Chapter 13

Sam had to admit it: if it weren't for the crimson eyes, he could have sworn that the sparkling was Ironhide's. The mech had yet to let him go, allowing the cluster of bots in the rec room to look and fuss but not allowing anyone to actually hold him. Tempest seemed to be thoroughly enjoying all the attention, clicking senselessly and grasping at the many hands offered to him.

"What do you think of his name?" Mikaela asked from his side, leaning into his embrace. She'd been feeling distinctively broody since she'd first seen the new addition several hours ago.

"It's alright," Sam replied, mercifully unaware of Mikaela's hormonal flush. "I was hoping he'd call it something really cool, though. Like Razor or Coldsteel."

Mikaela smirked. "I don't think that's Optimus's style. And Tempest is cool… Very like Optimus, actually. You know it's a Shakespeare play?"

Sam rolled his eyes at the topic of literature, preferring the storm and military connotations of the name. "Wonder how he's doing. Reckon we'd be able to sneak in and see him?"

Prowl answered from above them, making both humans jump where they were sat. "Not yet. Ratchet's not letting anyone near him until tomorrow."

He nodded, offering Mikaela a half shrug as if the suggestion had been hers. "Seems fair. Getting that out whilst getting shot and having the crap beaten out of you by Megatron is harsh, even for the big guy."

A low rumble of agreement from the tactician, though it was a warm sound. Almost appreciative. Now that Optimus was safely within their care and the sparkling was out and healthy, the burning anxiety that had been constant base-wide since news of its conception had spread was finally gone.

Seeing Ironhide approaching, Prowl gestured to the teens. "Ironhide, the humans haven't seen the mechling yet."

Optics sliding down to them, Ironhide grinned and knelt obligingly, easing Tempest off his chest and holding him out on the floor. "These are the squishy ones, Pest. No breaking." Sat unsteadily, the mech chattered at them with wide optics, reaching out to touch the novel creatures.

Sam looked up at the old mech, nose crinkled. "He, uh, won't break me if I let him grab me, will he?"

A low chuckle. "Nah, he'll just pull you about a bit. This size, Pest's about as strong as you are."

"Nice nickname," Prowl drawled, folding his arms. He watched with a small smile as Ironhide's hands hovered until the sparkling had grabbed a handful of Sam's shirt and begun fussing his hair with a low whistle. To his surprise the old mech stood, posture matching his own as they watched. "You've come around to him, I see."

Ironhide grunted an affirmative. "Optimus and I had a talk."

Prowl arched a brow, wondering how that went. "Sounds like it was a good talk."

A shoulder joint rolled. "Yeah, think so. He still…" A grimace as he cut himself off from saying too much and giving away his still-blossoming relationship with Prime.

The tactician didn't try to hide his smile, clapping a firm hand to Ironhide's back. "It's alright, 'Hide, I already knew. And he's happy. Happier than he's been in long while."

Ironhide gave him a sideways look and a thin smile. "You see far too much sometimes, Prowler."

Prowl ignored the nickname, figuring that Tempest's was worse. "I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't."

A schlucht sound as Ironhide ran a hand across his throat, thoughtful. "Everyone likes the kid," he observed quietly, his tone hovering between relief and plain acknowledgement.

"Yes, I'd say they were all quite enamoured. Bumblebee especially." Prowl looked over to the small mech and smiled, noting the look of near-jealousy as Tempest fussed about Sam and Mikaela. "I think you and Optimus have a very willing sparkling-sitter there."

The easy expression on Ironhide's worn face slipped a little, his mouth tightening. "I'm sure that all the Autobots will be looking out for him. Especially with Starscream lurking around."

Prowl frowned and stepped in closer to the taller mech, his voice low for the sake of the other bots. It was noisy with chatter about Tempest, but he still didn't want to be overheard. "'Hide, Starscream nearly died to protect the sparkling."

Ironhide grunted and shook his head. "He was trying to take out Megatron."

The tactician suppressed a scoff that would have been very unlike him. He'd seen the Seeker plough into the Decepticon at a fearsome velocity. Most of them had, and they were all equally surprised and impressed that Starscream had survived it. "If he was just trying to destroy Megatron there are infinitely better ways he could have gone about it. He didn't seek him out in the battle – he provided cover fire, was our presence in the sky against the other Seekers, and he took his fair share of damage before his suicidal run." He regarded Tempest again, babbling and grasping at the humans completely oblivious to how troublesome his coming had been. "I watched Starscream when he pulled that move. It was desperate. He covered the site as fast as he could and hit Megatron as hard as he could, fully willing to sacrifice himself."

