It had been an incredible sight, an entire starship hidden beneath the compound. Prowl had proudly explained their progress, and took them on a short tour, ending at the habitation suite area.
They were greeted by Sideswipe, Smokescreen, Ironhide and Ironfist. Everyone was happy to see Bumblebee, despite his state of disrepair. As they all gathered around the minibot asking him about the refinery, Jazz silently slipped away.
He padded down the hallway, opening doors to the various rooms to see their layouts. At the very end of the hall he found an alcove that had one room at the end. Opening the door, he stepped in and surveyed the space. It was medium-sized, but comfortable, and there was a small, private washrack attached. Deciding this would be his room for now, he programed the lock to his energy signature, and then wandered to the berth, flopping down on his back.
Jazz felt more lost than ever. He replayed the events at the shuttle landing pad, trying to wrap his mind around why it hurt so much to be forced to leave. Unwanted sadness welled up inside him. One part of him was grateful that Soundwave wanted to spare him any further trauma, but the rest of him was angry that he’d not been given a choice in the matter. Soundwave just decided what was best and did it, which went right up his tailpipe. He grit his dentia. “If you don’t come back to me, I’ll hunt you down and make you regret it, Sounders.”
He rolled to his side and curled up, despair overcoming him.
A knock drew his attention. He stared blankly at the closed door, waiting for the inevitable. While no one saw him leave, and most wouldn’t miss his presence, he was all too aware his longtime friend would come looking for him.
The door slid open, and sure enough Prowl was there. He was so predictable.
“Jazz?” Prowl tentatively stepped inside. “May I come in?”
“You’re already in,” Jazz pointed out.
Prowl frowned, then fully entered, letting the door shut behind him. He wandered over and sat down on the edge of the berth near Jazz’s head. Reaching out, Prowl gently stroked the side of his helm. “Mirage just told me what happened.”
“How I got tricked by that stupid giant fragger? Yeah,” Jazz replied flatly.
“He made it sound like Soundwave wanted to protect you.” Prowl let his fingers glide up one of his horns. “And things are a bit of a mess between you and Blue.”
“That’s an understatement,” Jazz replied. “I fragged things up really badly. I thought Blue was okay with it after I told him initially, but apparently not.”
“I can sympathize,” Prowl replied.
“You fragged your owner after telling someone else you loved them?” Jazz frowned. “Doubt you’ve made as much of a mess as I did.”
“In trying to bring Sideswipe and Sunstreaker together, Sunny closed down even more and then went running into the Swarm that broke down the compound outer wall almost getting himself killed.” Prowl softly sighed. “Whether he’ll admit or not, it was a failed suicide attempt that I helped propel him toward.”
Jazz glanced up at Prowl. “He’s gonna be okay?”
“Yes. Tremorwave will return him later this afternoon,” Prowl replied.
“We’re a pair, huh?” Jazz dimmed his visor, as Prowl continued to pet his helm.
“One way or another, things will have to be worked out. I will do my best to deal with Sunstreaker, and hopefully not lose him.” Prowl paused his light touches. “And you will need to talk things out with Bluestreak. Not that I think you should go out there right now and do it, but when you’re ready.”
“I know. I never meant to hurt him.” Jazz frowned. “Never meant to have such strong feelings for Sounders, either. It just happened.”
“Love is like that.” Prowl shifted and reached for Jazz’s collar.
Jazz rolled to his back and bared his neck as Prowl fiddled with the collar. “I dunno if I love him.”
“Mirage said he’d never seen you lose your ‘cool’ like that before. Not even when captured behind enemy lines.” Suddenly the pressure of the collar around his neck released as Prowl removed it.
Jazz rubbed his kinked neck cables. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off him. “Sounders just knows how to push my buttons.”
“Uh-huh,” Prowl replied with a small, knowing smile.
“Shut-up, you,” Jazz replied with a playful jab at Prowl’s leg.
