Riders of the Storm
Chapter 3: Fortress of Light

Optimus Prime had known there was going to be difficulties, but he hadn't anticipated being sent on a wild goose chase by his own base's computer.
"T-AI, enough of this. Where is Hot Shot?"
"Sorry, Optimus, it's just . . . well, he's home now. Crosswise is sleeping, so I guess Hot Shot could be ready for you now."
"You could have explained sooner," he mumbled, turning back towards Hot Shot and REV's personal quarters. The base computer remained silent and he continued his trek in quiet reflection.
It was REV's voice that called out to him when he reached the apartment, not that he was particularly surprised. The two Spychangers had been nearly inseperable for the past week. REV nodded as Optimus walked into the room, but the Autobot commander was taken aback by how . . . drained the yellow warrior looked.
"REV, are you okay?"
"I'll be fine, Optimus," the other responded, vaguely waving off his concern. "You're here to talk to 'Shot, I take it."
"Yes . . . what happened?"
"I've suspended WARS from the Spychangers," Hot Shot replied as he walked into the antechamber. "If he doesn't ask for a transfer, then draft one for him. He's already done enough damage; I won't tolerate him doing more."
"How could this have happened?"
"WARS has never been one to share with the team and Cross. . . ."
". . . he kept hanging on, covering up how bad things really were. . . ."
"This has gone on far too long," Hot Shot sighed, obviously irritated with himself. "That it took Cross being hurt this badly for me to see that. . . ."
"We tried to help him, 'Shot, but he didn't want our help. . . ."
"Doesn't change how I feel," the commander replied sullenly. REV sighed before drawing his bondmate close, resting his chin on the other mech's shoulder. Optimus felt vaguely uncomfortable, but he didn't know why.
"I know I've been delaying sending you my recommendations for awhile now. I guess you could say I've been a bit preoccupied. . . ."
"That's understandable," Optimus replied quietly.
"I know who I want now, sir. They've been working together for awhile now for the most part; I'll have a list of names for you as soon as REV lets me write it down."
Optimus nodded thoughtfully; he had his suspicions who Hot Shot would be requesting and if Daytonus wasn't on that list, he would be very surprised.
"I've already made some inquires," the Autobot commander replied a moment later. "There's a supply ship coming in one week; WARS can return to Cybertron with that. But it will probably be a month or more before a transport can be outfitted to send any reinforcements. We might be able to get two or three transfers squeezed onto the supply ship, but only if I call them soon."
Hot Shot pulled himself free of REV's arms, hurriedly inputting something into a datapad before handing it to him.
"These are my recommendations, sir. Of them, I'd suggest Lightstrike, Highguard, and Wraith for early transfer," the commander replied crisply. Optimus perused the list, a little surprised at Hot Shot's suggestions.
"Not Daytonus?"
"We agree that it would be . . . wiser . . . if Daytonus has limited opportunity to interact with WARS. They rarely saw each other on Cybertron and we have no intention of telling him about what's happened until he can actually be here. . . ."
"Are you sure? If he were to find out some other way, perhaps running into WARS on Cybertron. . . ."
