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"Why didn't you tell me this before?!" Beachcomber gasped in shock.

"I…He doesn't like to be talked about," Sideswipe muttered, hiding his young face behind his hands.

"Oh! Sweetling, don't be like that!" the mech cooed, embracing him. "It just surprised me. Now, I demand that you go and get him and bring him in for supper. No arguments allowed."

Sideswipe nodded and hurried out the door. Cyber-5 was gorgeous this time of year with a beautiful sunset cresting over the western horizon. He ran as fast as he could to the well-known alley where he was greeted by the familiar dark feeling. He walked in and found the sparkling he was looking for. The sparkling was younger than him by about two millennia, young, yes, but Sideswipe knew he wasn't innocent.

"Hey, Prowl," Sideswipe greeted.

"What are you doing here?" Prowl was as direct as ever.

"Eda says that you are to come to supper immediately," Sideswipe reported.

"I'm not hungry."

Prowl's fuel tank chose that moment to make a loud, demanding noise. Sideswipe laughed.

"Come on, Prowl. Come and eat."

Prowl considered his options then docilely followed Sideswipe to his house. They entered, and now the red and yellow skirted sparkling's brothers and ada were home. They all stiffened as the dark feeling permeated the room. Beachcomber didn't seem to notice at all, hurrying over with a warm smile on his face.

"Perfect timing. What's your name?"

"Prowl," the sparkling replied.

"He's pretty hungry, eda," Sideswipe said with a grin.

"Good! We've got plenty of food!"

They sat down and began to eat. Everybody but Sideswipe was looking him over, studying him. Prowl was studying them, too, though he never looked up, and he only picked at the turbo-fox that he had on his plate.

"So, where are your protectors?" Beachcomber finally asked.

"My protectors gave me up to live with a mech who was brutally killed when I was only three millennia."

Dead silence greeted his reply…except for Sideswipe.

"What was his name?"

"Nightshade," the youngest sparkling replied, keeping his head down.

"W-what?" Sideswipe's twin, Sunstreaker, gasped. "What happened?"

"He was attacked," Prowl replied.

"By who?"

"I don't know. It's best that I don't. I would get revenge for him. He was nice to me."

"Did you…see it?"

"Only a little. He hid me and covered me with trash so they wouldn't smell me."

"Smell you?" Blaster, Beachcomber's sparkmate and Sideswipe's ada, asked in bemusement.

"Yeah. Smell me."

"How would they do that?" Bluestreak asked, his face pinched in confusion.

"They were Vampires."

Blaster snarled immediately. "Sons of glitches!"

"Blaster!" Beachcomber snapped.

"No! I won't be silent! Vampires are the most evil things on the face of this planet!"

Prowl frowned. "What makes you say that?"

"Oh, come on!" Sunstreaker said importantly. "There isn't one good story about a Vampire that I know of! Your story just confirms that!"

Prowl finally looked up and scowled. "So that automatically makes all Vampires monsters?"

"Give me proof that some of them aren't," Hound replied.

"I know of a few that are trying to blend with society. One of them is a medic. One is a scientist. One goes to school like any other mech. What say you to that?"

"They'll slip up sooner or later," Bluestreak said with a shrug.

"Ignorance at its highest," Prowl snarled. He slipped out of his chair, and headed for the door, leaving stunned mechs in his wake. Sideswipe raced over.

"No! They don't understand!" he cried out, grabbing Prowl's arm.

"Nobody does," Prowl growled, spinning around. "This entire culture is ignorant of the truth! So what if they slip up! I've seen Hound deck people who disagree with him. He gets in trouble for it, but they don't hate him! Bluestreak is a stuck up, goody-goody, know-it-all, but even he gets some wrong! Sunstreaker—"

"No! Don't say it!" Sideswipe sobbed, covering his audio receptors.

"What, so he doesn't get hurt? All he does is hurt you, Sides! He doesn't know it, but he does! He's cockier than Hot Shot, and not nearly as old! He's a glitched up fragger! And your protectors? Ha! They're so busy with work and the others that they don't even notice you! Did you tell them how you sneak out and sleep with me? Did you tell them that you steal food from your cupboard and give it to me? Did you tell them about just how much time you really spend with me? Me, an alley rat not worthy of anybody's time or energy or love!"

"I love you!" Sideswipe argued, tears streaming down his face.

