Ratchet walked shoulder to shoulder with Ironhide, heading back from another of their long, meandering drives. He tossed the older mech a sidelong smile as they two meandered back to the medbay. They spent over an hour talking, just spilling their sparks out.
Ironhide, too, unloaded to Ratchet – talking about the twins, mostly. Ironhide confessed he hadn't had a full night of recharge in the past month without startling awake, seeing Sideswipe, broken and damaged and lying motionless on the medberth.
Ratchet gave him daily updates on the twins and on Sideswipe's progress. It had been a month since Sideswipe had come back online, one month since Ratchet performed the dual surgery on Prowler and Sideswipe.
As they grew closer to the medbay, loud and frustrated shouts bounced through the corridors. Ironhide's optic ridges shot high as Ratchet frowned and broke into a jog.
Leave the twins alone for one hour, just one hour, and they were already shouting and hollering at each other again?
The doors to the medbay slid open on a chaotic scene. Ratchet stared, his mouth dropping open.
"Sideswipe! You have to keep going!" Sunstreaker gripped Sideswipe's elbow, his other hand pointing ahead, urging Sideswipe on. He glowered at his brother, his face pinched and angry.
Sideswipe slumped against Sunstreaker, grunting and digging his shoulder into Sunstreaker's chest. "I'm fragging tired, Sunny!" Sideswipe snapped. His knees sagged, and he wilted against Sunstreaker. "We've been at this for an hour!"
"You have to keep going," Sunstreaker growled. Why was Sideswipe fighting this? He knew he had to work hard at his physical therapy. He'd been fragging dead, for Primus' sake. "You're going home today. You have to be able to walk." Ratchet told them both that they were free for the overnights as long as Sideswipe was doing well after each day's physical therapy.
"I know!" Sideswipe snapped. His optics burned. His legs were beginning to shake. "I fragging know!" He wasn't strong enough for this yet. He thought walking back and forth for an hour would be easy. Who knew an hour could be so long? "Why are you pushing me so hard?"
Sunstreakers optic's darkened. "Quit being an aft," he muttered. He looked away. "You need to get your strength back."
Sideswipe pitched forward, his forehelm hitting his brother's shoulder. "Sunny…" Sideswipe groaned. He shook his helm
"What?" Sunstreaker stared down at Sideswipe through narrowed, wary optics.
Sideswipe's hands gripped at Sunstreaker's arms. "Sunny, I love you too," Sideswipe said simply, staring into his brother's gaze. He smiled, letting his frustration go.
Sunstreaker's optics blazed wide. His mouth twisted, a tiny smile curving his lips, and he wrapped his brother in both of his arms. "We'll take a short break," Sunstreaker grunted. He helped Sideswipe limp toward the medberth. "Okay?"
On the deck, Prowler giggled, grinning up at his parents with bright, shining optics and a little spittle of lubricants dribbling from his mouth. He was on all fours, scampering before his parents with every step of Sideswipe's.
Sunstreaker carefully helped Sideswipe rest against the medberth before scooping Prowler up. Prowler called out, waving his hands through the air before he reached for Sideswipe. Sideswipe was too weak to hold him after their practice walking, though, and grasped Prowler's hand instead. His optics lingered on the vertical scar marring Prowler's chestplates before he pulled out one of the twins' multitude of sparkling story tablets gifted from the crew. "Which one should we read to Bug today?" Sideswipe asked Prowler. His vocalizer was teasing, light and fun, and Sunstreaker bounced Prowler as their sparkling giggled. "How about Good Morning Proton?" Prowler giggled again, burying his faceplates in Sunstreaker's chestplates. One optic peeked out, spying on Sideswipe.
Wide grins split Ratchet and Ironhide's faceplates. Ratchet shook his helm.
"I'm gonna head out," Ironhide grunted. The twins hadn't seen him yet. "I'll see you later?"
Ratchet nodded. He pointed at Ironhide. "Remember what I said."
Ironhide pointed back at Ratchet. "Remember what I said."
The medbay doors slid open, and Ironhide slipped out as Prowl walked in. The two officers shared a short nod - a vast improvement to their relationship. Prowl immediately spotted the twins, and he smiled faintly as he watched the family, though it barely reached his underpowered optics.
"I've got a tablet to give you," Ratchet said quietly.
As always, Prowl nodded once and followed Ratchet to his office. Ratchet palmed shut the door and studied Prowl carefully. His optics were unfocused, staring unseeing at the decking. His energy was low and his systems were underpowered. Dejection and despair clung to his plating, leaching from his frame.
Ratchet skimmed a small tablet across the desktop toward Prowl, not meeting his gaze. Somehow, and Ratchet wasn't quite sure how, he'd ended up becoming the courier for Prowl and Jazz's communications. Not that the two mechs spoke much at all through him, even. The tablet Ratchet passed to Prowl had a short list of sparkling names on it, and nothing more. It was from Jazz, though, and Prowl picked up the tablet carefully, as if it held the secrets of the universe.
"How is he?" Prowl finally looked up.
"Good." Ratchet nodded. He pursed his lips. "Tired. He's entering the final stage of his carrying. He's only got another month left." Jazz's weekly exam had been that morning. Per routine, Prowl stopped by the afternoon after, talking to Ratchet about their sparkling and picking up a new tablet from Jazz.
Prowl swallowed and nodded. "And our sparkling?"
"Strong and healthy," Ratchet said. "He's got a strong spark. He's drawing a lot of power from Jazz. I upped Jazz's rations again."
"He must be taking in energon every hour."
"Thereabouts." Ratchet shook his helm. Silence fell.
Prowl lowered his optics. He tried to swallow, but his gears were sticking in his throat. "Any idea when the sparkling will emerge? Prime wants us to go to DC and New York soon. There are some treaty negotiations and then the UN General Assembly. I... would like to be here when he arrives."
"Jazz has another full month to go. You should be fine to travel, as long as you're back in two weeks to be safe." Ratchet paused, peering at Prowl. "You guys talked yet about how you're going to handle that?"
Prowl shook his helm. "Not yet," he said softly. "That's for the next round." He waved the tablet, swallowing.
Ratchet nodded. He leaned back in his chair, his hands squeezing down on the armrests.
A loud sparkling laugh broke through the office. Ratchet and Prowl turned, gazing out into the medbay and to the twins' family. Sunstreaker held Prowler close to Sideswipe, and the red twin tickled him with both hands while blowing raspberries on Prowler's round, chubby cheeks. Prowler squirmed, trying to escape and chase after Sideswipe, and his laughter was loud, bouncing off the medbay bulkheads.
"Only a month to go," Prowl whispered. His optics faded again, staring at nothing. "I always thought that any sparkling I would have had would be in that kind of environment." Prowl gestured to the twins through Ratchet's office window. "A close knit family. Not… on my own."
"You're going to be great, Prowl," Ratchet said quickly. "You and Jazz both."
Prowl gripped down on the tablet in his hands. Silence.
Smiling sadly, Prowl thanked Ratchet and pushed his way out of the medbay. Sideswipe waved to him, and then moved Prowler's hand to wave to him, too.
Prowl nodded, but his fractured smile didn't reach his optics or his spark.
Darkness hovered on the edge of his being, surrounding Prowl's processor in a fog. He felt like a shell, a walking, empty shell, with so much life happening all around him. He was on the edge of something that should have been incredible, spark-shatteringly wonderful, the brilliance of his own sparkling. The second sparkling of the next generation. Instead, Prowl's days and nights bled together in a painful smear of apprehensive misery. His memories played on repeat, reminding him of all that he'd lost.
And, when he tried to imagine his sparkling's face, all he could ever see was Jazz's furious face glaring back at him.
Wheeljack was helm-down and aft-deep - and more in than out - of the battered and burned remnants of Mirage's crashed shuttle. The Air Force had carted the shuttle remnants to the Ark and deposited the wreckage in the rear hangar off the back of the volcano. Wheeljack's spark plummeted when he saw the remains of his shuttle, teetering on the verge of falling completely apart.
And, of course, he was asked to fix it.
"This is why we can't have nice things," Wheeljack muttered as he worked on the aft section of the interior fuel lines leading to the booster rockets. He tucked himself inside an access shaft on top of the shuttle, and his legs were poking out, sprawled across the shuttle's hull. One leg curled at his knee, helping hold his balance. "Every time I try to build something nice…"
"Do you know there's an echo in there?"
Wheeljack started as a new voice bellowed up into the shuttle's hull. He slammed his helm as he jerked, his audial fins flashing. In there echoed, ringing off the shuttle's plating as he cursed. He scampered backward, upending himself from the open hole he'd been working in and glared down at his intruder.
Ratchet stood on the hangar deck, his arms behind his back, grinning. "I can hear every word you're saying."
Wheeljack's anger melted away. He cocked his helm to the side as his audials flashed. "Stick around. I'll start singing soon."
Ratchet cringed. "I've heard that before. No thanks."
Wheeljack's audials flashed again. "You sure?" he inhaled. "The lock nut is connected to the… lock washer!" He started to sing a low baritone, horribly off key and out of tune.