"The chances of him finding out from someone other than either of us are minimal. Daytonus and WARS hardly travel in the same social circles. . . ."
"Day's always been very fond of Crosswise," REV supplied with a brief frown at his bondmate. "I nearly wanted to rip off WARS's head for this. I don't really want to know what Daytonus would do, given the opportunity."
"Very well. I'll see what I can do."
Optimus let himself out of the apartment, swiftly returning to his office. If he was going to get anyone on that supply ship, he was going to have to call Cybertron now.
"T-AI, get me a line to Alpha Trion's office, priority one."
For once the computer offered no verbal confirmation of the command. Optimus frowned to himself at T-AI's increasingly unusual behavior, wondering at the source. But he had little time to consider it as his desk comm screen flickered to life.
"Optimus . . . I was beginning to wonder when we would hear from you again. After that automated supply request, I had to wonder if perhaps I hadn't been wrong in thinking you had bested your brother."
"It is good to hear your voice again, Alpha Trion, though I would like to know how you could let him come here."
"You know Magnus wasn't going to listen to anyone."
"But not even an attempt to stop him?"
"Ah, yes, well . . . how did you know that?"
"A great deal has changed since we first landed here, old friend. The old records were right - Earth is a catalyst. Which is why I called. The conflict for Earth isn't settled and it's unlikely to be settled in the near future. My team here has committed to seeing this through, but we need reinforcements. I already have thirteen Autobots selected; I am transmitting that list now. However, if it is at all possible, I would appreciate it if one or more could be sent with the supply shuttle."
"I can arrange for three of your transfers to be dispatched with the supplies, just tell me who."
"Lightstrike, Highguard, and Wraith. Also, I am ordering WARS home with the shuttle."
"I had intended the shuttle to be a one-way trip, but . . . it will be tight quarters for the outbound trip, but if you are serious about this transfer. . . ."
"I am."
"Then it will be made possible. It sounds like you've had an interesting two years. I look forward to reading your reports, Optimus."
"Interesting is hardly the word I would choose, old friend, but you should have access to all my reports now. How are you holding up back home?"
"Unchanged from when you left, to be honest. Everyone knows why you left, but for the moment, the treaty seems to be holding. Megatron's expedition is the only aggressive act the Predacons have made since you left."
"That hardly seems possible. . . ."
"And yet it is. If they are planning anything, they are keeping it quite secret."
"All right, Alpha Trion. And thank you for appreciating the urgency of the situation."
"You are still the Prime, Optimus. What the Prime wants, the Prime gets. Look for the shuttle in six standard days. Iacon out."
Optimus shook his head ruefully at the blank screen. It was easy to forget, so many lightyears away from home, that he was in fact the supreme commander of all Autobot forces. He wondered if his brother truly appreciated the burdens that came with being the bearer of the Matrix. Perhaps if he did he would not be so eager to claim it for himself.