“Well, take what time you need right now, but I do hope once you’re feeling a little more settled you’ll consider being my second,” Prowl said with a warm look.
Jazz gazed up at him, amazed not only at how stable Prowl was after what happened to them, but how he was so much more emotionally accessible. He’d been so aloof and distant in the past... “I’d be honored, but I gotta fix the thing with Blue first.”
Prowl nodded, his relaxed demeanor shifting back to a more business-liked posture as he stood up and set the collar on the berthside table. “I need to check in on Skyfire and Red Alert. If you haven’t emerged in a couple hours, I’ll come back with some energon for you.”
Sitting up, Jazz gazed at Prowl. “I’ll be out in a bit. Promise.”
With a sharp nod, Prowl left.
Part of Jazz was jealous. He felt like he was unraveling, while his best friend was more together than ever. He needed to steel his resolve and set things as right as they could be with Bluestreak so he could stop wallowing in his guilt. Frowning, he also decided the next time he saw Soundwave he’d give him a piece of his mind about taking away his choices like that. He deserved more than that, especially from a mech he loved.
Groaning, Sunstreaker lit his optics. His field of vision was filled with the intently staring face of that medic, Tremorwave.
“I’m not dead,” Sunstreaker commented.
“Definitely not,” Tremorwave replied with a grin.
“Welcome back online!”
Sunstreaker glanced over to see First Aid sitting beside the table he was laid out on. “You’re alive?”
First Aid chuckled a little as he nodded. “Thanks to Tremor, yep.”
“Now that we’ve established everyone here is online and very much alive, let’s get you fueled up. I’m supposed to drop you back at the compound this afternoon,” Tremorwave said as he coiled up wires and hosing.
Sunstreaker frowned as he sat up. “So soon?” he asked.
“Yeah, that Prowl mech asked me earlier and made it sound important we get you back today if possible.” Tremorwave dumped his coiled up cords and hoses into a bin, then clapped his freed hands loudly. “Fuel time! First Aid, show our guest to the kitchenette, if you don’t mind.”
It was then Sunstreaker saw First Aid was in a hoverchair. The younger medic turned his chair and led the way out of the regen tank room. Sunstreaker slid off the table and followed him, still feeling sort of woozy from the regen tank.
“So, your legs don’t work?” Sunstreaker asked, curious.
“They work, it’s just that they’re weak. Tremor puts me in the regen tank when it’s available and I’ve been getting some functionality back from that, though.” First Aid stretched to pour out three servings of energon from the dispenser. “I can walk with assistance, and maybe after some more time in the tank my substructure will be strong enough to support me again.”
Sunstreaker took the offered glass and sat down heavily in a chair at the table. First Aid maneuvered his chair into place and put both glasses in his grasp down, then pulled one in closer to him.
Taking a sip, Sunstreaker grimaced. “Sweetened energon?”
“Yeah, I like it,” First Aid replied as his lower port on his mask opened to allow him access to the straw he plunked in his fuel.
Swirling the energon in the glass, Sunstreaker frowned a little. He didn’t want to go back to the awkwardness that was living with Sideswipe and Prowl. Without Smokescreen needing him now, there was no point in carrying on anyway. He softly sighed, wishing those stupid insecticon things had actually killed him.
“You look really upset,” First Aid observed. “You hate sweet energon that much?”
Sunstreaker glanced up and smiled just a little. “It’s not that.”
“Is it related to the wounds you came in with?” First Aid asked.
“Yeah, kinda,” Sunstreaker replied.
Tremorwave burst into the kitchenette and sat down with them. “Alright. Took a good hard look at your readings, Mr. Sunshine. Some of the nastier bites injected acid into your body’s fluid lines and it’s going to take time to fully cycle out of you. You feeling a little dizzy?”
“Yeah,” Sunstreaker replied.
