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A Thousand Years

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Minus 3 Hours, 27 Minutes

Sideswipe shifted uncomfortably on the rocky surface, but was careful not to disturb Sunstreaker. His twin was leaning against his back and had finally fallen into a deep recharge... Well, as deep of a recharge as either of them ever did when they were out on a mission.

But Sideswipe could not recharge.

For the past week or so, Sideswipe had been plagued with anxiety. It was a constant, nagging presence in his spark that persisted regardless of what he was doing. When he had first felt it, he had worriedly asked Sunstreaker what was wrong, sure that the feeling was coming over the sparkbond. But his brother insisted he wasn’t anxious, and that he was not worrying about anything in particular except busting some Decepticon helms. And all the yellow twin felt on his side of the bond was Sideswipe’s reaction to the emotion.

Most of the time, Sideswipe was able to push the feeling away, shunting it to the side like he did when Sunstreaker’s emotions ran too hot. But when he tried to relax, the feeling came back with a vengeance. And when Sunstreaker fell into recharge, the apprehension that Sideswipe felt was overwhelming.

Worse, the feeling had only grown stronger since he’d first felt it.

He’d put up a block a few times just so he could get a few hours of recharge, but both brothers hated doing that when they were out in the field. If they were attacked while they were recharging, it was better to have the bond at least partially open.

So Sideswipe left the bond open, and let Sunstreaker recharge.

Sideswipe offlined his optics, trying once more to get at least an hour of recharge.

It seemed like only minutes had passed since Sideswipe had offlined his optics when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Up and at ‘em, boys.”

Sideswipe’s battle systems powered up, but he avoided lashing out at Ironhide. He felt Sunstreaker come online just as suddenly with a subtle tensing of cables and an alertness over the sparkbond. Sideswipe raised his helm and looked up at the red mech over him. “Already?” he asked quietly.

“You’ve had four hours,” Ironhide replied, and leaned down to pat him on the shoulder again. “We’re moving out in ten minutes. Fuel up and be ready to go.” With that, the commander moved down the line of resting mechs.

Sideswipe arched his back, stretching out kinked cables and flaring his plating slightly. When he turned, he saw Sunstreaker looking at him with a small frown. “What?” Sideswipe asked.

“You didn’t recharge at all, did you?” Sunstreaker asked in return. His words held an accusatory tone.

Sideswipe shrugged and took a ration cube from his subspace. “I got about an hour, I guess,” he said truthfully. He sipped at his ration, then rolled his optics when Sunstreaker continued to stare at him. “I’ll be fine. My energy levels are high enough for what we’re doing.”

With a huff, Sunstreaker pulled out a ration for himself and knocked half of it back. “Promise me you’ll go talk to Ratchet when we get back if you’re still feeling... whatever that is,” he said.

Sideswipe frowned into his ration. “If I do that, and tell him what I’m feeling, he’s gonna send me for another psych assessment,” he growled. He flicked a glance at Sunstreaker. “You know he will, and that means you’ll have to go, too.”

Sideswipe had been through two of those already, and Sunstreaker had been through four. In every case it had been horrible: being forced to talk about feelings and motivations and slag like that with someone other than their brother. All of their sessions had gone so poorly, in fact, that after the last one they both had a note put in their files saying that if one of them got a psych referral, they both had to go.

The threat of being sent for a psych assessment because of Sideswipe set Sunstreaker back for a moment, but then he shook his helm. “It’s bothering you, so it’s bothering me,” he said firmly. “I’ll gladly go if it means you’ll feel better.”

Sideswipe stared at Sunstreaker for a moment. “You’re that worried?” he asked. When Sunstreaker nodded, Sideswipe gave him a lopsided smile. “All right. Fine. I promise I’ll talk to Ratchet.”

That earned him a curt nod from his brother, and Sideswipe turned his attention back to his ration. He tried to figure out how he could tell Ratchet about the disturbing sensations he’d been having without being given a psych referral.

They finished their rations in silence. Now that Sunstreaker was awake, the nervousness that Sideswipe felt in his spark had dulled slightly. But it was still there, drifting across the sparkbond as if it was coming straight from Sunstreaker.

Maybe talking to Ratchet wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Minus 32 Minutes

This deployment had been a rough one.

Their mission had been to venture deep into Decepticon territory and make their way towards a huge stockpile of energon that the Autobots’ scouts had discovered. Both sides desperately needed the fuel, but it seemed like the Decepticons had not been aware of the riches in their own territory. So the Autobot unit was escorting three large hauler mechs with trailers to collect the energon and spirit it away. They had reached the pickup point with little trouble, but for some reason their path back to friendly territory was rife with Decepticons.

With the convoy-class mechs in vehicle mode, speedy and stealthy they were not. Their mission on the return trip was to ensure that any Decepticons who did see them did not live long enough to get word back to their commanders about the Autobots moving through their territory. The last thing the Autobots needed was for Decepticon reinforcements to swoop in and steal the energon back... And probably kill all the Autobots in the process.

For being a fairly simple escort operation, they had encountered enemy fire a disturbing number of times. That, combined with the strange anxiety he felt in his spark constantly, had put Sideswipe on edge.

He was so keyed up that he was the first one to notice the glint of sunlight on metal in a tower above them. Sideswipe tapped Ironhide on his shoulder, and silently pointed up at the tower.

High in the tower was a mech. He was standing in the void where there had once been a window, looking out over the city. He gave no sign of having seen them yet, but there was no way he’d miss seeing them if they moved from their current position.

Sideswipe thought it was a shame they didn’t have Bluestreak with them. The sniper could have taken out the sentry cleanly, with no chance for him to get off a distress call. Sideswipe was a fairly good shot, but nowhere near as good as Bluestreak. None of the mechs that had come with them would be able to make that shot at this distance.

Trailbreaker brushed Ironhide’s arm, then pointed up at another tower. A second mech stood in that tower, at about the same level as the first sentry they’d seen.

Ironhide frowned up at the mech in the first tower, then then the second. Then he lowered his optics and looked around them. They had been making their way past several bombed-out buildings, and debris covered the ground in every direction. This area of the city had once been a hub for the sciences, from medical and metallurgy research to applied weaponry and theoretical physics. They were carefully picking their way through the rubble so as not to disturb any dangerous items that may have been blasted out of one of the surrounding buildings.

After considering the mechs they’d spotted in the towers, Ironhide turned to the group, and flashed a few hand signals. Sideswipe, deploy jammers. One on each tower. Sunstreaker, provide backup. Deploy both, then we will engage.

Trailbreaker waved to get Ironhide’s attention. Two Decepticons: probably not alone.

Ironhide nodded resolutely. Guessing: many Decepticons, in sentry line across our path. Need to remove all quickly. He looked around at the team once more, then gestured for Sideswipe and Sunstreaker to move out.

Sideswipe grabbed two jamming devices from one of the haulers’ trailers, and he and Sunstreaker crept out into the open.

For all of their bright colours and flashy antics, the twins were fairly good at stealth. Their time on the streets of Kaon before the war had given them something like an extra sense of when they were being watched, and how to move silently and without being seen. Sunstreaker led the way, his helm swivelling constantly as he scanned the towers surrounding them before making any movement, while Sideswipe followed, always looking in the opposite direction of his brother. They crept from rubble pile to overhang, dashing through open areas as silently and as quickly as they could.

After they had moved several hundred meters towards the first sentry, Sideswipe crouched down behind the wreckage of a huge machine, and sent a nudge across the sparkbond. //I’m close enough here.// Sunstreaker nodded and settled into a crouch.

As Sunstreaker provided a lookout, Sideswipe fitted one of the jammers into a harpoon, and loaded it into his weapon. //Whenever you’re ready.// Sideswipe nodded at Sunstreaker.

Sunstreaker hefted a piece of rubble in his hand, took a look at where Sideswipe was going to place the jammer, and nodded at Sideswipe. Then he threw the rock in the opposite direction as Sideswipe took aim.

They’d practiced this many times over the years, and everything landed perfectly. The shot from Sideswipe’s weapon was almost inaudible at any distance thanks to the silencer, but the harpoon holding the jammer lodged itself in the tower wall with a distinct metallic clink. At the same time as the harpoon hit the wall, the rock that Sunstreaker threw landed some distance away.

The brothers watched carefully as the sentry’s attention was drawn towards the clatter of rock on rubble, then they waited another minute for him to decide that it was nothing. With a nod at each other, the brothers snuck to the next tower.

This one did not go as planned. The rock that Sunstreaker threw fell to the ground at just the right time, but when it landed, it made practically no noise. Upon hearing the clank of the harpoon striking the tower, the sentry looked down, saw the blinking jammer, and immediately hollered a warning to the first sentry.

“Slag it all!” Sideswipe muttered as he switched weapons, but Sunstreaker was close enough to take the mech out with his pulse rifle.

However, the damage was done. From a dozen surrounding towers, a cascade of alarms went up, and their shelter was hit with a barrage of laser fire.

The twins ducked behind a block of rubble. “A square kilometer of nothing but shattered glass and metal, and it had to land on the only squishy thing around,” Sideswipe groused without malice.

Sunstreaker peered over the edge of their shelter, then ducked back down as bits of concrete showered down on them. “The team’s providing cover. Let’s go.”

They made a mad dash back to the team, dodging enemy fire as the transport team peppered the Decepticons. Sideswipe hated these types of fights; he preferred to fight one-on-one, or even three-on-one, with his fists. Not ducking and covering every few seconds as they took pot shots at each other.

One of the haulers, Piston, was a horrid shot, so he was keeping tabs on the Decepticons. He called out each one that the team downed; fortunately it seemed like the ‘Cons had not left their best shooters to guard this area.

“Three left!” Piston called after several minutes. “And none of them look like air frames.”

“Thank Primus for small favours,” Sideswipe muttered. He leaned out to try and catch a glimpse of the ‘Cons, but he couldn’t see any from where he was.

Sideswipe shifted positions so he was beside Trailbreaker. The larger mech was staring fixedly up at one of the towers. “Piston,” Trailbreaker said, “keep an optic on that tower. The sentry there just vanished. He might be switching floors.”

“Got it,” said Piston. After a minute, he added, “I think they’ve all started switching positions. We’re getting fire from floors they weren’t on before.”

The team hunkered down behind the rubble, peering out to try and catch a glimpse of the remaining Decepticons. “They’re staying behind cover, taking cheap shots at us from the windows,” Ironhide growled. “We could be here all day doing this.”

“Are we sure they can’t get a message out?” Trailbreaker asked, ducking back behind his chunk of metal as another barrage of shots rang out.

“Jammers are holding,” Ironhide said. “Unfortunately, that means we can’t call for help, either.”

Sideswipe leaned out again quickly and surveyed the towers around them. The Decepticons had the advantage of height, and the ability to move between floors of the buildings. Getting a bead on any of them was going to be challenging. Plus, there was the danger that one of them might make a run for it to get out of range of the communication jammers.

Nudging Sunstreaker with his elbow, Sideswipe gave him a grin. “I think it’s time I paid these ‘Cons a little visit, don’t ya think?” he asked.

“What are you –“ Sunstreaker started to ask. Then he swore as Sideswipe lurched out from behind their cover.

In two strides, Sideswipe launched himself into the air, jetting towards the opening closest to where he had seen the sentry. Below him, Sunstreaker ran forward, his optics focused on the other two towers as he provided bursts of fire to cover Sideswipe’s brief flight.

Fortunately, the rest of the team got the idea quickly, even if the last thing Sideswipe had heard from Ironhide before he’d activated his jetpack was a very inventive curse. The team added to Sunstreaker’s cover fire, filling the air with bright bolts from their rifles.

Sideswipe cut the power to his jet pack as he reached the first building, turning pedes over helm as he flipped through the broken window and landed gracefully on the floor.

//Knock it off with the stunts, Sides.// He could feel Sunstreaker’s irritation at him through the bond, almost obscuring the anxiety that had been bothering him all day. //I just saw one of them two floors directly above you. I don’t think he saw you come in.//

//Got it.// Moving with a speed and grace belied by his size, Sideswipe quickly climbed the stairwell in the middle of the tower. He paused against a wall, listening closely. A moment later he heard the crunch of pedes on broken plasteel.

Spinning around the corner, Sideswipe aimed his weapon and fired, shooting the Decepticon sentry right through the spark. Earlier in the war, Sideswipe might have warned the ‘Con and let him turn around so that he wouldn’t have had to shoot him in the back. Earlier in the war, Sideswipe might have wondered what his designation was, or how long he’d been with the Decepticons. Earlier in the war, Sideswipe might have stared down at the mech he’d just killed and felt a tiny stab of regret.

Those days were long gone. Sideswipe stepped over the greying frame on the floor and surveyed the scene outside.

Even though he knew where Sunstreaker was, he couldn’t see his twin. The rest of the team was also fairly well-hidden, although the convoy trailers were easy to spot. //Where next?//

//Second tower to your right. He’s three floors below you, so you should have no problem getting in there unseen.// Sunstreaker’s directions were sent with the image of another barrage of cover fire designed to draw the sentry’s attention away from Sideswipe.

Another jump, another burst of power from his jetpack, and Sideswipe swooped into a gaping hole in the side of the next tower. He paused, listening, and plainly heard the mech below him cursing quietly as the Autobots showered his hideout with fire.

The stairs in this tower were partially collapsed, but Sideswipe quickly picked his way down what was left of them. The level he emerged on was almost completely gutted, and he saw the Decepticon as soon as he landed on the floor.

The green and black racer was firing his rifle blindly down into the area below him, staying hidden behind what remained of the outer wall. He fired until his clip was empty, then he fumbled in his subspace for a new clip.

The ‘Con turned his helm when he heard Sideswipe’s pedes scrape against the floor. He had time to yelp “Wait!” before Sideswipe’s rifle punctured his helm, then his spark.

Sideswipe took the clip from the mech’s hand and stuck it in his own subspace. //Two down, one to go. Where next?// Crouching next to the dead sentry, he looked down at Sunstreaker’s hiding spot.

//Don’t know. I think the last one’s hiding.// Sunstreaker’s annoyance was palpable. //Ironhide’s sending Trailbreaker out to me. He’s signaling that we might need to sweep the towers. Get down here so I don’t have to play host mech for you.//

//All right. Don’t let the last one tag me.// Stepping out into open air, Sideswipe let himself free fall for a few meters before activating his jetpack to slow his descent to the rubble-covered ground below. He could see Trailbreaker picking his way across the square, heading towards where Sunstreaker was crouched behind a huge chunk of plating.

A moment after he fired his jetpack, Sideswipe felt an overwhelming surge of fear over the spark bond. It felt like the worry he’d been sensing for the past week, except this time the feeling was almost one of panic... Of time running out, or a last chance slipping away.

Sideswipe’s concentration faltered, and he plummeted the last few meters to the ground as his jetpack cut out.

//Sides!// Sunstreaker’s alarm felt familiar and almost comforting compared to the terror that Sideswipe was being inundated with. //Are you all right?//

Sideswipe lifted his helm, and his optics unerringly found Sunstreaker. His brother had stood up from his hiding place behind the remnants of a strange-looking machine. He stared at Sideswipe, his concern plain in his expression. Sideswipe struggled to his knees, shrugging off the pain from the scrapes and dents he had just sustained, and he reached towards his brother. “Sunny...”

“Look out!” Sideswipe turned his helm at Trailbreaker’s voice, but whipped it back forward when he caught motion out of the corner of his optic. “Grenade!”

A round object bounced off the machine Sunstreaker had been sheltering behind, and landed at his pedes.

“Sunny!” Sideswipe lurched to his pedes and took two steps towards Sunstreaker. “Move!”

Sideswipe heard an anguished scream in the distance. It sounded like his designation, but all of his focus was on Sunstreaker. He had to get to his brother. Sideswipe shook off the hand that had fallen on his shoulder as it held him back from getting to Sunstreaker. “Let me go!” he rasped. “Sunny!”

But then Sideswipe faltered, clutching at his spark. It throbbed in his chest, sending pulses of terror and panic directly to his processor, and he fell back down to one knee.

Ahead of him, Sunstreaker took a step backwards from the grenade before turning to run.

A moment later, Sideswipe’s optics and audials were assaulted by the flash and roar of the grenade’s detonation.

Chapter Text

Minus 2,032,112 Years

Sunstreaker clawed at his chest as his spark spasmed. It felt like his spark was trying to explode out of its casing, or implode into non-existence. It was burning hot at the same time it was ice cold. It reached out, seeking its other half, and found nothing.


Sunstreaker convulsed again, shuttering his optics against the pain. Error messages and warnings scrolled on his HUD, listing off cautions about low operating temperatures and spark instability. He ignored them all and tried to focus on willing the agony away.

When the pain ebbed just slightly, Sunstreaker opened his optics again and looked around.

It was dark. His gyros and sensors were telling him that he was in zero gravity, but he couldn’t see any nearby planet or moon. Pit, there wasn’t even a star that was obviously closer than the others.

It was cold, too, and Sunstreaker realized his optics were frosted over slightly. He could feel the lubricant in his joints slowing turning to a gel, and he knew that it was only a matter of hours before it froze completely solid. He scanned for comm signals, but heard nothing on any frequency.

Sunstreaker clutched at his spark again as it fruitlessly sought Sideswipe’s. “Gaaah!” The sound from his vocalizer reverberated through his frame to his audials. What had happened? Where was Sideswipe? Where was he, for that matter?

