AN: First off, I want to apologize to everyone for taking so long to update. I'm not usually this bad, I swear! So let's all hope I can keep the pace up from now on, eh? Before we get started, there are two special mentions I should make:
First, let's give a round of applause to my new Beta reader, Peacewish, who read through the chapter, fixed up my grammer, and will be providing a much needed sounding board for the plot. Because she' just so cool like that.
Second, this chapter is dedicated to Misao-CG, one of the sweetest, most dedicated reviewers I've ever had. Every writer should be blessed to have someone like her, because it's readers like her that make writing such a joy.
Vorn = 83 years/1 TF year
Deca-orn = 10 orns/1 TF week
Orn = 2 weeks/ 1 TF day
Joor = 6 hours/1 TF hour.
Breem = 8.3 minutes.
Klick = less than a second
Ch. 9 – Waiting
The med bay was divided into two main areas: the larger, general purpose room where the majority of patients went for repairs and checkups, and the emergency room for the most serious of procedures. There were even a couple of IC berths in the back, although any one so badly damaged to warrant it would be swiftly transported to an Iacon hospital for long term treatment.
Adjacent to the med bay was the waiting room. It was sparse, with only chairs lining the walls and two doors, one to the greater med bay and the other into the hallway. There wasn't even a table with ancient news or bookfiles like most hospitals had. All that filled the room were lots of empty chairs, three mechlings, and one mech.
The mech was sitting by the door, partially obscured by a multi-colored but primarily blue holographic screen that hovered at just the right height and distance for his use, numbers, graphs and maps littering the multiple windows. His hands were in constant motion, bringing up new screens, inputting calculations, drawing up simulations with the speed and practiced grace of an orchestra conductor.
While his hands never stopped moving, occasionally he would look through the display to check on the mechlings. Not that any of them were doing anything to be worried about.
The yellow one kept pacing around the room, back and forth, in a circle, like a caged animal. Occasionally he'd take a seat, arms crossed and fingers drumming on his arm, but it never lasted for more than a breem before he was back on his pedes. He simply couldn't stay still. Prowl deduced he was the type who preferred action to… anything really. He was going to need some sort of distraction sooner than later.
The red one had recently fallen asleep sideways in his chair, arms crossed with his head resting forward and his knees over the other armrest. The position looked thoroughly uncomfortable to Prowl, but then again Sideswipe was a lot smaller and didn't have sensor panels to worry about. Prowl let him sleep; his struts were going to be sore as soon as he woke up, but after the stress he'd been through recently, the mechling needed his rest more.
The grey one, smallest of all, was seated next to Sideswipe with the drawing pad Hoist had gifted him on his arrival, knees drawn up as an impromptu table and focusing on his artwork with extreme concentration. Occasionally he'd stop to consider his work, or to look around to check on Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. Once he decided that nothing had changed without his notice, he'd go back to his drawing.
With slight variations, this had been the state of things ever since they came here joors earlier.
Prowl's hands paused when a message popped up at the corner of his screen. He immediately shut down the console and stood, gaining Sunstreaker's and Bluestreak's attentions.
"I need to check on something," Prowl told them. "I won't be gone for long."
Bluestreak nodded. Sunstreaker made a dismissive 'hmph' sound before wandering over to take the empty seat on Bluestreak's other side. As Prowl exited the room, Sunstreaker leaned over Bluestreak's shoulder to peek at his drawing.
"You're doing it wrong," he said bluntly.
Prowl strode purposefully down the halls. A new opportunity had come to his attention, but his target's location wasn't specified. But it was simplicity itself to rule out possible locations and, taking into account events, circumstances, and a little psychology, narrow it down to the one place Prowl would most likely find him.
This was the absolute only reason why Prowl found himself outside the rec room at its busiest and most crowded.
Prowl stopped short of actually entering the room. He had fully intended to simply stride in, but the room was crowded and loud and everyone kept moving around and…
No, it did not make him feel irrationally uncomfortable or anxious. There was no logical reason for anxiety in briefly mingling with the mechs he worked with everyday in a place that was completely safe and secure. He simply… preferred to avoided crowded areas because his wide and sensitive sensor panels tended to get bumped around, creating sensory overloads and painful migraines.
Yes. That was the only reason he did not wish to go inside.
Instead, he leaned back against the wall next to the door, crossed his arms, and waited. He had calculated his approach well enough that he didn't have to wait long.
Less than half a breem later, the only other black and white mech currently on base sauntered out of the rec room right in front of him.
Jazz spun half around in surprise to face Prowl.
"Primus, don't DO that t' me Prowler!" he exclaimed.
"Jazz, if I am able to sneak up on you, a member of Sidestep's own Special Ops team, then you should seriously consider refreshing your training."
Jazz started to answer, but stopped.
"Did you just… make a joke?" he asked in exaggerated awe.
"Of course not. I merely made an observation," Prowl corrected, pushing off the wall.
"Watcha doin' staking out th' rec room anyways?" Jazz asked, crossing his arms.
"I received your message a short while ago," Prowl answered. "I know that your return would please Bluestreak and possibly help to uplift Sideswipe's and Sunstreaker's spirits, but I deemed it prudent to ascertain for myself the condition of your being before I made them aware of this fact."