“You’re going to need to take it easy for about a week. Stay close to a berth, recharge as much as you can. That’ll speed up your recovery,” Tremorwave took the third glass on the table and sucked down the fuel in a few greedy gulps. “Ahhh. Nothing like good ol’ sweet energon.”
“Sunstreaker doesn’t like sweetened energon,” First Aid pointed out.
“What? Maybe it’s the poison messing with your taste sensory input,” Tremorwave teased. “Like it or not, you need fuel, so choke it down. We’ve gotta get going here shortly.”
He really didn’t want to go back already, but he was being given no choice. The ceremonial sword came to mind, and Sunstreaker lifted the glass to his lips and drank down more of the distasteful fuel. If things didn’t get better, at least he still had a possible way out.
Pulling a datapad from subspace, Prowl knocked on the door to Skyfire and Red Alert’s chosen room. After a long moment the door opened. Skyfire greeted him with a smile.
“Come in,” Skyfire said as he stepped back.
Prowl took a step into the room and glanced over at Red Alert who averted his gaze. This was another issue that would need to be dealt with as well. When Jazz was ready, Prowl planned on having all three sit down and talk. He turned his attention to Skyfire and held out the datapad.
“Ironfist is doing his best with the older engines on this ship, but he would very much appreciate any insight you might have,” Prowl explained as Skyfire took the pad.
“Schematics,” Skyfire hummed as he poked through the files. “I’d be happy to take a look. I used to maintain large ships like this once.”
“Thank you,” Prowl replied. “Do either of you need anything?”
Red Alert glanced at Prowl like he wanted to ask something, but looked away again after a moment.
“You can ask him, Red,” Skyfire said, having caught the exchange of looks.
“Um.” Red Alert wrung his hands in his lap. “I want to help. I was wondering if there’s anything I can do. Well, that you’d let me do.”
Prowl firmly nodded. “Of course.” He then pulled another pad from subspace and walked over to take a seat next to Red Alert as he turned it on. Red Alert tensed, but didn’t move away from him, which was good. “I have been trying to figure out how the Swarm breached the outer wall. This compound is thoroughly protected with a forcefield, so there should have been no conceivable way for them to get in.” He scrolled to the data related to the breach, including video footage. “But I’m very busy. Would you mind looking it over for me?”
Red Alert took the datapad and nodded. “I’ll figure it out for you.”
“Thank you, Red,” Prowl replied. He could see the blue was back in his optics, but there was still a dullness to them. He was himself again, but not himself at the same time. Standing back up, Prowl made his way to the door and paused before leaving. “Since you both seem to be in better health, I’ll let you retrieve your energon from the rec area and work on integrating with the crew.”
Skyfire looked up with bright optics then nodded. “Thank you for everything you’ve been doing for us. We’ll be happy to mingle, but it may be in small doses at first.”
“That’s perfectly acceptable,” Prowl replied with a smile before slipping from the room.
He made his way down the hall to his own room and wandered inside, sighing to himself as his let his posture relax.
“Hard work being in charge, huh?” Sideswipe asked.
Prowl quickly turned to look into the berthroom next to the small living area, doorwings lifting up in surprise. He shook his head and moved to stand in the threshold between the rooms. Sideswipe was on his back sprawled out over the large berth with some sort of novel on a datapad in hand. “I thought you were in the rec area with the others.”
“I was.” Sideswipe shrugged a shoulder. “Everyone wanted to watch that stupid movie with the droids again. Wasn’t in the mood.”
Stepping into the room, Prowl suspected it was more than that. He crawled onto the berth beside the larger mech, stretching against his warm frame and resting his chin on Sideswipe’s shoulder. “And you’re worried about Sunstreaker, perhaps?”
“Maybe a little,” Sideswipe replied. “I mean, why was he up in the compound anyway? And why did he just run right into those things like that?”
Prowl dimmed his optics. “His will to live hasn’t been very strong.”
“You think he was really trying to kill himself again?” Sideswipe asked with a frown.
