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"Keeping It"

Title (chapter): Keeping It
Series: G1-based “Blue” AU
Words: ~5123
Setting – Deixar, Cybertron. “Blue” AU, probably about 8 years (1 deci-vorn?) before the missing Skywarp finally reappears.

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It was getting late. Not that you could really tell.

Most of the day had already drained out of the sky, leaving only a thin rind of surly orange at the horizon, but lurid night-cycle advertisements bled unreasonable colours up into the dark and turned everything confusing shades of pink and cyan.

That was one of the drawbacks of this whole ‘urban renewal’ thing. Pulsar preferred it when the dark cycle was… well, dark.

Deixar central police station was quiet and calm; a little island that the vivid neon hadn’t quite invaded yet. The grav-bike traipsed heavily past the front desk, dragging her feet and leaving dirty scuffmarks on the tiles of the foyer. She’d pulled a double, as a favour to her sister, and now had a head full of data and no space to think.

“Hey, Pulse?”

A voice bumped into her thoughts; she glanced up to see the desk sergeant watching her.

“You’re late back, tonight. Problem shift?” he prompted.

She realised she was trying to get into a storage cupboard instead of the lift, and vented a small sigh at herself. Maybe she was more depleted than she’d thought. “S’fine.” She found a smile for him. “Just need to defrag. Pulled a double, covering for Beemer.”

He bobbed his head in a single nod. “That's the second time in ten orns. You know you can say ‘no’ when she asks you?”

Pulsar spread her hands, and offered a little shrug, smile and roll of the eyes before stepping onto the lift. The instant the doors sliced him away from view, she sagged back against the wall, and let her head bonk down onto the mirrored surface.

That’s what siblings were for, right? Bailing you out if you got in a jam. So why was it always her that seeming to do the bailing?

’Cause you’re a fragging doormat, Pulse; that’s why.

She covered her face with both hands and sighed into her palms. There was a difference between bailing someone out because they were a mate, and shamelessly preying on a femme’s good nature because you knew she was a mug who’d always cave if you laid it on thick enough.

The lift ding!ed softly and the doors opened on the office. She stared out at the first row of desks, with their high partitions and banks of computer terminals, and for the count of ten thousand, wondered whether she’d end up on disciplinary proceedings if she just… turned around and went home, scan data be damned?

No. She had to upload it all at some point. Better to get a clear head than attempt to defragment this almighty mess. She slipped out between the lift doors just as they began to close, and headed into the maze of untidy workstations.

The upper floor offices were quiet; this time of night, no-one really wanted to head all the way to the top of the station just to upload their sensor data. A handful of officers were spread among the desks, but she didn’t know any of them very well, and none of them acknowledged her. Suited her just fine.

She made her way over to the corner, and her favourite terminal, furthest from the dirty white street-lighting pooling in from outside. It was a glitchy piece of slag that really needed replacing, but it was also the most comfortable, being closest to both a decent air conditioner and the tower’s main ground rod, and she’d got the hang of exactly how to get its flaky connectors to respond. She scrambled inelegantly up onto one of the high desk chairs, and delivered a single sharp blow to the top left of the terminal screen.

After a second or two where the screen just flickered, ominously… it hummed to life and chirped a saccharine greeting that made her want to punch it for real. It extended a cable for her to hook up with.

Next time, she told herself, accepting the handshake and slumping back in her chair, one of her sibs could do it.

If she could actually find either of the lazy fraggers. Her two siblings must have precognition in their skillsets, because they always managed to slope off right before Longbeam came along, pleading for cover. Surefire had conveniently been called back to Earth, ostensibly to work. Whitesides had gone completely off the grid, unannounced as ever; she was trying not to worry about him. You know the mech’s in a relationship, Pulse, because the whole station is abuzz trying to work out who with.

-you owe me- she pinged Longbeam, and glared when the only response was a smiley face.

Trying to swallow her irritation, Pulsar turned her attention onto the deliciously cool air pouring down from the venting, leaning her stool back into it. Maybe she could get a few minutes defragment while it was quiet? She shut off her optics, relaxed back in her chair, and let her free arm dangle.

Pit, it was nice to just ground for a while. It didn’t take long to ease into a pleasant doze, letting her higher awareness slip into idle while her head-full of data slowly cleared.

