every moment. The park was cool, the grass soft, and the Shakespeare superb. Even the crowd was welcoming to the giant robots hovering in the back. Halfway through the play, Sunstreaker and Bluestreak wandered over, joining them on the lawn. Bluestreak leaned against Sunstreaker effortlessly, relaxing against his shoulder as Sunstreaker causally slung his arm around Bluestreak. It was a milestone for them.

Perhaps the best part of the evening were the small, shy smiles that Prowl caught Sideswipe tossing his way throughout the play. It warmed his spark, as tortured as it was. Oh, to be loved, to be cherished. It was a delicious thought, a welcome reprieve. He so wanted to be loved, and Sideswipe's affection was magnetic. It was also a danger, one Prowl was keen to recognize. He wanted, very much, to heal, but not at the expense of another. He cared too much for Sideswipe to use him in any way, and if something were to develop there, it would have to be slow. Prowl couldn't stomach the thought of running into Sideswipe's arms only to have to run away again. He was tired, too tired of all of that. He had to heal first, then work on figuring out his feelings for the red twin.

What he knew of for certain was that he owed Sideswipe his life and his entire soul.

And Prowl was healing, albeit slowly. The rage had left, but not the hurt. The pain lingered, catching him at odd points throughout the day. Night was hardest, when he was alone in the quarters that he and Jazz had effectively lived in together. Thoughts of Jazz and Soundwave holed up in Jazz's quarters plagued his thoughts, keeping him awake, and he spent more time sitting up in the dark, thinking, than he'd ever done before.

While it was slow, his healing was happening.

Sideswipe brightened his days, making a point to check in on him every day. Their banter returned, easy and comfortable. It was relaxing, to fall back into the old routines. And welcome. Very welcome.

Jazz and Soundwave returned from their camping trip silently, slipping back into their quarters without fanfare or ado. The trip helped, in many ways. Jazz hadn't ever had to truly be with Soundwave, not in the ways that he'd had to be with Prowl. They hadn't lived together, shared space, shared berths, shared lives. It was different, conducting a love affair, than it was to build a life together. Jazz was discovering new things every day: Soundwave recharged lightly and onlined early. He held Jazz throughout the entire night, arms holding him close. He was quiet at odd times during the day, retreating to a solitude within his mind. Jazz was quiet too, lost in thoughts and memories and judgments, and he appreciated the silence of just sitting close. There were ghosts in their lives now, haunting their actions, and Jazz couldn't escape that.

Ghosts clung close to Jazz especially, pulling on his spark.

One week later, Prowl found himself browsing the art show listings, looking through the plays and performances for the summer concert series in downtown Portland and wondering what Sideswipe would enjoy seeing, or not Bluestreak and Sunstreaker would tag along.

One Month after the Verdict:

"It's just going to be a small get together," Sideswipe insisted, leaning over Prowl's desk. "They just need to unwind a bit. You know, with everything." He shrugged, not mentioning Jazz or Soundwave.

"This 'small get together' won't involve high grade, will it?" Prowl arched his optic ridges at Sideswipe as he straightened his data pads on his desk.

"Only a tiny bit, to take the edge off. There won't be any craziness." Sideswipe smiled. "I promise, Prowl." Prowl's optics narrowed as he regarded Sideswipe suspiciously. "Please come?"

"I'll think about it." Prowl fixed Sideswipe with a dry stare, but a smile curved up his lips. "When is this party?"

"Tomorrow night. Nine o'clock." Sideswipe grinned again, pushing himself back from Prowl's desk. "I'll meet you then? Should I pick you up here or at your quarters?"

"Here." Prowl turned back to his terminal. "But I haven't agreed to come."

"Of course not."

"Do I need to bring anything? I know how much you ruffians love your games." Prowl stole a sidelong glance to Sideswipe.

"Nope. Just you." Sideswipe beamed, turning to leave. "See you tomorrow! It will be fun, I promise!"

Nine o'clock the next night found Sideswipe and Prowl outside of Smokescreen's quarters, buzzing for entrance. Sideswipe had been hustled down the corridor only moments before by Prowl, waiting outside his office at precisely nine. "We can't be late now, can we Sideswipe?" he'd said, tsking over Sideswipe's late arrival at just barely nine. Sideswipe, good naturedly, played along.

They were still joking and bickering as the doors to Smokescreen's quarters slid open. Their voices stopped instantly, shorting in shock.

"Hey guys!" Trailbreaker boomed, slouched against the doorjamb. Behind him, Sunstreaker and Bluestreak were ensconced on the small couch, Bluestreak sitting in Sunstreaker's lap with his arms around the golden twin's neck. Hound and Mirage were at the table, piles of empty high grade shots spread between them. Hound already had his goofy grin plastered over his face and Mirage was acting more haughty than usual. Tracks sat at the table as well, ignoring everyone. Smokescreen was kneeling on the floor, his helm titled up as Bumblebee hands and poured a long, unending stream of energon from a homemade ultra-cube into Smokescreen's waiting mouth. By the angle of the ultra-cube, Prowl guessed Smokescreen's had already chugged a good portion of the high grade.

And, by the hue of the energon, Wheeljack had restarted his sill.

Prowl turned dry optics to Sideswipe. Sideswipe was flabbergasted. "What the slag!" he called. "Guys!"

Trailbreaker grinned, turning to cheer Smokescreen on. "Yeah, babe!" he called. He turned back to the new arrivals as he swept his arms over Smokescreen's quarters. "Welcome to the party!"

Prowl stepped in first, tossing a wry look back at Sideswipe. Sideswipe stared after Prowl, his mouth dropping open. "It'd be rude to leave now," Prowl smirked. He accepted a cube of high grade Mirage slid his way with a small nod of thanks and gestured for Sideswipe to join him at the table. Smokescreen grunted, swallowing the last of the high grade from the ultra-cube and pumped his fists into the air as the rest of the mechs broke into cheers.

"Who's next!" Smokescreen shouted. "Time to let loose!"

Several hours later found them all sipping high grade at the table, deep in a game of highly competitive, fiercely fought Go Fish. Prowl had two empty cubes next to him, same as Sideswipe, and they were playing opposite each other. Most mechs had tapped out, and only Trailbreaker was still fighting.

Prowl glared over his cards at Sideswipe. "Go fish."

Sideswipe grinned and drew a card, then triumphantly placed several down in the discard pile. Prowl glared harder.

"Man, I'm out," Trailbreaker mumbled, dropping his cards. "I can't win this." He scooted back from the table, nursing his high grade cube. The only two left to play were Sideswipe and Prowl, still glaring at each other over the pile of discarded cards and the betting pool – another ultra-cube. Smokescreen stood behind Trailbreaker, his hands stroking over his lover's shoulders. Hound and Mirage stood behind Prowl and Sideswipe respectively, and Sunstreaker had his arms wrapped around Bluestreak's waist as they stood half-watching and half-necking.

"Don't you know, Sides," Smokescreen drawled, high grade in his voice. "That it's bad luck to gamble against your crush?"