He was slowly spinning, spiralling helm over pede, and he felt something bump his leg. Trying to ignore the terrible pain in his spark, Sunstreaker turned on his headlights. Floating all around him were bits of metal, chunks of rubble, and random pieces of machinery. He saw his rifle slowly twirling past him, and he instinctively reached out to grab it.


His face contorted in anguish, Sunstreaker twisted around, looking desperately for anything that looked like another mech. Sideswipe had been right behind him when... When...

His processor tried and failed to fill in the gap of what had happened. Sideswipe screaming for him. Someone else yelling at Sideswipe. An explosion. Then what?

He couldn’t sense Sideswipe at all.

He couldn’t be gone. He couldn’t.


Another shock of agony rocked him, and Sunstreaker felt his processor start to initiate protective shutdown. With the last bit of energy he could muster, Sunstreaker activated his comms and sent a broad frequency distress call. At this point, he didn’t care who heard, be it Autobot or Decepticon... He just wanted someone to respond, and find him so he could find Sideswipe again.

Then he let himself fall into the blessed, pain-free dark of stasis.

Minus 1,031 Years

The words were indistinct at first, but gradually Sunstreaker was able to untangle their meaning. All of his systems were sluggish, and he waited as they slowly warmed.

“Well? Is he recoverable?” asked a deep voice.

“Yes, I’m fairly certain. Yes. Here, look at the processor activity. He’s just finishing his boot cycle.” The second voice was lighter, but had an odd accent that Sunstreaker couldn’t identify. “I wanted to talk to you about some of the information his diagnostics provided, but... Oh, he can probably hear us now. Yes, I’m sure he can.”

Sunstreaker’s sensors registered a warm touch on his shoulder armor. “If you’re online and can hear me, I want you to know that you’re safe. It looks like you’ve been through slag and back.”

Memories slowly reinstated themselves at the same time that his systems finished warming up. He remembered the shouts, the explosion, then floating in darkness, his spark flaring in pain, sending the distress call, and –


His distress call!


Sunstreaker’s optics flew open and his battle systems roared to life. As soon his status indicators came online, he knew that his weapons were gone and his armblades had been disabled. He jolted to a sitting position and rolled off of the surface on which he’d been placed. Then he dropped into a fighting stance, quickly taking stock of his surroundings.

He was in what looked like a small lab. Instruments and monitors covered the walls, and things that looked like they might been taken from Wheeljack’s workshop cluttered the countertops. Two mechs were with him in the lab. Sunstreaker could not see markings, either Autobot or Decepticon, on either one. The first mech was a small, grey minibot who was holding a scanner and a datapad. He stared at Sunstreaker with wide optics. The second mech was a much larger airframe, coloured in red and black. He regarded Sunstreaker calmly and held out a hand.

“It’s all right, Autobot,” the larger mech said. Sunstreaker recognized the deep voice as the first one he had heard. “We aren’t going to hurt you. You’re safe here so long as you do us no harm as well.”

Sunstreaker took another step backwards, and his lower legs bumped into a stool. The room had only one exit, and the two mechs were between him and the door. Sunstreaker’s hand flew to his chest instinctively, remembering the pain in his spark when it could not find his twin. But now, his spark did not hurt. He could not feel Sideswipe at all, but the pain was gone.

Sideswipe was still alive. He was sure of it.

Taking a deep vent, Sunstreaker slowly stood upright. “Where am I?” he demanded. “And who are you?”

The larger mech took a step forward, pausing when he saw Sunstreaker go tense again. “I’m Captain Airjump. And this is Eclipse,” he said, gesturing at the smaller mech. “You’re on the Rhapsodic Memory.” His optics flicked down to the Autobrand on Sunstreaker’s chest plate, and he flared his wings out slightly. “Before you ask, we are Neutrals. This is a science ship, and we want no part of your war.”

Neutrals. Sunstreaker narrowed his optics. At least they weren’t Decepticons. “Where is Sideswipe?” he demanded. When he got only blank looks in return, he added, “He has the same frametype as me. Red, black and white. Audial horns. Shoulder rocket launcher. Lopsided smile.”

Airjump glanced at Eclipse, who shrugged. He looked back to Sunstreaker. “We found you alone. There was no one with you.”

“But you picked up my distress call,” Sunstreaker said firmly. “Didn’t you search the debris?”

Eclipse put the datapad down on the berth and spread his hands wide. “We didn’t pick up a distress call. Like we said, this is a science ship; we were coasting here to collect readings from the nearby nebula.” Turning around, he flipped on a monitor behind him to show a cloud of glowing red and yellow gas. “When our sensors picked up a debris field, we investigated.” He turned back to face Sunstreaker again. “We were very surprised when we found you, in more ways than one. Your diagnostics indicated that - ”

“Wait,” Airjump said, holding out a hand to interrupt Eclipse. He smiled at Sunstreaker. “If you don’t mind... What is your designation?” He tilted his helm slightly. “If you don’t want to give us your real one, just give us something we can call you other than ‘Hey you.’”

With a huff, Sunstreaker considered the request. He would need their help, at least for a while, to get someplace where he could get picked up. “I’m Sunstreaker. And I need to get back to Cybertron, or at least to the closest Autobot base.”

“I’m afraid that’s going to be a problem,” Airjump said. “We are halfway across the galaxy from Cybertron.”

Sunstreaker’s processor froze for a moment as he stared at Airjump. Sideswipe must be frantic looking for him. No wonder he couldn’t feel his twin. Sunstreaker flared his plating out before resettling it. “Then... Then you need to drop me off at a base! I have to get back. I have to -”

Airjump held up his hands. “We can drop you at a trading station, but you have to understand... You are very far away from Cybertron. Even if you could find a fast hop ship, it’ll take hundreds of years to get back.”

How could he have gotten so far away from Cybertron? Sunstreaker ran through his memory files again: the fight, the grenade, the explosion... The fact they were fighting in the remains of an old science complex... Who knew what experimental tech Sunstreaker had been standing near when the grenade went off? Maybe it had teleported him in the explosion.

Oh slag... The grenade. Sideswipe had been just behind him, and...

Sunstreaker’s hand flew to his chest again, slapping against the plating just over his spark. If Sideswipe hadn’t been teleported here with him, maybe he had been caught in the explosion. Maybe he had...

Sideswipe couldn’t be dead.

Eclipse made a quiet noise to draw Sunstreaker’s attention back to him. “There’s something else,” he said, wiggling the data pad in his hand. “Your diagnostics indicated that you have been in stasis for over two million years. So that explains why your systems were so difficult to reboot. We’ve refueled you and changed out your fluid reservoirs, so you –“

As his processor screeched to a halt for the second time that day, Sunstreaker stared at the smaller mech. Two million years? He’d been in stasis for two million years? His engine whined as the import of that fact settled onto him. Even if Sideswipe wasn’t dead, surely... After two million years, Sideswipe would think that Sunstreaker was gone.

Or would he?

Sunstreaker knew that if the situation was reversed, he would never stop looking for Sideswipe.

Something else occurred to Sunstreaker, and he refocused his optics on Airjump. “Two million years have gone by... And the war is still going on?” he asked, trying to keep the plaintive note from his voice. The war had already been in full swing when he and his brother had been forged. If Sunstreaker had been floating in deep space for two million years, that meant that Sideswipe had lived over half his life without Sunstreaker by his side.

The thought of Sideswipe being alone for that long made Sunstreaker’s tanks lurch.

Or worse... Maybe Sideswipe had gotten caught in the explosion. Maybe he wasn’t alone at all because he hadn’t escaped.

But no... It took a conscious effort to turn his processor away from that line of thinking. Besides, Sunstreaker was sure he would know if Sideswipe was dead. But Sideswipe may have been injured.

Airjump frowned at Sunstreaker as the yellow mech’s processor churned. “If you’ve been out here for that long, the war must have just started when you ended up out here,” he said. “You couldn’t have been fighting for very long. We left Cybertron just after the war started, and we’ve been travelling for almost the same amount of time.”

Sunstreaker tried to make sense of what Airjump was saying, and failed. “No,” he said. “The war had been going on for two million years when… when I went into stasis.”

Eclipse’s optics had brightened as the other two mechs were speaking, and he stepped forward excitedly. “I didn’t want to mention this because it seemed so farfetched, but... Sunstreaker, what was the last date you remember before we picked you up?”

“Fourth Cycle, 289. Why?” he snapped, still trying to reconcile the information he’d been given with what he knew.

Eclipse and Airjump glanced at each other. Then Airjump said, “That’s over a thousand years from now... Into the future.”

Sunstreaker cycled his optics. “What?” he asked dumbly. He felt like he was being thrown from one crazy issue to another, with no chance to relax.

Eclipse stepped forward again with the data pad, holding it out as if to show Sunstreaker something on it, but he stopped in his tracks when Sunstreaker’s engine growled in warning. “Um... When we brought you on board we did a routine scan for radiation and other contaminants. Our scanning equipment picked up an unusually high number of chronon particles surrounding you and the material we discovered you with.” He looked up at Sunstreaker and smiled. “Somehow – and I’d love to find out how – you were thrown back in time two million years!”

Suddenly, everything fell into place in Sunstreaker’s processor. The pain he remembered feeling before dropping into stasis... If that was two million years ago, that meant he was thrown back before he and Sideswipe had been forged. When he was floating in space, his spark couldn’t find its twin, since their spark hadn’t been ignited yet. And if now was a thousand years before that mission into Decepticon territory, he and Sideswipe were still fighting on the frontlines on Cybertron.

Sideswipe was still out there.

That also meant that a thousand years from now, Sideswipe would be left alone when Sunstreaker was thrown back in time... If Sideswipe survived the explosion.

And Sunstreaker had a chance to stop it from happening.

“I have to get back to Cybertron,” Sunstreaker said urgently. “You need to take me there now... Or at least to a station where I can get another ride.” When Airjump shook his helm, Sunstreaker balled his hands into fists. They may have deactivated his armblades and taken his rifle, but he could still throw a punch. “That’s not a request,” he growled.

“Sunstreaker... Um. Sir.” Eclipse dared to take another step towards the huge frontliner, and paused when Sunstreaker’s attention focused on him. “You should understand that even if we started cruising for Cybertron now, it would take a very long time for us to get back there. And there’s another complication.” He waited a beat before adding, “You don’t want to arrive on Cybertron, or even anywhere in its vicinity, before you were transported back in time.”

“Why?” Sunstreaker demanded.

Eclipse shrugged. “The science is pretty clear on the basics. Provided there is enough distance between you and... uh, your past you... Your future you? Anyway, if there is enough distance, quantum physics will let everything be. But once you get close enough to yourself...” He waved his hand vaguely. “The universe will correct the error. Somehow.” Setting his data pad on the table next to him, he wrung his hands together. “And it might not end well for you... Err, this you, I mean. Or for your past you. Or everything might be fine. There’s no way to tell! So if you do want to return to Cybertron, you’re better off doing it some time after you were transported back here.” He smiled encouragingly. “So there’s no rush to get back,” he said in a placating tone.

Sunstreaker had started shaking his helm as Eclipse finished speaking. “Sideswipe... My brother... My twin!... He’s back on Cybertron right now. I have to get back there.” He looked from Eclipse to Airjump and back. “He might have been caught in the explosion that sent me back here. He might have been injured. He might have –“ Sunstreaker’s vocalizer crackled into silence as his processor refused to consider an end to Sideswipe’s existence. He pulled a full vent of air to cool his engine, which had started revving in his distress. “I have to get back home,” he said finally.

“You have a twin?” Eclipse picked up a scanner that had been laying on the medical slab, and punched several buttons on it. “Hmm, that would explain the odd spark readings I was getting when we reactivated you.” He looked back up at Sunstreaker and frowned. “I really do understand your urgency to get back to Cybertron quickly, but there isn’t an easy way to get there. And like I said, getting back there too soon may be dangerous.”

“Besides, our ship is built for long hauls, not for speed,” Airjump said. “If you want to get back to Cybertron as fast as possible, you’re better off finding a faster ship.”

“Then drop me off at... at that trading post you mentioned, and let me find another ship,” Sunstreaker said. He had no idea how he was going to book passage, but he knew he had to find a way. “Please,” he added, hating the way his vocalizer crackled with emotion.

Airjump looked at Eclipse for a long minute. Based on the subtle shifts in expression on their faces, Sunstreaker knew they were having a private conversation over comms. Rude, but he’d done the same thing when it had been him and Sideswipe dealing with a stranger. Finally, Airjump nodded, and Eclipse turned to Sunstreaker with a look of excitement.

Airjump spoke first. “All right. We’ll drop you off at the closest trading station. It’s about three days from here at our top speed. However, we were hoping to finish our survey of the nebula, since it’s what we were paid to come out here for.” Before Sunstreaker could protest the delay, Airjump held up a hand. “But we can leave immediately on one condition.”

“What is that?” Sunstreaker asked, wary of what they might want from him.

Eclipse grinned. “I am fascinated by the chronon particles that we found on you, and my scans detected large numbers of them under your plating. You have very dense plating, you know. Probably from the war, yes?” Without waiting for Sunstreaker to reply, the little mech barreled on. “Anyway, I would love to do a full scan of your protoform so that I can get a proper sample of the particles and do some analysis based on some of the information you’ve already given us. I’m guessing that whatever sent you back in time only moved you through time and not space, and the galaxy simply rotated and dropped you in empty space where Cybertron will be in the future, which means that the fixed point of reference is the galactic center, which has fascinating implications for –“ Eclipse stopped when Airjump nudged him with an elbow, and he reset his vocalizer. “Anyway, a full scan without your armor to collect the particles would be very valuable, and more than make up for the loss of data from the nebula.”

Sunstreaker frowned. He hadn’t removed his armor for a non-medic in... well, in centuries. Parts of it had been replaced here and there for upgrades and repairs, but just thinking about baring his protoform to strangers made him feel immensely uncomfortable.

“He means it when he said it would be valuable,” Airjump said when he saw Sunstreaker’s hesitation. “We collect data, and sell it to the highest bidder. Chronon particles are very rare, especially in such high concentrations.” He smiled. “So to sweeten the deal, we’ll throw in a thousand credits. If you’re frugal, that should be enough to get you almost halfway back to Cybertron.”

Taking a quick inventory of the items in his subspace, Sunstreaker realized that he didn’t have much to sell, and he had no credits on him at all. Having a thousand credits would go a long way towards getting him back to Sideswipe.

Decision made, Sunstreaker squared his shoulders and said, “Give me back my rifle and reactivate my armblades before you drop me off, and you’ve got a deal.”

Chapter Text

Minus 947 Years

Setting down the container, Sunstreaker paused for a moment and rolled his shoulders. The cables in his arms ached. He’d been doing nothing but lifting and moving heavy boxes for almost two full days.

He hoped he wasn’t straining the cables in his arms or shoulders too badly. He didn’t have any spare credits for repairs... If he could even find someone to do the repairs this far away from Cybertron.

“No resting. More cargo to move.” The tusked, green organic looked up from his inventory list to grunt the command at Sunstreaker. He owned the ship that Sunstreaker was loading... Or at least, Sunstreaker thought he owned the ship. All of these organics looked the same to him.

Frowning, Sunstreaker said, “I’m going to need fuel soon.” He squinted at the organic, who came up to the middle of his chest. Yeah, this was the ship’s owner. The organic’s left tusk was drilled through and a magenta stone of some kind was embedded in it. The other organic on the ship didn’t have that embellishment. If Sunstreaker cared more, he might have wondered whether the ornament was some kind of status symbol. As it was, he thought it looked garish, and the gem’s colour clashed with the organic’s green skin.

“Five more containers. Then fuel. But move fast. Else will cut pay.” The organic snorted wetly and licked his upper lip with a long red tongue.

Ugh. Organics were so disgusting.

“You’re not paying me at all, except in transport and board,” Sunstreaker snapped, then he internally winced. He needed this ride to the next trading station; hardly any ships headed that way were large enough to handle him as a passenger. He couldn’t afford to spend any more time at this station than absolutely necessary, not at the prices they were charging for energon. This ship and its disgusting organics were his best option right now.

“Cut pay means cut fuel. Move containers, then fuel,” the organic grunted back, then returned his attention to his inventory.

“Fragging organics,” Sunstreaker mumbled in Cybertronix as he stomped out of the ship’s cargo bay.

Sunstreaker considered the giant stack of containers remaining to be loaded. If he was able to keep moving them at the rate he had been, he should have everything loaded by tomorrow. He leaned over to grab the next container, and lifted it, gritting his dentae against the strain he felt in his cabling.

As he trudged back to the ship with his load, he glanced at the cargo waiting for the ship docked in the bay next to them. Five or six organics were using powered carts to haul their cargo containers. Just one of them could move more containers in one trip than Sunstreaker could haul in an hour.

“Cheap fraggers,” he snarled quietly as he entered the ship. It cost credits to rent the powered carts from the trading station. Sunstreaker had no doubt that the organics had figured out that providing a Cybertronian with fuel and a ride would cost them far less than renting one of the powered carts for a day.

As he set the container down in the ship’s cargo bay (gently, so he didn’t get yelled at again for ‘dropping merchandise’) and turned to get the next one, Sunstreaker fell back one of his most frequently-played mental games. He called it WWSD, or What Would Sideswipe Do?