Something small and light bounced off one of her antennae. She rebooted her optics and watched as a scrunched-up candy wrapper rolled to a halt next to her outstretched hand.

She frowned. Why was someone throwing things at her when they (presumably) had a perfectly functioning communications array – or vocaliser, for that matter – that they could use to get her attention?

She stretched up to peer over her terminal, trying to spot whoever had thrown it, but no-one looked back. Instead, she leaned forwards and picked up the ball of glittery cellophane, and smoothed it out between her thumbs. It was disappointingly blank.

“Psst!

The voice came from one side. She turned to look, and in the gloom of an unlit storage alcove, finally spotted two dim blue lights; the optics of someone trying very hard not to draw attention to himself. A small yellow hand emerged briefly from the shadow to wave her over.

“Whitesides?” She frowned at her sibling. “Where have you-”

He interrupted with an urgent little ssh! and beckoned more emphatically.

Her frown deepened, but she obediently unplugged from the terminal, and made her way over to him. She’d uploaded enough data to have regained a clear head – the rest of her scans would have to wait.

“So you’re not too good to be seen with us, now?” she challenged, arms folded.

Whitesides managed a nervous giggle and shooed her behind a shelving unit.

“Where have you been?” Pulsar had to fight off the urge to shake him. “You couldn’t even ping us a hello to let us know you weren’t stuffed in a dumpster in a back alley somewhere?”

“Sorry.” For someone who’d made a name for himself as the master of the gossip around the station, his voice was unusually soft. Shaky. He met her gaze for only a few uneasy seconds. “I-I would have, but-… I wanted to skate under the radar, for a breem or two. Didn’t want anyone else spotting my signal just yet.” He shifted from one foot to the other, brought one hand up to rub the opposing arm. “I sneaked in through custody.”

Pulsar had heard the babble about Skyshout wanting extra hands to help quell a riot in the cell block, at the rear of the station, and could imagine one little bike managing to slip past the ruckus without attracting much attention.

He twisted his hands together and drew a short, steadying intake of cold air through his core. “Listen, I’m in a spot of bother. Could I-… could I ask a tiny favour off you?”

“A favour.” She tried to swallow it, but the sigh slipped out anyway. “Sure.” She threw up her hands. “Why not. Why should Beemer be the only one allowed to monopolise every last astro-second of my spare time.”

Whitesides almost flinched, and shrank back on himself. “Sorry! Sorry. I-… I mean, it’s-… All right. Never mind! It doesn’t matter.” He cast a furtive glance around the alcove, as if hopeful of finding a helpful person among the cluttered shelves. Or maybe looking for an exit. “Sorry. I knew you were busy, I shouldn’t have barged in. I’ll, I’ll… think of something-”

Pulsar vented a sigh of stuffy air through her pursed lips and put out an arm to stop him slinking away. “No, no. It’s all right. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just… feeling a little taken for granted, right now. And not by you. It’s made me fractious.” She managed to find a tired half-smile for him that didn’t come across as a complete snarl. “What kind of favour.”

He shifted his weight back onto the other foot, unable to keep from fidgeting. “Maybe I should start over. Could we go and, um. Talk in private somewhere?”

“How bad is the trouble you’re in?” she intuited.

He gave another of those funny nervous little laughs that wasn’t mirrored in his expression. “…I try not to make it too obvious, and I might as well just paint it across my chassis. It’s… complicated.”

“It’s always complicated, with you. Who was it this time?”

“It’s not that. Or rather it is that as well, but it’s more than just that.” He laced both hands over the back of his neck. “Primus. I practiced what I was going to say the whole way up here and then you asked something I wasn’t expecting and the words are escaping me and-… I’m just making myself look an idiot. Give me a moment?”

“Sure.” She stood and quietly took in how scruffy the mech was – dusty, dirty, with little dents and flecks of someone else’s paint scuffed into his pale enamel, and such a dramatic kink in one of his antennae, the whole unit would probably need replacing. He rarely got so bumped around when he was actually on duty.

Must have been a pretty sustained attack. “Was it them that roughed you up?” She reached out a hand to see if she could straighten the bent aerial somewhat, but he ducked back out of reach.