“It’s unclear, but worrisome at the same time,” Prowl replied.
“He’s such a stubborn slag-head sometimes,” Sideswipe said with a sigh. “And watching the two of you–” He cut himself off and grimaced. “The walls are so high between you. I don’t know if this whole all three of us thing is going to ever really work.”
Prowl pushed up onto his elbows and stared down at Sideswipe. “I have tried to reach out to him, but he’s been unresponsive.”
Sideswipe leveled a look at Prowl. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but from what I’ve seen you’ve barely tried. I get it, you’re hesitant and your mind is in a million places at once, being our new leader and all, but Sunny needs a good whack upside the head sometimes before he starts to get things. There’s a reason I ran off from him. He doesn’t take hints, frag, he doesn’t take anything he doesn’t want to hear very well.”
“I don’t know if being forceful is the right tact,” Prowl replied with a frown.
“You just gotta be more, I dunno, more upfront with him. I mean, how did you convince him to even try this three-way thing in the first place?” Sideswipe asked.
“I went to him and told him the truth as I saw it about our situation. I also asked if he found me attractive,” Prowl replied.
Sideswipe snorted a laugh. “See, be like that. Be straight with him. If it’ll help, I can make myself scarce so you two can talk once he’s back.”
Prowl nodded. “I will try a more direct tactic.”
Sideswipe smiled brightly, and pulled Prowl down by the side of the helm into a lovely kiss. “And of course he’s gonna find you attractive. You’re gorgeous, you know,” he murmured against Prowl’s lips.
Prowl’s spark felt all fluttery and light between the kiss and compliment. “I don’t see myself as you do.”
Sideswipe pulled Prowl overtop of him, capturing his lips in another, deeper kiss. As the kiss broke, Sideswipe grinned at him. “I promise it’s true. Beauty and a processor that can kick everyone else’s aft. You got it all.”
“Now if only I could also ‘get’ Sunstreaker,” Prowl replied.
“You will. Just stop being as guarded and remember he needs a mallet over the head sometimes,” Sideswipe replied.
“I do hope you you mean metaphorically?” Prowl replied with a small smile.
“Metaphorically or if you need a real one, I know Ironfist has one down in the engine room.” Sideswipe chuckled.
Prowl playfully pinched his nose. “I will do my best for you both.”
“You really can’t do anything for a week?” Sideswipe asked as he helped Sunstreaker onto the berth.
The woozy feeling hadn’t stopped. In fact, he felt a worse now after the shuttle ride over. Scooting back, he propped himself up against the wall. “Yeah. I feel like slag, too,” Sunstreaker replied.
“Here,” Prowl came at him from the other side of the berth, holding out a glass of energon.
Sunstreaker reached for the offered glass, but nearly fumbled it. Prowl caught it just in time, and frowned. “Let me.” He moved to sit beside Sunstreaker and held the fuel up to his lips, tipping it up for Sunstreaker to drink.
It was humiliating to have Prowl feed him like some invalid. He shoved the glass away with a hand after being forced to drink about half. “That’s enough for now.”
Prowl lowered the glass, and his doorwings drooped as well.
“Well, I’m glad that you’re back.” Sideswipe leaned in, and Sunstreaker let his brother kiss him.
It was one of the few things he allowed himself to indulge in. Sideswipe parted his lips, and the kiss deepened as their glossae twinned between their mouths. A part of him so desperately wanted to toss his brother down and ‘face him strutless, but his his fear that he was now damaged goods thanks to Vortex’s mind-frag combined with Prowl’s presence overrode his flare of desire. Plus, the whole dizzy, feeling ill thing...
The kiss broke, and Sideswipe nuzzled Sunstreaker’s nose, which reminded him of better times. Back when they’d been affectionate with one another.
“‘Kay, I’m gonna go hang out in the rec area for a bit. Catch you two later,” Sideswipe said as he pulled away and got to his feet.