Sideswipe had always been better at the sneaky stuff. He’d always been able to find loopholes in rules, and better (if not necessarily right) ways of doing things. Sunstreaker knew that had the situation been reversed, Sideswipe would have either had all of the containers loaded by now, or would have convinced the organic to rent one of the fragging powered carts already. His twin certainly wouldn’t be lugging the cargo into the hold, one container at a time.

Blowing out a frustrated vent of air, Sunstreaker picked up the next container. He’d been playing WWSD for days, and hadn’t been able to think of a single way out of this cable-breaking labour. The only thing he’d succeeded in doing was missing Sideswipe’s presence even more than usual.

Minus 708 Years

Sunstreaker hadn’t even taken a sip of the fuel before he banged the cube back down onto the counter. “This fuel is bad,” he growled.

The bartender, a larger organic with scaled skin and a dour expression, shrugged. “It’s the only energon we’ve got,” he said.

Grabbing the cube, Sunstreaker dangled it between his fingers as he held it up. “You’re supposed to be able to see through energon,” he said. “This either isn’t filtered, or it’s been cut with something else.”

Shrugging again, the bartender said, “So call it a mixer.”

Sunstreaker slammed the cube back down. “I’m not paying for this. It’ll clog my filters.”

The organic finally turned to face Sunstreaker and put his hands on the surface of the bar. He leaned towards Sunstreaker, and all four of his eyes narrowed. “You asked for energon. I poured you energon. You’re going to pay for the energon, or I’m going to call station security.”

Sunstreaker’s engine growled louder as his battle systems came online. He pushed himself off the stool and started to lean over the bar towards the organic when someone down the counter said, “If he won’t drink it, I will. I was going to order another one anyway.” The mech who had spoken waved a credit chip at the bartender and smiled.

The bartender grimaced at Sunstreaker before snatching up the cube from the bar and taking it down to the other Cybertronian.

Sunstreaker stared at the other mech as the bartender set the cube in front of him. He couldn’t see a faction brand on him, which wasn’t unusual. He hadn’t seen a single Autobot or Decepticon brand since he’d been thrown back in time. “It’s fouled with contaminants,” he said in Cybertronix, adding glyphs of disbelief and warning. “It’s cloudy, and not even the right colour. I should call security on him for even serving it.”

“I know what it looks like,” said the other mech calmly. “But unless you want to go without, this is the best this station has to offer.” He moved his straw from his empty cube to the new one. “I take it you haven’t been here long?”

Sunstreaker felt his battle systems cycle down, and took a step towards the other mech. “I just arrived a few hours ago,” he said. He watched as the mech sipped down the sickly maroon-coloured fuel, and felt his tanks turn over. The energon looked disgusting, and hadn’t smelled much better. But his tanks had been insistently pinging him with a low fuel warning for almost a week. He really needed some kind of fuel. “How can you even drink that?” he asked.

The mech pulled the straw out of the cube and jiggled it between his fingers. “Filter straw,” he said. He put it back into the cube and took another sip. “It’s not perfect, but it makes the fuel at least serviceable.” The mech pulled another straw from his subspace and held it out to Sunstreaker. “Take it. Get yourself some fuel. I can hear your tanks gurgling from here.” He held up his hand and gestured for the bartender to bring another cube of fuel.

Ignoring the glare from the bartender, Sunstreaker stared at the fuel before putting the straw into the cube and taking a sip. The colour of the fuel had been a warning after all; the fuel had a sickly organic taste with a sour tang. He retched slightly as he swallowed. “Ugh!” he exclaimed after clearing his intake. “That’s disgusting.”

“Like I said, it’s not perfect,” said the other mech. “It removes the contaminants, but it can’t do much about the taste. I wish I could tell you that you get used to the taste, but you won’t. At least it won’t damage your systems.” He smiled at Sunstreaker. “I’m Greenbough, by the way.”

“Sunstreaker.” He pulled down a mouthful of the fuel and coughed, trying not to focus on the taste. “How long have you been here, drinking this slag?”

“A few hundred years.” Greenbough shrugged and finished his fuel. “Every once in a while they get a good shipment of fuel in. That hasn’t happened in a while, though.” He glanced at the Autobrand on Sunstreaker’s chest. “You heading in to sign up or something?”

“Something like that,” Sunstreaker said, and took another drink. He gagged and put the cube down.

Greenbough shook his helm. “You’d do well to stay out of that mess,” he said. “All the news we’ve gotten out here about the war is bad. Neither side is going to come out of this with their hands clean.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Sunstreaker said dismissively. He wasn’t in the mood to get into yet another argument with yet another Neutral about the war. Sideswipe had always been better at those sort of difficult conversations, and probably would have been able to spin some elaborate cover story.

He managed to take one more drink of the fuel before giving up. He’d consumed enough to resolve the low fuel warnings he’d been getting, and didn’t think he could keep any more down. Taking the straw out of the cube, he handed it back to Greenbough. “Thank you for the straw, but I don’t think I can drink any more of this.”

“Keep it,” said Greenbough. “They’re easy enough to make. And I’ve got your fuel, too.” He waved away Sunstreaker’s credit chip. “It was good just to see another Cybertronian again. It’s been a while.”

Putting his credit chip away, Sunstreaker nodded and gave the mech a small smile. “Thank you,” he said. He subspaced the straw, hoping that the next time he found fuel he wouldn’t need it. “I appreciate this. It’s good to find some decent mechs around.”

“You’re welcome,” said Greenbough. “And there’s decent folk all over... Not just mechs. Some of the organics aren’t so bad, either.” He smiled at Sunstreaker. “I just ask that you do something kind for someone else in exchange, someday.”

Decent organics. Right. Sunstreaker glanced at the bartender, who was still glaring at him out of two of his eyes. Then he turned back to Greenbough and gave him a curt nod. “Sure, no problem. But since you’ve been here for a while, do you have any recommendations for short-term accommodations? I’m only here until I can catch the next ship heading spinward.”

Minus 538 Years

The data pad’s memory was almost full, and Sunstreaker knew he was either going to have to buy another one, or start deleting images from it. He didn’t have the spare credits to buy another one, unless he could get a deal, so that meant figuring out which images he wanted to get rid of.

Well, he certainly wouldn’t be deleting any of the sketches of Sideswipe. He’d figure out what else was on the pad later, after he finished this new sketch.

As Sideswipe’s cocky grin formed under his stylus, Sunstreaker tried to remember where they would be right about now... Where past (future?) him and Sideswipe would be. He thought that this was about the time that the Osvega Offensive had taken place. That had been their fourth time off planet, and the first time they’d scored window seats on the troop transport. He smiled as he remembered Sideswipe staring out the side portal on the transport, utterly transfixed at the sight of Cybertron falling away beneath them.

Sunstreaker opened a new image and quickly sketched what he remembered of Sideswipe’s expression as he looked down on their home planet, and tried to ignore the twist he felt in his spark.

“Hey! Robot! They need you in the engine room!”

Sunstreaker glared up at the fuzzy organic that stood at the entrance of this cargo hold. By agreement with the captain, this hold was his quarters, so barging in without even a knock was the equivalent of walking into someone’s quarters.

Maybe these organics didn’t care about personal space, but Sunstreaker did.

“I’m not a robot,” he huffed.

“Big metal guy, then” said the organic impatiently. “Look, I was just sent to get you. Am’raan needs you to help him fix the ventilation systems. He said it was urgent.”

Sunstreaker hesitated, considering whether he really cared whether the ventilation system was acting up. After all, he didn’t need air. Then again, the ventilation did more than just provide air... It kept the ship heated, and filtered out all of the noxious smells that the organics produced. Plus, if all the organics on the ship asphyxiated, Sunstreaker would be alone on a stinky ship that he couldn’t fly. He already knew he didn’t fit up the narrow passage onto the command deck.

With a groan, Sunstreaker set his pad aside and stood. His hip bushings were wearing out, and he hoped that he could find replacements at the next trading station. But there was nothing he could do about the pain in his shoulders until he could get them adjusted. His shoulder joints moved far too stiffly, and it took effort to lift his arms above his waist. The joint adjustors were in a spot on the back on his shoulders that he simply couldn’t reach.

He transformed into his alt-mode, which was more compact than his root form, and followed the organic out of the hold and into the hallway. These organics only came up to his waist, so it was far more comfortable for him to navigate the ship’s tight corridors in his vehicle mode.

Sunstreaker puttered along behind the organic until they reached the engine room, where he transformed carefully, mindful of the low ceiling. The ship’s engineer was sifting through a box of parts, pulling items out seemingly at random. “You needed me?” Sunstreaker asked.

The engineer – his designation was Am’raan, Sunstreaker remembered – looked up in surprise. “Oh, robot! You’re here already,” he said. “I just need you to lift this cowling and hold it out of the way while I replace the exchanger. Our lift broke a few stops ago and we haven’t replaced it yet.”

His expression darkening, Sunstreaker looked at the cowling. It was heavy flexsteel, double layered. His shoulders ached just looking at it. “The other one said it was urgent. This doesn’t look urgent.”

Am’raan turned to glare at the retreating organic who had fetched Sunstreaker before looking back up at the mech. “I told him it was important, not urgent. I’m sorry... You weren’t in the middle of anything, were you?” he asked, his ears drooping slightly.

“Yes, I was.” He hadn’t been, really. Most of his time on the ships he’d travelled on had been spent in various levels of boredom. He could only recharge for so long, after all. “But now that I’m here, let’s get this over with,” he grumbled.

He was right: the cowling was very heavy, and awkward. A few hundred years ago this wouldn’t have been any problem for him to lift, but after so long without any basic maintenance, none of his systems were operating well. Sunstreaker heaved the cowling up, and then rested the top of it on his helm. At least that took some of the strain off of his shoulders.

“Just a bit higher, robot... Yes, there. Perfect.” The engineer started unbolting a part in the ventilation system. “I finally finished making the part we needed. This should save us a bit of energy, and improve the air circulation.”

Sunstreaker watched the organic work for a minute, then said, “I’m not a robot.” When Am’raan glanced up at him, he added, “I have a designation. I’ve told all of you what it is multiple times, and no one uses it. You all just call me ‘robot.’ I’m not a robot, and it’s rude to call me that. I am Sunstreaker.”

Am’raan flinched slightly and laid his ears back against his head when Sunstreaker said his designation. “Right. Sorry about that. It’s just...” He looked up at Sunstreaker again, then smiled and shook his head. “You couldn’t know. But in our language, phonetically, your name sounds like something really... impolite.”

This was news to Sunstreaker. No one on this ship had explained that to him. Instead, every single crew member either looked shocked or laughed awkwardly when he’d said his designation in Tradespeak. Sunstreaker grimaced; Sideswipe probably would have picked up on that right away. “What does it mean?” he asked.

The engineer’s ears swiveled again as he removed another bolt from the exchanger and pulled away the cover. “It means... Well, it’s a rude word that describes someone who treats a close family member like they would a mate.”

Sunstreaker’s optics widened, and his thoughts flew again to Sideswipe. Cybertronians didn’t reproduce the same way as organics, but he figured that he and Sideswipe merging their sparks for closeness and for comfort might be viewed the same to these organics as their ‘rude word.’ He let a little smile cross his lips when he realized how appropriate his designation would be to them. “I see,” he said finally, carefully bottling up the visceral longing the thought of merging with Sideswipe created in him. “But I’d prefer if you didn’t call me ‘robot.’ That’s like me calling you a hairy meat sack.”

Am’raan barked out a quick laugh as he lifted out several parts and set them aside. “Fair enough,” he replied. “And I know you’re a Cybertronian, but that’s really awkward for us to pronounce.” Sure enough, the engineer stumbled over the word as pronounced in Tradespeak. “Is there something else we could call you?”

What else did he want to be called? Mech? Warrior? He thought for a moment, his optics drifting downwards. He looked at his Autobrand, and then looked back at Am’raan. “You can call me Autobot.”

“Autobot?” Am’raan repeated, as if trying out the word. “Isn’t that... It’s one of your sub-races or something, right?”

“Close enough,” Sunstreaker replied with a shrug.

Am’raan nodded and said, “Sure. That works. I’ll let everyone know.”

“Thank you.”

Over the next half hour, as Am’raan finished the repairs to the air exchanger, they chatted. Am’raan had always been friendly to Sunstreaker, and as an engineer he was curious about the different mechanical beings that they occasionally encountered. Sunstreaker answered his questions as well as he could, since it took his processor off the growing pain in his shoulders and arms, and off how much he missed his brother. It looked like Am’raan was almost done with his repairs, and Sunstreaker found that he was actually enjoying the company. It was better than sitting alone in his cargo hold, anyway.

Suddenly Am’raan looked up at Sunstreaker, frowning. “Are you all right? The sound of your systems has changed. It sounds like an engine that’s labouring.”

Sunstreaker cycled his optics at the engineer. He knew that his engine was struggling slightly with the effort of keeping the cowling held above his helm, but he didn’t think that the change was loud enough for the organic to pick up.

Then again, Am’raan did work with engines all day.

“It’s my shoulders,” Sunstreaker admitted. “They need adjusting, so holding this for so long... It’s hard. It... hurts.”

Muttering something that sounded like a swear word in his own language, Am’raan stepped back from the exchanger. “Well, put that thing down, then! Why didn’t you say something?”

Sunstreaker lowered the cowling slowly before letting it fall the last bit with a loud clang. Then he rolled his shoulders in an attempt to loosen the cabling. The motion felt good, but it didn’t improve the tension in the cables. “It looked like you were almost done,” he said. He rolled his shoulders again, lifting his elbows while he gritted his dentae against the pain. “Give me a few minutes to rest and we can finish the job.”

Am’raan was peering up at Sunstreaker, one ear cocked back. “Is there something I can do to help? You said they need adjusting.”

Frowning, Sunstreaker looked down at the organic. “You won’t charge me? Or dock my fuel? Or drop me off early?” he asked.

“Of course not!” Am’raan exclaimed. “Fangs and whiskers, what kind of shady hucksters have you been travelling with?” He planted his fists on his waist. “Just tell me what to do and I’ll fix you up as best I can.”

Sunstreaker rolled his shoulders again as he considered the offer. He’d been handling most of his maintenance himself as best he could. He had known that eventually he’d run into things he couldn’t do himself, like adjust his shoulders. It was just bad luck and overuse that had caused his shoulder cables to tighten up so much so soon. Once he got closer to Cybertron he’d have more options for medics and better spare parts for purchase, but for now he had to make do.

Finally, Sunstreaker nodded. “All right. Thank you.” He sat down, turning his back to the engineer. His proximity sensors pinged to advise him that a potential enemy was behind him, but he resolutely dismissed the warning. He trusted Am’raan. Mostly. “The cables that run down my arms are too tight. The adjuster is under my shoulder armor, but I can’t reach it.” He had to dismiss another two warnings from his battle systems before he could flare his plating enough so that the components were visible. He shifted slightly and gestured at his hip, opening a gap in his armor there as well. “The adjuster should look like that.”

Am’raan examined the adjuster in Sunstreaker’s hip, then stood behind him. A moment later, he said, “I see it! And I think I have a wrench that would fit that exactly.” He rummaged around in his tool box for a moment before returning with the tool. “You’ll tell me when it’s loose enough, right?” he asked. “I’m an engineer, not a doctor. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I’ll let you know when to stop,” Sunstreaker replied. A moment later he felt the engineer start to turn the adjuster. As it moved, the almost constant pain that he’d been in for about a hundred years eased, and he could not stop himself from uttering a quiet moan.

Immediately, Am’raan stopped moving. “Are you all right?” he asked worriedly.

“Yeah,” Sunstreaker said. He was sure that he sounded almost ecstatic, but he didn’t care. This felt so good after feeling so bad for so long. “It just feels really good to have that fixed finally.”

“Why didn’t you have this fixed earlier?” Am’raan asked, giving his wrench another turn.

Sunstreaker shrugged with his other shoulder. “The first time I found someone who worked on mechanicals, they were going to charge me more credits than I had because I was considered ‘exotic.’ The second time I found someone, they were willing to do it for free, or so they said... But they wanted some of my parts in exchange. They didn’t seem to understand that I’m using all of my parts!” His engine rumbled. “It was the same story every time, so I eventually stopped asking. I can do most of it myself anyway. I don’t need help. Stop there.” When Am’raan stepped back, Sunstreaker lifted his arm and carefully swung it around in a circle. “Oh, much better,” he said, letting his relief come through in his tone.

“Let me do the other one,” Am’raan said. He started working on the next once Sunstreaker lifted his plating. “Sounds like you do need help sometimes,” he said. “I’m glad I was able to fix this for you.”

“Me too,” Sunstreaker said quietly. “And... Thank you.” He stared at the wall of the engine room as Am’raan finished the adjustment. “You didn’t have to do this.”

The fuzzy organic came around to stand in front of Sunstreaker. “You’re welcome, Autobot. And you’re wrong. I did have to do it, because it was the decent thing to do.” He patted Sunstreaker’s knee. “I hope you run into more decent folk in your travels.”

Minus 297 Years

Normally, an accident of that scale would have come under investigation by the Galactic Council, especially considering how many organics died. But because the accident occurred on a trading post so far off the major shipping lanes, it seemed as though the Council simply couldn’t be bothered doing a full inquiry. So the cause of the accident at Aboti Station was simply written off as the result of shoddy construction and poor piloting, and the Council’s safety administration vowed to step up station inspections. Of course, no one really believed the increased inspections would happen, especially with so many resources being dedicated to protecting planets closer to Cybertron from the ravages of the war.