Hoots and hollers went up around the table as Sideswipe's optics flared. He refused to break his hold on Prowl's gaze, instead shifting and wriggling in his seat. Prowl didn't react at all.

"What, was that a secret?" Smokescreen laughed, overcharged. "Sides, you're so painfully obvious about it!"

Smooching noises echoed around the room as Prowl played his next hand. "Damn!" Sideswipe handed the requested cards over, and Prowl laid his down, winning the game. Cheers rose again, the congratulations and heckles of Sideswipe continuing.

Prowls' optics twinkled as he dragged the ultra-cube across the table, clutching it in both hands. "Whatcha gonna do with that, Prowl?" Trailbreaker asked, teasing. "Keep it as a trophy?"

"I was thinking of drinking it," Prowl replied, teasing in his own way. "But not alone." He turned his laughing optics to Sideswipe. "Sideswipe, care to join me?"

More hoots and hollers as Sideswipe rose, but as the red twin passed Smokescreen he reached out and smacked as his plating, punching him in the shoulders until Smokescreen surrendered. Sideswipe slid into the seat next to Prowl with a smile as Prowl tossed his arm over the back of Sideswipe's chair and slid the cube toward him. They shared a small smile as Smokescreen started up another game, this one involving shots of high grade, and the rest of the evening passed in blur of laughter. Prowl kept his drinking to a minimum, and noticed that Sideswipe was doing the same. When one o'clock rolled around, they were the only ones able to keep their feet as they slipped out of Smokescreen's quarters.

"I am so sorry!" Sideswipe gasped, chuckling. "I had no idea they were planning all of that!"

Prowl laughed, loud and clear. "It's alright, Sides," he said, shaking his helm. "I think they needed it." Sideswipe smiled back as they walked the short distance to Sideswipe's quarters.

"I had fun," Sideswipe said softly.

"Me too," Prowl agreed. He was tired, but he was, unbelievably, happy.

"About their teasing…" Sideswipe trailed off, biting his lip. "About what they said."

"Don't worry about it." Prowl smiled, slapping at Sideswipe's door panel. "See you tomorrow?"

One and a Half Months after the Verdict:

Prowl walked into the Rec Room and stopped dead in his tracks.

The crew was clustered on one side, huddled around tables and their morning cubes of energon with hushed words and quiet whispers and dark looks thrown across to the other side of the room. A great distance, empty, separated the crew from the lone mech sitting in a corner table, entirely alone, nursing his cube of energon.


Prowl stared for a long moment before he grabbed his energon from the dispenser and slowly made his way to Soundwave's table. What had possessed the Decepticon to come to the Rec Room? And where was Jazz? The crew fell deathly silent as Prowl drew close to Soundwave's table. Primus, but he'd known that he was going to have to take the lead in this.

"Good morning," Prowl said stiffly. His doorwings flared.

"Greeting," Soundwave replied awkwardly.

"Where is Jazz?" Prowl frowned down at Soundwave, taking in the tired features and harsh grip on his cube.

"Recharging," Soundwave grunted. "Recharge: difficult for Jazz. Last night: especially difficult."

Prowl's frown deepened. "Why is he having problems recharging?"

Soundwave's helm tilted as he stared at Prowl, silent. His gaze said enough. Prowl sighed, shifting on his feet. "You may sit," Soundwave finally said, though it came out as a strangled question, a half-plea and half-command.

Prowl slid the chair out and sat down, stiff. He turned halfway toward Soundwave, clutching his own cube in both hands on the table. They were perfect mirrors of each other, uncomfortable and tense. The crew stared unabashedly.

"So," Prowl said after a moment. "How is everything?"

"Difficult," Soundwave answered quietly. "Present concerns: Jazz's well-being."

That piqued Prowl's attention, and he hated that it did so. "Oh?" He sipped his cube, trying for nonchalant.

"Jazz: depressed," Soundwave said. His gaze shifted as he swallowed. "Miserable."

"And why is that?" Prowl's emotions warred within, genuine concern mixed with petty victory, lording over Jazz's unhappiness with the life he'd chosen. His spark, fragile though it was, won out, and concern trumped his darkness. "What's wrong?"

A heavy sigh from Soundwave. "Jazz: isolates himself."

Prowl frowned. It was an astute observation from Soundwave. He hadn't expected as much. Then again, Soundwave and Jazz were bonded. That had to mean Soundwave knew at least something about Jazz, right? "What are you doing here?"

Another pause. "Attempting to…" Soundwave frowned, picking at his cube. "Engage in associations. Attempting to make his associations easier." Soundwave looked away.

Prowl inhaled, and in the background, Sideswipe tore into the Rec Room, summoned by the crew. Sideswipe froze, staring at Prowl and Soundwave as his optics boggled and his mouth dropped open. Prowl's optics narrowed as he peered at Soundwave carefully.

"Tell me, Soundwave, have you ever played Levels?"

"I cannot believe you played levels with Soundwave!" Sideswipe followed after Prowl, stalking him through the Ark's corridors. "You won't even play Levels with me!"

"I was trying to be nice," Prowl said simply.

"You played Levels. With Soundwave."


"When do we get to play Levels?"

Prow stopped, turning to face Sideswipe as they drew near to the Ark's entrance. His lines were flaming, his plating prickling. He'd spent the entire morning with Soundwave, putting aside work as he played Levels with the former Decepticon until Jazz himself had appeared, stunned and speechless, chasing after his lover. The crew watched as well, mumbling and dazed. Soundwave finally left with Jazz after a formal and stiff, yet spark-deep, thanks to Prowl. It seemed uneasy on his glossa though, as if gratitude were an emotion not often, or ever, expressed.

"Let's drive," Prowl said. His optics flashed. "Let's just go."

They went. Far and fast. It was much better than Levels.

The next day, Soundwave appeared again, and Prowl was ready with his game board. Jazz arrived later, hovering in the background and unwilling to participate. Prowl stayed for several rounds before heading to his duties and Soundwave returned to his quarters with a silent and pensive Jazz.

The fifth day, Prowl asked Soundwave about helping the Autobots tactically and providing intelligence on his former comrades. Soundwave agreed. Jazz was still silent.

That night, Prowl appeared at Sideswipe's door, bearing his Levels board and his won ultra-cube of high grade. A wry smile, and then they were playing, laughing softly as they let the day melt away.

Two Months after the Verdict:

Prowl turned up at Sideswipe's door again, bearing a game controller and a dubious expression. "Bluestreak loaned me this."

Grinning, Sideswipe dragged Prowl inside and guided him to the couch. "Awesome," he said. "Let's play Mario Carts. It will be an easy one to learn on."

Hours later, Bluestreak and Sunstreaker returned to the twins' quarters to much shouting, cursing, and laughter, Prowl and Sideswipe battling it out over Mario Karts. Prowl's arms were waving through the air, driving his car with his controller as Sideswipe swerved his princess avatar effortlessly through the desert racetrack.

"How are you - Slag!" Prowl swerved, flipping his Yoshimobile over. "I'm upside down again?"

Sideswipe giggled, leaning close to Prowl's shoulder as he lapped his spinning Yoshimobile. "Looks like!"