* * * * *

Wedge decided he would like being an Autobot a whole lot more if he was actually allowed to do more than repair work and the occasional building project. Not that contract work with the humans was a bad thing . . . but it tended to leave him with a lot of time to think about how much more fun he'd be having if he was allowed a patrol route like other Autobots.
"Hey! Watch it!"
"Huh? Oh, sorry Heavy Load. Guess I let my mind drift again."
"You know, the whole two heads are better than one thing only works if both are paying attention," Heavy Load teased gently.
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
"I apologize as well, Heavy Load-san."
"Well, no harm done. Just be more careful next time."
"Sure thing, Heavy Load," Wedge replied cheerfully. They were helping with a reconstruction project on the outskirts of Osaka, primarily because the Autobots were responsible for the damage in the first place - another skirmish with the Predacons. Everyone had been grateful at the time that it was only the Predacons and not Scourge and the other Decepticons as well; whenever the Decepticons showed up, the damage was ten times worse, at the very least. The Japanese hadn't been so impressed, however. Very polite, of course, but also very upset. Which was why Build Team was aiding the reconstruction.
Well . . . sort of aiding. Mostly they were doing the heavy labor, each according to their own vehicle modes. Wedge didn't see how they were really doing much to help. If they were actually allowed to build the new apartment complex, that would be helping! After all, what good was the hyperbuild ability if they weren't even allowed to use it?
"You know, Tokida-san, we could do a lot more than just this donkey work. . . ."
"This is delicate work, Wedge-san."
"Just let us try. One building. If you don't think we did a good enough job, I'll never mention it again, swear to Primus. But Tokida-san, we're a construction team. We can do this stuff, honest!"
"Well . . . I suppose it wouldn't hurt to talk to the others. . . ."
"Wedge! This is a battle protocol! Have Build Team report to Sector TangoAlpha, subsector 21, ASAP!"
"We're on it, T-AI! Sorry, Tokida-san, but we have to go."
"Good luck, Wedge-san!" the human replied as he jumped down from the bulldozer's cab. Wedge smiled, even though he knew the human couldn't see it; Build Team didn't need luck.
"You know, there's something weird about this battle protocol," Grimlock mused as they entered the global spacebridge network.
"Like the fact that T-AI didn't even tell us who we were fighting?" Hightower offered in response.
"That, too. No, I mean the location. Sector TangoAlpha is Tasmania . . . and I don't think that island's big enough to have ten subsectors, let alone twenty-one."
"Then where is the spacebridge taking us?" Wedge asked in confusion.
"I think we'd better stop and find out," Heavy Load recommended, slamming on his brakes. Wedge did the same, then transformed to walk back the tunnel a few paces to access an auxiliary terminal. A quick search yielded that the spacebridge computer had no knowledge of a sector TangoAlpha, subsector 21. It did, however, admit to a sector AlphaTango, subsector 21, which was where it was intending to take them.
"It's not like T-AI to make a mistake like this. Tasmania isn't anywhere near Texas."
"Why am I suddenly wondering if there's even anything going on in Texas?" Hightower mused quietly.
"Only one way to find out," Grimlock replied.
"Either way, we better hurry up and find out," Wedge added as he shifted back to vehicle mode. His teammates all agreed, hurrying after him as they completed their run through the spacebridge. Somehow, none of them were very surprised to arrive and not see any Decepticons or Predacons in the area. They were surprised, however, by who was there when they arrived.
"Skid-z?"
"Wedge? Hey guys, what brings you all the way out here?"
"T-AI's acting really weird," Wedge grumbled, though he knew it wasn't much of an explanation.
"We should call in to base, find out what's going on," Heavy Load suggested.
"Well, hey, I did ask her to send someone around since, uh, well, I don't have any way to access the spacebridge myself," Skid-z explained sheepishly.
"Well, okay, so that might explain the spacebridge setting . . . but she said there was a battle protocol."
"In a nonexistent subsector," Grimlock added. "I hope this isn't from someone trying to reprogram her or something."
"Maybe all that research she's been doing has finally made her snap," Hightower said quietly. "All that frustration would have to get to her eventually. . . ."
"Well, we should probably get back to base then and see if we can't figure out what's going on."
"Good idea, Wedge. Come on, Skid-z. We might even be able to give you a spacebridge transponder."
"Excellent! Lead the way, guys!"
Heavy Load lead the team into the global spacebridge this time, with Wedge picking up the rear. He didn't know why, but he had a bad feeling about the situation with T-AI. The Decepticons had been lying low for over a month now and that just felt wrong. What were they plotting? And why did he have the sneaking suspicion that they were going to find out very soon?