"I think you got worse, 'Jack." Ratchet cringed, shaking his helm.
Wheeljack chuckled and pulled out a rag from his subspace. He tried to wipe down his oil-coated hands, but it was moot. His entire body was covered in soot and burnt oil, and large black smears marred his faceplates and blast mask.
"You missed a spot," Ratchet quipped as he paced around the shuttle. He stared up at Wheeljack, watching as the engineer shrugged.
"Whatcha doin' here, Ratch'?"' Wheeljack leaned over the side of the shuttle, bracing his elbows on a crunched section of hull plating.
Ratchet grinned, letting optics wander over the length of the crunchy, crispy shuttle. He reached out and knocked on the hull, three quick raps of his knuckles.
"Hey! Careful!" On the other side of the shuttle, a large crash sounded, a piece of hull plating falling to the deck. Debris followed, washers rolling in every which way before spinning out of their circles and teetering to the deck. Soft jingles and the clatter and roll of falling machinery and tools echoed across the hangar.
Ratchet could barely suppress his grin. "I was coming down to see if you wanted any help," he began. "But, since I can see that you've got it all well in hand…" His optic ridges rose.
Slowly, Wheeljack turned back to face Ratchet. He threw his rag on the shuttle's hull and folded his arms over his chestplates. "You know, this is why we can't have nice things around here."
"So that's a yes to the help then?" Ratchet's optics twinkled, teasing Wheeljack.
"You'll get dirty." Wheeljack still couldn't believe that Ratchet was truly offering to help. "You should see my lower half. I'm as black as Ironhide." As soon as the words left Wheeljack's vocalizer, he knew he misspoke. He cringed, looking away.
A long pause filled the hangar deck. "Well, that's why the Ark has washracks." Ratchet stuck his hand out to Wheeljack. "Help me up."
Ratchet clambered up onto the shuttle's hull with Wheeljack, balancing unsteadily on the burned-black and uneven plating. Wheeljack pointed out the lines and support systems he was slowly working on emptying and tearing out of the shuttle, and then set Ratchet up with tools and his own smudge rag. Ratchet tucked into the work quickly, tearing out the destroyed lines from the shuttle's internal frame.
Wheeljack couldn't help it. He stole glances at Ratchet every chance he got. Ratchet hadn't come to help him with the shuttle in the entire month it had been back. He'd been spending his free time holed up in the medbay with the twins, and when he wasn't helping Sideswipe get back on his feet, Ratchet was with Ironhide. The two went on long off-Ark excursions every other day.
Unfortunately, Wheeljack had a front row seat to the whole unfolding escapade between Ratchet and Ironhide. He was in the medbay every afternoon and evening helping the twins with Prowler. He delivered the mass of sparkling stories the crew had started scrawling on tablets for the family, and he and Prowler played together in the Rec room while the twins had a few hours to themselves.
Wheeljack adored his time with Prowler, though the irony struck him deep, every day.
Sadness followed swiftly on the heels of irony. Ratchet never spoke to Wheeljack while he was in the medbay with Prowler. He never reached out to him, never spoke to him about the sparkling, never joined them in the Rec room. Aside from a odd bits of medical conversation, Ratchet hadn't reached out to Wheeljack in any way in over a month.
Until now. Wheeljack's optics roamed over Ratchet. He couldn't help the soft glow of his audials as he watched him. He'd been trying to give Ratchet all the space he could. He never pressed. He had backed off entirely after Ratchet and Ironhide's first 'walk.'
Not that giving him that space didn't kill him inside, though. Wheeljack's optics glittered as he gave up his pretense of work and watched his former lover.
Ratchet caught him. He turned, catching Wheeljack out of the corner of his optics. Wheeljack looked down quickly.
"So…" Wheeljack swallowed, struggling to stay calm. He didn't want to ruin this. "The twins really going home today?" He fussed at a bolt on the hull plating, trying to remove the blackened paneling.
Ratchet nodded. "Sunny has Sideswipe reenacting the 'Escape from Kalis Death March' in 50 meter increments across the medbay. He is bound and determined to have his brother walk out of there tonight."
Wheeljack's audials flashed. "How's Sideswipe feel about that?"
"They were taking a break when I left."
"Well, if they're getting out of there today, then I'll be on sparkling-sitting duty all night." Wheeljack finally loosened the crumbled bolt and started working the hull plating loose. "I offered to watch Prowler their first night back."
A long pause. "That was considerate of you."
"Eh." Wheeljack's audials flared as he pulled on the plating. "I like the little guy. We have a lot of fun together."
"So I've heard." Ratchet's voice strained over the words.
It was Wheeljack's turn to pause. He glanced back. The medic frowned as he coiled a piece of wiring that could be salvaged. "Why don't you stop by," he asked. He tried to keep his voice light. It came out rushed. "You can see Prowler a bit."
"I see Prowler every day." Ratchet didn't turn to look at Wheeljack.
Wheeljack tossed the freed patch of mangled plating over the side of the shuttle. The metal clanged, crashing heavy on the dusty deck. "Yeah, I know," he said quietly. "You're probably busy anyway." Ironhide's faceplates flashed in Wheeljack's mind. He tried not to cringe.
"You have quite the reputation, you know." Ratchet swallowed. "You're the best sparkling-sitter on board."
A small glow spread across Wheeljack's audial fins. His optics crinkled as he smiled beneath his blast mask. "Yeah," he drawled. "I really love it. You know?"
Ratchet didn't answer. Wheeljack sighed, looking down. He poked at the next crumpled bolt.
Silence reigned as the two worked on the shuttle. Wheeljack watched Ratchet out of the corner of his optics, but Ratchet never looked his way.
Some days, Sideswipe was extremely grateful to be on medical confinement. Medical confinement meant the energon rationing didn't apply to him.
He had an energon line spiked into his forearm, pumping fortified medical-grade energon directly into his systems. He could feel himself growing stronger every day, feel the hum in his circuits returning. Still, he was pushing it. Sunstreaker had made him walk miles around the medbay, chasing after Prowler as their sparkling crawled ahead. Sunstreaker somehow had gotten Prowler in on the malicious torture that he and Ratchet called 'physical therapy,' and Prowler remained just out of reach, scampering and crawling and giggling back at Sideswipe as Sideswipe slowly worked his servo strength back up.
Sunstreaker stayed by his side for every single step, one hand on the small of his back, the other resting on his arm. He caught Sideswipe when he stumbled, held him up when he slumped over, exhausted. Growled at him to keep pushing. Stared at him with the barest hint of a smile when Sideswipe managed steps without a limp.
Now, Sunstreaker was holding Prowler in his arms, bouncing their giggling sparkling as he rocked on his feet. Prowler had been a bundle of energy ever since Sideswipe onlined, shrieking and yelling and laughing at everything under the sun. He was putting his feet in his mouth and pulling on Sunstreaker's audials, or he was hiding from Sideswipe's funny faces as he laid on his chest. He was sitting up as both of them read to him, pointing at the sometimes-awful pictures the crew had drawn in the stories they had written for Prowler. Prowler squealed and slapped at the tablets, delighted with the bright pictures and nearly-unidentifiable characters.
Sunstreaker blew as raspberry on Prowler's helm as Sideswipe leaned rested on the berth. Prowler giggled and turned away, keeping his optics locked on Sideswipe as he playfully smacked Sunstreaker's faceplates. Sunstreaker captured Prowler's fingers in his lips, growling as he shook his head back and forth. Prowler giggled harder, squeezing his optics shut.
Unnoticed behind the twins, the medbay doors slid open and Smokescreen padded across the medbay. "Hey guys."
Sideswipe's optics blazed, edged in panic. He glanced quickly at Sunstreaker.
Sunstreaker moved Prowler's little hand – the one not trapped in his mouth – and waved back at Smokescreen.
Sideswipe stopped breathing.
"Rumor is you two are busting out of here today." Smokescreen stopped next to Sunstreaker. His helm tilted, smiling down at Prowler. Prowler stared back, unabashedly curious.
Sunstreaker nodded. He let go of Prowler's captured fingers and kissed his sparkling's helm. "Ratchet said we could leave if Sideswipe was strong enough to walk on his own two feet." He smirked at his brother, showing denta in an almost feral display of pride. "He can walk now."
Sideswipes optics bounced from Smokescreen and Sunstreaker, comically large.
Smokescreen chuckled. "I can only imagine." He grinned at Sunstreaker.
Unbelievably, Sunstreaker grinned back.
As Sideswipe's processor slowly fused and refused to process the sight of his brother and his ex-lover sharing a grin at his expense, Smokescreen's optics caught on little Prowler. The sparkling was playing with Sunstreaker's chestplates, drawing imaginary shapes and images with his sticky fingers as Sunstreaker rocked his hips from side to side.