"Hey guys," Bluestreak grinned. "Having fun?"

"Yes!" Sideswipe shouted, exactly as Prowl grumbled, "No."

He stayed at Sideswipe's side, playing until he won a race at two in the morning. Sideswipe may have let him win, but it was worth it for the victorious smile and the happy light in Prowl's optics, and the way they sat side by side, touching from their shoulder to their feet.

Two and a Half Months After the Verdict:

"Opera in the Park. Tosca is playing. Wanna go?"

"The Portland Music Festival?"


"Pick you up at 6?"

"See you then."

Three Months after the Verdict:

"Jazz. You must drink energon."

"I don't need it."

"Jazz: underpowered."

"I feel fine…."

"…Jazz: lying."


"Jazz: I am worried."

Four Months after the Verdict:

It was a stupid and forgotten land mine, an army leftover from long ago training that got the twins next.

Since the Decepticon withdrawal, there hadn't been any accidents, no trips to the medbay, no grievous injuries. It had been peaceful, even, though everyone was on eggshells, waiting for the Decepticons' return. Soundwave was providing as much intel as he could, working at times with Jazz in the back of the Command Deck as they worked to decipher the tiny threads of intelligence they could find.

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker were on a lazy drive, racing in the backcountry when an old land mine, forgotten by time, exploded in their path. Sunstreaker flew forward, Sideswipe backward, twisted metal and mangled joints burning. Skyfire brought them home to Ratchet, who whisked them into surgery.

Prowl stood vigil outside the medbay with Bluestreak. The gunner was barely holding himself together, shaking and trembling and sure that his darkest nightmares were coming true.

"This is terrible," Bluestreak whispered. "How can you stand it? I can't take this. I don't want to be here." Bluestreak shuddered.

"Stay," Prowl whispered. "It makes all the difference in the world."

Hours later, when Sunstreaker onlined and saw Bluestreak sitting by his medberth holding his hand, the light in his optics and the smile that broke over his face made everything worth it. Bluestreak flew into his arms, hugging him too-hard for his delicate injuries. Sunstreaker didn't care at all.

Sideswipe onlined a moment later, in tandem with his brother. As usual, he was loopy, and he stared at Prowl with blitzed optics, dazed with wonder. "Prowl," he mumbled, reaching for his hand. "Hey…."

"Hey yourself," Prowl whispered. He squeezed Sideswipe's hand. "How are you feeling?"

"Now that you're here? Fan-tastic." Sideswipe held Prowl's hand as he drifted back into recharge.

He awoke later, Prowl still at his side reading a data pad. Sunstreaker's berth was empty.

"Where's Sunny?" Sideswipe's held lolled to the side. He was still drugged, still loopy.

"He left earlier with Blue." Prowl smiled down at Sideswipe again. "You were still out of it."

"Ratchet likes to overdose me, I think," Sideswipe whispered conspiratorially. "He likes it when I'm offline."

Prowl smirked. "I'm sure he does."

Sideswipe was allowed to leave shortly after, but he was still woozy on his feet. "Whoa," he whispered as he stood, swaying wildly. Prowl steadied him, wrapping his arm around Sideswipe's waist. Sideswipe leaned into the touch.

"To your quarters," Prowl said, his voice firm.

Sideswipe made a face. "Blue and Sunny are gonna be there," he whined. "And I don't want listen to their 'I love you more,' 'No, no, I love you more' talk any more." Prowl snorted. "Primus, you should hear them!" Sideswipe groaned.

"Where do you want to go, then?"

Sideswipe shrugged. "Rec Room? I'll just hang out for a while." As he spoke, he stumbled, almost losing his footing. He giggled breathlessly and struggled to catch his footing.

Prowl stared at him. "You're not fit for public."

"Aren't you 'public?'" Sideswipe waggled his optics ridges.

"No, I'm Prowl." Prowl steered Sideswipe down a different hallway. "And you need your rest."

"I'm not tired!" Sideswipe protested, even as his energy was falling, his engine quieting. "I don't want to go back to my quarters."

"You're not." Prowl steered the petulant twin to his own quarters, pausing to slap open the door.

Sideswipe peered at the unfamiliar surroundings. "Where are we?" He curled up his nose, frowning.

"My quarters."

Sideswipe whipped his helm around, unsteadying his footing, and he stumbled sideways. "What?" Prowl had to grab his hands to keep him on his feet.

Prowl backed him up, guiding him toward the berth. "Rest, Sideswipe."

Sideswipe's hands were flailing and he stumbled as Prowl gently mech-handled him to the berth. "Prowl, wait a minute," he stuttered, speaking fast. "I mean, this is something I've fantasized about for a long time, but don't you think this is a bit fast? We haven't even gone on a date yet." Sideswipe grunted as Prowl pushed him onto the berth, pressing on his shoulders until he sat, flopping down. Sideswipe pitched to the side immediately, falling limp with exhaustion. "We haven't kissed or anything, haven't even held hands-"

"You've fantasized about the two of us?" Prowl's optics rose as he helped Sideswipe straighten his kicking legs on his berth.

"Slag yeah," Sideswipe grinned. His optics were darkening. "Who wouldn't? Frag, you're sexy, Prowl. I fantasize about you all the time." Sideswipe grinned again, though his optics kept darkening.

"One day you'll have to tell me about these fantasies." Prowl pressed his hand to Sideswipe's chest as he stood at the berthside, looking down fondly. "Recharge, Sideswipe. You need it."

"No I don't." Sideswipe fell offline a moment later.

Sighing, Prowl shook his helm, but he was smiling a familiar smile, one he was wearing a lot these days.

"What time is it?" The groan came from the berth hours later, grumbled and low.

Prowl looked up from his data pad, trying not to grin. "Early morning," he said. He stood, walking to the berth to stare down at Sideswipe. "How are you feeling?"

Sideswipe frowned. "Where am i?"

"My quarters."

Sideswipe gasped, freezing. Primus, how out of it had he been?

Prowl smiled and pushed Sideswipe back down. "Rest some more, Sideswipe," he said gently. "I've got to go on duty." It was almost time for his almost-but-not-quite-friendly liaisons with Soundwave. "Stay as long as you need." Prowl squeezed Sideswipe's shoulder and headed for the door.

"Oh, and Sideswipe?" He turned back at the last minute. "If you're feeling up to it, I'd like to take you on a date tonight. I think you made a very good point yesterday."

Prowl heard Sideswipe's processor crash.

Sideswipe was nervous plating and fidgeting fingers as he waited for Prowl outside the Ark that evening. Prowl had been mum on the details, but he'd asked to meet Sideswipe after sunset. Sideswipe had confirmed and clarified: it was a date. A real date. A date with Prowl.

Sunstreaker had been happy for him, in his own way, when Sideswipe came with the flustered news. A coat of wax and a pep talk later, Sideswipe wasn't feeling any less nervous.

Prowl simply smiled at Sideswipe as the red twin stumbled to his side, seemingly forgetting how to use his legs and feet. "Ready?" Prowl gestured to the road.

"Where are we going?"