Sunstreaker heard a few theories about what had happened, but they all revolved around a few key points. Somehow, a ship coming in to dock fired the wrong thrusters, and careened into the side of the station instead of gently coming into its assigned berth. The resulting impact completely destroyed two ships as they were ripped away from their moorings and collided, and blew a giant hole in the hull of the station itself.

The vendor that Sunstreaker had been haggling with over the cost of coolant had just agreed on Sunstreaker’s suggested price when the station shook alarmingly under their pedes. Then suddenly, everything that wasn’t attached to the decking was airborne.

Sunstreaker had been involved in one explosive depressurization when the shuttle he’d been on was hit by Decepticon fire over Pembin IV. The shuttle had been small, and most of the items in it were strapped or bolted down. However, the concourse on the station was not small, and it was fairly crowded. One moment Sunstreaker was speaking to the vendor. The next moment, the air was filled with debris and bodies as the air rushed out of the hole that had appeared in the wall a few hundred meters away from the vendor’s stall.

Alarms rang and blast doors slammed shut as the station’s emergency systems sealed the damaged section off. Sunstreaker fell to his knees and dug his fingers into the decking, trying to keep himself from being sucked out of the hole.

A screaming organic sailed past Sunstreaker’s helm, then another. A third organic, a thickly muscled creature, grabbed onto a support on the vendor’s stall before the support itself came loose, and he was gone. The stall’s owner had vanished.

Sunstreaker hung on grimly. All of the air would be gone in another minute or so, and he would be able to stand up again.

He felt the impact of something soft hitting his shoulder, and he turned his helm to see a blue-skinned organic clinging to his armor. The organic was only hanging on with one arm because its other arm was holding onto something tightly: another, smaller organic who was screaming in terror.

The larger organic looked up at Sunstreaker, its wide eyes meeting his optics, and he heard it yell “Help us!” in Tradespeak over the roaring wind. Its grip on his armor slipped slightly.

Later, Sunstreaker wasn’t sure why he did it. Maybe he’d just been playing WWSD too much. If he’d just held on for another minute, the air flow would have lessened and he could have safely let go and stood up. But he heard the shrieks of the smaller organic, and saw the desperation in the eyes of the larger one. He saw the larger organic’s grip slip again.

No, he didn’t know why he did it. But later, he knew that he could have done better.

Letting go with one hand, Sunstreaker cupped the smaller organic in his palm and tried – he tried! – to collect the larger one in the same movement. He thought he had them both; he was sure he could feel two small beings in his hand as he pulled them tight against his chest and transformed around them, sealing them inside his cabin with what air was left in the concourse.

Transforming meant that he had to let go of the decking, and he flew backwards towards the hole in the station wall. It was pure luck that he got wedged in the debris that had collected at the hole, pieces of metal and merchandise and other unidentifiable items just meters from open space. Sunstreaker shuddered in relief that he didn’t get blown out of the station all together, even though his plating was now gouged and scraped. It was only when he stopped moving that he checked on the state of his passengers...

...and realized there was only one organic inside him.

Frantically, Sunstreaker scanned the area immediately around him but found only debris and mangled bodies. The air had finally finished venting through the hole, and everything around him was silent and still.

Inside his cabin, the small organic screamed incoherently, liquid streaming from its eyes as it banged its fists against his window and stared out at the inky darkness of space.

Chapter Text

Minus 291 Years

Lyra had her own pad to keep her busy, but she kept looking down at what Sunstreaker was doing. He could see her out of the corner of his optic, leaning down from her perch on his shoulder. Finally, she asked, “Who is that?”

“It’s another Cybertronian,” Sunstreaker replied, adding a bit of shading under Sideswipe’s chin.

The young Elonian sighed in a very dramatic fashion. Sunstreaker wasn’t sure where she had picked that up from, but she’d been doing it more and more often over the past few months. “I know it’s a Cybertronian,” she said with a huff that sounded very familiar. “But you draw that specific Cybertronian all the time! It’s obviously someone you know. Who is it?”

Sunstreaker paused and looked at his sketch. His brother stared out from the pad, looking the viewer right in the optics. His expression was mostly serious, but one corner of his mouth was just slightly turned up in a small smile. “His designation’s Sideswipe.”

“Are you related?” she asked. “You look like you’re related.”

Turning his helm to look at the Elonian, Sunstreaker frowned. The little organic looked up at him, her face sombre as she waited for him to answer. “What makes you say that?” he asked in return.

Lyra shrugged. “Your faces look the same: same chinguards, same nasal ridge, and your optics are the same shape.” She listed off the items on her fingers as she spoke. “And when you colour your drawings, you always pick a blue for his optics that’s exactly the same shade as your own.”

The little organic was perceptive, Sunstreaker had to give her that. They’d run into a handful of other Cybertronians since Sunstreaker saved her from being sucked into space in the accident that had killed everyone on her ship. Lyra had obviously paid attention to the differences between Sunstreaker and the other mechs.

Finally, Sunstreaker nodded. “Yeah. We’re related. He’s my brother.”

Lyra sighed again and looked down at the sketch. “I wish I remembered my brother,” she said sadly.

The Aboti station records had included a manifest of the Elonian ship’s crew, where Sunstreaker had found a listing for Lyra’s family. Father, mother, second mother, a brother, and an uncle had all been traveling with the little organic that Sunstreaker had rescued. None of them survived. In fact, she had been the only survivor from her ship. The station keepers had no interest in keeping the orphan, and the Council ship that arrived after the accident erroneously named Sunstreaker as her caretaker. They refused to fix the record even after Sunstreaker pointed out their error.

Sunstreaker knew that Sideswipe would have jumped to care for the little organic and see that she was reunited with others of her species. So, in the spirit of WWSD, Sunstreaker did the same. Elonian space was vaguely in the same direction as Cybertron, and he figured that they’d run into a ship of her species before too long. She ate very little, so she didn’t cost him much, and she seemed to be able to charm other organics in a way that Sunstreaker simply couldn’t. She’d already gotten them nearly free passage on two ships already, so Sunstreaker figured she was paying her own way with her smile.

Besides, organics didn’t live very long anyway.

Lyra scooted herself to the edge of his shoulder, and Sunstreaker held up his hand for her to climb into. “Tell me about your brother,” Lyra said. “I can’t remember mine, so I want to know about yours.”

Sunstreaker set Lyra on his knee and tabbed his pad to open a fresh screen. “He likes to laugh. He also likes pranks.” In a few deft strokes of his stylus, he outlined Sideswipe peering around a corner with a scheming grin on his face. “Once, he put adhesive on Prowl’s chair so when he sat down, Prowl got stuck to it.”

Lyra giggled. “Who’s Prowl?”

“He’s our second in command... Our boss,” Sunstreaker said, adding a tube of medical-grade adhesive to Sideswipe’s hand.

Lyra’s giggles turned into a peal of laughter. “Your boss? Did he get into trouble?”

“Oh yeah,” Sunstreaker said, his own face brightening with a smile as he worked on the sketch. “He got into so much trouble for that. But it was funny as slag.”

Minus 281 Years

The station concourse was crowded. Even though Lyra had grown so that she now came up past Sunstreaker’s knee, it was just easier for her to ride on his shoulder. Lyra stood on his shoulder armor like the captain of a ship, easily keeping her balance as Sunstreaker moved through the crowds. She kept one hand on the cooling vent on the side of his helm, and held a data pad with their shopping list in the other hand. They had both just finished well-paying jobs, and were feeling a bit flush with credits. Sunstreaker had faithfully put most of his earnings in safekeeping, knowing that the closer he got to Cybertron the harder it would be to find passage for just labour. But even after putting credits aside, they both still had what seemed like unimaginable riches.

“All right, you need some coolant, some solid fuel cubes, wax, a new stylus, and some touchup paint.” Lyra waited for Sunstreaker to nod before continuing. “I need more water filters, dry nutrimix, cleaning wipes, a new jumpsuit, some new tips for my soldering iron, and some kind of moisturizer if we can find it. Then... if we have credits left over...” Her voice turned hopeful.

“We won’t,” Sunstreaker replied.

“We might!” Lyra countered. “We might if we can get a deal on something. And if we do have anything left over we can get ourselves some treats! Maybe some rust sticks for you and some sugar gel for me?”

Rust sticks. How long had it been since he’d had a rust stick? Sunstreaker blew a quiet vent of air, but he knew Lyra felt it when she laughed. He huffed again, this time in mild exasperation. “All right, fine. If we have the credits left,” he said.

Lyra knocked her knuckles against his cooling vent. “Put me down here. They’ve got filters and stuff, and the next stall looks like they might have paint.” She hopped onto Sunstreaker’s hand, then to the ground when he bent to put her down.

As Lyra spoke to the organic running the first stall, Sunstreaker turned to look at the tubes of paint arranged on the next table. He could tell at a glance that none of the tubes contained the right shade of yellow. But maybe the vendor had a few more colours that weren’t on display.

Sunstreaker took a step towards the stall but paused when he heard a deep growl behind him. He turned his helm to see what the noise was.

His vision exploded in a burst of artifacting and pain. Sunstreaker staggered backwards, suddenly very conscious of where he’d set Lyra down. He turned to face his attacker, planting a pede so that he wouldn’t slide backwards into her, just as another fist connected with his face.

Sunstreaker’s engine roared as his battle systems onlined. He unsheathed his armblades, bringing one up to block the next blow. Before he could return the attack, he was grabbed from behind, strong arms pinning his to his sides.

His processer was still ringing, but he could hear Lyra screaming for help. Shaking his helm, Sunstreaker heaved himself forward, almost breaking free from the grip before a third set of arms grabbed him from the side. No matter how he squirmed, he could not break free of the aliens holding him.

One of his optics was damaged, and the visual feed kept cutting in and out. With his good optic, Sunstreaker focused on the alien that stood in front of him, flexing its fists. The Ejoornian snarled at him, its eyes narrowed in fury. “You will pay for what you did to our planet, machine!” the alien roared.

Sunstreaker struggled to free himself again, but the hands holding him only tightened their grips. “I’ve never even been to your planet,” he growled.

“This says your friends have been,” the Ejoornian said, his fist landing directly in Sunstreaker’s chest right on his Autobrand. “And that’s good enough for us.” The plating buckled. He threw another punch to his jaw, and Sunstreaker heard something snap. “Our planet is destroyed!” A blow slammed into the side of his helm, and he felt his cooling vent crumple. “Our species is scattered!” He saw the fist come in once more before his sputtering optic gave a final flash of static and went completely dark.

One of the aliens holding him growled. “Did you want us to kill you fast or slow, machine?” It kicked at his knee, and Sunstreaker felt the joint crack. Distantly, Sunstreaker realized that Lyra had stopped screaming, and he hoped that she hadn’t been hurt... Or worse.

“Let me go so we can make this a fair fight!” Sunstreaker bellowed, still trying to wrench himself free. “Three on one would almost be fair to you.”

The first alien sneered into his one lit optic. “I’m gonna make you feel all the pain of every member of my pod,” it growled, and Sunstreaker felt a blade plunge into the gap in his armor between his collar and his neckguard, slicing directly into his main fuel line.

I’m sorry Sideswipe, Sunstreaker thought as he felt the energon spurt from his lines and flow down his front, even as he still struggled to free himself. I tried. I’m so sorry you’ll be alone.

“I know you tried,” Sideswipe said.

Sunstreaker cycled his optics at his brother. Sideswipe smiled at him and wiggled his fingers in a cheeky wave. “Sides?” Sunstreaker asked in disbelief, reaching to take Sideswipe’s hand.

“It’s been quite the adventure so far, hasn’t it?” Sideswipe asked, still smiling, but his tone was gentle.

His brother seemed just out of reach; no matter how Sunstreaker stretched, Sideswipe’s hand was too far away. “Sideswipe!” he gasped. “Slag, I missed you.”

Sideswipe folded his arms across his chest, and his smile faded. “I know you have,” Sideswipe said sadly. “But you’re going to have to keep missing me for now.”

Sunstreaker let his hand fall to his side as realization came over him. “This isn’t real, is it?”

“Nope!” Sideswipe said. His smile returned and he shook his helm. “You know your processor always goes a bit funny when it’s been rung really good.” His brother shifted and vanished, only to materialize right in front of him. Sunstreaker felt the brush of Sideswipe’s fingers against the side of his helm even as his brother faded from view once more. “You’re doing great, Sunny.”

“Sides,” Sunstreaker choked, his voice full of static. “Sides, please. Please don’t leave me alone.”

“Sunstreaker? Are you awake? Hey. Hey! I think he’s coming back online!”

Sunstreaker opened his optics again to see Lyra standing beside his helm, peering into his face. Above him was a bright light, but he realized he was only seeing it out of one optic. Error messages cluttered his HUD, and he started dismissing the low priority ones.

Slag, everything hurt.

He pulled a deep vent, trying to cling to the image of Sideswipe reaching out to touch him. Even if it hadn’t been real, it had felt real. After 750 years without his brother, even a hallucination of Sideswipe felt precious to Sunstreaker.

“Sunstreaker, say something!” Lyra pleaded.

“I’m awake,” he said, his vocalizer cutting in and out.

A look of relief crossed Lyra’s face briefly until she looked up. Sunstreaker refocused his optic and saw another Cybertronian leaning over him. Medic symbols were painted on his shoulders, but Sunstreaker couldn’t see if he had a brand. “You’re a lucky mech,” the medic said in Cybertronix. He adjusted something that was attached to Sunstreaker’s frame, then went back to working on Sunstreaker’s knee. “The station guards were going to just wait until those organics were done with you before stepping in, but your pet here made a fuss like it wanted to call down the Thirteen.”

“She’s not a pet, she’s a friend” Sunstreaker replied.

“What’s he saying?” Lyra asked. “I can’t understand your beeps and bloops, remember?”

The medic shrugged. “Well, whatever it is, it successfully shamed the guards into stopping those fraggers. And you would have bled out before a medic got there if your friend hadn’t gone to get help.”

Sunstreaker turned his helm towards Lyra and said, “He’s saying you saved my life.” He focused his working optic on her. “Thank you.”

Lyra ducked her head before smiling at him. “So now we’re even, all right?” she said.

Pointing his tool at Lyra, the medic said, “Your pet here... Your friend? It said that it would pay for your repairs. I’m going to hold you to that, but the more you want fixed, the more it’s going to cost.”

Sunstreaker vented. Of course this was going to cost them. “How much?” he asked, afraid to hear the total. “And talk in Tradespeak. She can’t understand Cybertronix.”

With a grunt, the medic nodded and continued in Tradespeak. “It depends on what all you want fixed. To get you just operational again will be about 120... and I’ve already done that, so you owe me that up front. If you want all your main systems and joints fixed, it’ll be another 450... They did a real number on your arms, by the way. If you want me to do all the cosmetic work on your paneling and other parts, it’ll be anywhere from 850 to 1000 for all the parts and labour. I’d have to cost it out first.”

So much for their extra credits. Sunstreaker ran a quick diagnostic and winced. If he wanted to keep working and earning money to get him closer to Cybertron, he needed all of that fixed. “Get my main systems and limbs working again,” he said finally. “I’ll get the plating fixed later.”

As the medic nodded and turned to get something off of a nearby table, Lyra touched Sunstreaker’s helm. “I don’t need the new jumpsuit,” she said. “I can put some more patches on this one. And the soldering iron tips were a nice to have, so we can skip that, too.”

Sunstreaker frowned. “But you use those to make those chipsets you sell,” he said. Lyra had made a decent amount of credits at the last station selling replacement chips for communication and navigation equipment; her tiny hands were able to get the connections on the chips just right.

Lyra shrugged again. “I can probably get another year out of these tips if I’m careful,” she said.

What else could they do without? Sunstreaker thought about the items on their list that had been his. “Then I can make do with my old stylus, too,” he said. “And... I guess I won’t need wax until I get the plating fixed.” He would look like slag one way or the other. There was no sense on spending credits on something he couldn’t use until his gouges and scrapes were fixed.

“Bad news,” the medic said, coming back to the slab Sunstreaker was laying on. “I don’t have the right parts for your optical sensor. It’s not standard, so I can’t fix that. But good news, I guess: that’ll bring your total down to 490.”

Sunstreaker stared up at the light over him with his one good optic. He’d have to manage, somehow, until they could find a replacement. “All right,” he said. “Just fix the rest.”

“And one more thing before I start the rest of this. Call it free advice,” the medic said, lapsing back into Cybertronix. He ignored Lyra’s exasperated sigh and tapped the Autobrand on Sunstreaker’s chest. “Lose this. I can take it off for free if you want, but this is what drew the attention of those thugs. There’s plenty of Cybertronians here, but they went after you because of this.” He tapped the brand once more, then went back to work on his knee. “The closer you get to Cybertron, the more trouble it’ll cause you. It’s easier just to get rid of it.”

Get rid of his brand? Sunstreaker hesitated. He’d already sold his rifle. But if it kept attention off of him, all the better. “Fine,” he said. “Do it.”

“What did he say this time?” Lyra asked impatiently.

Sunstreaker looked at her again. “He was just giving me some tips on keeping us both safe,” he said.

Minus 276 Years

The freighter was slow, but the ride was free.

If they were going any further than the outskirts of the system, Sunstreaker would have waited for a faster ship. But all they needed was a lift to the trading post that orbited the star beyond its furthest planet, so it would only take a week or so to get there.

However, they had not figured on the accommodations being so stark. The two organics that owned the huge freighter were large, round, furry, and covered in a thick blubber. That should have tipped them off that the environmental conditions on the freighter might not be ideal for a thin-skinned, petite, almost hairless organic.