Smokescreen turned to the flummoxed Sideswipe. Sideswipe's mouth was opening and closing, gaping soundlessly. "Glad to see you're up and about, Siders." He smiled, one hand reaching out to squeeze at Sideswipe's arm. "The crew misses you." Smokescreen grinned, spying the pile of sparkling tablets stacked on the medberth behind Sideswipe. "Which is his favorite?"
"He likes Sparkle the Magic Mech-o-Saur." Sunstreaker spoke first. At the name of the book – and the imaginary creature – Prowler's face lit up as he gazed into his parent's faceplates.
Smokescreen chuckled. "Blue did that one."
"Bluestreak?" Sideswipe finally spoke, sputtering around Bluestreak's name. "Bluestreak wrote one of these?"
"We all did." Smokescreen smiled at Sideswipe. "I may have twisted his elbow a bit, though." He winked.
Sideswipe's optics bounced between Smokescreen and Sunstreaker again. "I… don't understand," he finally stuttered.
Smokescreen grinned, his optics sliding to Sunstreaker. They shared a small smile, honest an genuine.
Behind them both, the medbay doors slid open and Wheeljack wandered in, freshly washed and cleaned of the shuttle soot and oil. Ratchet finally emerged from his office, heading for the twins' medberth. He didn't meet Wheeljack's gaze, and didn't return his happy audial flash, Wheeljack's version of a smile.
Prowler shrieked as he spotted Wheeljack, waving with excitement. Wheeljack laughed as he stopped next to the twins, and Sunstreaker passed Prowler into Wheeljack's arms. Prowler immediately reached for Wheeljack's audials, and Wheeljack puffed air through his vents, teasing Prowler's fingers. Prowler giggled, burying his face against Wheeljack's neck.
Even Ratchet finally grinned as he watched Prowler and Wheeljack. Smokescreen stepped back, folding his arms over his chestplates. He nodded to Sideswipe with a smile, then to Sunstreaker.
"Well, Sideswipe," Ratchet smiled. "Ready to head home?"
Sunstreaker grasped Sideswipe's hand, threading their fingers together.
"I'm ready," Sideswipe whispered.
"I don't understand," Sideswipe said, leaning on Sunstreaker as they slowly walked arm in arm down the Ark corridor to their quarters. There wasn't any fanfare, no crew waiting in the hallways. They were heading home before the shift change, and most mechs were still on duty and at their stations. It was quiet, just the way they liked it. "I really don't understand."
"That's okay," Sunstreaker grunted, smug. "You don't need to."
"Sunny…" Sideswipe glared at the mech who looked like his brother. "Who are you? What have you done with my brother?"
Sunstreaker chuckled. "You really going to complain about me being more friendly?" He turned teasing optics to Sideswipe. "You've been trying to get me to 'loosen up' for years."
"I didn't know I had to die to get that to happen," Sideswipe grumbled.
Instantly, Sunstreaker's expression darkened. He glared. "Don't say that."
"Sorry." Sideswipe stumbled, tripping slightly in his shuffle down the hall. Sunstreaker's hands were there, though, steadying him immediately. Sideswipe gripped on Sunstreaker's forearm. He smiled up at his brother. "Thanks."
Sunstreaker smiled back, a bare curve of his lips. They kept walking, and finally, they shuffled to their door.
"Feels like we should be scrapping cobwebs off, huh?" Sideswipe leaned against Sunstreaker as his brother punched in the lock code. It had been so long since Sideswipe had fled their quarters, desperate to get to Sunstreaker at NASA headquarters. So much had happened since then. Too much.
Grunting, Sunstreaker led his brother into their quarters. Everything was just as they'd left it, the picture of a life interrupted. Energon cubes half-consumed on the table. Sparkling toys scattered on the floor. Prowler's extra play blankets scrunched up and pushed across the decking. His bath basin, still tipped over and resting to dry.
Sideswipe sighed and leaned back against Sunstreaker. Sunstreaker's arms wound around his waist and he buried his faceplates in Sideswipe's neck. "We're home," Sideswipe whispered. Sunstreaker nodded against his plating.
"Wanna sit down?" Sunstreaker was already guiding Sideswipe to the couch, helping his brother down before Sideswipe's joint began to shake. He brushed away a handful of painted energon cubes - Prowler's first toy – and sat down next to him. Sideswipe immediately rested his helm on Sunstreaker's shoulder as Sunstreaker laced their fingers together.
Silence filled their quarters. "You scared me." Sunstreaker spoke first. "I really thought you were gone."
"So did I." Sideswipe squeezed down on his brother's hand. Sunstreaker squeezed back and refused to let go. He pressed his cheek against Sideswipe's helm. "I would have done the same thing," Sideswipe whispered finally. "If it was you."
Sunstreaker swallowed, and his hand clenched at Sideswipe's. His optics offlined as he turned and pressed a hard kiss to Sideswipe's helm. "I can't lose you," he growled. "I cant."
"Does that make us bad parents?" Sideswipe's thumb stroked across Sunstreaker's hand. "We put Prowler in danger…"
"Prowler would be worse off without you." Sunstreaker cut Sideswipe off. "He needs you."
"He needs you too." Sideswipe turned his helm, gazing up into Sunstreaker's faceplates. "And I need you."
Swallowing again, Sunstreaker squeezed his brother tight, hugging Sideswipe into his body as he squeezed his hand and brought their conjoined hands to his mouth. Sunstreaker kissed Sideswipe's open palm gently, soft and warm, and he tried to envelop his brother's body with his own.
Sideswipe relaxed into his brother's hold. "Oh, I love you too, Sunny." Sideswipe grinned, feeling the lassitude that spread throughout his brother, the relaxation that came from his words, his acknowledgement of Sunstreaker's love. He thought back to the medbay earlier, and to Sunstreaker gruff insistence on their walking practice and his physical therapy. He'd reacted the same then, too, relaxing as soon as Sideswipe acknowledged what it was Sunstreaker was doing.
He was loving him, in his own way. All his life, Sunstreaker had spoken through his actions, volumes of meaning hidden in looks and touches, and in the entrenched loyalty Sunstreaker had maintained to Sideswipe throughout the years.
Sideswipe's first stray from Sunstreaker, his first affair, had left a rift between them that no amount of words, no amount of apologies could ever repair. No matter how many times Sideswipe told his brother he loved him and no matter how often he pledged his devotion, Sunstreaker only had to look at Smokescreen, Bluestreak, Hound, or any of the others, and know that Sideswipe didn't truly mean it. The words meant nothing. All of his life, words had been empty promises and meaningless noise. Sunstreaker spoke through his actions, and he read others the same way.
Sideswipe was finally learning how to listen to Sunstreaker's language, and learning how to respond. How to acknowledge his actions, let him know he understood. With every recognition, every 'I love you too' to Sunstreaker's unspoken love, Sunstreaker's spark seemed to swell, and contentment, pure and simple, pulsed through his body.
For the first time, Sunstreaker felt like he was being heard. And, for the first time, Sideswipe felt like his brother could hear him, too.
How on Cybertron am I supposed to do this? Smokescreen stared at the back of Bluestreak's helm as he hovered at the rear of the Command Deck. Bluestreak was on comms duty, just as he was every night. Bluestreak had traded overnight comms duty with every mech on board, neatly sidestepping the duty roster and turning into a nocturnal mech. He stayed away from the Rec room, avoided his squad, and didn't venture anywhere save the Command Deck.
At first, Smokescreen had welcomed the reprieve. He didn't know what to do about Bluestreak's revelation. He still didn't know what to do about it, in fact. Same-frame relationships were wrong, almost as wrong as incestual ones. It was… too close for comfort. Same-frame meant there was a similarity in code, far, far too similar, and it was looked upon as being just a shade away from familial incest. The possibility of sharing code deviations and perpetuating bad code was too strong a chance in same-frame partnerships. "Incestuous…" Bluestreak had hissed at him. Like incest.
It was wrong. Everything in Smokescreen's processor told him so. Bluestreak couldn't have fallen for him. They were friends, and they had been for years. There hadn't been any sign, any hint of Bluestreak's feelings, not once through the long years of their friendship.
And yet, Bluestreak had told him that he'd loved him from afar, watched as Smokescreen gave his spark away to other mechs, silent and never speaking. So many years of silence, watching Smokescreen with others.
Just like he'd watched Sideswipe with others.
Sideswipe… Smokescreen sighed. Bluestreak had raged at him, furious over his acceptance of the twins and their relationship. Incestual relationships were worse than same-frame relationships, and when the twins' secret had come out, the crew had been rightly horrified. Just in their shock and revulsion. It was something wrong. Something that wasn't ever done.
Except… now it was… alright. If not totally accepted, then well on its way. The crew was moving past the shock, moving past the revulsion, and seeing the twins for who they were again. Accepting them as individuals again.
And, Bluestreak was right. It was still wrong. It would always be wrong.
And, Bluestreak was right again. Smokescreen wasn't able to accept Bluestreak's revelation just yet. He just couldn't.
Sighing, Smokescreen shifted across his feet, frowning as he stared at Bluestreak. He'd worked up the courage to come here, to try and talk to Bluestreak, try to... what? Reason with him?