"It's a surprise." Prowl dropped into his alt mode with a twinkling smile, revving his engine. Sideswipe followed, and off they went, driving for over an hour. They ended up at the top of a mountain, curving through the winding switchbacks and steep passes until they were above the cloudbank. Overhead, the night sky shone brilliantly, and as they pulled to a stop, Sideswipe could finally see their destination.

A gaggle of humans clustered around an impressive array of astronomy equipment, surrounded by bulging RV's and camper trailers. One man waved at Prowl lazily, familiar with the Autobot. "Hey Prowl," he called. "Clear night tonight."

Prowl gazed overhead, nodding. "Gorgeous," he whispered back. His words carried across the mountain, passing easily through the crisp night air. He turned to Sideswipe. "Welcome to the Oregon Astronomy Association." He smiled, and his optics reflected the starlight.

Introductions were passed around, Sideswipe meeting the small group of humans, and then they settled in, gazing at the sky and peering through the telescopes. Some were as big as they were, others too small for them to hold or use. Prowl worked with one of the women to calculate the orbit of Cybertron, and then they were peering into the sky, searching for their lost planet. Sideswipe saw the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter, and as the night wore on, the galactic arm, rising in the East.

"Wow," he whispered, sitting on the ground and leaning back. Prowl was next to him, shoulder to shoulder, their plating touching. "How many planets have you been to, Prowl?"

"A few." Prowl had led several expeditions for energy and resources to neighboring systems and planets. Most hadn't succeeded.

"This is the only planet I've been on besides home," Sideswipe whispered. "Tell me about other worlds?"

Prowl spoke quietly, telling Sideswipe of the different systems he'd seen, the planets, the few other races he'd met in their corner of the galaxy. Sideswipe was transfixed, hanging onto his every word, his optics glittering in the darkness.

"First one!" one of the men called out suddenly. "Watch for more! They'll be coming down tonight!"

"What is it?" Sideswipe stared at the sky.

"The Leonides. A meteor shower." Prowl spotted a streak of flame crossing the sky. "There. Did you see?" Sideswipe nodded, pointing out another.

"Don't forget to make a wish." Prowl gently bumped Sideswipe's shoulder, teasing him.

"What do I need to wish for?" Sideswipe grinned back at Prowl. "This is already a dream come true."

"Guess you don't want a good night kiss, then." Prowl gazed up at the sky as he smirked.

Instantly, Sideswipe was scanning the sky again. A meteor flared by a moment later, and he grinned, pointing it out. "Whew," he whispered. "Made my wish." They shared a long, gentle smile.

When they stumbled back to the Ark, exhausted and dirty from sitting on the ground, Prowl escorted Sideswipe back to his quarters. "Thank you for joining me," he said softly.

"I had a great time." Sideswipe swallowed. "I hope we can do that again."

"I want to." Prowl's optics burned into Sideswipe's. "I'd really like to."

Sideswipe's grin exploded, splitting his face. "Awesome," he whispered. He bit his lip again, sly. "How about my wish?" he asked, twisting lightly on his feet.

Chuckling, Prowl stepped close to Sideswipe. Their breaths intermingled, mixing together, and Prowl reached for Sideswipe's hand. He brought it up to his lips slowly and pressed a warm kiss to the center of his palm. "Thank you," Prowl breathed. "For everything."

Sideswipe tried to remember how to breathe as he stared into Prowl's optics. Prowl slowly lowered his hand, smiling, and turned to leave. Sideswipe watched him go before falling back against the bulkhead, a goofy grin spread across his face.

This was exactly what he'd always, always dreamed about.

Five Months after the Verdict:

Their first real kiss was almost a disaster, when it finally happened.

Their courtship was slow, very slow, and Sideswipe liked it that way. He'd dreamed of being with Prowl for so long that the reality of the experience was almost too much at times. He'd imagined passionate embraces, and fantasized about Prowl ravishing him after duty one day, when he just wanted him so badly he couldn't stand it. But now that they were actually dating, actually dancing around the subject itself, Sideswipe found that he was enjoying the slowness. The surety. The courtship. He was being pursued, in the most delicious way, by Prowl, of all mechs.

Prowl was courting him, formally, and that was just perfect for Sideswipe. The thought sent shocks throughout his body, leading to a slow burn, deep inside. Oh yes, he was loving everything about this.

Still, he wanted a kiss, a real kiss, and even though Prowl was treating him formally and with a respect Sideswipe had never seen, he still wanted – at times – to just let loose. For Prowl to grab him and kiss him, press him against the bulkhead and lean his body against Sideswipe's, heat and friction and pressure, and then, a hungry, hot kiss. Oh yes, he definitely wanted that as well.

That thought came with a following one, trepidation and uncertainty wrapped around a hesitancy. Still, he pushed that aside for now. All he wanted was a kiss.

It was late one night when Prowl was escorting Sideswipe back to his quarters after another date, another off-Ark excursion. It had been fun, of course, perfect, of course, but Sideswipe had been staring at Prowl's lips too-long throughout the night, wanting to taste and feel their touch. He fidgeted as he walked, trying to engineer a possible kiss.

"Good night, Sideswipe," Prowl said, smiling as he stopped in front of the twins' quarters. "I had a fantastic time."

"Me too." Sideswipe grinned. "It's even better than my fantasies, you know."

Prowl's optic ridges spiked high. "Oh?"

"Yeah." Sideswipe nodded, still grinning. "Dating you. It's pretty incredible."

"I always try to do my best." Prowl was smiling, too, their teasing light and comfortable.

"There's something else I've been fantasizing about." Sideswipe's grin turned sly, his optics darkening.

"Really?" Prowl's voice lowered, and he stepped closer to Sideswipe, as if sharing a secret.

Sideswipe nodded, and then he moved, seizing the opportunity. He leaned forward, trying to press his lips against Prowl's in a swift, quick kiss, hoping for more. Unfortunately, Prowl was moving as well, trying to surprise Sideswipe in turn with a slow, sensuous kiss, and his hand was rising to cup Sideswipe's cheek.

Instead of the kiss both had hoped for, Prowl's fingers ended up jamming Sideswipe in the optics as Sideswipe hurriedly dropped a chaste and dry kiss to Prowl's scrunched-up nose. They backed away quickly, apologies and embarrassed gazes not meeting the other's. An awkward silence built.

"I can do better," Sideswipe finally said, turning back to Prowl. "Try again?" This time, Prowl took the lead, fixing his optics to Sideswipe and pinning him back, holding him still with his gaze. He stepped forward, their bodies brushing against each other, and both his hands rose to cup Sideswipe's helm. His thumbs stroked over Sideswipe's cheeks, rubbing down the soft, warm plating and the rounded fullness of his youthful face.

"Beautiful…" Prowl whispered, just before he closed the fractional distance between them and pressed a gentle kiss to Sideswipe's waiting, trembling lips. Sideswipe melted, his joints going weak as Prowl's lips closed over his own, warm, soft, and oh-so-good.