* * * * *

"Grim? Cross? Any progess?"
"Well . . . sort of," Crosswise sighed, his voice slightly muffled. Hightower smiled a little as he watched the blue Spychanger scoot out from under the console.
"We know what it isn't, at least," Grimlock supplied with the slightest hint of a confused frown. "T-AI's mainframe checks out completely clean, no crossed wires or corrupted sectors or anything else weird in the hardware. We ran a scan on her software and that all checked out too."
"The only thing left is some sort of outside interference, but this base is supposed to be shielded against that," Crosswise sighed and for a moment he looked completely exhausted. But Grimlock was speaking again before Hightower could ask the other Autobot if he was okay.
"So either we've missed something or somehow, someone's interfering anyway."
"Right now, I'm voting for the latter . . . but whatever it is, we aren't finding it with her offline."
"Then I guess we had better boot her up again," Hightower suggested with a faint sigh. They had shut down the base AI to keep her from getting them into any more trouble while she was acting strangely. He didn't like having to restore the system when they still hadn't fixed the problem.
"Yeah . . . and pray," Grimlock chuckled, trying to reassure the smaller red 'bot. Crosswise started the boot up process, then stepped back as the screens flickered to life and additional power hummed through the system. A moment later, the hologirl materialized. She looked around, then floated up to be closer to Hightower's height.
"Have you fixed the problem yet?"
"Not yet, T-AI," he replied with a shake of his head. "Grim and Cross need to run some tests while you're online.
"Oh. Okay."
Crosswise was already at one of the consoles, running diagnostics. Grimlock was about to plug in to another console when T-AI floated up to his level.
"Grimlock, why is Crosswise here?" she asked quietly.
"I was wondering the same thing, Grim," Hightower murmured softly. "He's trying to hide it, but he looked like he was about to fall over earlier.
"I know, but it's important we find out what's going on with T-AI and, frankly, when it comes to experts, we're it."
"Since when is Cross a computer tech?"
"He isn't . . . but no one else knows anything about AI networking. Besides, he's the only Spychanger on base and there's no way I could fit under those consoles. And neither could you, Tao."
"All right, all right," Hightower chuckled softly, a faint smile turning the corner of his mouth.
"Uh . . . you guys aren't going to believe this. T-AI, go ahead and shut down again."
"What did you find, Cross?"
"The reason she's been acting weird. It's outside interference all right . . . and the reason it got through the shielding? It's using an Autobot frequency."
"What?"
"You've got to be kidding. . . ."
"Who would even . . . waitacycle . . . CEREBROS?"
"I doubt it's intentional," Crosswise sighed as he leaned back against the console heavily. "Remember, Cerebros has been out of touch for four million years. T-AI didn't even exist then."
"But . . . what's he doing?" Grimlock frowned. "And why would it be causing interference?"
"I don't know, but if I had to guess, I'd say he was looking for his base. It's affecting T-AI because he's actually sending commands. We should be able to nullify the effect by blocking out the old frequencies."
"Grim and I can handle that, Cross. Why don't you go home, get some rest? You look like you could use it."
"I'm fine," the Spychanger lied, trying to wave them off.
"Go on, Cross," Grimlock urged, physically picking up the other mech when he started to protest again. "You're obviously not sleeping well and a frequency block is easy. No crawling under consoles needed. So go already."
"I sai--"
"Go!" Grimlock and Hightower chorused, the taller green 'bot giving him a gentle push. Crosswise sighed then, conceding defeat, and walked out of the command center.
"Have you ever known a more stubborn 'bot?" Hightower sighed.
"Oh sure - WARS springs immediately to mind. Besides . . . if you were him, wouldn't you have a hard time sleeping?"
"Nightmares? Hmm . . . guess I hadn't thought of that. Makes sense, though."
"I'm sure it doesn't help that WARS is still here. Now let me set up the block and then we can tell Optimus about Cerebros."

* * * * *

The Sahara Desert. An unforgiving expanse of shimmering golden sand only intermittently interrupted by an oasis. Few creatures lived in the spans between oases, making it an ideal place for hiding things. The humans had known this for centuries, unaware that one other had known for even longer.
Silent commands arced out across the dunes, seeking the target hidden beneath their shifting surface. Deep beneath the sand, a buried treasure heard the silent command to awaken and responded. As power flooded the systems of the once-slumbering base, alarm klaxons cried out at both bases. But Scourge was not bothered by their discordant blaring; neither he nor any other Decepticon was at Galvatron's base. Instead, they stood with Cerebros under the midday sun, watching the shifting sands as the base of Fortress Maximus slowly rose to the surface once more.
Soon the ultimate power to rule this world will be mine to command. Then I shall crush Galvatron and his snivelling lackey, Sky-byte. And the Autobots, with a special, lingering death for that mercenary, Ultra Magnus.
He chuckled quietly to himself as he envisioned the things he would do. With Fortress Maximus his to command, nothing would be able to stop him. It was a delicious irony that the Autobots were ultimately responsible for giving him the power that he sought.

* * * * *

Sing to me, oh power of my spirit. Rise again, oh keeper of my lifeforce. Open again my mind and give me the power to overcome the darkness that yet surrounds me. The time has come for Cerebros to speak once more.