Bluestreak turned away from the comms controls, glaring over his shoulder. His optics narrowed as he spotted Smokescreen, and he turned back to the controls quickly. "I can hear you back there you know," he grumbled.
Giving up, Smokescreen slowly crossed the command deck, heading for Bluestreak. He stopped behind him as his hands fidgeted, and he couldn't look at Bluestreak. Smokescreen's optics danced over the comm controls, flashing between the monitors.
Bluestreak sighed heavily. His doorwings flicked, irritated.
"You've been avoiding me," Smokescreen finally said softly. His optics slid sidelong toward Bluestreak.
"Well, I was trying to," Bluestreak grumbled. "Till you showed up."
Silence. Smokescreen looked away. He fidgeted again, his hands reaching for the terminal and playing over the controls. "Blue…"
"You don't have to do this, Smokes," Bluestreak growled. "You don't have to come here and try and make it all better, okay? I know what's what." He wouldn't look at Smokescreen.
"I just want to talk, Blue," Smokescreen said, sighing. "I just… I don't get it. I've been trying to figure it all out…" He sighed again, and he turned to Bluestreak. "How did this happen?"
Bluestreak snorted. "You make it sound like some kind of horrible accident," he snapped. Smokescreen didn't react, and Bluestreak shook his helm, cursing under his breath. "Fragging Pit…" He trailed off with a sigh. "I don't know how much of this you're going to understand…"
"Try me." Smokescreen leaned back, bracing himself against the terminal controls. He finally turned, staring down at Bluestreak.
It was Bluestreak's turn to fidget, his hands reaching for the controls. He played with the toggles, flicking between the different comm channels. "You know I survived Praxus," he began. "Me and, like, two other 'bots that were in the city that day. I don't even know who they were." Bluestreak shook his helm. "I was real young, and when the Autobots moved in, I was taken away. They moved me to Iacon, and I stayed there until I was old enough to enlist. Medics took care of me, and they did their best, you know? They tried to talk to me about Praxus, tried to tell me what it was like. What other Praxians were like." He swallowed, his gears rising and falling. "But I was all alone. There weren't any other Praxians around. I hadn't met Prowl or you yet, and the only other time I ever saw a Praxian was when one came in to the medbay shot dead by a 'Con."
Smokescreen forced himself to stay, to listen to Bluestreak's oddly detached voice, his revelations. He'd never heard this side of his friend, not in their entire friendship.
"So then I enlisted, and then I joined Prime's column, and then I met you and Prowl." Bluestreak's hands waved through the air, rolling through years of history in his simple short statements. "And, I guess I, like, built up Praxus to be this mythical wonder-city, with buildings made of glass and happiness raining from the sky." He grinned, though it was painful. "And Praxians… Man, those had to be the best kind of mechs, right?" He tossed a wry look to Smokescreen, his optic ridges raised high.
Sighing, Bluestreak shook his helm when Smokescreen didn't respond. "Prowl was great and I'm real thankful to him for everything he's done to help me. I was young, real young when I joined, and if it weren't for him I wouldn't be online today. I know that." Bluestreak nodded to himself, then fell silent.
Finally he spoke again, swallowing deeply. "But when I met you…" Snorting, he shook his helm. "I mean, Primus. I was slagged. You were everything I'd ever dreamed a Praxian would be like. Smart, brave, dashing. Funny." He flicked at the controls. "Beautiful."
Smokescreen couldn't breathe.
"I thought if I could just hang around you, be your friend, I could be like that too. I could be a real Praxian." A pause. "Didn't quite work out the way I thought." He paused again, gathering himself to press on. "I knew it was wrong. I mean, I knew it. I've always known it was wrong. But I couldn't help it. Falling for you was… the most natural thing in the universe."
Finally, Smokescreen exhaled. He was shaking, his hands trembling. He crossed his arms over his chest, trying to stay still.
"There's all this dark slag in my processor, Smokey. All sorts of glitches and fragged up slag." Long held resentments burned inside Bluestreak, painful and deep. He would never forgive himself for surviving Praxus. He would never be a normal Praxian. He'd never be a normal anything. He'd never be able to go home, and he didn't know anything other than war and death.
Smokescreen would never return his twisted, fragged up feelings.
"All that fragged up slag is all wrapped around you too," Bluestreak grunted, finally looking at Smokescreen again. "Cause you're Praxian, and you're everything that I've ever wanted, and I can't ever really love you the way I want to." He smiled, though it was dark and full of a lifetime's worth of pain. "Just like everything else."
"Blue…" Smokescreen didn't know whether to break down and sob or run away. The darkness wrapped tight around Bluestreak, cold and lonely and insidious. How had his friend kept all of this bottled inside for so long?
"I never asked anything from you, Smokescreen," Bluestreak said, looking away. "I knew it would never happen. I knew I never had a chance. I just wanted you to be happy." He sighed, then frowned, glaring at the console. "It just really hurts, you know. To see you be okay with the twins. 'Cause I know you're not okay with this, and you won't be. You're not like me. You're not all fragged up." Bluestreak swallowed and slowly looked back at Smokescreen. His optics traveled the length of Smokescreen's tense and devastated frame. "You're perfect," Bluestreak whispered.
Smokescreen shook his helm. "No, I'm not."
Bluestreak snorted. "You should see yourself the way I see you." He shook his helm. "I just need some time to get over it, okay? I never wanted you to know about this. Everything hurts right now, and I can't deal with it all at once." He paused, then frowned. "So, can you leave me alone for a while? Please?"
Stunned by the entire revelation, Smokescreen didn't know what to do. He couldn't speak, couldn't respond to Bluestreak's declaration of love and adoration, his past wrapped darkly around his ideals and his hope and his love. He couldn't even think, and he just nodded slowly, dumb and silent, back toward Bluestreak. Bluestreak turned away, ignoring Smokescreen as he focused on the comms panel.
Smokescreen took the hint and pulled back, near-stumbling across the Command Deck. He wavered as he reached for the palm pad, and he forced himself to look back at Bluestreak before he fled.
The silver doorwinger had pitched forward and buried his helm in his hands. His doorwings were shaking, trembling along his backplates
Smokescreen's spark shattered as he forced himself to walk away.
Wheeljack was lying next to Prowler, seated on his play blanket, and was helping the sparkling build a grand tower of energon play-blocks when the door to his quarters chimed.
Prowler and Wheeljack turned to each other, quizzical expressions mirrored on each other's faces. Prowler's optics were wide, his mouth narrowed into a tiny 'o', and Wheeljack's audial fins flared bright. "Wonder who that is?" Wheeljack asked Prowler as he stood. Prowler twisted, watching Wheeljack stroll across his quarters toward the door. One of Prowler's hand moved to his mouth to suck on his fingers.
Wheeljack palmed open this door, then froze. His audial fins flared again.
"Hi," Ratchet said. He smiled, small and slightly strained. "How's it going?"
Wheeljack stared at Ratchet, not moving.
Behind him, Prowler grew too-inquisitive, and, giggling, he leaned forward, his hands falling to the decking as he shifted to his knees. He started to crawl, slow, lumbering movements turning to a fast-paced zip as he weaved across the deck.
"Good!" Wheeljack finally sputtered. "Prowler and I are playing."
Ratchet spied the fast-approaching sparkling crawling across the floor behind Wheeljack. He smirked. "I think he's making a break for it."
Wheeljack spun, and Prowler giggled as he was caught. He pitched forward, burying his forehelm against the back of his hands. Wheeljack scooped Prowler up, twirling him in his arms until Prowler was laying on his backplates and Wheeljack's hands tickled over his belly. Prowler erupted into loud peals of laughter, writhing and wriggling. "I thought you were going to wait for me!" Wheeljack teased.
Ratchet stared at Wheeljack. His jaw clenched, gears grinding.
Wheeljack sat Prowler up in his arms, pressing him up against his chestplates. Prowler clapped his hands, then waved toward Ratchet. He yelled, shouting at the top of his vocalizer.
"Wanna come in?" Wheeljack finally asked. There was a shade too-much eagerness in his voice.
Ratchet shrugged. "Sure," he said, trying for indifference. "I think I have to see this to believe it, anyway." Wheeljack wisely kept quiet.
"Oh!" Wheeljack suddenly said, his audials flashing. He turned to Ratchet and handed Prowler over, his optics gleaming. "Go sit on the couch with him. I've got to show you this." He disappeared to the far wall, digging in his bins along the shelves bolted to the bulkhead. Ratchet watched – and then watched Prowler watch Wheeljack – and finally headed for the couch.
Ratchet sagged against the couch and set Prowler next to him. He kept a careful optic on the sparkling as he crawled across the cushioned surface and peered over the arm rest, trying to find Wheeljack across his quarters.
Wheeljack came bounding back with something hidden behind his back. His optics were twinkling, and he kneeled down before the couch. Prowler giggled again, watching his every move. "Move him next to you," Wheeljack said softly, winking at Ratchet.
Ratchet adjusted, keeping one arm around Prowler's small shoulders and his optics fixed on Wheeljack.