He saw Ironhide meeting his optics in a sideline stare and arched a brow. "He won't hurt that sparkling, and I pity anyone who tries to immensely for what he'd do to them."

Quite obviously Ironhide wasn't to be so easily convinced, though he nodded to accept Prowl's point. "It's gonna be a long time before I can trust him. We've been fighting him for too long, seeing his as Megatron's biggest gun in a battle. Right now he could be just out to protect Tempest, yeah, but it could be to get our guard down so he can turn on us down the line." He raised a hand, optics shuttering. "Or he could really be joining our side, in which case he's going to be a damn fine asset if his performance at the power station was anything to go by."

There was a clunk at their feet and they saw Tempest trying to pull himself up on Ironhide's foot, failing utterly but enjoying the attempt. The old mech stooped to pick him up, earning a delighted flurry of bleeps and whistles.

Prowl offered a hand out to the sparkling against Ironhide's chest, smiling when his index finger was batted at. "Sounds like you need to have another talk with Optimus."

A gentle sigh pushed through his vents as Ironhide regarded the comparatively tiny bot, untouched by their war and so full of life. Tempest brimmed with potential, both for himself and for their collective futures. It was possible that Starscream saw things the same way. Finally he could see why Optimus had fought so hard to keep him. "I reckon you're right."

I wake again still in the Medbay to find Starscream in the berth alongside mine, also hooked up to an energon feed and smelling of fresh welds. He is awake and looking at the ceiling. The lights are dim and a red light above the door indicates that it's locked from the outside – Ratchet's way of 'encouraging' recharge.

Shifting a little to see what hurts, I still again when the consensus from my systems is 'a lot'. My chassis throbs in time with my spark in a warm ache, and I can 'taste' the acidic trace of painkillers. Running my fingers over the welds and dents on my chest plates, I'm immensely grateful for them, though I'm still very aware of the difference inside.

Starscream voice comes suddenly, soft and even. "Now that my usefulness has expired, will you be exiling me?"

I look to him but his stare remains on the ceiling. "You're welcome to stay with the Autobots, Starscream. Even if you hadn't earned it that would still be the case."

Silence but for the sounds of the machines, then, "the sparkling has red optics."

Beautiful ones. "I know."

"Like a Decepticon."

A pause I didn't intend. "I know."

Another pause and then he turns his head to look at me. "Hatchet said he could change them."

Of course he did, I acknowledge with a sigh. "That won't be necessary."

Starscream frowns and tries to sit up, instantly giving up with a hiss. I don't remember much after seeing Megatron, but I remember that the Seeker didn't emerge from the other side of him shaped like a jet. Even with pain suppressants he's in significantly more discomfort than myself. "Why? It'd help him fit in. Naturalise."

I arch a brow. "Are you going to change your optics?"

A scoff, reassuringly familiar from him. "No."

"Because it is part of who you are. My point stands." I know that though Tempest will not be treated any differently because of it by my men, primarily out of a respect to me, this is something I will still have to propagate. "He is part Decepticon, and I will not have him ashamed of his parentage by disguising it."

Starscream shakes his head. "You're…" He trails off with a bemused smile, brows furrowed as he looks back to the ceiling. "Going to take some getting used to."

I smile at that, returning my own gaze to the dark ceiling. "Yes, I imagine you'll find life under my leadership to be quite different to Megtron's."

A snorted laugh.

He ought to be recharging given the extent of the repairs he's required. I suspect that the only reason he was awake was because of the concern that I would make him leave, though I doubt he'd admit that. The very opposite is true. I'm grateful to him, for the pledge he has made and upheld to Tempest, almost at the cost of his life, and would be regretful if he chose to leave the Autobots. "Thank you, Starscream, for everything you've done."

I hear him shrug and wince from it, a pained wheeze in his voice. "I made an oath."

"Does it continue on from the sparkling's birth?"

"Of course." It comes flat and matter-of-fact.

I nod a little. "Then you'll be the sparkling's closest link to its Decepticon heritage."

He shifts again, looking across the energon lines to me. "Not necessarily something to be proud of."

There's a lot of truth in that, the associated atrocities of Decepticons in summary. But they began as only a faction with different beliefs, and before then we were all united. Entire galaxies have perished since that time, but it is still a concrete memory of peace. "Megatron was not always this way."

