"So," Lennox sat on the edge of a workbench, heels kicking idly into thin air. "Twins, huh?"
Beside him, Optimus Prime was resting, folded into his vehicular mode for comfort and economy of space. At first Lennox thought his friend was too lost in his own thoughts to respond. He was startled when Optimus's voice finally rumbled through the air around him,
Technicians, working in teams to dismantle the Decepticon laboratory, paused in their work. Ironhide had already designated several areas of the warehouse complex as too dangerous for humans to enter, most likely because they contained advanced weaponry and the big, tempting red buttons Decepticons seemed to love. The tech teams were scrambling to record and remove what was left. Their eyes had lit up on seeing the treasure trove open to them. At least half seemed paranoid that Optimus Prime would snatch it away again at any moment.
The Prime himself was weary, not sustaining major damage in his fight against Megatron, but still tired and low on energy. Lennox suspected that Ratchet rather wanted his commander back at the NEST base, and bumped up the rota for a recharge chamber. Until Sunny and Sides emerged from theirs, there was no chance of that happening.
"Forgive me, Lennox. I did not realise that you were unfamiliar with the nature of Sideswipe and Sunstreaker's relationship."
"No biggie." Lennox shrugged. The fact that the two 'bots were close had been obvious from the first time Sunstreaker's name was mentioned. Given the number of hints and asides Lennox had picked up in the last two days, he was actually embarrassed that he'd needed to see them fight together before he put it all together.
Mudflap and Skids had that same instinctive knowledge of one another's presence and moves, tempered by their small stature, adolescent awkwardness and relative lack of experience. In Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, Lennox had seen the twin-spark tempered, trained and refined until it became a fearsome weapon in its own right. No wonder Sideswipe had avoided the Chevys, their mere presence reminding him of what he was missing, particularly in the aftermath of yet another unsatisfying battle. And no wonder the younger twins idolised the older pair, seeing in them something to aspire to.
"Anyone else hiding a twin brother I should know about? A long-lost sib or parent that's going to turn up bringing all the hordes of the Decepticons behind him?"
Prime rumbled, the sound throbbing deep and low in the air. It was almost, but not quite, laughter.
"A sibling or progenitor… that is difficult to say. But twins? No. A shared spark is rare and precious thing amongst our kind." The truck fell silent for a few seconds, and Lennox could feel the unseen eyes grow distant. "Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. There was a time they were inseparable. I was surprised when Sideswipe agreed to follow my call to Earth. I am sure he has regretted it from time to time, feeling the separation from his twin brother fiercely."
"He's not been the fun-loving 'bot we all know and love, that's for sure." Ironhide rolled to a halt beside his Prime, both of them gazing across the floor to the recharge chamber.
"At its core, his impulsive nature and joy of battle has remained unchanged."
"Oh, yes." Ironhide wasn't so much arguing with his Prime as expanding on his thought. "But it wouldn't have hurt him to unwind once in a while. Live a little."
Lennox couldn't help wincing a little at that. He eased himself a little further back on the tabletop, struggling not to slump as his body protested its bone-weariness. This vigil seemed to be lasting forever. With the humans working around them, the communications shield lowered and the warehouse confirmed free of any Decepticon presence, Ratchet had decided to give his patients the full five-hour recharge sequence, reaching into the chamber and around them to delicately repair the worst of their damage as they slept.
Lennox and Prime had spent most of those hours watching him, their eyes straying to the two still forms, sunk deep into a recharge cycle, or maybe some more worrying stupor. It was still too early to be sure just how low on power the twin Autobots had sunk and what the consequences were going to be. Ironhide shifted uncomfortably, perhaps embarrassed by his choice of words.
"Which isn't to say our medic wasn't glad of the respite," the weapons specialist added, as if in afterthought, eyes on his friend as Ratchet paced up and down in front of the narrow metal box.
"He spends a lot of time patching them up?" Lennox could believe it. Two warriors like that, joyful and fearless in the front line of battle, must take a fair bit of damage.
The Autobots hesitated and Lennox could sense the amusement in the air between them. "Amongst other things," Prime allowed after a few seconds. "Sunstreaker is not the easiest of my charges to live with, Major Lennox."