They claimed the warmest hold on the ship for their quarters, closest to the engine, but the air was still frigid. Lyra spent her time bundled up in her jacket and covered in blankets, and she still shivered almost constantly. Even huddling against Sunstreaker’s battered plating did little to warm her.

After just a day of that, Sunstreaker transformed and told her to get inside. Between his engine heat and her own body warmth filling his cabin, Lyra’s shivers gradually subsided.

However, it was a boring way to spend their time. Lyra couldn’t work on crafting her chips inside Sunstreaker’s cabin because of the fumes from the soldering iron, and she could only study her engineering texts for so long. And Sunstreaker couldn’t do much of anything while in his alt mode. So Lyra read to Sunstreaker from one of the novels she had picked up, but after finishing the story she lapsed into silence.

Sunstreaker thought she had fallen asleep, since her breathing had become slow and steady. He was just beginning to allow himself to drift into recharge when Lyra spoke. “How do you say your designation? In Cybertronix?”

“Why do you want to know that?” Sunstreaker asked.

Nestled inside his cabin, Lyra shrugged. “You only speak it around other Cybertronians, but it sounds really neat,” she said. “Please?”

“Fine,” Sunstreaker replied, and said his designation in his native language.

His sensors noted that Lyra was fiddling with something on her data pad. “Say it again?” she asked. “Slower, if you can.”

Sunstreaker repeated his designation. Letting his real designation fall from his vocalizer for the first time in years felt both natural and strange.

“Again?” Lyra asked.

“No,” Sunstreaker said. “You can’t hear all of it anyway. Some of the harmonics are out of your hearing range.”

Lyra snorted. “Ok. Then can you say, ‘Hello, my designation is Sunstreaker’?”

Sunstreaker shifted on his tires, jostling Lyra slightly. “You’re just trying a different way to get me to say my designation.”

“Maybe,” Lyra said, her voice full of mischief. “Please?”

With a grunt, Sunstreaker repeated the sentence in Cybertronix. “Enough?” he asked.

“Say something else?” Lyra asked. She had curled up in the cabin with her feet tucked under her, and had set her data pad aside. “Anything you want.” Sunstreaker immediately spoke again in Cybertronix. When he was done, Lyra said, “That was so long and complicated! What did you say?”

“I said, ‘Stop telling me to say random slag in Cybertronix. I am not a turbo fox that does tricks.’”

Lyra laughed. “Ok, fair enough. I just like hearing it. It sounds neat,” she said. “It’s so different from any other language you hear around the stations.”

Sunstreaker shifted on his wheels again in the equivalent of a shrug. “It’s not that different. It’s like any other language. It’s just a way to exchange information with others of your species.”

Lyra fell quiet again, long enough that Sunstreaker wondered whether she had finally drifted off to sleep. But his sensors showed that her eyes were still open, staring out his window thoughtfully. Finally, she said, “I can’t remember much Elonian. Just little bits and pieces. I don’t even think I could understand someone if they started speaking it to me.” She sighed and patted Sunstreaker’s interior with her warm hand. “You’re lucky. You can learn a language just by downloading it. I wish it was that easy for organics.” She pulled her hand back. “I dream in Elonian sometimes, but I can never remember the details. I always wake up feeling lonely, like I’m missing a part of me.”

Sunstreaker thought he knew exactly how Lyra felt. He always felt like he was missing a vital part of himself.

Lyra had been young when the accident that separated her from her family occurred, and they had only run across two Elonians in the whole time they had been traveling together. Sunstreaker had never purchased the Elonian language pack; there had never been a need for him to have it while he was fighting in the war. The only packs he’d had installed were Tradespeak and the pidgin that Council worlds used for diplomatic issues. And ever since Sunstreaker had been separated from Sideswipe, his focus had been getting back to Cybertron. Buying the Elonian language pack seemed like a luxury that he neither needed nor wanted.

Settling on his tires, Sunstreaker hesitantly said, “At the next place that sells language packs, I can buy the Elonian one. Then I could help you practice. If you want.”

Lyra sat up straight. “You don’t have to do that,” she said. “I know you’re trying to save credits to get back to your brother.”

“The pack shouldn’t be that much,” Sunstreaker replied, hoping that what he said was true. “And besides, once we find a ship of your species, you’re going to want to know how to speak the language.”

“I guess so,” Lyra said quietly. She didn’t sound as eager to find others of her species as Sunstreaker thought she should, but he didn’t pry. If she wanted to tell him what the problem was, she would. After a few minutes of silence, she said, “Yeah. You’re right. That’s probably a good idea.”

They sat in silence for several more minutes, and this time Sunstreaker was almost into recharge before Lyra’s voice brought him back to alertness. “Sunstreaker,” she said, “how do you say ‘thank you’ in Cybertronix?”

Sunstreaker immediately translated the phrase into his native language. Then he added, “And here’s how you say ‘you’re welcome’.”

Minus 267 Years

Sunstreaker had been pacing back and forth in front of the loading dock for the A'ovan cruiser for almost twenty minutes before he realized he was doing it. He stopped, checked his chronometer again, and then folded his arms over his chest.

Lyra was late.

They still had an hour before the ship was scheduled to leave, but Sunstreaker didn’t want to cut things too close. This had been an expensive passage to purchase... Expensive and totally worth it. The ship was fast, it was headed in exactly the right direction, the crew seemed friendly towards Cybertronians and Elonians, their fare included food and fuel, and they had an actual room to share with a door that locked. Sunstreaker had everything he needed for the eight-month-long voyage... Except his travelling companion.

Lyra had said she was going to “run a quick errand” before the ship left. She’d been excited about whatever it was, but seemed loathe to give Sunstreaker any details. She’d left three hours ago, and Sunstreaker was starting to worry.

Sunstreaker supposed he could leave her behind. After all, she knew very well what time the ship was leaving. And she was a fully-grown adult now, capable of taking care of herself. If she’d lost track of time or something, that wasn’t Sunstreaker’s problem. She’d just have to figure things out for herself if she got left behind.

Except... Sideswipe would never leave her behind. And neither could Sunstreaker.

Sunstreaker had just decided he needed to go find her when he spotted the blue-skinned alien making her way towards the loading dock, pulling a cart stacked with three boxes. He stormed out to meet her, growling, “Where have you been? You know the ship leaves in half an hour.”

“I know, I’m sorry! But I made it! I needed to get this done.” Lyra gestured at the boxes on the cart. “Can you help me get them inside? I’ll go return the cart.”

Sunstreaker carried the boxes to their cabin while Lyra returned the cart. They were light and fit easily in his hands, but had no markings on them. One of the boxes was larger than the other two. He could feel something sliding around inside the smaller boxes, but he refrained from shaking them. After all, they weren’t his.

Within a few minutes, Lyra arrived and shut the door to their quarters. “A door. And a lock! This is going to be great,” she said enthusiastically. “No nosy aliens coming in to stare at us while we sleep again.”

“And hopefully no one walking off with our stuff,” Sunstreaker replied. They’d had problems with both issues on the last ship they were on.

“Speaking of stuff,” Lyra said, putting her hand on the boxes Sunstreaker had placed on the floor. “I’m sorry I was late. One of the vendors was really slow. But... These are for you!”

“What?” Sunstreaker said dumbly. “You bought me something?” He tried to remember if he’d asked her for anything, or if he’d mentioned something that he wanted or needed, but nothing came to mind.

“Yeah,” Lyra said, suddenly sounding uncertain. “I’m not really sure if you’re going to want part of it, so...” She picked up the larger box and hefted it in her arms before lifting it towards Sunstreaker. “Open this one first.”

Sunstreaker sat on the floor and took the box from her. He carefully opened the top and looked inside. “It’s... parts,” he said. He glanced at Lyra. “Planning another project?” he asked.

“After a fashion,” she said. She took the box from him and looked inside, a look of satisfaction on her face. “This is everything I need to finally repair your optical sensor.”

As he looked down into the box, Sunstreaker’s engine whined slightly. “You didn’t have to do this,” he said finally. He’d gotten so used to having only one optic that he barely even noticed the lack any more. Before, he had always wondered how empurata victims got by with only one optic. Now that he’d been operating with just one for so long, he realized it was easy to compensate for it. The only time that he really missed having two working optics was when he needed good depth perception. “This must have cost a fortune.”

“I saved up for a while, but I did get a deal of a few things,” Lyra admitted. “And I talked to two different Cybertronian medics to make sure I had all the right parts.” Lyra looked up at him and smiled. “If you trust me to make the repairs, of course.”

“Of course I trust you,” Sunstreaker replied, still a little stunned. And he did trust her. Lyra had done several repairs to his frame over the last few years, fixing up the leftover damage from the Ejoornians who had attacked him, as well as helping him take care of some basic maintenance he’d let slip. She had reconstructed his smashed cooling vent and modified the other one to match, and welded together new armor for his shoulders and upper arms where the aliens had crushed the old pieces. She was also the one to suggest that he stop looking for just the right shade of yellow paint for the new pieces of armor, since they hadn’t found it anywhere they had looked. Black worked just as well... And black was easy to match to black.

“Good! I was hoping you’d say that,” Lyra said. She set the box down and picked up one of the smaller ones. “This is the one I’m not sure about.” She clutched the box to her chest for a moment before handing it up to him. “If you don’t want it, we can sell them at the next station.”

Carefully opening the box, Sunstreaker looked inside. Then he picked up the shard of green glass and held it up. “Is this –“

“It’s an optical lens,” Lyra said. She looked up at him, her posture and her expression giving away her anxiety. “I know it’s not blue. I looked for blue. I looked everywhere. No one had it, except for one mech, back on that station around Sangjy, but he only had one and it wasn’t the right shade to match your good one.” She wrung her hands together before cramming them into the pockets of her jumpsuit. “I knew you’d want them to match, and I knew you’d never want red. So I thought this green would look good, with your yellow and the black, and I bought two so I could replace them both so your optics will match and...” Her voice faded away, and she cleared her throat. “Like I said, if you don’t want it, I can sell it again.”

Sunstreaker listened silently as he looked at the shard of glass in his hand. His optics had always been blue: a very specific shade of blue, in fact. The blue of his optics looked perfect against the yellow of his plating and the light grey of his face plates, just like it looked perfect against the red of Sideswipe’s plating and the same light grey of his face plates.

He held the glass up to the room light, examining the colour. It was comparable to the blue of his remaining optic, with almost the same level of saturation. Green and yellow were analogous colours instead of complementary, which was a significant change, but they didn’t look bad together.

And if he was getting his optical sensor fixed, he did need a new lens for his optic. He’d had cracked lenses before, and the distortion the cracks made in his vision would be even more annoying than missing an optic completely.

Sunstreaker lowered the glass and looked down at Lyra. She was motionless, staring up at him with a worried expression. “This will do,” he said gruffly, and put the lens back in the box.

Tension flowed from Lyra’s small body, and she sighed audibly in relief. “Great! Once we get underway I can get started on the repairs.” She took the box from Sunstreaker and set it down next to the other one. After a moment, she looked back up at Sunstreaker shyly. “I thought you were going to get mad at me,” she said.

Sunstreaker frowned. “Why would I be mad about this?” he asked. He gestured at the boxes. “This is a gift, right? You don’t get mad about gifts.”

Lyra shrugged. “But I know you and your brother always matched. And now... you won’t.”

Blowing a quick vent of air, Sunstreaker said, “The important things will still match.” He thumped his fist against his chest plating over his spark. “This will still match, no matter what the outside looks like.” He stood and looked down at his frame critically. “Although, after I get back to Cybertron, the first thing I’m going to do is get a full repaint.” He looked at Lyra and added, “And I can get the lenses switched out then, too. But having two working optics to get me there is... That’s huge. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Lyra said, her familiar smile returning. Grabbing her satchel, she said, “Let’s go make sure the steward knows we’re on board, then we can check out the rest of the ship.”

Minus 256 Years

Sunstreaker watched Lyra unpack her satchel, go through every item in it, and repack it. It was the fourth time he’d watched her go through the process while he tried to think of something to say.

He’d already asked her whether she was sure she had everything, but it wasn’t like either one of them had much in the way of belongings. For Lyra, she had her tools, a few extra pieces of clothing, a blanket, a few hygiene items, and a handful of data pads. It didn’t take long for her to empty her satchel, examine all of its contents, and repack it.

Sunstreaker watched her carefully close the latch on the satchel. He watched her draw a full breath, her shoulders rising and falling. He saw her look up at him, and saw her smile. Her smile looked fragile. “I guess I should probably get going,” she said.

Nodding, Sunstreaker tried again to think of something to say. All he could come up with was, “Are you sure you have everything?”

Lyra did not laugh and say that he’d already asked her that. Instead, she just nodded. “Yeah.” She shouldered her bag and looked up at him again. “Let’s go.”

It would have been a lot faster for him to transform and drive her to the loading bay, but neither of them wanted to rush the last few minutes. Instead, Lyra sat on his shoulder like she had when she was much smaller, her hand resting on his helm’s cooling vent, as Sunstreaker slowly walked towards the Elonian cruiser’s loading bay.

Sunstreaker and Lyra had arrived at the station two days ago. As soon as they disembarked, they saw the trading concourse was filled with very familiar-looking blue-skinned aliens.

The Elonians had been fascinated by Lyra’s story, especially since Elonia was one of the planets affected by the Cybertronian war. They hadn’t expected a Cybertronian to treat an Elonian with any kind of respect or consideration, since almost every Cybertronian they’d encountered had some level of scorn for organics. The fact that Sunstreaker had travelled with Lyra for over forty years was astonishing to them.

Then came the offer for Lyra to join their crew. They were interested in her mechanical skills; she was self-taught and had a broad range of experience working on all kinds of different systems. But more than that, they wanted to give her a chance to live the rest of her life among her own kind. They considered it the right thing to do.

It made sense. Lyra wasn’t getting any younger, and Sunstreaker couldn’t repair any medical issues Lyra developed the same way she could repair his mechanical issues. She would have the chance to live a much longer life if she joined their crew.

But knowing that it made sense didn’t make it any easier.

“You’re the only family I’ve known for most of my life,” Lyra had said that night, after they made the decision that she should go with the Elonians. She was leaking liquid from her eyes and nose again, and snuffled into a rag. “And you’re definitely the only family I remember.”

Sunstreaker was not well-versed in making good-byes. Cybertronains were so long-lived that you were almost certainly going to run into someone again at some point, unless they were killed in the war. And while Sunstreaker had lost many acquaintances in the war, he’d never had a chance to say good bye to any of them. They were just gone.

Sometimes it was easier that way.

“You’re the only family I’ve ever known,” Lyra said again. “And I wish there was some way... I wish there was a way for me to make it all the way back to Cybertron with you, so that that I could meet your brother.” She looked up at Sunstreaker, her face streaked with liquid. “You’ve told me so much about Sideswipe, I feel like I’ve met him already, but... I think I would have liked to meet him for real.”

“He probably would have liked to meet you, too.” Sunstreaker shrugged. “But I’m still a few hundred years away from getting to Cybertron.” Sunstreaker didn’t mention that he had exactly 256 years, 83 days, 16 hours and 22 minutes to get back to the science complex in Decepticon territory on Cybertron. It didn’t seem important right now. “And you...” He trailed off.

Lyra laughed through her snuffling, and dug something out of her bag. “I know,” she said. “I’ll be long dead by the time you get back to your brother, so there’s no way I could have met him anyway. But I still wanted to talk to him, somehow, so...” She handed Sunstreaker a data chip. “Here. This is for Sideswipe, when you finally get to him.”

Sunstreaker took the chip and turned it over in his fingers. “What is it?” he asked.

“You can read it too, but you know most of what’s on it,” she said. She leaned against his chest, curled in the crook of his arm. “It’s a diary, sort of. A memoir? But I wrote it for Sideswipe. I’ve been working on it for a few years, because I knew this day was going to come eventually. I want him to know what you did for me. I want him to know that somewhere out in the galaxy, there was an organic that his brother saved.” Her voice became rough, and Sunstreaker could feel that she was leaking liquid again. “You saved my life, and you saved me from being alone. I wanted to tell Sideswipe how much you did for me, and what it meant to me.”

Sunstreaker had looked down at the little organic nestled near his elbow, and wished that organics lived a lot longer than they did. He knew that Lyra would have liked Sideswipe, and he was positive that Sideswipe would have adored Lyra. His brother had always been a sucker for hard-luck cases, probably because of the rough start he and Sunstreaker had gotten off to. Sunstreaker had lost track of how many times his brother had been disciplined for keeping glitch mice and geckotaurs in the barracks, fueling them on the sly as he helped them get over whatever injury had landed them in his care.

He thought about the chip that Lyra had given him, and tried to think what he could give her in return.

That night, after Lyra had fallen asleep, Sunstreaker stayed up and worked on a gift for Lyra. He took a sketch he’d done a few years earlier that Lyra seemed to really like, and cleaned it up. He solidified the lines, added proper shading, and then coloured it. The next morning, he presented Lyra with a data chip of her own that contained a high-quality version of the image. In the image, Lyra stood on Sunstreaker’s shoulder, her hand resting on his cooling vent like it always did. And next to Sunstreaker, leaning on the same shoulder that Lyra stood on, was Sideswipe, wearing his lopsided grin.