* * * * *

"Optimus! There's a massive power spike in the eastern Sahara! And seismic tremors! Optimus, I think Cerebros has found Fortress Maximus!"
"T-AI, I'm bypassing the member select protocol. Alert and dispatch the Spychangers and the Autobot Brothers. I'll meet them enroute."
"Aye-aye, sir!" the hologirl replied with a crisp salute. Optimus glanced at the monitors once more, then transformed and entered the spacebridge. He didn't like this situation at all and something in his processors was giving him the surges. They still didn't have a solid lead on the key to freeing Cerebros's mind and without that . . . Optimus wasn't sure what would happen next. He only hoped Galvatron didn't know the second key either. If he did, then this was going to be one very short trip. If Galvatron could control Fortres Maximus . . . the results were unthinkable.

* * * * *

Ultra Magnus hadn't been summoned to the Sahara, but he went anyway. Knowing what was at stake . . . knowing Prowl would be there. . . . Discovering that Scourge was there as well only made him more certain that he had been right to come. He had been ready to rain down death and destruction on the Decepticons when the spacebridge opened again, this time disgorging not only Prowl and his two brothers, but also the Spychangers and his own brother, Optimus Prime.
"Scourge! Give us Cerebros!"
"You're too late, Optimus Prime! Your precious drone is mine to command. Cerebros! Activate Fortress Maximus!"
Without so much as even a flicker of concern for who was issuing the command, Cerebros transformed, sending his base into a flurry of activity. Ultra Magnus rushed forward, nodding to his brother as he joined the other Autobots. Optimus nodded in acknowledgment, glancing meaningfully at Prowl. The white Autobot glanced over, as if sensing his presence and a relieved smile touched his optics.
"I AM FORTRESS MAXIMUS. WHO AWAKENS US?"
"I, Scourge, command you! Serve me! Destroy those who would stand against me!"
There was a long pause as the giant Autobot's head turned to stare down at Scourge. The Autobots who had created this guardian may have been twisted, but Ultra Magnus refused to believe that the second key could be something as simple as declaring one's self to be in command. If his brother was to be believed, Cerebros was now trapped within Fortress Maximus, silently awaiting the command that would free him. If his brother was to be believed.
Autobot and Decepticon alike waited, poised in silence for Fort Max's next move. Would he remain motionless, unable to comply with any orders? Or would he do as Scourge commanded?
As suddenly as he had transformed, Fortress Maximus broke apart, returning to his existence as base and Cerebros. The ancient Autobot stood at the threshold of his own base, studying both groups in silence for a moment. Then a sad smile lit his optics and he shook his head slightly before turning to face Scourge.
"You brought us to this place, and for that we must honor you. But your quest is not mine. You would destroy this very land over which I have stood guard for so many millenia. Your inmost core knows nothing of my words and cares not for the oaths to which I have pledged. Be gone from this place, for your evil is not welcomed."
For a moment, no one moved. No one had expected Cerebros to be able to act independently, least of all Scourge.
"But . . . I command you!"
"You do not. Be gone and seek not to return."
"Go on, Scourge, you heard the 'bot! Git outta here!"
"Yeah, go on, scram!"
Finding courage and strength in their numbers, the other Autobots rallied, threatening the Decepticons with warning shots and brandished weapons. Given the choice, Ultra Magnus would have preferred to destroy the retreating Decepticons outright, but he knew better than to attempt it in his brother's presence. Unfortunate, since he still wanted to see Scourge's vital fluids drained from the other mech's body, but he would manage. Besides which, Cerebros was watching the entire scene with a certain sadness that left the much larger warrior on edge. The guardian had said that Scourge was not his master, but he had not yet cast his own dice in with those of Optimus Prime.
"You bear the same sign that we ourselves have worn for ages untold. We see in you a great potential, Optimus Prime."
"Thank you, Cerebros. We are glad to know you --"