“Oh, that – no, it was my fault.” He covered the long silver stems spreading from behind his audio venting with both palms. “Wasn’t watching where I was going. Took a wrong turn somewhere. You’ve ended up in districts that aren’t friendly towards police; you know what it’s like?”

It wasn’t remotely convincing, but Pulsar didn’t push. “...right.”

His unusually-shifty manner was setting off a whole cacophony of alarm bells in the back of her head. Whitesides’ lack of guile – and inability to lie convincingly – was what tended to get him in trouble in the first place. Who had he lied to? And – mercy – what had they done when they’d seen through it? A hundred terrible scenarios had already invaded her thoughts.

“So, um.” Whitesides twisted his hands together and took another long stabilising draught of cold air. “I have to go to the hospital. Would-… would you come with me? I’ve got an appointment, and, um-” His voice stuck, briefly. “I’m scared to go.”

The terrible scenarios all immediately stopped, only to be replaced by terrible scenarios of a slightly different flavour. He didn’t look badly hurt. Maybe that was the problem. “…Was that the favour?”

He nodded, silently, just once.

“Of course I will. But why don’t you wait until you feel better, though?” She held out a hand for him, but he declined to take it. “Give yourself a chance to stop and think. You might decide you don’t want me there, after all.”

She almost added, because you don’t look that bad, you vain little mech, but swallowed the words at the last moment. At least nothing looked life-threatening. He was a bit bashed around, but a trip through the washracks would deal with the dirt, and the bent antenna might be distracting but it wouldn’t hurt.

She gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile, although she couldn’t quite shed the frown tightening her brows. She gestured an arm towards the office. “Or, if it’s easier, we could just go see Spotweld? He’s on duty downstairs and he’s pretty good at being diplomati-”

Whitesides jumped as though stung. “No-! No, uh.”

Pulsar gave him a funny look.

“I-I mean. I’ve already got an appointment. Uh. Out in Tysta.”

Tysta? That’s a whole district over! Why ever did you want to go all the way out there?”

“Privacy. No-one knows me, over there. Plus, uh, this is the second time I’ve made the appointment.” His voice was little more than a whisper; so unlike him. “I don’t want to annoy them by cancelling again. I went once already, but, uh…” He shrugged. “I got spooked and came home, instead.”

What’s wrong, Whites?” She took both of his hands and refused to let them go, leaning closer to meet his gaze. “Please. You’re scaring me. Is someone threatening you? Has someone hurt you?” She strained to catch any flicker in his expression that might betray his confidence. “Is someone trying to blackmail you? If they’ve tried to embarrass you, or something… Look, we’ll sort something out, it’ll be fine-”

He jerked his hands free, and choked the words out: “I’m sparked, Pulse.”

Silence yawned up between them like a monstrous black hole. He looked like he wanted to suck the words back in, or have the ground swallow him, or perhaps both.

For several seconds, all she could do was stare at him.

“Yeah. I’m-… I’m sparked,” he repeated, shakily.

Sparked?” she finally managed, and he flapped his hands, frantically shush!-ing her. “How?”

He spread his palms. “Well, see, when two people love each other very much…” His voice broke and the words strangled off, and he forced out a laugh or maybe a sob or something to cover it. “Careless, I guess? An accident? Maybe my baffle slipped, I don’t know." He gave her a loaded glance. "You know better than me that accidents happen."

Her optics narrowed and he looked away.

She gave him a long, wary look. “…this… is a good thing… isn’t it?” She tried for a small smile; the mech always got a funny wistful look about him when the idea of children came up. So why doesn’t it look it? “Have you told your partner?”

This time, the noise was definitely more of a sob. “Yeah. I’ve… explained. I think.”

Okay; it definitely hadn’t been a good thing. She squeezed his hands. "I've been worried spare about you, mech. Why did it take you so long to come talk to me?”

“Needed a few orns to myself. To-to… brace myself for the gossip, I guess?”

Whitesides’ loose plating wasn’t precisely a secret. Making his way up the chain of command, one berth at a time. It never took much to win his affection, and he might not be too fussy who he shared sparks with – or where, or how often… -- and current opinion held that it was a miracle he hadn’t got himself in this kind of a mess three times already.