Sunstreaker expected that the image would prompt another outpouring of liquid and snuffles from Lyra, but he wasn’t quite prepared for the howling sobs.

Even though Sunstreaker had not walked very fast, they eventually reached the loading bay. Elonians bustled around, making their final preparations for departure. They both watched the activity for a minute before Sunstreaker raised his hand to his shoulder so that Lyra could climb down.

He knelt as he lowered Lyra to the floor. “I am glad to have known you,” Sunstreaker said, reciting the words he’d been thinking. “You’ve been a big help to me. I may have saved your life, but you saved mine, too.” Pressing his lips together, he added, “I will miss you.”

Lyra took a deep breath before looking up at Sunstreaker. “I’m glad I cried so much last night, because I think I’m out of tears.”

Sunstreaker narrowed his green optics. “I know that organics don’t work that way.”

Lyra’s head fell back as she laughed. “Oh, Primus, thank you. I needed that.” She stood on her toes and reached up to touch Sunstreaker’s cheek. “Thank you for everything. I don’t have any words left except these: Thank you, Sunstreaker.”

The last words sounded garbled and strange as they left Lyra’s mouth, and Sunstreaker frowned at her as he tried to parse them. Lyra’s lips curled up at the corners like they did when she had just told a joke that Sunstreaker hadn’t quite gotten, so he replayed what she had just said. Then his optics opened wide.

“That was Cybertronix!” he exclaimed. As Lyra’s smile turned into a wide grin, he added, “I mean, it was really awful Cybertronix, but... How....?”

“I’ve been practicing for years,” Lyra said. “I know you said I can’t hear parts of it, but every time we ran into a Cybertronian I asked them to help me with my pronunciation, as best as I could do it with my mouth and voice box.” She shrugged. “And I know it’s awful – every mech I got to help me told me it was awful, but that was the best I could do.”

“Say it again,” Sunstreaker demanded.

“Thank you, Sunstreaker.”

Sunstreaker looked down at the petite blue-skinned organic, and then smiled. “You’re welcome, Lyra,” he said in Cybertronix.

Lyra nodded in understanding. She rapped her knuckles again his shin guard, reached up to touch his cheek once more, then turned and walked into the loading bay. Before disappearing into the ship, she turned around one last time to meet Sunstreaker’s optics. She held up her hand and gave him a little wave.

Then she was gone.

Sunstreaker found a window on the observation deck that looked out towards the system’s jump gate. His glower convinced everyone in the area to find somewhere else to sit, until he had the whole corner of the lounge to himself.

He watched as the Elonian cruiser came into view around the curve of the station. He wasn’t sure why he was watching; it wasn’t like there were windows on the cruiser for passengers to look out of. He wouldn’t see Lyra waving back at him one last time.

Sunstreaker took the data chip out of his subspace and plugged it into his data pad. A picture of Lyra appeared. She smiled at the camera with her arms outstretched, obviously using the onboard camera in her own data pad to take the image. Words appeared on the screen under the image.

Dear Sideswipe,

My name is Lyra. You don’t know me, but I feel like I know you. Sunstreaker told me so many things about you over the years, and I wish I could have gotten to know you for real.

Your brother saved my life, and let me tag along with him for a pretty long time. I wanted to tell you about all of the neat stuff Sunstreaker did for me, because I know he won’t tell you about them himself. He doesn’t like bragging. But you probably know that, don’t you?

Your brother is the best. I hope you know that, too.

Sunstreaker lowered the pad, letting it hang in his hand limply at his side. Leaning his helm against the window, he watched the Elonian cruiser ponderously complete its turn, then begin its slow acceleration towards the jump gate.

Lyra hated going through jump gates; she always got dizzy when passing from real space into jump space, and back. Sunstreaker hoped she found some place quiet to sit or lie down until they were through.

He stood there for the rest of the day as the ship dwindled into the distance. Finally, the ship was so far away that he could only see it as a bright dot when he zoomed his optics to their max distance. He watched until he saw the jump gate flare brightly as the cruiser passed through and then vanished into jump space.

Sunstreaker looked down at the data pad he still held in his hand, and at Lyra’s smiling face. He touched his finger gently to the screen, then turned it off and shoved it back into his subspace.

“Fragging organics,” he muttered quietly, and headed back down to the trading concourse. He should have known better than to get attached.

Chapter Text

Minus 16 Years

“This beauty’s only had two previous owners. I can cut you a deal, today only, but this peach is going to go fast! Act now or risk missing out!”

Sunstreaker frowned as he looked around the skiff’s cockpit, carefully schooling his expression. This ship was exactly what he was looking for, but he didn’t want to give away his eagerness to make a deal on it to the Junkion who was selling it. Picking at the worn cover on the pilot’s seat, Sunstreaker said, “I don’t know. It looks like it’s seen a fair amount of use.” He gestured at the scuff marks on the decking and the worn symbols on the navigational controls.

“What you see is what you get. I do not dispute that it’s used, but it has been gently used,” the Junkion said. “Did I mention it’s only got three trillion klicks on it? You are never going to find a better-looking ship for the price I am offering!”

Sunstreaker hummed thoughtfully and walked back towards the engine area, opening panels and peering at gauges as he went. It honestly didn’t look like a bad ship, even if it was a bit worn, and Primus knew he needed one.

He’d been stuck in this system for almost six months. After hitching rides from the outer station to the inhabited moons and back out again, he’d reached the conclusion that no one was heading towards Cybertron from here. He had made some inquiries about systems where it might be easier to find passage to Cybertron (or at least somewhere in its vicinity), but it seemed like no one was flying anywhere near the war-torn planet.

To be honest, that made sense. When he thought back to what he knew about the comings and goings around the planet during the war, he realized there were no inbound ships to the planet. Everyone who wasn’t actively fighting in the war avoided it like the place was infested with scraplets. There was essentially a giant no-go zone around Cybertron, and with good reason. If the Decepticons didn’t commandeer your vessel, you could be taken out in the crossfire between the two factions. It simply wasn’t a place worth going unless you were involved in the war somehow.

Since he couldn’t find a ride, Sunstreaker had collected all his credits, sold everything that he could, and set out to buy a ship. He was a decent enough pilot; if he got a small enough ship he should be able to slip between patrols without being caught, and make it to Cybertron on his own.

This little intersystem skiff had little in the way of frills, but it was jump-space capable. Sunstreaker frowned up at the cooling system in the engine area, looking for leaks or anything else that would throw up a red flag. He wasn’t a mechanic, but everything seemed solid enough. He wished he had Sideswipe with him to give him a second opinion on the engine, though.

The Junkion followed Sunstreaker back down the ramp as he took another walk around the outside of the ship. “So, I have to tell you that I have another customer coming to look at this beauty later today. First come, first served, you know! If you make an offer now you can secure this beautiful craft!”

“How much?” Sunstreaker asked finally, pausing by the front landing gear.

“For you, I will make a deal! Just 22,000 credits and this lovely ship can be yours! This is a limited time offer!” The Junkion bared his dentae in a broad grin.

He couldn’t help it: Sunstreaker let out a loud laugh. The price was ridiculously high. “Twenty-two thousand?!” he repeated in disbelief. He looked up at the nose of the craft and laughed again. “For this thing? I’d give you eleven thousand, maybe. You yourself said it’s got three trillion klicks on it.”

The Junkion’s optics darkened, but his smile remained as broad as ever. “My good sir, I have to make a living here! Nineteen thousand would be a fair price for both of us.”

Sunstreaker crossed his arms and dipped his helm, trying to appear deep in thought. This was an encounter where he really could have used Sideswipe, but he’d had enough experience in bartering and negotiations over the past thousand years that the exchange came easily to him. “I don’t think I can go higher than thirteen thousand,” he said. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that the fuel tanks were all empty. It’ll cost me at least two thousand just to fill them.”

The Junkion’s engine screeched as he glared at Sunstreaker. “Fine!” he exclaimed. “Fifteen thousand, and I will include a full tank of fuel. Deal, or no deal?”

“Make it all four tanks, and you have a deal,” Sunstreaker countered.

The look on the Junkion’s face as he realized he’d been caught in his mistruth was amazing. Sunstreaker saved an image capture of it for future reference.

Several hours later, as he waited for traffic control to clear him for departure, Sunstreaker sat in the pilot’s seat and kicked his pedes up on the control panel. He leaned his helm back into his hands and smiled. He had a ship, a full load of fuel, some credits left over, and best of all: time.

While the Junkion’s drones were fueling the ship, Sunstreaker had pored over the navigation charts he’d bought. He double-checked his calculations, then triple-checked them, his spark spinning faster and faster in his chest.

He would make it to Cybertron in plenty of time to save Sideswipe, or to perhaps even stop the explosion from happening in the first place. Even if he had trouble getting clearance for some of the jump gates, he should make it back to Cybertron with months to spare.

The thought of seeing Sideswipe again filled Sunstreaker with an intense longing. Sunstreaker closed his optics, picking out a memory and replaying it in his processor: Sideswipe wrapping him in his arms, tucking his helm under his chin, and brushing his back with his hands. The scent of Sideswipe’s neck cables. The sound of Sideswipe’s engine purring under his hood, and the pulse of his spark as it spun in its casing.

Sunstreaker rubbed the heels of his hands into his optics. Primus, he couldn’t wait to see his twin again. As he pulled his hands away from his face, he saw the black of the armor on his arms and shoulders and frowned thoughtfully. Maybe... Maybe if he got back in enough time, he could get himself to repaint him.

Then he remembered what Eclipse had said, so many hundreds of years ago, about not getting too close to his past self. Maybe asking himself for a repaint would be a bad idea. Tracks could probably handle it, even if Sunstreaker would have to put up with the other mech’s teasing about his plating’s current state.

Whatever. Sunstreaker was on his way home. He would get back to Cybertron with time to spare. He would stop himself and Sideswipe from being anywhere near the science complex, and Sideswipe would be safe. And maybe... Sunstreaker wasn’t sure how it would work, but just maybe he could stop himself from having to go through this at all.

If he could stop the explosion from happening, he wouldn’t be thrown back in time. And if he wasn’t thrown back in time, he would never have been separated from Sideswipe for so long.

Sunstreaker frowned. But if he wasn’t sent back in time, then... Who would stop the explosion from happening the next time? Or would it even work that way?

He shook his helm as he felt his processor getting caught in a loop. He didn’t need to figure out all the permutations and complications. He just needed to focus on making sure Sideswipe was safe.


Minus 8 Months

Sunstreaker should have known things weren’t going to be simple.

He stared down at his drink, trying not to see the pitying look of the organic bartender. He’d ordered the drink hours ago, and had barely even taken a few sips. All he wanted to do was get totally blitzed, and forget about everything and anything. But this drink cost a whole half credit, and who knew where he would be able to get more?

Sunstreaker swirled the liquid around in the glass, then set it back down on the bar.

“Do ye want some warmed energon instead o’ the high grade, son?”

Glancing up at the feathered bartender again, Sunstreaker shook his helm. “No,” he muttered. “I... I’m sorry. I know I should probably drink this and go.” He picked up his glass and brought it to his mouth.

The bartender lifted its feathered crown, its version of a smile. “Don’ worry ‘bout that,” the bartender said. It patted the bar. “Ye’ve always been a good customer. Yer welcome to stay fer as long as ye wish. I recognize a hurtin’ soul when I see one.”

Sunstreaker ducked his helm and nodded. “Thanks,” he whispered.

A hurting soul. That was one way to describe him.

Sunstreaker had limped his ship to this station almost nine months ago. Something seemed to be wrong in the fuel exchanger, or maybe the propulsion sensors, or maybe it was the exhaust handling... Whatever the problem was, the ship was essentially dead in space. He had used the skiff’s maneuvering thrusters to get him to the trading station, expecting to find a mechanic and get back on his way.

But the only mechanic on the station who worked on that kind of ship didn’t have the parts on hand, of course, so Sunstreaker wasted four months waiting for the parts to come in. Finally, the ship was repaired and Sunstreaker was on his way. He’d been three hours from reaching the jump gate when the navigation computer made a startled-sounding bleep, then exploded in a spray of sparks.

The nav systems “expert” on the station said those words that no one ever wants to hear from someone who is supposedly an expert: “Well, I’ve never seen anything like that before!” The only solution she could come up with, apparently, was to replace the whole nav computer. But after the amount that Sunstreaker had just spent fixing the engines, he couldn’t afford it.

Plan B was to sell the skiff. The problem was that this station was not very busy, and no one who came here was interested in buying a used ship, especially not a broken-down ship that needed a new nav computer.

Plan C was to sell the parts off the skiff, but even that was hard going. Sunstreaker had been making enough to keep himself fueled and to pay for the station’s hangar fees, but not enough to purchase a lift off of the station... Even if he could find anyone heading to Cybertron from here.

Plan D...

Sunstreaker picked up his glass and took a sip, savouring the bite of the high grade on his glossa and the warmth as it ran down his intake.

Plan D was to steal a ship.

The problem with Plan D was that all of the ships that came into the station were large, and required several crew members to pilot. Even if Sunstreaker could sneak aboard one of those cruisers, he’d never manage to get it undocked from the station before he was caught... Let alone leave the system with it.

Meanwhile, time kept ticking away. Sunstreaker felt every second as it fell away from him. He felt every minute slip through his fingers. He knew every hour, every day spent at this station meant that his chances of getting to Sideswipe in time were becoming more slim.

Despair coiled in his spark like a poison.

Maybe Sideswipe would be fine. Maybe he didn’t get caught in the explosion.

Like he had thousands of times before, Sunstreaker replayed the memory clip. The grenade landed at his pedes, and he heard Sideswipe’s panicked yell. He saw his brother angrily shake off Trailbreaker’s hand and run a few steps towards him before falling to his knees again, his hand clutching at his chest. Sunstreaker felt Sideswipe’s terror for him. He looked down at the grenade, still rolling, the arming light blinking more and more rapidly as it neared detonation. He turned to run –

And then the grenade exploded.

Sideswipe had not been transported back in time with him, but he would have definitely been in the blast radius.

Maybe Sideswipe didn’t get caught in the explosion... But Sunstreaker didn’t want to take that chance.

“Rotted meat,” the bartender muttered under its breath. When Sunstreaker looked up at him, he saw that the bartender had busied himself with wiping down the counter. “Keep yer head down, son.”

Sunstreaker glanced towards the doorway of the bar, then quickly lowered his helm again. He recognized one of the two mechs who had just walked in. And even if he hadn’t, the purple badges emblazoned on their frames made it clear who they were.

The two Decepticons sauntered up to the counter. “High grade, organic,” one of them sneered. “And make it quick. We’ve got a ton of errands to run.”

The second mech, the one Sunstreaker recognized, leaned on the bar. “We should have made Ransack run them. Why does he get to stay on the ship and relax?”

“He’s not relaxing, you lugnut. He’s sending our report to command. And if anyone should have stayed behind, it’s you. I should have made you clean up your disgusting mess.”

The second mech grumbled and grabbed the glass that the bartender gave him. Sunstreaker remembered the mech’s unpolished armor, his seeping joints, and his foul odor. Blot. He’d run into him a few times on the battlefield. The last time he remembered seeing him... It was well over a thousand years ago for Sunstreaker, but Sunstreaker thought that it might have been just a year or two ago for Blot. The poorly-painted welds on the ‘Con’s shoulder were exactly where Sunstreaker had impaled him with what was left of Cindersaur’s arm.

“What are you looking at, Neutral?”

Sunstreaker pried his optics off of Blot’s shoulder to look him in the face. “Sorry,” he said. “I was just... admiring your armor.”

“Like frag you are,” said the other ‘Con. “You’re staring at what a disgusting mess he is, aren’t you?”

“Shut it, Torque.” Blot stepped closer, peering into Sunstreaker’s face suspiciously. “You look kinda familiar, Neutral,” he said. “What’s your designation?”

“Spin Out,” Sunstreaker replied quickly. For once, he was happy that his appearance had been altered so much. He looked back down at his drink, but lowered one of his arms into his lap. If Blot took another step closer, Sunstreaker would be ready with his armblade. He could take them both if he had to.

“Spin Out, huh?” Blot said. He leaned forward until Sunstreaker could smell the reek of burned oil coming off of him. “Never heard of you, but you sure look familiar.”

“I’da like for ye not to be botherin’ me patrons, fellas,” said the bartender. When Blot turned to look at it, the organic added, “P’raps I could offer ye some suggestions for where ye can get yer capers done?”

Torque leaned on the bar. “A helpful organic. Maybe this station isn’t the complete dump I took it for.” He waved his hand at Blot. “Stop bothering the fragging Neutral and give this thing our list.”

As the bartender looked over the Decepticons’ data pad, Sunstreaker listened. They needed new battery packs that fit their rifles, and a new nozzle for the energon dispenser on their ship. And Torque was insistent about picking up some cleaning supplies to “deal with the pools of ooze” that Blot left all over the ship.

As the pair grilled the bartender for information on where to obtain the items on their list, Sunstreaker’s processor whirled, and his optics widened. Two ‘Cons were here. Getting everything they needed would probably take them a few hours. One ‘Con was left on the ship. Decepticons always used those little jump-capable shuttles on smaller missions, usually with just three or four mechs. Those little ships were simple to fly.

Starting a fight with two ‘Cons in the station bar would be a bad idea: it would bring station security here immediately, and the security officers tended to shoot first, ask questions later. But with the two other mechs off running their errands, he could totally take the remaining ‘Con on the ship.

This was the best chance to get off of this station he’d had in months.