“What? I just got back, I’m a mess and you’re taking off?” Sunstreaker asked, confused by the abruptness of his brother’s actions.
“Yep. You and Prowl need to talk, and if I’m here it’ll just complicate things. I’ll be back in a bit, though. Promise.” Sideswipe pat the top of Sunstreaker’s helm, then strolled out their quarters.
Sunstreaker frowned a little as he looked at Prowl. “Talk, huh?”
Prowl’s gaze dropped down to the energon in his hands. “Yes. Though,” he paused, fingering the glass. “I hadn’t expected him word it quite that way.” He sighed.
“Sides is a jerk like that sometimes,” Sunstreaker replied as he rested his head against the wall.
“He means well,” Prowl replied. Reaching over, he set the glass on the berthside table, then he looked back over at Sunstreaker. “I just felt that we should talk about what happened. Why it was you were off the ship when the Swarm broke the barrier wall down.”
Not feeling his best, Sunstreaker wasn’t in the mood to verbally evade Prowl. So he decided to just tell the truth. “You and Sides needed some alone time, and I thought no big deal, Smokes wanted to hang out anyway. Of course, him and ‘Hide are apparently now linking arrays and whatnot, so I was sitting there being a third wheel thinking about how useless I was and out of place I felt so I got up and left. But it wasn’t like I could come back to the room so soon, so I wandered into the compound.”
Prowl watched him with a keen gaze, searching for something more behind his explanation. “And the Swarm?”
“Heard the alarm and ran over to where it was loudest. Found Shockwave there arming drones and he tossed me a rifle. So I fought,” Sunstreaker replied in a flat tone.
“He said you shot from a distance with himself and the drones then suddenly you ran right into the group of them. Why did you do that?” Prowl asked.
Now Sunstreaker saw what Prowl was trying to get at. He sighed and dimmed his optics as he focused his gaze on his hands in his lap. “I did it to feel alive again. For a moment, I had a purpose again, and with each swing or shot I made I was filling that empty hole inside me.” He then looked back at Prowl. “But that’s not what you’re getting at. You want to know if I was trying to kill myself. I dunno. Maybe. I didn’t think about it too hard, I just did what I thought I should do.”
Sadness touched Prowl’s face as he frowned a little.
Sunstreaker half-frowned. “Not like my being here matters. So you don’t need to pretend like you really care.”
“How can you say that? Of course it matters and of course I care,” Prowl replied, looking hurt.
“The truth is, if I was dead it wouldn’t make a scrap of difference. You’d get to have Sideswipe to yourself and not have to deal with trying to act like you want me around.” Sunstreaker regretted his choice of words the moment they left his mouth.
Prowl looked mortified, as if Sunstreaker had just shot him right through the spark. Without a word he fled the berth room.
Sunstreaker banged his head against the wall. “That definitely belongs in the top ten list of stupid slag I’ve spouted…” he murmured to himself, guilt welling up in his chest. He sighed, then carefully slid off the berth, fighting to walk despite the slight spin of the room around him. He made it to the doorway and he frowned at the sight of Prowl sitting perfectly still on the small couch, except for the light quiver of his doorwings.
“Prowl?” Sunstreaker shuffled a few steps, nearly toppling forward when the room started to really spin like crazy.
Prowl looked up, then hopped to his feet and rushed over to Sunstreaker’s side to help keep him upright. “You shouldn’t be up. Look at you, you can barely stand.”
Sunstreaker grimaced at his uncoordinated effort, then glanced down at Prowl holding him around his middle. It was then he saw the tell-tale signs of tears on Prowl’s face. “Were you...crying? I’m not worth being that upset over, I promise.”
His comment was met with a disgruntled frown. “Back to the berth,” Prowl ordered without room for argument.
They staggered back into the berth room, and Prowl helped Sunstreaker to sit. Just as Prowl was going to pull away Sunstreaker grabbed him by the hand and pulled him to sit down beside him.