But he’d always been a bright, passionate, generous little mech, too, who never asked for much except to be loved back, and it made her furious to see him so shaky and broken.

“Did they do this to you?” She ran her thumb over the kink in his aerial and gently tried to press it out.

“No!” Too fast; he hastily added an ineffectual lie that the expression in his optics said he knew she didn’t believe. “No. Just-… ended up in a rougher part of the district, where policebikes don’t usually go on their own and certainly not in uniform.” Another of those horrible little attempts at a self-deprecating laugh.

“Through your own choice?”

“Of-… of course through my own choice. Why else would it have been?”

“Nobody perhaps encouraged you to go, to make sure you knew to keep your vocaliser offline?”

“Of-of course not. It’s not like I’d have said anything unless they wanted-… I wasn’t trying to blackmail anyone-!”

“…When did I ever mention blackmail, Whites?”

He shook his hands free of her grip, but she’d already felt him trembling. “I’m sorry. Primus, I’m sorry. What a mess.” He paced out a tight circle in the alcove’s limited floorspace. Heat already made the air around him shimmer. “I should have made sure I could get under control before talking to you. What a mess.” He groaned and clutched at the shelves for support. “Primus. Is it meant to always hurt like this?” His knees wobbled underneath him.

“Shh, shh, it’s only feedback,” she soothed, holding his shoulders and supporting him while he shook. “You’ve got hot and stressed and your core pressure has gone up.” She straightened and looked briefly out into the office; the few officers still around didn’t even spare her a glance. “Let’s not hide in a cupboard, eh? We’ll go and find somewhere nice and cool. The mess down the corridor should be empty this time of the orn.”

She shepherded him through the empty washracks, to rinse off the worst of the dust and maybe cool him down a little, then retreated to the quiet staff break-room next to the Superintendent’s office. Officers of her grade weren’t strictly allowed access, but she knew a few strings she could pull if anyone gave her a hard time.

Not as if two bikes quietly huddled up together in the slouchy cushions in the corner by the big window would raise many eyebrows. They gazed out over the city together; watching life go on under the intense dark of a sky turned starless by the riot of colour in the streets below.

“Come on.” Pulsar let him snuggle closer, curling an arm around his shoulders and trying to extend her electric field enough to support him. He felt so prickly, it was like trying to comfort a small magnetic storm. “You’ve got to give me the details, now. How long have you known?”

The words were still quiet, but Whitesides didn’t sound quite so shellshocked as he had. “About… five orns, give or take. It started to hurt, but I wasn’t injured, and-… I remembered what you said happened with yours. Why you went to speak to Sepp that time.” He let his helm rest against the front of her shoulder. “I went to a doctor in Tysta. Somewhere no-one knows me, just in case. He says it’s not very old yet, probably only about twenty orns.”

“You’ve already got it checked out? Why do you need me, then?”

“Because I’m a coward.” He laughed, miserably. “It all seemed so big. I didn’t- didn’t want to rush into something I hadn’t really thought about and couldn’t undo.” He gave her a hopeful glance, although he still couldn’t quite meet her gaze. “You don’t have to actually do anything. I-I’ve got the appointment, I just…” His voice dwindled, fracturing into a whisper that she struggled to hear. “Need someone with me. Don’t want to go and… stare at the door for half an orn then run away, again.”

She managed a small smile. “I never said I’d changed my mind. You’re still going to have to put up with me tagging along behind you.” She stroked his antennae, gently. “Just wondered why you needed to go back.”

“To, uh.” He couldn’t force the words out, and had to reboot his vocaliser. “To get rid of it.”

She stayed silent, to let the words sink in.

He struggled on, in the silence. “It’s. The doctor said, uh. Not very stable yet. Uh. If-if… I wanted to get rid of it, it won’t… it’ll be quite straight-forward-”

Why?

“Might forgive me, if I dissolve it.” He wouldn’t meet her gaze. “Might even want me back.”

Anger surged inside her, and Pulsar had to work surprisingly hard to keep her field even. “Oh, Whites. Primus. Look. Whatever you want to do,” she said, in a soft, stilted voice. “You have my support. All right?”

She felt him nod against her shoulder.