Sunstreaker stared at his drink as he willed the ‘Cons to finish their conversation and leave the bar, so that he could leave without their notice. Blot had not stopped staring at him the whole time they’d been in the bar, and Sunstreaker knew that if he left now Blot would just follow him. But once they were gone, he could head straight to the hangar and... Just maybe...

“Good stuff. Thanks for the tips, organic,” said Torque, slamming back his drink. “Come on, Blot. Stop glaring at the Neutral and let’s go.”

Blot frowned at Sunstreaker one last time. “I’m gonna remember where I’ve seen you before, Neutral,” he growled before finishing his own drink and following his companion out of the bar.

Sunstreaker waited until he was sure they were gone, then stood up. He gave the bartender a smile. “Thanks for distracting them from me,” he said. He tossed a credit slip on the bar, doubling what he’d paid for his drink. “You’ve been good to me the whole time I’ve been stuck on this station. Thank you for that, too.”

“Yer gonna do somethin’ stupid, ain’t ye?” asked the bartender, picking up the slip.

“Probably,” said Sunstreaker with a shrug. “That’s kind of my thing.”

The bartender’s crest lifted again. “I’ve got me a friend in traffic control. If ye’re doing what I think ye are, give me an hour to speak wit’ him.” It reached out and put a clawed hand on Sunstreaker’s arm. “Then ye can go and fix yer soul, son.”

Sunstreaker nodded, and patted the bartender’s hand. “Thanks,” he said, adding as much sincerity as he could to the Tradespeak words. Then he turned and walked out of the bar.

An hour later, Sunstreaker finished securing the stasis cuffs on the ‘Con who’d been left on the ship. Sunstreaker had cracked the ‘Con’s helm pretty hard, and Sunstreaker figured the mech would be offline for days. Sunstreaker briefly considered just tossing him off the ship. Keeping a prisoner might be risky, but pitching him out the hatch might attract station security. And besides, maybe the ‘Con would prove useful.

Sunstreaker sat in the pilot’s seat and ran through the ship’s startup sequence. The fuel tanks were almost full, it was armed, and it was fully provisioned.

The despair that had taken root in Sunstreaker’s spark gave way to a sliver of hope.

“Decepticon shuttle EH-269, you have not filed a launch request. Please shut your engines down until you are given clearance to launch.” The voice coming over the station’s traffic control channel sounded bored.

Sunstreaker briefly considered replying with something that a Decepticon would say – something like “For the glory of Lord Megatron!” or some slag like that – but he chose to ignore the message instead. To be safe, though, he checked the area around the shuttle to make sure he wasn’t going to hurt anyone on his way out. He wanted to be gone long before the Decepticons returned for their ship.

The comm chimed again. “Decepticon shuttle EH-269... Our mistake, your launch request has been received. You are cleared for immediate launch.”

Sunstreaker stared at the comm panel for a moment before grinning. “Decepticon shuttle EH-269, acknowledging. Thank you, traffic control.” Then Sunstreaker activated the ship’s thrusters, and carefully backed the ship out of the hanger. It handled like a dream. Sunstreaker had to hand it to the ‘Cons... They had some pretty good tech. He punched a sequence into the nav computer and set a course for the jump gate on the far side of the system.

The sliver of hope in Sunstreaker’s spark blossomed.

Maybe he’d make it in time, after all.

Minus 6 Days

Sunstreaker drummed his fingers on the console as he pored over the navigation maps again. “What approach vectors do you have clearance for?” he asked.

From the navigator’s seat, Ransack’s helm jerked upright. “Alpha 3 and 8, and Gamma 2, 7 and 9.”

Sunstreaker made a note on his data pad. “None in the Delta quadrant?”

Ransack shook his helm, the only movement he could make with all of his frame controls disabled. “No. That’s reserved for command vessels.”

With a grunt, Sunstreaker turned his attention back to the maps. Not having clearance for Delta quadrant meant that he couldn’t just fly to the science complex where the explosion was going to occur. He had to figure out a different way there. As he considered his options, he rubbed at his chest absently, massaging the plating just above his spark.

About ten days ago, Sunstreaker had felt Sideswipe for the first time. He was still tens of billions of klicks away from Cybertron, so he was surprised that he could feel anything at all. But when he felt that first brush of mischief and mirth, a feeling that was so undeniably Sideswipe, Sunstreaker had fallen to his knees, overcome by his own emotions.

The sensation faded quickly; the huge distance still between them meant that only the strongest emotions would be transmitted along their spark bond. But Sunstreaker remained on his knees long after it had faded, reaching out to try and draw the feeling back. It had been so long, so very long, since he’d felt his brother in his spark. Sunstreaker had almost forgotten what it felt like.

It felt like coming home.

Primus, he missed Sideswipe. Through all the years and all his trials, Sunstreaker had moved with a singular purpose: to get back to his brother. But in the darkest moments, in the quiet hours spent between recharge and alertness, the loneliness crept up on him and wrapped itself through him and around him. And each time, he would struggle to free himself and shove those feelings down, knowing that if he gave in to despair he would never get back to Sideswipe in time.

After first feeling his brother’s presence in his spark, Sunstreaker had stayed on his knees for so long that Ransack thought Sunstreaker had glitched out. Sunstreaker had finally come to his senses to hear Ransack calling his designation frantically in between bemoaning his luck at being captured by a defective Neutral.

Ransack had proven to be vaguely useful. He had been the ‘Cons’ navigator for this mission, and had been supplied with a set of fairly helpful access and clearance codes for Decepticon-controlled jump gates. He knew the ship’s foibles well, and even told Sunstreaker that he had to jiggle the energon dispenser’s nozzle to keep it from leaking. He was also easily manipulated and a coward, so Sunstreaker took quick advantage of the dull-witted mech’s gullibility.

It only took a few well-worded threats to get Ransack to fall into line. Sunstreaker kept him tied up in the navigator’s seat, with his frame control and comms offline. Sunstreaker’s not-so-subtle hint that if Ransack didn’t cooperate he might find himself floating in deep space smoothed over whatever was left of the Decepticon’s reluctance to help him.

Ransack seemed to get used to Sunstreaker’s fugues when he felt Sideswipe’s presence in his spark. As they got closer to Cybertron, Sunstreaker was able to feel his brother more and more often, with more and more cohesion to what he was feeling. A flare of anger, a sparkle of laughter, a rumble of frustration, a quiet trill of affection: Sunstreaker drank it all in. But more and more he also felt a growing sense of anxiety, like an echo...

When Sunstreaker realized that the dread and anxiety that Sideswipe had been feeling on their mission had been his anxiety about reaching his brother in time, Sunstreaker almost threw up a block on the bond. He didn’t want his feelings to disturb his twin, especially when he remembered how much the strange emotions had bothered Sideswipe. But if he put up a block to keep Sideswipe from feeling his emotions, Sunstreaker wouldn’t be able to feel Sideswipe, either.

He couldn’t do it. After finally being able to feel his brother after so long, putting up a block only seemed to amplify the loneliness that Sunstreaker had felt for all those years. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

So he left the block down, knowing that Sideswipe had been able to work through all of the anxiety and worry the first time. He’d apologize to him later.

Sunstreaker made some more notes on his data pad, trying to work out a plan. He would reach Cybertron in about five days, which left him about one day to get to Sideswipe. Whatever he chose to do, he would be cutting it close.

Since he couldn’t land close to the science complex, that meant he had two options remaining. First, he could land in Decepticon territory using the codes that Ransack provided, and drive a significant distance (dodging Decepticons the whole way) to the complex. Or, he could land in Autobot territory while broadcasting a cease-fire request. He was in a Decepticon-coded ship, so he would have to convince the Autobots that he was friendly. Having a prisoner would help. But then, once he explained the issue, he could get the Autobots to help him get to the complex as fast as possible, maybe even using one of their shuttles.

Sunstreaker didn’t particularly like either option.

Landing in Decepticon territory might net him attention he didn’t want from other Decepticons. He could ask Ransack for some ideas of where to set down that was far enough out of the way that he could be gone before the ‘Cons sent anyone to investigate. But even still, the vectors Ransack had clearance for were very far away from the complex. It would take him more than a day to get to the complex from the closest sector. He would have to hurry to make it to the science complex in time.

And asking for help from the Autobots presented its own problems.

Sunstreaker refocused his optics to see himself reflected in his data pad’s glossy surface. He’d gotten used to seeing the green optics, but the rounded helm vents still gave him pause. And his shoulder armor looked very different, and his paint...

Slag. He would have to spend the better part of the day convincing the Autobots of who he was, let alone convincing them to help him.

Sunstreaker closed his optics and leaned back in his chair, feeling down the spark bond for Sideswipe. He sensed him again, still distant but closer than ever before. Sideswipe was feeling tired and cranky. Sunstreaker could sympathize.

“Turn left or turn right?” Sunstreaker murmured to himself. “Which is the right answer?”

Chapter Text

Minus 15 Seconds
Timeline A

At the feeling of panic that Sideswipe felt across the spark bond, his concentration faltered and he plummeted to the ground.

//Sides!// Sunstreaker’s alarm felt familiar and almost comforting compared to the overwhelming terror that Sideswipe was being inundated with. //Are you all right?//

Sideswipe lifted his helm, and his optics unerringly found Sunstreaker. His brother had stood up from his hiding place behind the remnants of a strange-looking machine. He stared at Sideswipe, his concern plain in his expression.

Trailbreaker’s voice cut through the turmoil that Sideswipe was feeling. “Look out! Grenade!”

A round object bounced off the machine Sunstreaker had been sheltering behind, and landed at his pedes.

“Sunny!” Sideswipe lurched to his pedes and took two steps towards Sunstreaker. “Move!”

Sideswipe heard an anguished scream in the distance. It sounded like his designation, but he couldn’t let himself be distracted. He had to get to his brother. He shook off Trailbreaker’s hand, which was holding him back from getting to Sunstreaker. “Let me go! Sunny!”

But then Sideswipe faltered again, clutching at his chest. His spark throbbed, sending pulses of terror through his frame, and he fell back down to one knee.

Ahead of him, Sunstreaker took a step backwards from the grenade before turning to run.

Sideswipe heard the roar of a maxed-out engine just as a blur of black and yellow careened into Sunstreaker with the clang of metal on metal. A moment later, Sideswipe’s optics and audials were assaulted by the flash and roar of the grenade’s detonation.

“Get off of me, you fragger!” Sunstreaker’s voice cut through the ringing in Sideswipe’s audials. As his optics readjusted, he saw his brother take a swing at the mech who had landed on top of him.

“Wait!” The other mech easily blocked Sunstreaker’s punch with his arm, and rolled off of him. The mech, another racing frame painted mostly in black with yellow accents, landed on his knees, throwing up his arm to block the next blow. “I’m you!”

“Like frag you are,” Sunstreaker snarled, hauling back for another punch.

The mech blocked that hit as well, almost as if he knew Sunstreaker’s fighting style. “Stop it, you ungrateful glitch! I hope you realize how much pain I'm saving you from.”

As Sunstreaker scrambled to his pedes with a murderous expression, the strange mech looked up at Sideswipe with piercing green optics. “Sides...” he murmured, his voice garbling with static suddenly, and his lips curved up into a beautiful smile.

A very familiar smile.

Sideswipe lifted his rifle and aimed it at the strange mech. “Who are you?” he demanded. He could feel Sunstreaker’s fury at being tackled, although Sideswipe realized that this strange mech probably did Sunstreaker a favour by saving him from significant damage. Beyond the shield that Trailbreaker had thrown up was a crater where the grenade had exploded... Where Sunstreaker had been standing just a moment before it had detonated.

But alongside Sunstreaker’s anger, Sideswipe could also feel that the anxiety that had plagued him for so long was gone. It was replaced by a new feeling: relief and joy. It was the feeling of coming home after a long, arduous journey.

Sideswipe kept his rifle trained on the black and yellow mech as he tried to sort out the conflicting emotions he was feeling across the spark bond.

Grabbing the other mech by the upper arm, Sunstreaker deployed his arm blade and held it at the strange mech’s throat. “Start talking,” he growled.

“Sunny, wait,” Sideswipe said, still staring at the strange mech, watching his expressions. Something was nagging Sideswipe in the back of his processor, but he was having trouble putting words to it.

“Sides... You’re safe,” said the strange mech, ignoring Sunstreaker. Sideswipe frowned at him and lowered his rifle slightly. The mech’s voice was still rough with static but he sounded like...

//Sunny?// Sideswipe gently sent a pulse over the spark bond, seeking a simple answer.

He got two responses simultaneously.

//What?// Sunstreaker’s anger burned over the bond, still directed at this other mech.

//It’s me, Sides.// At the same time he received Sunstreaker’s reply, Sideswipe felt a wave of love, and the sensation of a long-carried agony dissipating like smoke. And Sideswipe was sure it was coming from...

With wide optics, Sideswipe lowered his rifle. “How did you –“ he whispered.

“He’s safe from what? What are you – Hey!“ Sunstreaker squawked in surprise as his hand was suddenly embedded inside the other mech’s arm. No – the other mech was slowly going insubstantial, as if he was made out of smoke.

“Sunstreaker, stand down! Sideswipe, hold your fire!”

Sideswipe ripped his gaze away from the strange mech on the ground beside him to see Jazz and Wheeljack running up to them. Wheeljack pulled out a scanner of some kind and held it up to the disappearing mech.

Sunstreaker scrabbled away from the now-translucent mech. “What the frag is going on here?” he asked.

“You’re safe, Sides. You’re not alone, and you’re safe. It’s all that ever mattered to me,” the other mech said, his voice becoming airy as he grew less and less substantial. He turned to look at Sunstreaker again, and added with a faint growl, “Don’t you ever take him for granted.” Then he looked back up at Sideswipe raptly, as if he was trying to memorize his face.

“Sunny?” asked Sideswipe faintly, his optics locked on the strange-yet-familiar green ones.

“I missed you so much, Sides,” the mech said, sounding like a whisper on the wind. A moment later, he faded from sight completely.

“I warned him this would probably happen,” Wheeljack muttered, making some slight adjustment on his scanner. His optics brightened. “But these readings are incredible! And Sunstreaker,” the scientist said, swinging the scanner over towards the yellow mech. “How do you feel? Are you experiencing any dizziness, any loss of hearing or vision, any processor pain, any spark palpitations?”

“No,” said Sunstreaker testily, looking at Wheeljack’s scanner as if it was a razorsnake about to bite. He sheathed his arm blade and stood up, looking down at where the strange mech had been kneeling. “But I’m confused as slag. What is going on? Where did he go?”

“It would be great if the explanation was quick,” said Ironhide, who had joined the group. He glanced at the buildings around them, then tipped a quick salute to Jazz. “We got that last sentry after he threw the grenade, but we gotta get movin’ before the ‘Cons come to see why their mechs ain’t checkin’ in.”

Jazz nodded and turned to Sideswipe. “That mech was Sunstreaker,” he said.

“That’s what he said, but... Sunstreaker’s right here,” Sideswipe said, gesturing at his brother.

“He can’t have been me, I’m me,” Sunstreaker said testily. Then he added, “And he didn’t look anything like me.”

Sideswipe paused, and looked at Sunstreaker, thinking back on the other mech’s appearance: the shape of his optics, the intensity of his gaze, the way he moved... “He did kind of look like you,” Sideswipe said slowly. //And... And I could feel him. He talked to me over the bond.//

As Sunstreaker stared at Sideswipe, radiating disbelief, Jazz said, “Ironhide’s right, we gotta get movin’. We’ve moved up your extraction point; Skyfire’s waiting a few klicks away. Wheeljack can explain once we’re away from here.”

The explanation was unbelievable, but both Wheeljack and Jazz insisted that what they said was true. And when they reached Skyfire, the shuttle corroborated the story. The day before, a Decepticon shuttle had landed under a cease-fire request. Inside was a black and yellow mech who insisted he was Sunstreaker, and he had a Decepticon prisoner with him. The mech who said he was Sunstreaker had an incredible story to tell about how he was transported back in time millions of years, how he fell into stasis, and how he spent a millennium trying to get back to Cybertron to stop the explosion... Or to save Sideswipe from being injured.

It took the better part of the day for the mech to convince the Autobots that he was who he said he was. It took a few medical scans from Ratchet which showed long-healed welds in the mech’s protoform that Ratchet had only made a few months ago, and Wheeljack finding evidence of some obscure particle in the mech’s substructure, before the Autobots agreed to help him. But eventually, everyone except Red Alert was convinced of the mech’s identity.

“So where did he go?” asked Sunstreaker after they finished loading the energon onto Skyfire and they were safely in the air. “I was holding him and he just... vanished.” He glanced at Sideswipe. “Did he die?”

“Nope, he just ceased to exist!” said Wheeljack excitedly.

“I don’t think that’s any better,” Sideswipe said faintly. Dead or non-existent felt like the same thing to him, and Sideswipe didn’t want to contemplate Sunstreaker being in either state. He leaned heavily against his brother, seeking to get as close to him as possible. Sunstreaker slung an arm around his shoulders, and Sideswipe could feel that Sunstreaker was almost as shaken as he was by the whole event.

“His actions caused the timeline to split. He understood that getting close to you might cause the causality waveform to collapse and take him with it,” Wheeljack told Sunstreaker. When he saw the blank expressions on the twins’ faces, he said, “What I mean is, he knew that getting close to you might be bad for him - you know, disappearing like he did. But he was insistent!”