"Listen to your brothers from now on, Sides," Prowl said, his spark bleeding through his voice. "Stay away from me. They don't like me. They haven't relaxed since I walked into the room. I'll just go be a freak somewhere else. Sorry for existing."

He walked out the door. Sideswipe crumpled to the floor and continued to cry. Beachcomber stirred first, walking over to hold him, shushing him gently. Blaster joined him then his brothers did, one by one. Once he had stopped crying, they all sat there on the floor. Beachcomber finally took a deep breath.

"How much time do you spend with him?"

"A lot," Sideswipe said softly.

"Is he why you go ta berth early?" Blaster asked.

"Yeah. When night falls, I sneak out and sleep with him. It gets cold in the winter, but it's dark earlier, so we spend a lot more time together."

"Do you know how dangerous that is?" Bluestreak asked in dismay.

"It isn't. Not once I get to Prowl. All the full-growns are scared of him. Nobody goes near his alley."

"Shouldn't that be a warning sign?" Sunstreaker whispered fearfully.

"He's just weird. Like me."

"No. He's different," Bluestreak said angrily. "He's not nice weird. He's bad weird."

Sideswipe sat up, fire in his young optics. "Prowl was right. Ignorance at its highest."

He stood up haughtily and headed for the door.

Hound snagged him. "No!"

Sideswipe used every bit of strength he had to punch his brother in the stomach. Hound hit the ground wheezing. By the time the others had looked up from his gasping form, Sideswipe was gone.

Beachcomber stood staring out the window of the house until his children went to berth. Blaster tapped him lightly.

"Whatcha thinkin', friend of mah spark?"

"I'm going out after him."

"But ya don't even know where he is!"

"There are a limited number of alleys within a reasonable walking distance. Factor in the fact that Sides was there in back in an orn, and I should find him by morning."

Blaster heaved a sigh then kissed his cheek. "Be safe."

"I will."

Beachcomber had searched for four orns before he found them. He noticed the same odd feeling that had filled the house when Prowl walked in. He walked down it. It was quite long, and he heard whispers. There was a deep snarl and something shot past him with supernatural speed. Beachcomber gasped and pressed against the wall, but he wasn't attacked. There was a soft brush to his hand.

"Eda? What are you doing here?" Sideswipe's quiet voice asked.

"What was that thing?" Beachcomber whispered hoarsely.

"A Vampire that Prowl knows."

"What's his name?"

"I don't know. And I never get to see his face, or the face of his sparkmate."

"Why does Prowl know him?"

"Because they met." Sideswipe was clearly confused.

"No, darling, I mean why does Prowl know a Vampire?"

"I…I don't know. I've never thought to ask him. Prowl?"

"I know lots of Vampires," Prowl said, though Beachcomber couldn't see him through the darkness; he could barely make out Sideswipe's form, let alone the dark-skinned, dark-skirted Prowl.

"Why, if you don't mind me asking?"

There was a long pause. "I've always been curious about them. The mech who ran by you found me, and he and his sparkmate have taught me much about the species. They study me, and I study them. That's the deal."

"Would they like to study me, too?" Sideswipe asked, a smile in his voice.

Beachcomber didn't know if he would have protested or not, because Prowl was quick to answer.

"No. They have strict orders not to study you. Not until you fully know what that means."

"So Sideswipe is protected?" Beachcomber asked lightly.

"Yes. Sides is protected. With my Vampire friends being so powerful, nobody would dare to mess with him."

"What about…you?"

Prowl snorted. "What do you care about me?"

Beachcomber felt rage claw at him. There was little that could enrage him. He was one of the calmest mechs on Cyber-5. But there was this…this urge, as he supposed mechs could call it, that reared its ugly head whenever his children were in trouble or in pain. Oh, they might all be adopted, but they were his and nobody was allowed to hurt them. Nobody, not even each other, or themselves. And Prowl was driving the blade of misunderstanding and self-loathing deeper into his own spark. Beachcomber spared only a nano-click for shock that he felt this way about this particular sparkling who he'd never met before tonight before he stood straight and spoke with the passion he reserved for his sparkmate and his children.

"Don't you dare say that, Prowl! From what Sideswipe told me, you are an interesting, sweet, caring individual! Just because you don't have a family, that doesn't mean you're worthless! I do care about you!"

"Why?" Prowl asked bitterly. "Besides my Vampire friends, nobody cares about me. I'm too weird."