Ironhide chuckled. "But Sides and Sunny together sure do keep a place interesting."
There was no time for Lennox to ask just what that might mean. On the other side of the room, Ratchet stopped his pacing, turning abruptly to face the recharge chamber as the pale glow of power faded. Ironhide and Prime started forward, Lennox jumping down from his tabletop perch and hurrying to keep up with his friends as they fell into line in front of the tall, narrow compartment.
"Come on," Ratchet was muttering, low and urgent. "Power up, youngsters. Power up, damn you!"
There was a moment of perfect, tense stillness, every pair of eyes in the room glued to the same sight. Then, as if in response to the medic's command, the optics on one of the twins began to glow, softly at first but then with increasing brilliance. They flickered off for a moment as the Autobot – crammed too closely in with his brother for Lennox to make out which one – blinked, and then steadied. The 'bot shifted. His head rose, knocking hard against the side of the recharge chamber, and his arm came up instinctively to support his still-unaware brother as the metal cubicle rocked around them.
"Hey!" It was an unfamiliar voice, near-identical in timbre and rhythm to Sideswipe, but a semi-tone higher in pitch. "What the…? Hey, Sides! Wake up!"
The second twin snapped awake in half the time it had taken his brother, jerking backwards and then tangling with his fellow 'bot as the two of them realised how tightly they were crammed together. The recharge chamber rocked around them, shoved from side to side by the warriors' broad shoulders.
"I don't know. Just don't move, okay?"
A creak, a wobble and the recharge chamber toppled forward away from the wall, its metal walls hiding the two struggling Autobots still inside. There were a couple of seconds of silence, and then Sideswipe's smooth voice rang out at floor level, its tone thoughtful.
"Not that I mind sharing a recharge chamber from time to time, Sunny, but I have to say, you wouldn't be my first choice of companions."
"Uh-huh. Likewise. Reckon we should be worried?"
"Actually, I'm kind of too busy being relieved we're not offline."
"Okay. Two questions: how did we get in here, and why aren't we offline? Want to try getting out of here, or just get on with wondering?"
The twins weren't given the choice. Ironhide took a grip on one side of the recharge chamber, Ratchet mirroring him. One firm pull and the metal box shredded, tumbling two silver-grey Autobots onto the concrete floor beneath. They rolled to their feet with the casual grace of trained warriors, both bracing themselves and coming up armed before hesitating, caught by Prime's big, blue eyes.
Weapons were sheathed, both Autobots coming to a rather confused attention.
"I believe the answer to both your questions to be 'Ratchet'," Prime observed in a neutral tone.
The twins exchanged a glance before turning identical embarrassed looks on their medic.
"Hey, ah, thanks." Sunstreaker's awkward gratitude was echoed by Sideswipe's quiet sincerity.
Ratchet glowered at them, his anxiety of the last few days hidden behind a fierce mask. "Don't let it happen again."
Sunstreaker threw the senior 'bot a cocky smile. "We'll do our best." His eyes swept the ruined Decepticon base, taking in the Prime-sized holes decorating opposite walls of the warehouse. " I was just gonna give you a heads up about this place. Wasn't my fault the 'cons decided to start playing with missiles... or that Sides got himself pranged."
Ratchet narrowed his eyes. "Somehow, it never is."
"Sunstreaker." Optimus Prime drew all eyes back to him with the single word. "You are welcome here on Earth. I must introduce you to Major Lennox, who leads those humans who fight at our side."
Sunstreaker's eyes followed Prime's pointing fingers, scanning Lennox up and down and then glancing back at his brother, before returning the human. Lennox summoned up his best cocky smile to match the 'bot's. Sunstreaker glanced again at his twin, clearly searching for additional information before giving something approximating a brisk nod.
Lennox smile turned grim. The Autobot's doubt was tangible. It would take more than his brother's recommendation to convince this one of Lennox' worth, that much was clear. Lennox could deal with that. Sunstreaker wasn't the first cocky Autobot to fall to Earth and he wouldn't be the last. NEST had ways of putting an incoming 'bot in his place.
"I'm sure we're going to get on just fine," he predicted.