Prowl too, had wanted this – badly. More than he knew. The kiss turned from soft and sweet to heated in no time flat as Prowl backed Sideswipe against his door with a small grunt. Sideswipe's hands flew to Prowl's waist, dragging him closer as their plating scraped. Prowl growled behind his kiss, nipping at Sideswipe's lips. Sideswipe groaned, then nipped back, and finally twined his glossa with Prowl's. Their engines jumped, roaring, and Prowl pressed Sideswipe back again, trying to jump inside his plating. His hands held Sideswipe's helm, stroking, finally tasting the red twin.

"Evening, sir. Sideswipe." The extremely uncomfortable voice of Red Alert coming from the corridor as the security officer passed them by broke through the steadily steaming haze blazing through their processors. Prowl pulled back, breaking the kiss, and his doorwings flared wide. Still, he didn't step back and he didn't let go of Sideswipe's helm. Instead, his hand dropped to Sideswipe's neck, his thumb stroking over his pounding lines.

Sideswipe panted, staring back at him.

"Good night, Sideswipe," Prowl finally whispered. His optics were blazing, his engine rumbling, and he forced himself to step back. Sideswipe remained leaning against his door, dazed.

Prowl visibly drew himself together. He smiled again, peering at Sideswipe. "You know," he said after a moment. "That was better than I've fantasized about too."

Sideswipe beamed. That never failed to spark a similar smile in Prowl, and they stood in the corridor, beaming at each other for another long moment.

Finally, Prowl stepped back again, physically putting distance between him and Sideswipe. "Good night, Sideswipe," he repeated. He turned, walking away, but he glanced back over his shoulder at the end of the corridor. Sideswipe was still pressed against his door.

Sideswipe lazily palmed his way in after Prowl disappeared around the corner. Light from the corridor fell inside, cutting a line across the darkened room to Sunstreaker's berth.

Sideswipe waved at his brother. Sunstreaker was still online, sitting up in his berth and leaning against the bulkhead. He waited up for Sideswipe after every date, no matter the time. Resting next to him, one arm slung over Sunstreaker's waist, was Bluestreak, offline and recharging.

"How'd it go?" Sunstreaker grunted.

Sideswipe just grinned. His cheeks were aching from smiling so hard, and he didn't think he'd ever stop. "Perfect."

Soundwave watched Jazz across their quarters. Jazz was sitting up, as he normally did during the nights these days, silent and staring into space. Soundwave could feel the pain that Jazz was trying to dampen across their bond. Jazz wouldn't talk about it.

"Jazz." Silence.

Soundwave pushed himself up and crossed their quarters to Jazz's side and sat without saying a word. Jazz didn't turn to look at him, instead staring out of the tiny porthole window near the ceiling of the cabin, but his hand snaked over and grasped Soundwave's hand as hard as he could.

Five and a Half Months since the Verdict:

When the Decepticons returned, they made no secret of it. They blazed down from the sky, ships and weapons and lasers, everything blasting as they roared in from above. The humans were stunned, for a moment, but the Autobots had prepared for this, and they had prepared a joint counterstrike contingency for when the Decepticons returned. They fought back, pushing the Decepticons to their bases as best they could.

The war, it seemed was back on.

For Prowl, it was the first time he had had to fight with Sideswipe as his… partner? Dearly beloved? Dear friend? They weren't lovers, not yet, but were so much more than simply dating. Prowl felt that; he knew it was true, deep down in his spark. It came from the same place that Sideswipe said was the place he knew he was meant to love Prowl, and how he knew Primus was there with them. It was the place that knew that Sideswipe had given Prowl back his life and soul.

It had been difficult, watching Sideswipe and Sunstreaker in battle as they were, wild and dangerous. There wasn't any more jet judo, thanks to Jazz and Soundwave - for which, ironically, Prowl was grateful. Still, it was tank-wrenching, and Prowl had to physically touch Sideswipe at the end of the battle – dirty, grimy and covered in soot and dirt – to make sure that Sideswipe was alright.

Jazz and Soundwave stayed on the Ark, helping Red Alert on the Command Deck as much as they could. Jazz helped with aerial recon. Soundwave tried to hack the Decepticon communication frequencies.

The next day, Prime formally asked Soundwave and Jazz to align themselves with the Autobots, not as Autobots, but as a separate faction, their own persons. Prime asked for Soundwave's help with the intelligence, and Jazz's help with assisting their Special Operations. Soundwave agreed first. Jazz nodded silently after a long moment.

Six Months after the Verdict:

The Decepticons were relentless in their attacks. They were constantly pressing, constantly trying to cause chaos. There didn't seem to be a pattern or a design, however. Prime spent long hours in strategy meetings with Prowl, Ironhide, Red Alert, Jazz, and Soundwave as they struggled to understand the new phase of the Decepticons' strategy.

They were surprised once, the Decepticons re-attacking a previous target as they were trying to investigate the after-battle intelligence. "Incoming!" Soundwave had shouted, warning everyone. His superior sensors had detected the incoming Seekers before anyone else.

They dove, scattering. Prime called for backup as Ironhide began firing away. Jazz hunkered down with Red Alert, taking cover. Prowl was with Soundwave across the battlefield where the two had been searching through wreckages for any sort of clue as to the Decepticons' actions. Ahead, the Seekers circled, firing down at the Autobots huddled for cover.

"It's only a trine!" Ironhide hollered.

"Only?" Red Alert called for backup, summoning the entire Ark.

Prowl tried to fire, catching sight of the flashing colors of Dirge, Thrust, and Ramjet. He dove back down at Ironhide started firing again, trading off with the older mech. "You're old friends were waiting for us to come back," Prowl grunted at Soundwave.

"Affirmative." Soundwave's gaze was torn between the advancing Seekers and Jazz.

"Any advice?" Prowl grunted, rising to fire. His shots were close, but the Seekers were spinning wildly, evading their shots. Dirge fired back on Prowl, uncomfortably close, and he ducked back down behind the outbuilding he and Soundwave were using for cover.

Frowning, Soundwave glared skyward. "Target: ventral plating, aft third. Major transformation seam. Critical target."

"Thanks." Prowl rose to fire again, but this time, Thrust was waiting for him. As Prowl stood, Thrust fired, and the shot impacted Prowl square in the chest. He grunted, stumbling backward, and his rifle clattered out of his hands, falling to the ground. Soundwave scrabbled for it as he dragged Prowl back behind their building.

"Prowl!" Prime shouted, but the Seekers started firing again, punishing laser fire raining down on every position. Red Alert called for medical aid and a quick shuttle evacuation for Prowl. Distantly, the sirens and sounds of the approaching Autobots could be heard.

Prowl grunted again, hissing against the pain as his engine struggled to burn. His vents struggled, shallow, and he knew he had a major leak. Soundwave hovered over Prowl. He still held Prowl's rifle clutched in his hands, and when Dirge fired on their position again, Soundwave returned fire.

Figures, Prowl thought. Distantly, he could hear Sideswipe's engine roaring, then this voice, but his processor was crashing and taking him offline, and his engine was choking, his vents stuttering. Soundwave continued firing, protecting Prowl from the Seekers as Ratchet raced to their sides. Figures Soundwave would be the one to save me in the end.