"You, too, fail to hold fast the key, Matrix Bearer. Autobot though we both may be, this very life-sphere was entrusted into my care. As I once abdicated my place for fear of doing more harm than good, I cannot join with you. Your team is divided, as broken as their spirits. If you cannot bind them, how can I know that you are the one in whom I should place mine own faith?"
"But. . . ."
"Should you have need of me, call out to these skies and I shall hear. In your time of most desperate need, my door shall be open unto you. But until you hear the words I have left for all, my own counsel shall I keep. I will not abdicate my most sacred duty a second time."
Cerebros turned away from Optimus then, but instead of retreating into his base, he approached the clustered Spychangers. The strange Autobot studied each in turn, stopping at last before Crosswise. He raised the blue scientist's chin with one finger, his demeanor strangely intense.
"From you comes the freshest pain. Know that long have I been the keeper of things unseen. The time of your twilight is ending. A new day shall dawn for you and yours. Take comfort in the knowledge that what you have seen, what you have suffered, has not been in vain."
Crosswise stood in mute shock as Cerebros walked away from him. Ultra Magnus couldn't blame him; the strange Autobot had a gift for speaking without saying much at all. Perhaps it was his age. Perhaps Cerebros was damaged. Either way, he was not reassured to see the guardian approaching him, nor was he at all appeased when his optics settled on Prowl's form.
"From you comes the sharpest division, the deepest pain. You have suffered much and have my deepest sympathies. Glad I am for you that you have found safe haven in your storm. Abandon him not, for his is a strength rare in this life. Know that time is the great healer; even your brother's anger shall not last forever. As he holds you dear to his own spirit, so shall he see the goodness that now enfolds you.
"And from you, the fires of rage burn hot. Know that even your rage must be tempered, lest it consume you. Many are those who depend on your strength. You possess what your brother does not; as you envy him, know that he envies you. But envy is weak. Cast it away from yourself and you shall be freed."
His messages delivered, Cerebros retreated into the depths of his base, leaving behind a dozen very confused Autobots.
"Sir, what just happened?"
"He said nice try, now get yourselves straightened out and then we'll talk," Ultra Magnus rumbled in mild annoyance. He knew full well what his faults were; he didn't need them broadcast for all to hear. Particularly not where Prowl was concerned.
"He said more than that," Prowl sighed, surprising even Magnus by leaning back against him, one hand snaking out to draw one of Magnus's own arms around him. "A lot more. He opened my optics. . . ."
He couldn't help but smile as the white interceptor nestled against him, even if they were surrounded by other Autobots. Some of whom were not particularly interested in their coziness. WARS's answer was to simply quit the battlefield, a move that surprised no one but managed to hurt Crosswise again anyway. X-Brawn was another matter, his anger a palpable thing that simmered over the sand.
"X-Brawn, enough. Were you not listening to Cerebros just now? Your anger does nothing but tear this team apart. Save it for those who deserve it; Ultra Magnus has done nothing to earn your ire."
"That's slag and you know it, Optimus!"
"I am nothing like Flarestrike," Ultra Magnus hissed. "And I'll thank you to stop comparing my to that scud-sucking sleeze!"
"Who the pit is Flarestrike?!" Sideburn demanded suddenly.
"No one you need to worry about, little brother," Prowl muttered darkly.
"You know, I'm not some little kid anymore, Prowl. Whoever this guy is, he cost us Cerebros, so excuse me for wanting to know!"
"No," Prowl corrected quietly, "WARS's arrogance and X-Brawn's anger cost us Cerebros. And maybe my inability to forget, too. Flarestrike . . . he can't do much of anything anymore . . . except haunt my nightmares. . . ."
Ultra Magnus slid his hands along the tops of Prowl's shoulder mounts, silently willing comfort into his bondmate. The smaller Autobot sighed as he collapsed back against him, eliciting a strange look from Sideburn.
"You two are so weird. . . ."
"Sir? If you have no objections, the Spychangers will resume our patrols."