Quickly, Wheeljack moved the hidden something, long and slender, against the front of the couch. He pushed it between the couch cushions, flashing his audial fins at Prowler. Prowler's optics fixed to the split between the couch cushion, trying to find what Wheeljack had slipped between the tight-pressed cushions. Wheeljack's audial fins hummed online again, barely illuminated, and he started rumbling in the back of his vocalizer.
Pretend roaring, Wheeljack flicked a large wrench up from between the couch cushions, waving it toward Prowler. The head was painted, a rough image of a Mech-o-Saur character messily drawn over the gears and bite. Wheeljack scooted the wrench forward, pretending to roar and race at Prowler as the wrench cum Mech-o-Saur rose from between the couch cushions.
Prowler shrieked. He pitched sideways, leaning against Ratchet as laughter tore from his vocalizer.
Wheeljack pulled the wrench back, pulling it down until it disappeared between the couch cushions. Prowler giggled, humming, and watched the dark crack carefully.
Roaring again, Wheeljack made the Mech-o-Saur wrench reappear, again moving toward Prowler with pretend roars and chortles. Prowler laughed, falling against Ratchet as he completely unbalanced himself in his glee.
Ratchet couldn't stop the wide grin that broke over his faceplates. Primus, it was too adorable for words, and with Prowler giggling at the top of his vocalizer, his tiny warm body pressed against his side, and Wheeljack's mischievous playfulness on full display, Ratchet's spark melted in every which way. His hand rubbed at Prowler's back as the sparkling shook with the force of his unrestrained laughter.
Pain followed swiftly, a lingering stab of hurt and resentment.
Wheeljack continued playing with Prowler, making the Mech-o-Saur wrench rise and fall from the couch. His optics were gleaming, joy and love bursting from his gaze, and he stole a quick glance to Ratchet. His gaze softened, tenderness and hope mixing within.
Slowly, Ratchet smiled back.
All in all, Jazz had far too much time to think on his hands. The disappearance of the Decepticons had left a decided void in the war. While before, the combined Human-Autobot alliance had thought they'd routed the Decepticons and had sent them into hiding, and now, with the Decepticons' flight from Earth, no one was quite sure what was going on. Was the war still on? Were the Decepticons on their way back? The uncertainty was thick and choking, strung through the entire Ark and beating on the mechs' processor at every turn. Compounding the confusion was a distinct sense of shame. They'd beaten the Decepticons, and then the Decepticons had risen up and beat them back. They'd stolen a human space shuttle, destroyed the United States Space command and NASA research center, devastated the humans' satellite and technology field, and then blasted off to parts unknown.
All in all, the situation looked pretty good for the Decepticons… and the Autobots had ended up caught with their gearbox hanging out.
It all made for tense negotiations with the humans regarding the future of their alliance.
For Jazz, the lull and uncertainty in the war had led his processor down the unhappy circuit path of "what now?" Something similar had happened just after the first routing of the Decepticons. He'd been adrift, a spy and super-soldier in a post-war rebuilding phase, and Jazz hadn't known what to do. He'd been restless, searching for any itch to scratch, any circuit to burn, and he'd finally taken off with Sunstreaker on an auto show around the country. That had led to everything else, and, as they said, nothing was ever the same again.
How true it was. First the twins' revelations. Their relationship. Their sparkling.
Jazz's friendship with Prowl, which led to … this.
Sighing heavily, Jazz threw his tablet down on his desk and leaned his helm in both of his hands, his elbows propped up on the desktop surface. He swallowed, and his optics spotted the fortified cube resting on the edge of his desk. His circuits were waning, and it had been over an hour since he'd fueled.
He shook his helm and grabbed for the energon. One long pull from the additive-enriched energon had his systems revving just a little faster. It was incredible, how much energy his body was burning through. He felt like an absolute glutton.
His terminal chimed, signaling the end of the dayshift. Jazz leaned back in his chair, rubbing at his forehelm. What now? Retreat back to his quarters and sit in solitude, offlining early as his body exhausted itself with building his sparkling within him? Play more music at deafening levels, trying to escape his own thoughts? Read one of the tablets on sparklings Ratchet had not-so-politely ordered him to study?
Jazz was tired of it all. He shook his helm, sighing again, and drained the rest of his cube. He had an hour until he had to reenergize again. Perhaps he could head to the Rec room, hang out with a few of his friends. He'd been avoiding everyone, and, thankfully, everyone had avoided him right back. The rumor was out that he and Prowl had split, though no one knew why. No one pressed, either. Thank Primus.
Groaning, Jazz pushed himself to his feet. His whole body ached. He felt heavy and full, and completely unbalanced. He couldn't fight off Fireflight if the bumbling Aerialbot decided to take him on. Frustration curled through his lines. This wasn't him. Not at all, not in any way. The looming darkness rose from Jazz's spark once more, beckoned by his frustration. He pushed it aside. He needed a distraction, any distraction to busy his processor.
His mind made up, Jazz headed for the Rec room. Few mechs passed him the hall, and they all nodded politely, if distantly, in greeting. Jazz had turned into a recluse in the past month, and the crew was letting him be.
The Rec room was slowly filling with mechs when Jazz arrived. His first thought was to grab another energon cube – that walk from his office to the Rec room had really taken something out of him – but he snorted to himself and headed for an empty table instead. He wasn't about to take a fortified cube in front of the mechs. The deep magenta would be a certain giveaway to his condition, and any regular cube just made his tanks ache. Jazz checked his chronometer. 50 minutes until his next cube.
Blaster arrived, and Jazz grinned at his friend. He waved, expecting Blaster to make his way over to his table, but all Blaster did was wave back and head for the table with Smokescreen, Wheeljack, and Perceptor. Blaster had a stack of tablets in his hand and he passed them out as soon as he sat down. Perceptor and Smokescreen had small stack of tablets with them as well. Jazz frowned, watching the display as he tried not to feel slighted.
Ultimately, no one came to sit with him, and Jazz was left feeling like a ghost on board his own ship. He tapped at the tabletop, watching the crew laugh and relax all around him. They had their lives, their friends and lovers and their off-duty pursuits, and Jazz's sudden and silent reappearance in the Rec room was a minor blip on their radar. Jazz stared down at the table as his fingers picked at a small gouge in the slick surface. This hadn't been a grand idea after all. 20 minutes in, and he only felt more alone than he did in his office. Where was his grand plan now? What strategy now, super-soldier? Jazz snorted to himself.
"Why, hello there," a low voice purred as the mech speaking stopped behind Jazz's chair. "Look who's made his stunning reappearance." Tracks grabbed the back of Jazz's chair and swopped around his shoulder, smirking down. "Welcome back to the land of the living."
A tiny grin broke over Jazz's faceplates. Of course, leave it to Tracks to seek him out. He threw a wry smile Tracks' way and gestured to the seat across the table for Tracks to sit in. "How's it going?"
Tracks sat in the chair next to Jazz, totally ignoring Jazz's proffered seat across from him. One arm stayed draped over the back of Jazz's seat. "What's been happening with you, Jazz?" Tracks peered at him carefully, his optics narrowing.
Jazz shrugged and looked away. "Been busy. You know, the Decepticons."
"Are gone." Tracks waved his hand flippantly. "Good riddance. Now, all we need to do is find a way to get ourselves off this rock and get away from those slagging humans."
Jazz's snorted and shook his helm. Leave it to Tracks. "Won't you miss Raoul?" He tried for humor.
"Well, he can come with us." Tracks grinned. "The rest… eh." Tracks shrugged and winked Jazz's way.
Shaking his helm again, Jazz turned away from Tracks, looking over the Rec room. He really shouldn't have come. This was a bad idea. Jazz knew what was coming, and he waited for it, mentally counting down inside his helm. 3…2…1
"So… You and Prowl." Track's optic ridges rose, a question in his gaze and a smirk on his lips. "Can't say I didn't see that coming, though. You two weren't made for each other at all." Tracks sighed dramatically and pressed on, heedlessly forging into territory no other 'bot would go. "He's all boring logic and protocol. You need a mech with more life in them, more vitality. More… passion." Tracks grinned slyly, eyeing Jazz's profile.
A firm hand clamped down on Jazz's shoulder. Jazz nearly upended the table as he jumped in his seat, and his helm whipped over his shoulder.
Mirage stared back, his optics burning bright as he stared down at Jazz. "Jazz," Mirage said gravely, his voice tuned to his most formal and commanding tone. "I have the reports you've been asking for. Do you have time to go over the data?" He held a darkened tablet out to Jazz.
Bless Mirage and his beautiful duplicity. Jazz nodded back, sliding back into his officer role. "I think that's best, Mirage. We really need to get this taken care of." Jazz stood slowly, pushing himself back from the table.
Tracks stared at Jazz, disappointment scrawled over his face. "Coming back later?" He chimed hopefully.
Jazz shrugged, forcing a grin. "Dunno. Depends on the intel." He waved at Tracks and followed Mirage out of the Rec room.