There was a thud of rotors, vibrating the air. Two huge helicopters were landing outside the warehouse, right on schedule. Lennox folded his arms, looking the two recharged but still unsteady soldiers up and down.
"Right, lets get you two back to Base."
"In those things?"
Sunstreaker glanced through the hole in the wall, looking at the human transports with obvious disdain. Sideswipe's bearing was more uneasy, something of the clinginess Lennox had seen in Mudflap and Skids in his posture as he edged almost imperceptibly closer to his twin brother. The senior 'bots exchanged a thoughtful look.
Ratchet hummed over his breath, glancing at the helicopters – each able to hold a single Autobot – and then back at the newly-reunited twins. He folded his arms.
"You're all buzzing with energon, I know, but are you two up to transforming?" he asked bluntly.
Sideswipe folded down into his vehicular form with obvious difficulty, the ugly patch on his side still awaiting a proper repair. Sunstreaker watched his brother for a few seconds before transforming more smoothly, a second silver Corvette joining its twin beneath the fluorescent lights. Both revved their engines, edging forward a few feet to show their eagerness.
A smile twitched the corners of Ratchet's mouth, one of relief Lennox thought, before the medic's eyes narrowed. "Oh no, you don't. I want to know just whose aft I'm throwing a spanner at."
Ironhide mirrored his friends' posture, folding his arms and tapping one foot on the ground.
"Colour," he demanded. "Now."
There was a moment of hesitation, the two cars exchanging looks in some manner Lennox couldn't quite perceive. The air rippled, and where before an identical pair of sportscars had graced the rundown laboratory, now one was clad in fire-truck red, the second shimmering the vibrant golden-yellow of ripe maize. Ironhide and Ratchet sighed, neither able to hide their smile.
"Now doesn't that feel better?" Ratchet murmured, patting the two Corvettes on their roofs. The red car revved his engine with an annoyance that slid off Ratchet's broad shoulders unheeded.
"It would, perhaps, feel even more so if you were to resume your more accustomed liveries."
Ratchet froze, his eyes widening as he looked up at Prime. There was a chuckle from the twins that couldn't honestly be described as anything but a snigger, and the two Corvettes shimmered again, exchanging colour schemes between one blink of the eye and the next.
The red car edged a little forward. "Sideswipe reporting for duty."
His yellow twin matched him. "Sunstreaker ready to roll."
The senior autobots exchanged rueful looks, their bodies already folding down into vehicles that spoke of power and strength where the Corvettes were all speed and grace. Prime's cab door swung open and Lennox gripped the handle with one hand, waving a farewell at the chief technician and reaching for his radio to dispatch the helicopters back to Base. He could hitch a ride with them, he knew, and stretch out his weary bones that little bit earlier. Instead he climbed aboard Optimus Prime, one weary commander joining another, ready to ride out the small hours shepherding their wayward warriors back to Base.
Ironhide rolled out, the twins following, and Prime and Ratchet bringing up the rear. Lennox hid his smile. Something told him that he wasn't the only one who wanted to keep a close eye on Sideswipe and his newly-arrived twin brother.
They were maybe five miles out of the industrial zone when Sideswipe and his brother eased past Ironhide to take the lead. It was perhaps a minute after that before the yellow-gold Sunstreaker revved his engine, putting his front bumper a foot or so ahead of his twin's. Lennox watched with tired amusement as the scarlet Sideswipe put in a burst of his own, outpacing his brother and getting his nose ahead in what was soon a rapidly-accelerating game of tit-for-tat.
None of the other Autobots reacted with surprise when the game drew to a climax, both front-liners dropping their clutches and flooring the gas pedal at the same unheard signal. He had no doubt that Ironhide, Ratchet and Prime were keeping a careful eye on their charges, ready to catch up when the pair had burnt off the sheer joie de vivre of their reunion. In the meantime Lennox laughed as he watched two pairs of tail-lights streak into the distance, tearing up the empty road and losing themselves in the pre-dawn gloom.
On the eastern horizon, shafts of gold and red heralded the dawning of a new day. Leaning back against Optimus Prime's comfortable front seat, Lennox let himself doze, getting some rest while he could. Skids had been right.
This was going to be fun.