"We're all going back on patrol. Gentlemen, end this," Optimus ordered, staring hard at each Autobot brother in turn before entering the spacebridge network. With the Spychangers already gone, the four Autobots were left alone . . . aside from the looming presence of Fortress Maximus itself.
"All right, X-Brawn, what gives? I'll admit, I wasn't sold on Magnus at first either. No offense, big guy, but you didn't exactly do much to make friends. But Primus, Bro, if he and Prowl are happy . . . I mean, that's the important thing, isn't it?"
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Magnus rumbled, uneasy with their silent watcher. He did not doubt that Cerebros was listening to every word they said. Listening and passing judgement.
"You don't understand, baby brother. . . ."
"And I never will if someone doesn't explain it to me!"
"Flarestrike was my bondmate before you were created."
Sideburn gaped at his middle brother in shock. Sensing how hard it was for Prowl to even say that much, Ultra Magnus conceded to the disquieting fact that they would be in the desert awhile longer and sat down, drawing his bondmate into his lap. Prowl shunted aside his shield and switched off his optics, leaning against Magnus weakly.
"He . . . I was a naive fool and I believed him when he said he loved me. In the end, he only loved to control me . . . but I couldn't see that. . . . I might be dead now if X-Brawn hadn't killed him."
"Investigation said it was self-defense and defense of other . . . it was months before Prowl would even speak to me, though. Not that I really blamed him - he'd had to watch me kill his bondmate. . . ."
"Wha? Why wasn't I told any of this?"
"You hadn't even been sparked yet when Flarestrike died," X-Brawn explained. "By the time you were around, Prowl had found his coping mechanism and, well, you were too young to be burdened with the truth when it was pretty clear you didn't need to know. Mostly, Prowl and I were trying to put it behind us."
"I . . . I guess that makes sense. . . ."
"It was a long time ago . . . and I think I'm finally truly putting it behind me," Prowl sighed, a content smile lighting his optics as power slowly returned to them.
"Then perhaps X-Brawn and Sideburn can resume your patrol? There's something we need to discuss. . . ."
"Now wait just a minute. . . ."
"Oh give it up, Bro! They haven't seen each other in a week now thanks to you. Let them have a little peace."
Ultra Magnus watched impassively as Sideburn and X-Brawn left the desert. He didn't really want to linger either, but Prowl seemed disinclined to move. In fact, he was snuggling even closer, an low purring sound rising from his engine.
"You are well suited to each other."
Prowl nearly bolted out of Magnus's lap at the sound of Cerebros's voice, remaining seated only because of his encircling arms. Ultra Magnus restrained himself from actually scowling at the ancient Autobot, more than a little curious to know what the other mech wanted from them now.
"Reconsidering your choice to stay isolated from us?"
"No . . . I will continue to heed mine own counsel on how best to serve this very land."
"Then. . . ?"
"There was one thing I was not able to share earlier, a final warning. You have weathered a personal storm, and so your spirits are strong. Know that what you have already survived has been but the beginning. Your cycle has far to travel before it is complete. . . ."
"And your road, Cerebros? We Autobots are here to protect the Earth, the same as you. . . ."
"So you have said, many times. Still will I keep mine own counsel in this matter. When I am needed most, then perhaps shall I side with your efforts. Until then . . . watch carefully the skies."
"I wonder what that's supposed to mean," Prowl murmured as they watched the ancient Autobot retreat once more into his base.
"I don't know . . . and to be honest, I don't care. Maybe I will later, but right now all I care about is you. Think we can get out of here and spend some real time together?"
"I think I can handle that, yes," the interceptor replied quietly, his shy smile clear in his voice. Ultra Magnus chuckled quietly as he transformed, pausing only long enough for Prowl to settle on his axles before leveraging him up onto his trailer and opening the spacebridge. He could almost feel the last vestiges of tension oozing out of his bondmate as they entered the network and he made himself set aside Cerebros's words. Time enough for worry later. They had won a brief respite from the conflicts around them . . . and Ultra Magnus intended to put that respite to good use.