Mirage cast him a droll look, complete with raised optic ridges, as soon as they were in the hallway. Jazz groaned and shook his helm. "Don't ask. I don't even know why I came here tonight." He tried to smile at Mirage, but his already sour mood had plummeted in the Rec room. "Thanks for rescuing me."
Mirage stiffened, squaring his shoulders. He held out the tablet for Jazz. "I really do have something to give you," he said. His jaw ground together, neck cables clenching.
Jazz frowned, staring at Mirage. He looked ready for a fight. "What?" Jazz took the tablet, pressing on the activation button. "You don't have any reports for me. What is this?"
The tablet's screen onlined, displaying a slow slideshow of digital images captured from a double date over six months ago between Mirage and Hound and Jazz and Prowl. They had packed up some energon and headed out, spending the day exploring a natural park. The sun was warm and brilliant, the park nearly deserted, and the four of them had had a fantastic time.
Jazz's vocalizer stuttered, static falling from his mouth as his optics flared behind his visor. He watched the scroll of photos slide across the display: him lounging on his side and one elbow, his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle. Prowl sitting prim next to him, smiling at the camera as Jazz gazed up at Prowl. Jazz laughing, his helm thrown back, a cube in his hand as Prowl smiled wide, staring straight at Jazz. The two of them walking in hand in hand ahead of Mirage and Hound.
"Hound and I were doing some cleaning," Mirage said stiffly. "Found these. I thought you might want them," he said dismissively, trying not to look like he was preparing for Jazz's ire and wrath.
Instead, Jazz sighed, long and soft. "Primus," he whispered. One finger rose, stroking over the tablet's screen as an image of Prowl sending a wry, optic-ridge-rising smirk Jazz's way filled the screen. Jazz swallowed, but when he spoke, static still clung to his vocalizer. "That was a pretty great day, huh?"
Mirage stared back at Jazz. "Yeah, Jazz. It was." He hesitated. "Want to talk?"
Jazz's finger stroked over Prowl's image again, slowly. "I don't know what to do, Mirage."
::I wanna tell him, Sunny!:: Sideswipe was practically vibrating with excitement as he sat on the floor of their quarters next to his brother. Prowl sat across from them, playing with Prowler as the little sparkling crawled on his play blanket between the three mechs.
::We don't even know if it really happened…:: Sunstreaker shifted, but a small grin curled over his faceplates.
::Sunny.:: Sideswipe cast a wry look his brother's way. ::You think this isn't what it is? Think it's just really, really great interfacing lingering almost a full day later?::
Prowl looked up at the yellow twin as if he'd suddenly grown a new helm. "What's so funny?" He looked down at Prowler. The sparkling was stacking blocks with Prowl, his attention focused on keeping them steady and level.
::Good job keeping it quiet and secret-like, Sunshine,:: Sideswipe drawled across their new bond. He grinned at Sunstreaker and Sunstreaker reached out, punching his brother in the shoulder playfully.
"What is going on with you too?" Prowl's gaze bounced from one to the other, suspicious.
::I'm gonna tell him!:: Sideswipe was quivering with excitement, and his optics bore into Sunstreaker's, brilliant and gleeful.
Sunstreaker smiled and turned to Prowl. "We bonded," he said simply.
"I was gonna tell him!" Sideswipe cried. He punched Sunstreaker back, a little harder than Sunstreaker had on his shoulder. "Slagger!"
Again, Sunstreaker chuckled, and his arm reached out, looping around Sideswipe's until he had his brother's hand pinned down. He wound their fingers together. ::You were taking too long.::
"Hmph." Sideswipe squeezed his brother's hand and turned to Prowl.
Prowl scrunched up his face, his mouth half-open, optic ridges raised to the top of his helm, disbelief and shock and absolute confusion falling from his gaze. "But… but that's… that's just a myth," he finally sputtered. "Romantic drivel from bad pulp fiction."
"Yeah, we thought so too," Sideswipe chimed, unfazed by Prowl's disbelief. He felt his brother's smugness over their new bond. "But it's real. We really, really bonded. Last night."
Prowl frowned again. "How?"
"Great interfacing," Sunstreaker said bluntly. He grinned, a feral pull back of his lips into a full denta-baring smile.
"Sunny!" Sideswipe laughed aloud, throwing his helm back. Prowl's expression twisted, and he arched a dry optic ridge toward both brothers. "There was a little more to it than that." ::You're gonna make him crash!:: Sideswipe sent across their bond.
::Just playing around:: Sunstreaker mentally shrugged. ::You always want me to be more 'me.'::
::And I love it.:: Sideswipe sent back. ::And you're carrying him to the medbay when he offlines.::
Sunstreaker chuckled again.
"Care to explain?" Prowl's optics again bounced between the twins. "Or do you two need to go back to the medbay?"
"No way!" Sideswipe shuddered, happy to be free. "Ratchet was furious with us when we got back there this morning." They had to report to the medbay every day to continue working on Sideswipe's physical therapy. "We were a little bit late," he added guiltily.
"'A little bit late?'" Prowl repeated, his tone mocking.
Sunstreaker looked entirely too pleased with himself as Sideswipe continued, not the least bit shamed. "Well! It's been a while, Prowl! I mean, it wasn't like we were trying to piss Ratchet off by 'facing when we were supposed to be there working on therapy."
"I tried to tell him it was cross-training," Sunstreaker grunted, trying to cover his smirk. He reached for Prowler, tickling his sparkling's side to check in on him. Prowler twitched away, intently focused on his block towers. "And that it was equally as important as his therapy."
Prowl threw his helm back and laughed. He could just imagine Ratchet's expression to Sunstreaker's droll, arrogant quip. "I don't see any new welds on you, Sunny," he finally said. "How'd you manage to escape what I am sure was his furious reaction?"
Sunstreaker grinned again. "I had Prowler in my arms."
"Ahh, the sparkling defense." Prowl reached out and ruffled a hand over Prowler's helm. Prowler gazed up at Prowl, smiling as he held out a block. Prowl took it gently and set it atop one of the structures Prowler was creating. Prowler frowned and moved it to another tower.
"Truly, though," Prowl finally said. "What makes you think you're romantically bonded?" He peered back at the twins, curiosity replacing his disbelief.
"Well, we've already got the twin bond," Sideswipe began slowly. "And that's 'cause we're split sparks. Our sparks still have that quantum resonance stuff that Wheeljack tried to explain."
"Blah blah," Sunstreaker interjected, not even looking at Sideswipe.
"Yeah," Sideswipe continued, as if Sunstreaker's interruption was perfectly normal and expected. "So, that stuff exists, right? We know that somehow, quantum stuff is working between our sparks, and we can feel each other's mood and feelings." He waved his hand through the air, trying to encompass the complexity of their barely-understood twin bond.
Prowl nodded dryly, one optic ridge raised at the heavily abbreviated scientific explanation. He'd seen their twin bond at work before. Images, feelings, sensations somehow transmitted between the brothers, and sometimes even raw, powerful spikes of emotions and quick words. Sideswipe had told Prowl once of Sunstreaker's absolutely panicked and terrified reach for his brother just before he'd been abducted by the Seekers when they had tried to steal Prowler's spark. It had been terrifying to hear Sideswipe speak about the horror of the moment.
"But," Sunstreaker interrupted again, taking over the conversation. His vocalizer was low, his voice pitched deep, and he spoke with an earnesty that Prowl had rarely seen. "All that romance stuff claims that sparks that bond choose each other, right? They choose to entangle."
Prowl's optics ridge rose at Sunstreaker's seeming knowledge of quantum physics.
"What if we chose to entangle ourselves?" Sunstreaker finished. "We're split sparks, so we're already half way there. We could have decided to go all the way though."
"In that case," Prowl mused softly, his processor turning over Sunstreaker's words carefully. "Your split sparks may have decided to unify. Quantumly, your sparks may now be whole, and you're -" He hesitated, then shut his vocalizer before he continued.
"The mech we were supposed to be before we became twins?" Sideswipe finished for Prowl.
Silently, Prowl nodded.
Both twins grinned, mirror images of each other. "That's exactly what it feels like," Sideswipe whispered. He squeezed his brother's hand again. Sunstreaker pulled their conjoined hands to his face and pressed a soft kiss against his brother's wrist.
Incredible. Prowl slowly smiled, taking in the whiplash-inducing change in the twins' behavior toward each other. "Did you talk to Ratchet?" Prowl asked softly.
Sunstreaker grunted and shook his helm. "Not yet."
"He wasn't in the mood," Sideswipe quipped.
"He did make a weird comment," Sunstreaker added, glancing at Sideswipe.
"About how unusual you two are acting?" Prowl's optic ridge rose again as he grinned.
"No!" Sideswipe playfully scowled at Prowl. "He said our sparks were pulsing in perfect synch. And that they hadn't done that before."
Slowly, Prowl smiled, his gaze turning soft as he gazed at his two friends. "I think congratulations are in order," he whispered. "I never thought those were real."