“He was worried ‘bout ya, Sideswipe,” said Jazz. The visored mech leaned forward towards the twins. “Frantic, even. He was desperate to get here in time to save ya because he thought ya mighta been hurt in the explosion that sent him back in time. And with your contingent under radio silence, we couldn’t warn ya to steer clear of that complex.”

“When we got in visual range and saw that Trailbreaker was standing right behind Sideswipe, I told him that Sideswipe would probably be safe,” Wheeljack said, shrugging. “But then he said that he could ‘stop the whole thing from happening’ and he roared off before we could stop him.”

Sideswipe looked up at Sunstreaker, who was frowning thoughtfully, and Sideswipe could sense him working through something in his processor. “He said that he was saving me from some pain,” Sunstreaker said finally. “How long did you say was he trying to get back here?”

“Over a thousand years,” Wheeljack said.

“A thousand years?” Sunstreaker’s arm tightened around Sideswipe, pulling him a little closer. “I don’t think I could have kept going, except...” He looked down at Sideswipe. //If I thought you’d been hurt, I would have stopped at nothing to keep it from happening.//

“He left a few things for ya that might help explain where he’s been all this time,” Jazz said. “I checked ‘em over for viruses and stuff, so I read some of ‘em,” he added, waving his hand apologetically. “Lots of drawings, a travel log, and a data chip with a huge long message on it for Sideswipe, from someone named Lyra.”

Sideswipe shook his helm, still trying to sort out what had just happened. “So if Sunstreaker - the other Sunstreaker – had just stayed away from himself, there would have been two Sunstreakers around?”

“Primus help us,” muttered Ironhide.

“There’ve been two Sunstreakers ever since he got transported back in time,” Wheeljack said. “So, yes, if he hadn’t wanted to stop this all from happening, he could have just stayed away and let things happen. Then once our Sunstreaker got thrown back in time, he would have continued to exist.”

“But then I would have been sent back in time,” Sunstreaker said. “And...”

“And you would have been separated from me for a thousand years.” Sideswipe stared up at Sunstreaker. They didn’t like being apart for a week. He couldn’t imagine not seeing his brother for a thousand years. But Sideswipe suddenly realized that he knew what it felt like to see his brother again after that long, because he’d felt an echo of it from the other Sunstreaker. “You would have been separated from me for a thousand years... Just like he was.” He sent that feeling to Sunstreaker in a burst: the feeling of anxiety becoming joy, of loneliness becoming contentment. The feeling of coming back to everything you’ve ever known.

Sideswipe felt Sunstreaker freeze as sudden understanding come across him. “He sacrificed himself... to save himself – me - from having to go through that again,” he said quietly. “And I... I punched him for it.”

Shrugging, Sideswipe said, “To be fair, you never landed a single hit on him.” With a small laugh, he added, “Although that would have been a really interesting fight to watch.”

“Well, he got one thing wrong,” Sunstreaker said quietly, and pressed his forehelm to Sideswipe’s. “I could never take you for granted.”

Minus 15 Seconds
Timeline B

At the feeling of panic that Sideswipe felt across the spark bond, his concentration faltered and he plummeted to the ground.

//Sides!// Sunstreaker’s alarm felt familiar and almost comforting compared to the overwhelming terror that Sideswipe was being inundated with. //Are you all right?//

Sideswipe lifted his helm, and his optics unerringly found Sunstreaker. His brother had stood up from his hiding place behind the remnants of a strange-looking machine. He stared at Sideswipe, his concern plain in his expression.

Trailbreaker’s voice cut through the turmoil that Sideswipe was feeling. “Look out! Grenade!”

A round object bounced off the machine Sunstreaker had been sheltering behind, and landed at his pedes.

“Sunny!” Sideswipe lurched to his pedes and took two steps towards Sunstreaker. “Move!”

Sideswipe heard an anguished scream in the distance. It sounded like his designation, but he couldn’t let himself be distracted. He had to get to his brother. He shook off Trailbreaker’s hand, which was holding him back from getting to Sunstreaker. “Let me go! Sunny!”

But then Sideswipe faltered again, clutching at his chest. His spark throbbed, sending pulses of terror through his frame, and he fell back down to one knee.

Ahead of him, Sunstreaker took a step backwards from the grenade before turning to run.

A moment later, Sideswipe’s optics and audials were assaulted by the flash and roar of the grenade’s detonation. When Sideswipe’s optics reset after the blinding flash of the grenade, Sideswipe’s spark froze in horror.

The ground where his brother had been standing had become a smoking crater.

SUNNY!” Sideswipe’s vocalizer screeched with feedback as he screamed, and he slammed his fists into the force field between him and the crater. He stumbled as Trailbreaker dropped the shield, and he ran out into the rubble surrounding the hole.

“Sunny! Sunstreaker, where are you?”

Sideswipe heard shouting behind him: orders being barked, someone being ordered to their knees. The team had probably captured the remaining Decepticon, although why Ironhide didn’t just shoot him was a mystery. No matter, Sideswipe needed to find his brother.

He could feel Sunstreaker. He could feel him and that meant he was still alive. Sunstreaker felt agitated, but also... Happy? Thankful? Maybe he was in shock, which meant he’d been hurt bad. Sideswipe ran around the edges of the crater, frantically looking under debris that had been thrown from it, searching for any hint of yellow, any flash of gold. A part of his processor noted that there didn’t seem to be enough debris for the size of the crater, but he shoved that thought aside. He could still feel Sunstreaker, and that meant he was still here, somewhere.

“Sunny!” Sideswipe screamed for his brother with his voice and over the bond as he threw aside another chunk of metal. //Sunny!//

//I’m here. Sides... I’m here.// The response came with such a flood of relief that Sideswipe stumbled. And with it came a pull on his spark.

Sideswipe whirled around to face the direction that the pull had come from, searching the debris. He expected to see a yellow hand or a pede sticking out from the rubble, but he saw nothing that even hinted of his brother.

Then he lifted his gaze to see Ironhide and Trailbreaker pointing their weapons at a strange mech. The black and yellow mech was on his knees with his hands laced behind his helm, but his green optics were locked on Sideswipe. As soon as Sideswipe looked at him, the strange mech looked up at Ironhide and said, “Ask him!”

Sideswipe picked his way over the debris, making his way towards the small group. He thought there was something familiar about the expression in the strange mech’s optics. “Ask me what?” he said, still glancing around, searching for any sign of Sunstreaker. He had to be around here somewhere.

“Sideswipe,” Ironhide called, not lowering his weapon nor looking away from his target. “This mech says he knows you.”

“That’s not what I said,” snapped the strange mech before looking back at Sideswipe. With his intense green optics still fixated on Sideswipe, a smile suddenly lit up his face. //Sides. It’s me... Sunstreaker.//

Sideswipe froze mid-step. He could still sense Sunstreaker’s relief coming over the spark bond, but it felt like it was coming straight from the mech in front of him. The mech’s smile widened, his expression growing more joyous.

“He said he’s... Sunstreaker,” Trailbreaker said, glancing at the crater behind Sideswipe. “But we saw him... The explosion...” Trailbreaker’s voice faded before describing what they had both just witnessed.

The mech’s optics were the wrong colour. His helm vents were oddly rounded, and all of the armor on his shoulders and arms was shaped wrong. His paint was wrong too, done in mostly black, and his plating was in an atrocious condition: pitted and gouged. But aside from the road dust, he was mostly clean, and looked freshly waxed. His optics, while green, were shaped just like Sunstreaker’s. And the smile on his face was the one he reserved for his brother alone.

Plus, there were the emotions and sensations cascading over the spark bond that were tantalizingly familiar. Still reeling from seeing Sunstreaker caught in the explosion, Sideswipe sent a questioning pulse over the bond. //Sunny?//

He received an immediate, enthusiastic response. //Yes. It’s me.//

Sideswipe crossed the last few meters to the mech and fell to his knees in front of him. He reached out to take the strange mech’s face in his hands, and the way that his cheeks and chin fit into his palms felt right. Sideswipe peered into the oddly-coloured but familiar optics. “Sunny?” he murmured. “What happened to you?”

Sunstreaker – yes, this was Sunstreaker - closed his optics and leaned into Sideswipe’s hands, and Sideswipe hissed as he felt Sunstreaker’s elation at the mere touch. //Sides... Slag, I missed you so much.//

“Sideswipe!” Ironhide’s voice cut through the emotions that Sideswipe was feeling. When Sideswipe looked up at him, Ironhide said, “We’ve gotta get movin’ before the Decepticons come to find out what happened to their sentries.” He gestured at Sunstreaker. “Is this mech really Sunstreaker?” he asked dubiously.

Sideswipe looked at Sunstreaker again and stroked a thumb down his cheek. “I don’t know how, but... Yeah. It’s him.” He smiled as Sunstreaker sent another wave of gratitude over their bond. “I’m positive.”

Ironhide’s engine growled, but he lowered his rifle. “All right. Trailbreaker, search him for weapons and take them. Trailbreaker and Sideswipe, you two flank him until we get to our extraction point. And you – Sunstreaker...” Ironhide pointed a finger at Sunstreaker, and the tone of his voice made it clear that he didn’t really believe this mech was the yellow frontliner. “You drift one millimetre out of line, and I’m puttin’ you in stasis so fast you won’t even see it comin’.”

Sunstreaker nodded immediately. “Yes, sir. Understood, sir.”

He sounded like Sunstreaker. When he stood up, he moved like Sunstreaker, with the fluidity and grace that his brother had always had. And when he transformed, he did it in the same no-nonsense way that Sunstreaker always had, folding himself into his alt-mode quickly and without fuss.

But as they began driving to the rendezvous point where they would meet their shuttle, Sideswipe still felt a whisper of doubt. Sunstreaker drove so close to Sideswipe that their tires almost brushed. Before, Sunstreaker would have griped about the possibility of his paint being scratched, and demanded that Sideswipe back off. But it was Sunstreaker who drifted close to Sideswipe, matching him turn for turn down every klick of the road. That oddity, when combined with the strange optics and unfamiliar paint and armor, sat uneasily in Sideswipe’s processor. And yet... He could feel the other mech basking in anything that Sideswipe sent him.

Surely the Decepticons hadn’t figured out how to hack into a spark bond. ...At least, Sideswipe hoped they hadn’t.

//Sunny... What happened to you?// Sideswipe’s question was hesitant. //I saw you get... I thought you got caught in the explosion. But you weren’t, and suddenly you’re sporting a totally different look.//

The answer was immediate. //I did get caught in the explosion. I got transported back in time two million years.// Sunstreaker’s reply was blunt.

There was absolutely no way for Sideswipe to stop his scepticism from broadcasting over the bond. //Back in time two million years. Really? That was before we were forged.//

//I know, Sides.// There was no lying between twins – not over a spark bond, anyway. Sideswipe knew that Sunstreaker was telling the truth. //And the pain of your spark not existing... It put me into stasis.// Memories of the pain Sunstreaker had felt when his spark couldn’t find Sideswipe’s spattered across the bond before Sunstreaker shut them down. //Some Neutrals found me floating in deep space a thousand years ago. I’ve been trying to get back to you ever since.//

//For a thousand years?// Sideswipe flinched on his tires as he tried to imagine a thousand years without Sunstreaker, and couldn’t. He sent Sunstreaker the equivalent of an embrace, and he felt his brother bury himself in the sensation. //Sunny... Show me. Where have you been for that long?//

As they finished the drive to the extraction shuttle, Sunstreaker showed Sideswipe what he’d been through as he worked to get back to Cybertron. He didn’t tell him with words, although there were some of those. Instead, he showed Sideswipe his experiences the way they had always told each other stories: flashes of visuals, the sounds he’d heard, the emotions he’d felt.

After they’d loaded the energon from the haulers’ trailers and they’d settled down in a shuttle seat together, Sunstreaker curled into Sideswipe’s side. Sideswipe hadn’t been able to talk Ironhide out of cuffing Sunstreaker (“Just to be safe,” Ironhide had muttered), so Sideswipe held his brother close as Sunstreaker showed him more of his travels.

All of the ships Sunstreaker had been on, from tiny surface-to-orbit hoppers to the largest freighters. The various trading stations he’d stopped at, from planet-based spaceports to lonely stations orbiting dying stars. He showed him the successes and triumphs. He also showed him the lowest depths, all the dark hours when Sunstreaker clutched his arms to his chest and felt only sorrow for himself and his situation. And then there were all of the people he’d met, from the friendliest mechs to the most repellent organics.

He’d met so many organics. Sunstreaker had always held organics in disdain; he considered them messy, pointlessly fragile, and laughably short-lived. And while not all of the organics he’d met had been friendly, it was obvious that a handful of them he remembered fondly: a furry creature with expressive ears and a toothy smile, a long-necked and colourful avian, and a smiling Elonian. The memories of the Elonian were coloured with affection and wistfulness.

//Lyra. She gave me something for you.// Sunstreaker’s wordless tale had slowly spun down as the shuttle approached the Autobot base. //I told her about you, and she wrote you a letter. She would have liked to have met you.// Another burst of sight and sound: Sunstreaker saying goodbye to Lyra. //I think you would have liked her. The two of you were a lot alike.//

They were sitting on a berth in medbay now, waiting for Ratchet to finish analyzing the medical scans he took of Sunstreaker. Sideswipe sideways on the berth, his legs dangling over the side, and Sunstreaker pressed himself close to his brother. At least they’d agreed to remove the cuffs, although Smokescreen and Cliffjumper had been sent to stand guard outside medbay until the strange mech proved to everyone that he was who he claimed to be.

Sideswipe no longer had any doubts on that front. The mech who was draping himself over Sideswipe was absolutely Sunstreaker. He seemed a little different, as if the sharp edges had been filed down slightly, but it was still his brother.

Sunstreaker seemed spent, now that he had told his story. His green optics narrowed as he looked towards the door of medbay, where they could just see Smokesceen standing outside the door. “I must look really awful,” he muttered. “Everyone was staring at me.” He cinched himself closer to Sideswipe and added, “I just want to go back to... our quarters?” Sunstreaker broadcasted some confusion as he sifted through memories of the various quarters they’d had during their time with the Autobots, as if he wasn’t sure which set of quarters were their current ones.

Right. It had been a thousand years since Sunstreaker had stepped inside their quarters. Sideswipe sent him a brief image of their current room. “Sure,” Sideswipe said. “As soon as they clear you to leave, we’ll head back there.”

Sunstreaker buried his face into Sideswipe’s shoulder. “And the first thing I want is a merge. Slag, Sides... It’s been so long.” The feeling of longing that came across the bond with his words overwhelmed all of the emotions that Sideswipe was experiencing himself.

Sideswipe worked his intake as he rode out Sunstreaker’s visceral need to reacquaint his spark with his brother’s. “Absolutely, Sunny. First thing.”

“And then...” Sunstreaker glanced down at his frame. “Then I need a trip to the washracks. And after that, I want to get a repaint.”

Sideswipe ran a finger down the edge of the strange, rounded helm vents that Sunstreaker now had. “Maybe you should think about getting your armor fixed up first? Then you can get a proper repaint.”

Sunstreaker hummed quietly. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. And I want to get my lenses switched back to blue, too. Ratchet might have spares he could use.” He glanced at the CMO’s office. Ratchet was still hunched over a monitor, reviewing the results of his scan. “But I want the green ones as a keepsake... Lyra bought them for me.”

“Aww, Sunny, really? I kind of like the green ones.” Sideswipe grinned when Sunstreaker stared up at him in surprise. “My brother, with the beautiful emerald optics.” He tipped Sunstreaker’s chin upwards so he could look directly into the green lenses. “But if you don’t want them anymore, I’m ok with you swapping them out right away.”

“You really like them?” Sunstreaker asked hesitantly. When Sideswipe nodded, he said, “All right. I’ll keep them until I get everything else fixed up. But I want Ratchet to have the spares ready.” He closed his optics wearily, hiding the exotic green lenses from view. “I just want to match you again.”

Sideswipe grinned. “I’m glad that you still care what I think, even if you’re two million years older than I am now.” He jostled his brother with his shoulder and added, “And if you want to match, make sure you get enough yellow paint for me.”

“I was only awake for a thousand years of that,” Sunstreaker said, his familiar tetchiness returning to his voice. “And I’ve always cared what you think.” He looked up at Sideswipe again and gave him a sly look, the one that only Sideswipe ever saw. “But yellow paint on you would be a terrible idea. I don’t want to get blamed for any of your pranks.”

After all the despair and worry that Sideswipe had been feeling for days, being able to laugh that hard felt wonderful.

Sunstreaker went silent for several minutes. Then he quietly said, “I was worried that you wouldn’t recognize me.” Under his arm, wrapped around Sunstreaker’s torso, Sideswipe could feel his engine falter slightly. “I was afraid you wouldn’t know who I was.”

Sideswipe hugged his brother closer. “I didn’t at first,” he admitted. “But then... I could feel you, and I knew. I’ll always know you.” He tipped his helm down to look into Sunstreaker’s green optics. “You’re my other half, literally.”

Smiling faintly, Sunstreaker said, “Thanks, Sides.”

“So, aside from a merge, and taking you to the washracks, and maybe arranging for a repaint... What can I do for you right now?” Sideswipe asked.

Wrapping himself tighter around Sideswipe, Sunstreaker said, “Just... stay with me. Please.”

Sideswipe nodded, tucking Sunstreaker’s helm under his chin. “Don’t worry, Sunny,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.”