Prowl resisted, and shook his head. “You need to rest. I’ll leave you be.”
“No. I need to apologize. It’s not just Sides that can be a jerk.” Sunstreaker refused to let go. “Look, I’m sorry. I know you care. I just–” He frowned. “I don’t get why. I’m not who I was, and I don’t think I’ll ever be that mech again. I’ve got nothing to offer you, not really.”
Prowl stilled and furrowed his brow as he gazed at Sunstreaker. “None of us are who we were.”
“But before all this, even with my spark broken in two from Sides, I was confident, and strong. I didn’t back down from anything or anyone, and I was a mech that deserved respect. Now, I can’t even look at my reflection without wanting to punch that weak aft staring back at me,” Sunstreaker tried to explain. “So it’s no wonder you don’t want me like you do Sides. I wouldn’t want me, either.”
“Is that what you truly think?” Prowl turned to better face Sunstreaker. “Sunny, war or not, enslaved or not, we change with time. That’s how it’s always been. What I’ve learned as a truth for myself is that I will never be who I once was, and that’s okay, because I’m striving to be who I want to be. Not who I think others expect me to be. Do you understand?”
Sunstreaker frowned a little, and reached up to gently wipe away some of the stain of tears on Prowl’s cheek. “Yeah. I think so.”
“I’m sorry if you think I don’t want to engage in a relationship with you in the same way I have with Sideswipe. That is my fault. I have been holding back with you.” Prowl pressed his cheek into Sunstreaker’s hand. “That’s not who I want to be with you. I want to be someone you trust and feel safe with.”
“I do trust you,” Sunstreaker replied. “The problem is more that I don’t trust myself.”
“Why is that?” Prowl asked.
“Because–” Sunstreaker lowered his hand looked away. “–of what Vortex forced me to be like. I had to be turned on and ready to perform at his command, and I just don’t trust what I feel anymore.”
“Sunny… I think I get it now.” Prowl wrapped his white hands around Sunstreaker’s black one. “When your brother arrived here he was covered in scars all over his body. His wounds were visible. His glitch is something definable.” Prowl dimmed his optics a little. “I should have seen it. You’re just as wounded, but your wounds are invisible, hidden beneath the surface.”
Frowning, Sunstreaker didn’t know what to say to that. Prowl was right, though. He did feel broken inside, scarred from the things he’d endured. That was a really good way to describe it.
Prowl then did something unexpected; he leaned forward and kissed Sunstreaker’s chestplate in the same place Sideswipe still had his two scars that Prowl kissed each night before they recharged. The kiss made his spark feel all funny and warm, in a good way. “Prowl…”
Sadly smiling, Prowl gazed up at him.
“Fraggit. You’re a glitch, you know that?” Sunstreaker said, pouting more than frowning now.
Canting his head, Prowl’s optics brightened. “I don’t understand–”
“I didn’t want to actually start to fall for you, but fraggit, I am,” Sunstreaker replied, voice quivering slightly.
Prowl’s confusion melded into a warm smile. “Should I apologize?”
Sunstreaker huffed at Prowl’s gentle tease. “No, of course not.” He then dimmed his optics and deflated a little. “I’d like it if you could recharge with me, though. If you want to, I mean.”
“I would love to,” Prowl replied.
Scooping Prowl into his arms without warning, Sunstreaker pulled the smaller mech over top of him as he laid back in the berth. Prowl looked startled for a moment, but quickly adapted to the change in position. They curled up together, and Sunstreaker softly sighed. He hadn’t wanted to develop real feelings for Prowl, but here he was, spark all a flutter now.
Frag you Sides for picking such a great mech, he mentally chided his brother as his body’s need for rest began to overwhelm everything else. His last thoughts were not of self-hatred as usual, but a dim hope that maybe things could get better, if he was willing to try.