“But it’s got to be what you want, Whites. Primus, please.” She cupped his cheek and forced him to look her in the optic. “This has to be your decision, spark! Don’t you dare do this just because some overbearing, jealous… slagmunch… doesn’t want to take responsibility for their actions. They gave up their chance to have any input on your decision when they left you feeling like you didn’t.”

He actually flinched and averted his gaze. “It’s not about what I want, though, is it? It’s something I don’t have any choice about. I’ve got to be sensible about this. P-practical. I can’t just be… selfish. I-I… have no idea how I’d even afford to look after it.”

It didn’t take a psychologist to work out exactly what must be going on. Someone was embarrassed; probably someone much more important than a lowly policebike.

Well if they hadn’t wanted to feel ashamed of sparking up one of the juniors, they shouldn’t have led the poor spark on in the first place!

She could feel her field starting to bristle, angry – furious – on his behalf.

He could feel it, too, and was actually cringing away from her. “Please don’t do anything stupid, Pulse. Please please-… I can’t lose this job, I can’t-!”

“Is that what they said to you?” Her spark hurt, hot and constricted.

“Is-… is what?”

“Keep your mouth shut or you’re on the streets. Get rid of it or you’re out of a job.”

“N-no. No! I just-… I didn’t do it on purpose. I thought they’d be happy-! I-I-… I don’t know what to do, Pulse.” His words dissolved into static.

Pulsar curled tighter around him and pressed her cheek against the top of his helm. “It’s all right,” she whispered, humming softly. “It’ll be fine, we’ll think of something.”

For someone who never normally needed an excuse to snuggle, Whitesides clung to her like a mech who’d been starved of friendly contact for millennia, arms so tight around her chassis she thought her plating might actually buckle. She tried not to fantasize about what she’d do if she ever caught up with the sparkless scrapheap that put her friend in such a state.

“S-said-… thought I was t-trying to blackmail,” he tried to explain. His vocaliser was hitchy and discordant; most of the words came in fits and starts between the static. “Poisonous, treacherous little whore-

“Oh, Whites-… who cares what they think, when they clearly can’t even see what’s right in front of them?”

He made a funny strangled little noise, and shut his vocaliser off altogether.

She swallowed any further words, and just hummed softly for him instead.

After what felt like a very long time, he finally began to calm – his deathgrip began to ease, his field began to smooth out, his shaking began to ease. “Thanks,” he croaked, faintly, sitting forwards and wiping his face with one hand. “Sorry for dragging you into this.”

“Don’t apologise, mech. Who else could you have got involved?” she chastised, gently, and he finally found a more genuine flicker of a smile for her. “So. What do you want to do? I’ll still come with you to the hospital, if you’re sure that’s what you want.”

He remained silent, for a few moments; lifted his hand and flattened the palm over his spark, almost absent-minded. “I don’t know.”

“I think you do.” She set her own hand over the top. “It’s why you didn’t just go and do it in the first place.”

He let his hand slip back to his lap. “How will I afford it? My salary doesn’t precisely make me affluent on a normal day, let alone looking after a newspark.”

“You afford it the same way that I afforded it – and I had two hungry monsters to keep in fuel.” She offered a small, sheepish smile. “You’re not the only one to have ever had an affair, you know? Or an accident. Besides, you helped me drag my twins up to be mostly-responsible adults without even being asked, it’s only fair for me to return the favour. You know the rest of the guys will help out.”

“I can’t take you all for granted like that-”

“It’s not taking someone for granted if they offer to help in the first place.” She watched as he scrubbed a palm over his antennae, trying to wake himself up a little. Poor mech looked exhausted. “You need to get some rest, because you look almost flat. When’s your next shift?”

“Uh.” He had to think about it for a full few seconds. “Not for an orn and a half?”

“Good. That means you can come home with me and get some proper down time. Infinitely more comfortable than dealing with that flock of gossips down in dorms.” She grasped both his hands in both of hers, and leaned backwards, encouraging him to his feet. He responded heavily, but at least he was still responding.

Large families were mixed blessings. Pulsar had never quite got used to the noise… but the benefits vastly outweighed the annoyances.

She pinged Footloose, asking her sparkling to meet them on the roof, then boldly marched through the superintendent’s empty office and up the short flight of stairs to the air gate. Whitesides followed, clinging to her hand, looking like a lost turbopuppy – small, silent, emotionally exhausted.