Everything went black.

When Prowl onlined, much, much later, there was a large static bandage covering his exposed chest and soft hands were stroking a warm cleaning cloth over his face and helm. He mumbled, pressing into the touches, and forced his optics to online.

Jazz was standing next to his berth, cleaning rag clutched nervously in one hand and a small bowl of hot water in the other. He stared down at Prowl, his visor overbright. "Hey you," Jazz whispered. He tried to smile.

"Hey Jazz," Prowl whispered back. His voice was scratchy, harsh, and he coughed.

"How are you feeling?" Jazz dipped the rag in the bowl and started gently scrubbing at a streak of grime on Prowl's arm in slow, soft strokes.

"Still numb," Prowl answered, shaking his helm. "I think I'm still dreaming."

Jazz grimaced, though he tried to transform it into a fake smile. "No, you're online," He whispered. "I'm really here."

Silence. Then, "Why?" Prowl reached across his body – with some effort, and a grimace of his own – and stilled Jazz's hand. "What's wrong?"

Jazz tossed a wry, panic-edged look Prowl's way. "Primus, Prowl," he breathed. "What isn't wrong?" Prowl didn't speak. "I was prepared to pay, you know," Jazz croaked. "I was prepared to pay for my crimes. My choices." He nodded, though his voice was cracking and static had filled his words. "I wasn't ready for this." His hand waved through the air listlessly.

"What?" Prowl asked. "What weren't you prepared for?"

"Living." Jazz swallowed, forcing himself to keep going. He set down the bowl and the rag with practiced, particular movements, controlling every motion with obsessive diligence. "Having to live with it. What I did."

Prowl stared at Jazz, taking in his dulled plating, his exhaustion, his defeated and dejected and downtrodden frame. "Do you regret your decisions?" Prowl asked softly. "Bonding?"

Jazz had been nodding, not looking at Prowl, looking down, but he stopped at Prowl's last word. "No," he said, forcing himself to look up into Prowl's optics. "I don't regret that. I think that's all that's kept me here," he said breathlessly.


"You seem happy, Prowl," Jazz interrupted. "You seem very happy. With Sideswipe."

They hadn't kept their burgeoning relationship a secret. Prowl nodded. "I am."

"Primus, I almost took that from you, Prowl. What I did, my choices, almost killed Sideswipe, and that would have taken this from you. You may never have known-" Jazz swallowed, trying hold everything together. He was so close to falling apart. "Because of me."

A small part of Prowl's processor was too tired for this conversation, and it reacted basely. Now he thinks of his actions, his processor grunted. Still, he pushed that aside. He'd made strides against the darkness within him, great strides. "Jazz, we all make our choices," Prowl said carefully. "We all make choices, and then we have to live with them."

"But I didn't want to live with mine," Jazz whispered. He looked down. He was two breaths from flying apart. "I was ready to die. It was like you said, before," Jazz trailed off. "The eternity of falling is much worse than the quick death." His words were choked and rough. "I wish I had died."

"Well, that didn't happen," Prowl said, both lightness and heaviness in his voice. "We didn't want you to die, Jazz."

"Why?" Jazz's optics were pleading, burning behind his visor and begging to understand. "Why?"

Prowl sighed and he shifted, trying to turn toward Jazz. He reached for his hand, lacing their fingers together. It was familiar and warm, but gone were the days when that action had sent shockwaves through Prowl body and soul. "Because you are still loved, Jazz," Prowl said simply. "We all have a past. We all have made our choices. Soundwave had his that led to his choices. I, in my life, made my choices, did what I did, before the Autobots. You, Jazz, made your choices." He paused, sighing. He was still so tired. "What matters is how we live with the choices, Jazz," Prowl said softly.

Jazz was silent, his optics bleeding light beneath his surging visor.

"I thought I wouldn't be able to live with the choice to forgive Soundwave and you," Prowl whispered. "Instead, it's the most freeing choice I ever made in my life." Prowl shook his helm. "You can never escape what you've done, Jazz," Prowl said, squeezing Jazz's hand and bringing it to his bandaged chest. "But you have to make it a part of your history. Don't drag your ghosts into the future."

"Some days I feel like I am already a ghost," Jazz breathed. His hand was shaking in Prowl's grip.

Prowl squeezed again, not letting go. "You're not, Jazz. And only you are doing that to yourself. Let Soundwave in. Let him help. I know he's trying to reach you."

Jazz turned, looking over his shoulder at another berth. Prowl frowned. "Soundwave," Jazz grunted, trying to control his surging emotions. "He was shot covering you and Ratchet."

"Will he be alright?" Prowl was genuinely concerned, surprising even himself.

Jazz nodded. "You were hurt worse. He'll online soon."

Prowl squeezed Jazz's hand again, smiling, and they held each other's gazes for a long moment.

"I owe you my life," Jazz finally whispered. "I owe you both of our lives."

"You owe me nothing," Prowl whispered. "I already forgave you. You need to forgive yourself." Jazz looked down quickly, but his head bobbed as if he was nodding, or sobbing.

The medbay doors slid open a moment later, fracturing the silence and the mood. Jazz's helm whipped up, staring at the intruder. Prowl rolled, gingerly, in case he fell apart, and they both met the deeply confused optics of Sideswipe, staring at their conjoined hands.

Jazz was silent. He hadn't spoken to the red twin in over six months, not since he'd tried to kill him while Sideswipe was helping Prowl help Jazz rescue Soundwave. And before that, when he'd helped try to kill him by proxy. Jazz shook his helm, looking away.

"Sideswipe," Prowl smiled, his voice warm, and Jazz's spark gave another lurch. Primus, but Prowl truly was happy. He'd nearly robbed Prowl of this happiness, this love. He tried to pull away, tried to pry his fingers from Prowl's, suddenly too close to everything. He couldn't be near Sideswipe, couldn't stand to face him.

Prowl wouldn't let go of his hand. Sideswipe crossed the medbay slowly, standing at Prowl's side opposite Jazz. His optics flickered over their entwined fingers before rising to Prowl's face. He smiled, though it was thin. "How are you?" Sideswipe asked. "I'm sorry I couldn't get here earlier." He was unwashed, still grimy from the battle. Sideswipe's optics moved to Jazz. "Hey Jazz," he said softly. He smiled. "How are you?"

Jazz froze, staring at Sideswipe. "I'm, um,…" Jazz stammered, unable to think of what to say.

A noise from Soundwave's berth drew Jazz's attention. He turned, his helm whipping around. Soundwave was onlining. "Excuse me," Jazz mumbled, slipping his hand from Prowl's grip.

"Jazz," Prowl called. "Please. Remember what I said. You're going to be alright." Jazz nodded, slowly, once, unconvinced.

"Jazz?" Sideswipe spoke now, calling out. "We're having a movie night this weekend. Why don't you come? You both, I mean." Sideswipe smiled. "Haven't seen you in a while."

This time there was a long pause before Jazz nodded, once, slowly. He turned and moved to Soundwave's side just as Soundwave started to online.