Starscream's voice lowers, adopting a harsher quality as if in warning. "He'll never change, you know."

"You did."

He rolls his optics and stares up at the ceiling again. Ratchet should think about putting something to look at up there. "That's different."

Genuinely curious by that, I ask, "how so?"

The Seeker raises a hand and seems to inspect his fingers, thumbing new scratches. "I'm not so deluded that I'm not open to the idea of being wrong."

"You see your years spent with the Decepticons as a decision made in error?"

His arm lowers again. "No, it was the right thing then as this is the right thing now."

"Do you think any others will defect to us?"

"I couldn't say yet. Possibly, when the sparkling is older."

A hard sigh through my abused vents. "I do not like the significance and responsibility that he's been burdened with since before he was born."

"Well, tough," he drawls with a glower at me. "You had the same thing being groomed to be Prime."

I frown back. "I was much older when I had these responsibilities put onto me. The Matrix changed me."

His optics widen and I note that condescension suits his face just as well as sadistic delight. "So give the sparkling the freedom to develop. You Autobots are nothing if not sickeningly friendly."

Though I wouldn't have phrased it like that, I know he's right. "You make a good point."

"Of course I do." His tone is utterly deadpan.

"You're…" I smile, returning my gaze to the ceiling. "Also going to take some getting used to, Starscream."

"Don't worry, Prime," he replies with a smirk, pillowing his arms behind his head. "I'll keep things interesting for you."

"Of that I have no doubt."

When Ratchet deemed Optimus fit enough to leave the Medbay, the mech found exactly what he wanted to see first on the other side of the door already waiting. Tempest lay in the crook of Ironhide's right arm, batting a small cannon to make it turn with a broad smile.

Coming to stand beside him, Optimus furrowed his brow at the display. Ironhide shrugged. "It's not like it's loaded. He just likes spinning the barrel."

A vaguely disapproving sound and the tall mech ran a hand up the other's back, smiling with the naturalness of it. He hadn't realised it before the battle at the power station, but there was something very comforting and relaxing about being in Ironhide's presence. Even though they'd only been sharing a berth for a week and interfaced just once, though memorably, he found he'd missed the mech's more personal presence. Seeing him with Tempest warmed his systems.

Tempest looked up from the mini-cannon to his sire and made a shrill sort of sound, grasping his hands out. Optimus took him gladly, lifting him to his optics. "Have you been good for Ironhide, Tempest?" The sparkling clicked, optics wide as he wiggled a little in the large hands. "Did he now? Well, I'll have to have a word with him in my office."

Ironhide grinned at that, watching as Tempest was settled between Optimus's arm and chassis before getting them walking towards what had become their shared quarters. "No office for a few days. Ratchet's put you on light duty, which equates to reading and letting Prowl and me do the running of the place."

"I'm sure that between you both you'll find a way to keep the base intact," he replied smoothly, not looking up from Tempest as they walked. This was the first time he hadn't begrudged Ratchet's orders for rest, and he found it odd not to be immediately scheming ways to get around the medic to work.

"How's Screamer?" Ironhide asked, purely out of a weird sense of obligation.

"Alive," Optimus replied with a quick glance, surprised by the question. He'd made no secret of his dislike and distrust of the Seek, though it was understandable. He hoped that the older mech would come around eventually, otherwise Tempest's relationship with Starscream was going to make things difficult. "Ratchet's going to keep him in for at least a week due to the extent of his repairs. He's lucky to be alive."

Ironhide grunted, thumbing the code into the keypad and letting Optimus step through into 'their' quarters. "He's sticking around with us, then?"

"He hasn't given himself a choice," Optimus replied evenly, running a hand through the assorted data pads on his desk to see if anything urgent lay in their midst.

"Yeah, suppose that doing what he did to Megatron does seal off his chances of rejoining the Decepticons."

"True, though it's more complicated than that," came the soft reply as Prime leaned against the desk to regard Ironhide, the sparkling mouthing energetically at his hand. Extended a fuel line from the filter beneath his chassis, he slipped the end port to the hungry mouth and started a gentle flow of fuel. He'd worried about not knowing what to do after Tempest onlined, particularly since he'd felt completely out of his depth from the very start. But there seemed to be some instinctual guiding force – something fundamental that knew how to nurture just as he knew how to fight. It surprised him to find it, but it was a relief.