Sideswipe and Sunstreaker beamed, their hands squeezing together again. Even Prowler suddenly giggled, clapping his hands as he looked up at Prowl.
Prowl smiled down at Prowler. The sparkling was through with his construction and he beamed up into Prowl's gaze, ridiculous joy in his optics. Prowl quickly swept over the sparkling's constructions, ready to congratulate Prowler in his building. He froze, however, his vocalizer shorting on static as he stared at the blocks.
Oblivious, Prowler was already crawling back to Sunstreaker, scampering across the deck on his hands and knees with a huge smile on his faceplates.
"Unbelievable," Prowl muttered. His optics counted the blocks, adding them up quickly. "I don't believe it…"
"What's up?" Sideswipe asked, frowning at Prowl. "What's wrong?"
Prowl stared at Prowler, now in Sunstreaker's arms and mouthing against his wrist. He was hungry, and Sunstreaker laid him down in his arms and lowered his feeding line from his wrist. Prowler started sucking immediately, wrapping his little hands around Sunstreaker's fingers. "He's built a Fibonacci sequence," Prowl whispered. He gestured to the blocks, each tower a sequential integer in a perfect Fibonacci sequence. He'd run out of blocks for the next full integer in the set, and Prowler had instead left a pile of blocks unconstructed instead of building an incorrectly numbered tower.
Sunstreaker stared down at Prowler, his optics wide. Prowler grinned back to him from around his feeding line, dribbling energon over his lips with a happy gurgle. "He doesn't even know what that is," Sunstreaker grunted.
"I don't even know what that is," Sideswipe said, shocked. He stared at Prowler, then across to Prowl. "He's spending way too much time with you and Wheeljack. He didn't get it from me," Sideswipe grumbled. Sunstreaker shrugged, bemusement in his gaze.
"You two are just fine," Prowl assured them, leaning back and bracing himself on his hands. He smiled, watching the small family across from him. These evenings kept him going, these quiet nights with the twins and Prowler where he could relax and forget about everything else.
Only one more month, and he would be a parent as well. He'd have a sparkling, a little newly-emerged sparkling. Primus, he'd need the twins' help. Panic crept in at odd moments, scratching at the back of his processor. How was he supposed to do this alone? He never wanted to raise a sparkling all on his own. He'd wanted the family, the deep and unyielding love, the warm, happy household.
Across from Prowl, Sideswipe smiled and laughed at something Sunstreaker had said over their new bond, and he leaned in close to press a kiss to Sunstreaker's cheek. Sunstreaker's optics dimmed and he leaned back into his brother's touch. Prowler giggled in Sunstreaker's arms, watching his parents. It was the picture of perfect happiness, the family that Prowl had always wanted.
They'd had their struggle to get to this moment, to be sure. Prowl remembered all the dark nights, the uncertainty and Sideswipe's choking anxiety toward his brother mixed with Sunstreaker's complete and total paranoia.
Now, they were bonded.
Sideswipe nuzzled the side of Sunstreaker's face, smiling. Sideswipe had almost died. They'd almost lost it all, but they'd pulled back from the brink.
Could the same happen for him and Jazz?
Prowl had done what he could, loved Jazz as much as he could, but there was nothing more he could do. There wasn't anything more he could give. Jazz had turned him away at every opportunity, pushed away his every attempts to try and talk, to try to reach out, to try and create some understanding of their unexpected situation. Jazz had shut him out at each and every turn.
Prowl had bought back the tablet he'd taken from Ratchet yesterday. At some point, Jazz would be by to pick up the tablet as they decided how to name their sparkling in the coldest, most clinical way possible. Jazz suggested a small handful of names, and Prowl had countered "Dub Step" with "Dragnet," crossed out "Stalk" entirely, and circled Jazz's fourth suggestion as one he truly liked. He'd have to wait for Jazz's next checkup to see what Jazz thought going forward.
It was also the first time Prowl hadn't signed his tablet to Jazz with "I love you."
He had to move on. He had to be strong. He had to get ready for the future, and for the sparkling that would be looking to him soon. He would get through this. He would.
Prowl's spark lurched as he watched the twins again. As long as he kept telling himself he'd get through it, he might actually begin to believe it.
Jazz palmed open his quarters and motioned Mirage inside. "Sorry for the mess," he said softly. "I haven't had any visitors in a while."
Mirage's gaze swept the inside of Jazz's quarters, taking in the pile of spent cubes and tubes of additives on Jazz's desk and table, and the pile of pads precariously balanced on the end of Jazz's couch. He'd pushed most of his furniture to one side of his quarters, and a small space was set off to the side of Jazz's berthing area.
A metal miniberth on a small, wheeled cart sat lonely in cleared space, piled with medbay blankets.
Mirage stared as Jazz straightened the pile of pads on the couch, shoving them out of the way so Mirage could sit. He carried a handful of the empty cubes over to his desk, adding them to the pile, and then pulled another full cube and tube of additives from his shelves. "Have a seat," Jazz grunted. "I really need another cube though."
Watching, Mirage's optic ridges shot high as Jazz voluntarily mixed the additives and started downing his cube. It had been like stripping paint to get Jazz to fuel up while out on the mission. Now, he was fueling regularly and taking care of himself?
Jazz gestured to the miniberth Mirage had been eyeing across his quarters. "Wheeljack brought that by a few days ago. Made it for the sparkling." He had gotten to the point where he wasn't stuttering anymore when he spoke about the sparkling. It was really happening, and somehow that had settled into him. It was really going to be happening.
Mirage nodded as he sat down on the edge of the couch. He watched as Jazz crossed his quarters and slowly sat on the edge of his berth, groaning a bit and shifting around as he tried to get comfortable. There weren't any outward signs of Jazz's condition, but Mirage could read the signs of discomfort as clear as day. "How are you, Jazz?" Mirage finally asked.
A long sigh, heavy and loud, filled the room. Jazz snorted, chuckling darkly, and shook his helm. "I've got no fragging idea, Mirage," he whispered.
"What do you mean?" Mirage watched as Jazz took another long drag from his cube.
"I don't even know who I am anymore," Jazz sighed. "I'm… I'm totally lost, Mirage." His voice was hollow, and he spoke without looking at the spy. "What am I doing? The Decepticons are gone, and there's nothing left for me to do. What the slag does a soldier do when the war's done?"
"You go on living, Jazz." Mirage frowned, watching Jazz flinch. He tried to hide it, but failed. "What do you live for?"
Jazz shook his helm. "I don't have a fragging clue." He stared down into his cube, searching for answers. "Last time, I was making a life with Prowl. I was, you know, trying to figure out how to make that kind of a life work." He snorted. "That failed about as spectacularly as it could have."
"It only failed because you blew it." Mirage snapped. "You ruined it, Jazz."
"Of course I did," Jazz shot back. He finally looked at Mirage, his visor burning back into the spy's gaze. "Don't you think I know that?" He sighed, then swallowed and looked away. "I'm not that mech. I'm not the kind of mech than can just give up on my life and give up my control. Fall in love. See where life takes me."
"That's not giving up on life…" Mirage breathed. He shook his helm, disbelief etched on his face "I saw you, Jazz. I saw how happy you were."
"And look what happened." Jazz stared back at Mirage.
Silence. "You know, a sparkling isn't the end of the world, Jazz," Mirage finally said. "I know you didn't want one, but it's not like you're dead."
Jazz smiled mirthlessly. "Some days I feel dead." He looked away, staring at the miniberth. "I'm lost, Mirage. I have no idea who I am and I have even less of an idea who I'll be once this sparkling is here." He shook his helm. "I'm living a life that isn't mine."
"You know, it doesn't have to be this way-"
"I can't just give up on my life, Mirage," Jazz cut in. "I can't just give up my control and let my life go where the winds and fate take me. I'm not that mech."
"Things happen that we don't account for." Mirage swallowed. So many things in his life had been outside of his control. It was almost unfathomable to imagine he had any control to begin with. "We react and roll with it, and that's our life."
"That's not my life," Jazz said softly. "I knew everything. I controlled everything. I even controlled the Decepticons." His visor glowed, memories of the height of the war playing through his mind. "We had them so many times, you know? Had them playing right into our hands?"
"Jazz…" Mirage shook his helm. "You can't control another mech. That's a lonely life you're advocating."
Jazz nodded. "Yeah, I know," he snapped. "But I lived on my terms. And it was alright. I liked it that way." Countless relationships, berth-hopping and interfacing and laughing nights, all giving way to Jazz ending the relationship on his terms and in his way. He'd never stayed committed. He'd never stayed, period. He'd never been in love, had never lost control of his spark.
"You can talk to Prowl," Mirage finally said, hesitantly. He gestured to the tablet of pictures Jazz had hidden in his subspace.
Jazz shook his helm. "No." He set down his cube on the berth surface, still shaking his helm. "No."
"It's probably time for you to head out, Mirage," Jazz interrupted. "I gotta hit the berth soon. I'm so slagging weak it's not even funny." He tried to smile, but it was a shadow of his former enthusiasm.