Prowl reached for Sideswipe's hand, and as their fingers twined together, he felt that feeling, that spark-deep feeling, deep in his body and soul. He smiled up at Sideswipe, sighing happily. "I'm happy you are here," he whispered. His optics were fading, his exhaustion peaking, but Prowl squeezed Sideswipe's hand again.

Sideswipe's optics blazed as he grinned, biting his lip. "I'll always be here, Prowl."

Prowl's optics faded as he whispered "I know." He dragged Sideswipe's hand up to his lips, dropping a kiss to the backs of his fingers. He slipped offline with a happy smile.

That Saturday night, Sideswipe organized a movie night with Bluestreak and Bumblebee. Bumblebee had the best sources for grabbing first run copies of movies, and no one had ever figured out how he did it. Still, they happily profited, watching many movies on their opening weekend from the comfort of the Ark. Bumblebee had grabbed the new superhero movie for the occasion, and he was setting it up and bickering good-naturedly with Hound as Jazz and Soundwave slowly entered the room. The mechs' helms turned, swiveling to stare at the two as their voices died, fading to nothing.

This was a terrible idea, Jazz thought, his gears turning. I never should have let Soundwave talk me into this. Soundwave's hand rose, pressing against his back, sensing his turmoil.

"Jazz." Prowl's warm voice, rising from the tables, drew everyone's attention. Prowl stood, smiling. "I'm glad you came." He waved to empty seats at the table. "Join us?" Sideswipe, Sunstreaker and Bluestreak were with him, all engaged in a Levels battle royale. The constructions were half-finished, some veering on disaster.

Soundwave and Jazz shared a long look in silence before they moved to join their game. To the mechs' credit, they acted as if nothing unusual had happened and that the appearance and arrival of Soundwave and Jazz was as normal as anything else. "Should we start over or deal them in?" Bluestreak peered at his pending assault on Sunstreaker's wobbly fortress.

"That wouldn't be fair," Sideswipe protested. "We should start over." Sideswipe grinned at Jazz. "They need to start from the ground up."

Prowl nodded, pulling down his pieces. "I agree. Start over." Sunstreaker groaned, and Bluestreak flicked at his tower, helping him to dispose of the pieces. He grinned as Sunstreaker glared. "Are there any particular Decepticon rules for this game, Soundwave?" Prowl finished stacking his pieces as he looked up, smirking. "I don't believe I've asked you yet."

Soundwave paused, organizing his game pieces. "Decepticon alterations to rules: much high grade needed." His optics glowed behind his visor, and even though Prowl couldn't see his expression behind his blastmask, he still guessed that Soundwave might be grinning.

"Ooh, those sound like rules I could get behind." Sideswipe grinned, flicking his optic ridges. Sunstreaker chuckled.

"Alright, you miscreants," Prowl teased. "Are we ready to start?"

The movie played in the background as they went through their game. Sideswipe executed a perfect dual attack on Prowl and Sunstreaker, but left himself open to Soundwave's sly moves. Jazz and Bluestreak warred with each other as Prowl, who had been playing with Soundwave on and off for months now, laid siege to Soundwave's fortress. Something unwound within Jazz as they played, laughing and poking fun at each other's moves and structures, and in the friendly banter that passed easily between the mechs. Soundwave was mostly quiet, but his happiness flowed across their bond, and, to Jazz, that was worth more than anything in the world.

It may actually be all right, he thought. We may actually get through this. He looked up, catching sight of Sideswipe's happy optics gazing at Prowl, and his vents shorted once again. Shame slipped into his spark, followed by his crushing, paralyzing darkness.

A moment later, Sideswipe turned his grin to Jazz. "Your move, Jazz," he said happily, still smiling. He was oblivious to Jazz's inner turmoil, but his easy, simple happiness, his effervescent friendliness touched the coldest part of Jazz's guilt.

"I'm sorry," Jazz blurted out suddenly, interrupting the game. "I'm sorry. For what I did. To you. To all of you." Jazz looked quickly at the twins and Bluestreak before staring down.

Silence hung in the air for only a second. "That was a long time ago," Sunstreaker grunted, jumping his turn to attack Jazz's fortress.

Sideswipe nodded, and he kicked Jazz gently under the table. "It's going to be alright, Jazz," he said. Even Bluestreak nodded, a small smile on his lips. "We're all going to be alright."

They finished before the end of the movie – a draw, by consensus, as most structures were in ruins – and the group headed over to the one empty couch in the corner to watch the end of the film.

Soundwave perched on one end, carefully sitting down and taking up as little space as possible. Jazz, riding some wave of giddy hope and a true belief that things might actually be all right, flopped down on the couch, stretching out and resting his helm on Soundwave's thigh. Sunstreaker and Bluestreak ensconced themselves together on a chair made for one, but no one batted an optic – they'd been inseparable for months now, glued plating to plating. It was half-cute and half sappy-disgusting, as Sideswipe told Prowl.

Sideswipe, however, wanted the couch too, and he shoved at Jazz's legs. "Ja-zz, move over!"

Jazz stretched, being petulantly playful, until Soundwave reached down and physically dragged Jazz up into his lap, freeing the couch. Jazz sputtered, tuning on Soundwave as he perched on his thighs, but Soundwave's arms closed around his waist and a soft look settled in his optics. Jazz quieted, smiling, and he leaned forward to press a soft kiss to Soundwave's blastmask.

Prowl, watching the entire exchange, shook his helm. To him, Soundwave looked almost as impassive as ever, but there was a tiny light in his optics, one that Jazz could read, and one that Prowl had come to associate with Jazz's presence. It hadn't seemed possible six months before, but here he was, understanding the former Decepticon, now an ally, as they watched a movie together.

Sideswipe had claimed the free space on the couch and waved Prowl over to join him. Prowl sat, and Sideswipe instantly folded himself into his arms, letting his helm rest against Prowl's chest as Prowl's arm wrapped around his shoulder. A thrill ran through Prowl's body. He leaned down, pressing a kiss to Sideswipe's forehelm. Sideswipe sighed, almost purring with quiet happiness.

Later, Prowl pushed gently on Sideswipe's shoulder, nudging him up. "Let's get out of here," Prowl whispered. His optics were sparkling. Sideswipe nodded and followed as Prowl rose and turned to leave. Behind him, Prowl caught sight of Jazz. Their optics locked together, sharing a long, meaningful look. Jazz nodded once, a small smile playing over his lips. Prowl nodded back.

He left then, joining Sideswipe in the corridor as Jazz rubbed his hand down Soundwave's cheek and pressed a soft kiss to his forehelm.

"Where do you want to go?" Sideswipe asked Prowl as they walked down the hallway. Prowl laced their fingers together and brought his hand up to his lips, kissing the plating gently. He didn't answer, kept walking.

Finally, they stopped at Prowl's quarters, and Prowl turned to face Sideswipe. He smiled, warm and soft, and looked Sideswipe from helm to feet. "Primus, you're beautiful," Prowl whispered.

Sideswipe engine surged. "So are you." He squeezed Prowl's hand. In all the time they'd dated, he hadn't done anything more than kiss. Nothing else, not even a hint. Sideswipe had never pressed for more.