Ironhide lingered in the sparse living area before stepping through into the berthroom, scanning over the contents with a smile. Bumblebee and Prowl had been here yesterday seeing up for Tempest under his supervision. There was a small berth with raised sides at the end of the large one, and a weighty mobile hung above it. Layered on the ends of the iridescent wires were models of each of the Autobots' alt forms, painted by Sam and Mikaela to match exactly. There was also a plush bear on the berth – the biggest the humans could find. Where they couldn't give parts to welcome Tempest, they'd said, they had given gifts that a new baby would receive in their culture. They hadn't known what to get Optimus, but had taken his advice to see Jazz about some High Grade.

When Optimus didn't follow to see the waiting surprise, Ironhide returned to the other room to find Prime reading through pads whilst Tempest fed. Coming to his side, he was pleased to see a trace of guilt. "Am I going to have to think of something to distract you?" he asked, folding his arms.

Optimus sighed, glanced away briefly to Tempest as if coming to a decision and finally looked back. "There's something you need to know about Starscream."

Ironhide felt his fluids run cold. "What?"

A pause as Optimus considered his words, thumbing the sparkling's stomach absently as he watched Ironhide's face. "Before we went to the power station, he exchanged a charge with Tempest. A Seeker's oath. He appointed himself as a guardian. That's why he attacked Megatron as he did."

The Seekers were a funny breed, Ironhide knew, with latent abilities that meandered between fact and fiction in the telling. This particular oath he'd heard of before, and it was more reassuring than anything else Starscream could have done. It was not a possessive claim, nor one that granted any rights. It was selfless and poignant, particularly coming from such a fearsome warrior.

"He can't hurt him," he clarified for himself aloud, touching a finger to Tempest's cheek and smiling a little when the two little hands snapped possessively around the fuel line in his mouth, crimson optics narrowing.

"Not intentionally. And he can't sit idly by if Tempest is threatened."

"What about you? As his sire?"

Blinked optics and he shook his head. "It only extends to Tempest."

Ironhide shook his head with a sigh, shifting to lean beside Optimus against the desk. "Why? Why tie himself down and make himself vulnerable like that?"

Optimus had spent a long time wondering the same thing. It was no simple declaration of guardianship Starscream had made to Tempest. It was a binding that went down to his circuits, a lifelong commitment matched only by a creators' to their offspring. "For the same reason why all the bots are celebrating: we need something to protect. It's a fundamental part of our processors. With the war, there have been no sparklings for a long time. No future generation. Nothing to fight for, except to fight on the behalf of those who cannot defend themselves against Megatron. Our Cybertron is lost to us and can never come back. It's the future we fight for now, and Starscream believes, as I do, that that future lies within the generation born separate from the outbreak of this war. And they are worth anything to be protected."

There was silence but for the sound of Tempest's soft chirps around the fuel line, optics blinking sluggishly as he eased towards recharge. Optimus cut off the flow and waited until the residual energon had been drawn through before taking the feeding line back. Tempest squirmed a little before nuzzling against his chassis, optics shuttering and mouth slightly open.

Ironhide watched without realising that he'd leaned into the taller mech, their bodies moulding against each other and vents mingling warm air. "So," he began with an arched brow. "Ratch' is gonna have us all knocked up with sparklings now?"

A disapproving sound though there was an obvious smile behind it. "Hardly. But there are bonded couples amongst our ranks who may want them, and there's no reason why we shouldn't."

"If you can, then they can."

Optimus nodded and looked up from the slumbering sparkling to meet the bright optics watching him. "And the war has been a constant for so long, it doesn't even factor into it anymore."

There were a lot of questions lingering, many of them concerned solely with the occupants of this room. Ironhide shifted a little, uncertain. "So what does this all mean? For Screamer, and…" An awkward motion with one hand, the word coming as unfamiliar and very cautious territory. "Us?"

Sighing a little, Optimus regarded the older mech with a tempered smile before running a hand up Ironhide's backstrut to the fine wires in the nape of his neck. Knowledgeable fingers wove between stiff cables to stroke a cluster of neural lines, earning a low, murmured sigh. He continued his ministrations as he spoke. "Well, when you and I want a night alone, we've got a guaranteed sparkling sitter who cannot do anything no matter how uncontrollable Tempest might be."

Ironhide's engine seemed to purr in response. "I like the sound of that."

"I thought you might."

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this story. I'd love to hear what you thought, and don't forget to check out the sequel Provenance.