Sighing, Mirage stood, and he held Jazz's dark and underpowered gaze for a long moment. "You can comm me whenever you want, Jazz," he said softly. "You don't have to be alone."
"Good night." Jazz waved, ignoring Mirage's words.
Mirage sighed and headed for the door. He slipped out without another word, casting one last look over his shoulder.
Slowly, Jazz moved across his quarters. He stood over the miniberth, looking at the small resting place where his sparkling was going to recharge. It was so bare, so cold, so empty. Jazz reached for the pile of blankets Wheeljack had brought and shook one out, then draped it across the miniberth. He grabbed another, tucking it down around the base, and a third, near the top, creating a nest of colorful soft fabric, ready and waiting for a tiny sparkling. His sparkling.
Jazz stared at the waiting miniberth until his systems chimed, warning of imminent shut down. Reluctantly, he headed for his berth, but just before he offlined, Jazz pulled out the tablet Mirage had given him and onlined the display. Prowl's face, happy and smiling, filled the screen. One finger brushed over the display as he rested the tablet against the berth.
He stared at the display – and at Prowl – until he slipped offline and into a dreamless recharge.
Wheeljack fidgeted, hesitating outside Ratchet's door. His hands wrung together, fingers nervously clenching. He'd spent all night and all day rehearsing his little speech, but now that it was time to act, his courage seemed to have fled.
He replayed the facts, the raw facts that had led him to Ratchet's door in a quivering heap of nervous circuits. Ratchet had come to him yesterday and helped with the shuttle. He'd come again that evening, hanging out with him and Prowler until Prowler was ready to recharge. Wheeljack had hoped that Ratchet would stay after the sparkling fell offline and that maybe they could finally talk, but Ratchet scooted out the door as if he was on fire just after Wheeljack started softly nursing Prowler from his bottle and rocking him into recharge.
He hadn't seen Ratchet all day, but his systems were keyed up, his processor racing, and all he could think about was that Ratchet might – just might – be open to talking to Wheeljack.
He fretted again, sighing as he shifted across his feet. He'd faced down Decepticons, crazed gestalt combiners, and Grimlock in a bad mood. None of that was as hard as reaching out for Ratchet's door.
He quickly slapped at the palm pad, requesting entry. He held his breath.
A long moment of silence stretched thick, and Wheeljack nearly offlined where he stood. Primus, was Ratchet not even in there?
Finally, the door slid open, and Ratchet's beautiful, confused frame filled the doorway. He stared at Wheeljack, shocked.
Wheeljack's audial fins flared, staying brilliantly illuminated. He swallowed, his optics traveling the length of his ex-lover's body. Primus, he loved Ratchet so much.
"Wheeljack?" Ratchet asked, his voice heavy with confusion. "What are you doing here? Is there a medical emergency?" He was already moving, already frowning as he turned to head back inside to check his terminal.
Wheeljack reached out, grabbing Ratchet's arm. "No, there's no emergency," he said quickly. His hand fell from Ratchet's arm as Ratchet looked back at him, confusion slowly being replaced with wariness. "I, uhh… I…" Wheeljack's vocalizer faded into static.
Ratchet's helm tilted to the side and he crossed his arms over his chestplates.
"Look, Ratchet," Wheeljack finally blurted out. "I love you." His hands pushed forward, emphasizing his words. "I love you so slagging much. I love everything about you. I love your processor, and how you can think of things that no one else ever can. I love your body, and how unbelievably sexy you are. I love your humor, and how dry and dark you can get. I love your temper, and how passionate you get. I love everything about you." He paused, dragging in a long inhale. "And I've missed you so much. I cannot stop thinking about you. I cannot stop dreaming about you. I've missed you since the day I left, and I've never regretted a decision more in my entire life. I wish I could take that entire day back." He swallowed, his gears grinding as he tried to speak too fast. "I was so stupid. I'm the stupidest fragger alive to throw you away like that, and I don't blame you for hating me."
Wheeljack paused, his breaths coming fast and short. Ratchet's mouth dropped open, and he stared at Wheeljack with unabashed shock. "I love you, Ratchet," Wheeljack pressed on, shaking slightly. His hands moved frantically, gesticulating as he spoke. "And I want to make things right. I don't know what's going on with you and Ironhide, and if you're happy with him, then I won't ever bring this up again. I'll be happy for you, and I'll be supportive, and I'll leave you two alone." It hurt to say that, and he bounced on his feet, gathering his courage for the next part.
"But, you came to the hangar deck yesterday and helped me, and then you came to me with Prowler last night, too, and I just got to thinking…" Wheeljack inhaled deep. "Maybe you might miss me... too? Maybe you wanted to… talk?" His voice faded away lamely.
He swallowed and surged on as Ratchet's mouth pressed closed, his lips thinning to a firm line. "If there's any hope, Ratchet. If there's any chance. If there's any room in your spark to give a slagger like me another chance… Can we try?"
Silence. "I just want you to be happy," Wheeljack whispered. "And... maybe I can be the one to make you happy again?"
Behind Ratchet, a dark shape moved, heading for the door. Wheeljack was so fixed on Ratchet, staring into his dark and turgid optics, that he didn't notice until Ironhide was right behind Ratchet, one hand on his hip as he stared over his shoulder at Wheeljack. A bright smile stretched across his faceplates.
Groaning, Wheeljack slumped sideways. His helm thunked against the doorjamb, and he slowly thudded his forehelm against the metal as Ironhide turned to Ratchet.
"You went to the hangar yesterday?" Ironhide's grin never faded. His optics twinkled.
Ratchet grumbled and looked away. "Yeah." His optics slid to Wheeljack, resting his forehelm against the doorjamb with an absolute miserable expression spread out over his face.
Ironhide's smile grew. "Well, that's my cue," he said softly. He leaned forward, pressing a soft kiss against Ratchet's chevron. His lips lingered, hovering on the plating.
Wheeljack offlined his optics. He didn't want to see.
Ironhide pulled away from Ratchet. He squeezed past Wheeljack, slipping into the corridor. "Remember what I said," he called back to Ratchet.
Ratchet smiled back, faint and thankful, and nodded. "Remember what I said," he whispered back.
Ironhide nodded. He turned and headed down the corridor, whistling as he walked.
Ratchet shook his helm and watched him leave, grumbling under his breath. Finally, he turned and stared at Wheeljack. The engineer was a miserable slump of dejection and sorrow, and his optics were staring at Ratchet with nothing short of complete misery buried in their depths. "I deserved that," Wheeljack mumbled.
"Get in here." Ratchet hauled Wheeljack into his quarters, dragging him by his elbow. Wheeljack stumbled in after Ratchet, nearly tripping, but he righted himself and stood just inside Ratchet's quarters as he gazed over the 'date' he'd interrupted between Ratchet and Ironhide. His optics refused to look at the berth, instead crawling over the half-finished cubes of high-grade and the soft candle lit on the coffee table.
"What do you want, 'Jack?"
"You." Wheeljack's optics met Ratchet's. "Everything with you."
"Everything." Wheeljack sighed and looked away. "I'm really sorry for interrupting you guys-"
"You won't run away again if things get tough? Won't bail if there's another hard patch? Won't leave me all alone when I really need you most?"
Wheeljack turned back to Ratchet, staring at him with too-bright, perplexed optics. "Never again," Wheeljack breathed. His hands started to tremble. "Never, ever again. I don't want to go another day without you, Ratchet. It hurts too much, not being with you." He swallowed, the gears in his throat rising and falling.
Slowly, too slowly, Ratchet reached for Wheeljack's hand. He threaded their fingers together, his body remembering the touch and feel of Wheeljack's plating. He smiled, his thumb automatically stroking over Wheeljack's palm. "I need some time," Ratchet choked out. "I need to learn to trust you again. And… figure out who you are. You've changed, Wheeljack. This sparkling stuff has really changed you."
Wheeljack nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
"But…" Ratchet continued, peering at Wheeljack. "I'm open your attempts to woo me." He grinned softly, his words an echo of their first courtship. Wheeljack had been stubbornly trying to court an oblivious Ratchet, and after Ratchet had finally snapped at him, demanding to know why Wheeljack was always underfoot and in the way, Wheeljack had snapped right back that he had been attempting to woo him.
They were dating a week later. Hadn't ever been apart since. Until this.
Wheeljack's trembles increased, taking over his body, and he nodded furiously. He held Ratchet's gaze, his optics burning, and finally, Wheeljack pitched forward, falling into the medic's arms. He buried his face in Ratchet's neck and whispered over and over, "I love you."
They clung to each other, shaking and softly whispering into each other's audials as bitter emotions and pained memories poured through them. The harsh feelings, the hurt, the recrimination. The agonized loneliness. The desperate wish for each other back in their arms. All spoken in soft whispers and pained sighs and carefully stroked over arms and backplates.
Finally, Ratchet pulled Wheeljack to the berth and laid down, holding his lover tight. Their arms and legs wound around each other, and they offlined together, staring into each other's gazes as Wheeljack whispered promises to make things right amidst his words of love.