"Stay the night?" Prowl asked softly. His thumbs stroked over Sideswipe's palms, rubbing soft circles into his warm plating.

Sideswipe's gears clenched, his mouth going dry. He stuttered, looking away, and he squeezed at Prowl's hands, too tight. "Prowl…" he whispered. "Primus, I want to, I do." He swallowed, his optics brightening. "It's just… This part never goes right for me, and I don't want to lose this." It was his greatest fear.

Prowl smiled and cupped Sideswipe's cheek. "We won't," Prowl said softly. "I know who you are, Sideswipe. I want to make love to you." He smiled again as Sideswipe hissed, drawing in a quick breath. "I want to give this to you. Share this together." He kissed him, chaste and gentle. "What do you want?"

"You." Sideswipe didn't hesitate. "I want you, Prowl. I love you."

Prowl smiled, leaning close for another kiss. "And I love you, Sideswipe," he whispered, just before their lips closed over one another.

After that, it was hot kisses and backing their way into Prowl's quarters. They kissed their way across the room, hands stroking and petting and exploring, until finally Prowl backed Sideswipe up against his berth. Sideswipe fell backward as the backs of his knees hit the berth edge, landing with a soft grunt. Prowl smiled down, leaning over slowly for a languorous kiss. Sideswipe's arm wound around his neck, gently guiding Prowl on to the berth above him. Prowl knelt over his body, knees spread on either side of Sideswipe, hands resting next to his audials. "You are so beautiful," Prowl whispered, gazing down at Sideswipe's perfect face. "How did I not notice all these years?"

Sideswipe shrugged, grinning. "You know now."

"You are too good to me." Prowl bent for another kiss, this time letting his body press into Sideswipe. Sideswipe groaned, his engine surging, and he hungrily poured himself back into the kiss. Prowl's engine roared as well, and their plating pressed together, bodies rubbing in the most perfect way.

Sideswipe groaned, long, loud, and guttural. Prowl dragged Sideswipe's pleasure out to long, untimed lengths, raking sensations back and forth. Sideswipe threw his helm back, his mouth open, optics offline, and harsh, ragged pants burst from his lips as his body trembled beneath Prowl.

It didn't take long to bring Sideswipe to his first overload, and Prowl watched in awe, his spark nearly erupting with joy as Sideswipe shrieked, shaking near apart on the berth. The image burned itself into Prowl's processor, searing into the backs of his optics. Primus, I love you, Prowl thought. Let me give you this. Let me give you this, as you've given me so much.

He pressed close then, kissing Sideswipe in every which way, hot kisses to his lips, cheeks, optics, forehelm and neck as Sideswipe slowly came down from his high.

"Primus," Sideswipe finally croaked, his shaking hands clutching at Prowl's arms. "I can't even … Prowl…."

"I want to make love to you all night long, Sideswipe," Prowl whispered. His voice was raw, grinding over gears stoked with passion and emotion. "I want to make love to you every night, every day. I want to bring you so much joy."

Sideswipe's optics burst to white, glowing. "You do," he whispered, wrapping his arms around Prowl's neck. "You already do."

"I love you, Sideswipe," Prowl whispered, as if speaking a prayer. "You gave me back my soul."

Sideswipe breathed Prowl's name and went rigid, nearly overloading from the thought, the reality alone, of Prowl making love to him. Prowl, too, nearly overloaded on the spot. It was different, oh so very different, when there was so much love. Nothing could compare, nothing.

They gasped, rocking together, kisses and hands and whispers falling on every inch of plating they could reach. Prowl gasped, pressing as close as he could to Sideswipe's body and soul. Sideswipe shivered, dizzy. What new reality was this, where all his dreams came true?

Prowl pressed a long, lazy kiss to Sideswipe's lips, panting. Twin smiles broke over their faces, delight and love and joy echoing between themselves.

It was not the last time they made love that night.

For the first time in recorded memory, Prowl was late for his duty shift the next day.

And he didn't care at all.

It was late night, and Soundwave was online this time, staring out the tiny porthole window he and Jazz had built into Jazz's quarters. It was propped open, waiting for Laserbeak's return. The moon was high in the sky, full and bloated, and harsh shadows grew at odd angles out of the desert night. A slip of moonlight spilled into the cabin, framing Soundwave's body.

Jazz sat on the berth, watching his lover. For the first time in months, they had made love again, and it was as stupendous and momentous as Jazz had ever remembered. He felt alive again, in some small way, but he hadn't wanted that before. It hadn't been right to feel. It hadn't been right to be alive. Prowl's words hung in the back of his mind, though, along with his and Sideswipe's smile. Maybe he could find a way through this. Maybe, just maybe, if he kept seeing their smiles, he could learn to live with this.

A caw broke his reverie. Jazz turned toward Soundwave as Laserbeak fluttered through the porthole, landing on Soundwave's outstretched arm. He dropped a data pad into Soundwave's open hand, then chirped softly.

"Another one?" Jazz asked.

Soundwave nodded. He onlined the pad and read it silently. He didn't react, but Jazz could feel the roiling currents of dread and torment coursing over their bond.

"What does it say?"

"Thundercracker: working on discerning Megatron's plans. Unable to provide much intelligence." Soundwave paused, frowning. "He is fearful of this new plan. It is different. More grand."

Jazz nodded, frowning. Soundwave tossed the pad onto their berth and sighed, turning to look out the open porthole again. "What do you want to do?" Jazz finally asked.

"Tomorrow: must inform Prowl," Soundwave said. "Keeping secrets from Prowl: not acceptable."

"I agree." Jazz held out his hand, reaching for Soundwave. A moment later, Soundwave turned to his lover and sank down into the berth. He leaned against Jazz, pressing his forehelm against his neck.

"War: undesirable," Soundwave grunted.

"There's still hope, you know," Jazz whispered. The moonlight slid across the floor, changing course with the night and the shifting clouds. "We still can change things, you know. Thundercracker, he's still an ally. And now, with Prowl and the Autobots…" Jazz let his words trail off. "We still have a chance to end this war."

Soundwave was silent for a long time. "Tomorrow," he finally said. "Tomorrow. Inform Prowl." He sighed, reaching for Jazz's hand. "The day after: possibilities."

Jazz smiled, cupping Soundwave's cheek. He gently guided Soundwave's face to his, pressing a kiss to his troubled lips. Soundwave murmured, kissing back as he cupped Jazz's face in return. Slowly they fell back to the berth, tangling together in arms and legs and lips and moans until there was nothing but the moonlight and the glow of their sparks and the soft gasps of their lovemaking for the rest of the night.

They all had the power to remake their lives, to change them and bend them to their will. They could hate, they could love, they could forgive. They could change, and in changing one life, one spark, one at a time, they could change the world, step by step.

Tomorrow they'd take another step toward their future. The day after, they'd work on ending the war. All of it, change.

But for now, it was just the two of them, together.



God's Gonna Cut You Down, Johnny Cash


There is Hope for You, William Elliot Whitmore