"Weird is beautiful! Weird is what makes society tick! It's the weird people, the strange, the odd, that create the best things for this world! Without them, we would be stuck in the dark! Sideswipe was right, you are weird. But you are weird like him. Beautifully, wonderfully, perfectly weird!"

There was a sniffle. "You don't mean that."

"Of course I do. Come here."

There was silence then timid footsteps. The moonlight gave only a small gleam off of Prowl, but Beachcomber could see he was standing in front of him. The mech knelt down and placed his hands on his shoulders.

"You listen to me. You're a wonderful sparkling, Prowl. Don't even entertain thoughts contrary to that. I love you, and—"

"You don't even know me."

Beachcomber hesitated for only a nano-click, seeing his golden opportunity. He knew he should ask Blaster, but he might never get this chance again, and, even with a sparkbond that provided instant communication, he couldn't risk the long pause.

"Then let me. Come live with us."

Dead silence met him. "You don't mean that, either."

"Yes, I do. Come on. You two haven't eaten much, and I demand that you eat."

Sideswipe walked with his eda to the end of the alley, but turned around.

"Come on."

"He doesn't mean it. He's going to hurt me."

Beachcomber frowned, but let his son answer.

"Eda won't hurt you Prowl. Neither will ada. My brothers…they're different."

"I can handle sparklings and younglings. It's full-growns I can't handle."

Beachcomber lightly patted his thigh. "Come on, little one. Come home."

Prowl stood there for a full five clicks before he shyly walked forward. He refused both hands, but walked with them back to their house. They strode in and Blaster was there to greet them, kissing his sparkmate's and son's cheeks. He looked at Prowl.

"What?" he asked over their bond.

"I'll explain later. Get the guest room ready."

Blaster did so as Beachcomber baked some electro-mice for them. Electro-mice were small, but had a lot of edible metal on them, and they were quick to be done. Prowl tried to be neat, but he was starving and he ate everything that was given to him, including the copper cookies, and the low-grade energon.

"Hey, easy," Beachcomber said when Prowl reached for a sixth cookie.

"Sorry," Prowl muttered withdrawing his hand.

"No, look at me." Prowl did so. "It's fine if you're hungry. But don't make yourself sick. There will be more food tomorrow morning. I promise. Now, you two go bathe and get to berth. Sideswipe, you don't have to go to school tomorrow. Prowl…?"

"I've never been to school."

"Then you can sleep as late as you want. Goodnight."

Prowl hadn't had a real shower in a long, long time, so he eagerly scrubbed himself clean. Beachcomber then led him to the guest room, and Prowl leaped onto the berth. The mech picked him up, making the sparkling gasp in shock and squirm in discomfort. The covers were pulled back and he was deposited properly on the berth. The blankets were pulled up, and his cheek gently kissed.

"Goodnight, little one. I love you."

Beachcomber waited for an answer for a few nano-clicks, but it didn't come, so he simply smiled and left, the door sliding shut behind him. Prowl lay there, and shock didn't even begin to describe what he was feeling. He was conflicted, but tired, so he drifted off to recharge, wondering about this strange mech called Beachcomber.

Beachcomber stood outside the door, dreading that he had to go out and face his sparkmate. He walked out and jerkily began cleaning the kitchen. There was silence, though he could feel Blaster watching him. He finally finished his task then he braced himself against the sink, shaking. His sparkmate embraced him from behind, and Beachcomber began to cry. He was guided over to the couch, and he sat down, leaning against his best friend. Blaster simply held him, singing soft little songs, until he calmed down. He finally took a deep breath and sat up.

"I'm sorry. It had to be done."

"What did?"

Beachcomber shifted, his optics turning pink. "I…Prowl is going to live with us. Indefinitely."

"Oh." Blaster looked like he was considering this. "Well, we do have a lotta room."

"No! You don't understand! I went primal on him when he was hurting…himself…Really? You don't mind?"

"No. Ah don't. And ya did?"

"Um…yes. He was hurting himself. He hates himself, Blaster. I can't stand it. I just can't. No sparkling that age should hate himself. He's been through some deep slag, and he has ragged scars. I need to doctor him up."

"Well…Ah think yer gettin' in over yer head. But Ah'll be there with ya, holdin' the medic's kit. But what are we tellin' the boys?"

"Sides doesn't care," Beachcomber sighed. "The other three…Well, as usual, they're different. We'll talk about it in the morning. Let's go recharge."

"We'll only get a few orns," Blaster sighed.

"It's better than nothing, dear."