Footloose scooped them both up and gave them a lift to Pulsar’s suburban home, and although you could see the worry in her optics, she didn’t push; just wrapped her uncle in a hug and held him for a few moments before whirling away to attend her next trauma case.

The house was empty and dark; thank Primus for small mercies. It meant she didn’t have to figure out how to explain with Whitesides and his frazzled emotions right there, listening in.

By the time Pulsar had got her brother settled in her room and ensured he was recharging, and gone down to the storage unit to fetch a flask of something well-filtered and ice-cold, she felt half-grey already; dead on her feet. Making it back upstairs to her room just wasn’t going to happen.

She folded a thermal foil around her shoulders and plopped down on the enormous couch at the rear of the atrium, then pressed the heels of her hands against her optics. “Ugh.” So much for that downtime she’d been looking forwards to. Wasn’t that long until her next shift was due to start. She hoped she’d get the chance to finish her upload before then, or she’d be the one conked out in a back alley.

She glared briefly at her flask, and drained it in one single long gulp. It didn’t make her feel even remotely better.

It felt like she’d stared at the reflection of her own optics for a very long time before the thunder of jet engines shaded subtly into her awareness. Sounded like her housemates were on the way home, at last; she’d not seen either since yesterday, when they’d headed out to New Vos, to discuss the ongoing rebuild-…

She caught herself scanning the sky for the familiar pinpoints of paired running lights, and realised just how much she was looking forwards to having a trustworthy audio to unload on. (Assuming she could stay awake long enough to do so. Or figure out how to even start the conversation.)

The two jets touched down in their comparatively-luxurious front yard. Leaving his wingmate outside, discussing something with Nightsun, Starscream was first through the door in the huge glass front wall, his arms loaded with plant samples. He did a brief double-take at seeing Pulsar on the couch… then stood and stared more suspiciously at her, as if to ask why she was on the couch and not in the chaos of her own room. When she failed to volunteer anything, he muttered something she didn’t catch and carried on his way without further challenging her.

Thundercracker was more forthcoming. He hesitated in the centre of the atrium, and just frowned at her, for a few seconds, waiting for her to speak. “Everything all right?” he coaxed, when she didn’t take the invitation.

She opened her mouth to speak, and realised that she didn’t actually know how to broach the subject. After a few seconds where his brows perked higher and she felt like even more of an idiot, she finally managed to clarify; “there’s going to be a new addition to the family.”

He… froze… for just long enough that she realised the implications of her words.

“Not me,” she hastily added, sitting straighter in alarm. “Primus! Haha, no, Primus, not me.”

The dark head perked briefly to one side. “Whitesides?” he guessed. She figured he must have picked up the mech’s frequency, and added the two together. He lowered his bulk to perch elegantly on the arm of the couch. “…is he all right?”

“No.” She laughed, sourly. “And for once he’s not even trying to pretend everything’s fine.” She covered her optics with one hands and vented a huff of hot air in a short, frustrated sigh. “I swear, if I ever find out who’s been treating that poor mech like a dirty little secret?” She stabbed a finger at him, as if to drive home the point. “I will yank their spark out, through their damn exhaust.”

“All right, firecracker.” He rested a giant hand on her shoulder. “I’ll even hold ’em down for you. But maybe you should wait until you’ve got some rest, eh?”

“Rest! Pit. That’d be nice,” she groaned, and let her arms flop out to either side. “But I’ve got to be back at work at any time. Talk about Beemer’s bad timing.”

“No you don’t. I’ve already organised cover for you.”

She looked up at him and frowned.

“Why do you think I was talking to Nightsun? Nice though it is to actually get the chance to talk to my deputy every now and then…” The blue mech smiled in a way that Pulsar took to be a subtle telling-off. “When the junior officers invite themselves into the senior lounge, then leave the building via the superintendent’s private air-gate, people take notice.”

“…oh.” She hunched her shoulders and glanced away. “Iiii didn’t think anyone had spotted us.”

“That much was obvious.” He flicked a finger gently across her antennae. “Get some rest, eh? I think we’re all going to need it…!”

--------------------------

Crossposted also to Tumblr.

This entry was originally posted at http://keaalu.dreamwidth.org/33224.html.

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