Jazz needed a moment to process the answer, before he broke into a wide grin.
"You were worried about me!" he translated happily.
Prowl's panels rose minutely as he stiffened.
"You have been on two high risk missions over the course of three orns," Prowl reminded him, a tad woodenly. "You have a tendency to brush off or play down injuries or energy depletions that are not an immediate threat to your life, necessitating the need for my own confirmation."
Prowl had absolutely no idea how Jazz did it with a optic-hiding visor, but something about the subtle tilt of his head and the curve of his lips gave the distinct impression that he had just raised an optic ridge at him.
"Sooo… how long have ya been keepin' a watch on me?" Jazz asked.
Prowl's panels drew back slightly but sharply in defense.
"I should go."
"Whoa, hold it Prowl!" Jazz said quickly, catching the Praxian by the shoulder before he could slip away. If he noticed the way Prowl stiffened at the contact, or how his facial features almost cringed, he didn't show it. But he was quick to drop his hand once Prowl had stopped trying to run away.
"Sorry, Prowl," Jazz said instead. "I didn't mean t' make you think I was makin' fun of ya or nothin'. I'm just, kinda glad that it's you watchin' m' back. I'm grateful, really. Ya dig?"
Jazz shuttered his optics. "Say what?"
"What you just said, 'wasn't makin' fun of ya or nothing.'' That's a double negative. It should have been 'or anything.'"
Jazz stared for a moment, but smiled in pleased understanding. This was, after all, the closest to a forgiveness Prowl could express.
"Oh! That reminds me!" Jazz exclaimed suddenly. "There's someone you really oughta meet. Gimme two klicks t' grab him."
Not bothering to wait for an answer, Jazz popped back into the rec room.
Prowl stood absolutely still in the hall for a few klicks, and then silently stepped back against the wall to wait.
True to his word, Jazz took little time to return. When Prowl caught sight of the mech he brought in tow, he pushed off the wall again out of genuine surprise.
"Prowl, meet Smokescreen. Smokescreen, Prowl." Jazz introduced with a smile.
"Pleasure to meet you," the blue Praxian said, stretching out a hand.
Prowl took it, even as he analyzed Jazz's purpose in this.
There were a little over 200 Praxians in the Autobot army and not quite a thousand more scattered across the city-states. A small percentage compared to the lives lost, enough to make Praxians an unusual sight for generations. But it wasn't so much that Prowl thought that meeting another would necessitate a strong reaction from him. Did Jazz think that Prowl would benefit by having an associate who also lost their home city? Or did he assume that, as fellow Praxians, they would automatically be compatible as friends? Jazz's intentions were good, Prowl good see that, but he still felt annoyed by the condescending-
"He used to work as a psychologist before the war," Jazz added helpfully.
Oh. That made sense.
"Have you ever worked with younglings or patients with post-traumatic stress?" Prowl questioned.
"Hi, nice to meet you too, I'm doing well, thank you," Smokescreen said with a dry grin.
Prowl pulled back, embarrassed. "My apologies; I did not intend to be rude."
Smokescreen waved off the apology.
"No worries. Considering where you're coming from, I can't blame you for having a one-track mind right now. But yeah, I've worked with many patients dealing with traumatic experiences, obviously more often since the war started. I'll still do whatever I can to help Bluestreak, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, but I should mention I've only been trained to work with adults."
Smokescreen raised a finger before Prowl could say anything.
"But!" he went on. "I did just so happen to bring a youngling behavioral expert with me!"
"See, when you make this part a little bit darker, you make a shadow and give him depth. But when you make this part lighter, it draws your optics to this point. Now you try."
Bluestreak took the drawing pad back and, with the careful even strokes that Sunstreaker showed him, tried to find the places where the shadows should be. Slowly, and with a glance up at the gold mechling for approval, he started shading in the back of the picture-mech's leg.
Sunstreaker was many things, few of them complimentary, but Bluestreak would not have guessed that "really good art teacher" would have been one of them. At least he wasn't pacing any more, and seemed much more relaxed now that he had something else to focus on… even if he was a bit of a perfectionist and tended to be entirely too blunt when pointing out mistakes in Bluestreak's technique.
Bluestreak didn't mind though. It was a good distraction, for the both of them.
Hands froze and heads snapped up when the door slid open.
"Whoops. Sorry, I think I got a little turned around," the femme apologized.
Sunstreaker didn't recognize her, and if she was unfamiliar with the base she obviously didn't belong here. So his natural sense of grace and hospitality demanded he answer her appropriately.
The femme just smiled and entered the room all the way, letting the door automatically shut behind her. Sunstreaker was out of his seat, arms crossed and glaring. Bluestreak just watched from his seat behind his newly erected golden wall of irate youngling.
"Don't worry, I don't usually bite," the femme said pleasantly. "I'm actually going to be staying here on the base for the next little bit, until I can go back to the Contingent. We might even get to know each other in that time."
"Maybe I don't want to get to know you," Sunstreaker retorted defiantly.
The stupid femme just wouldn't stop smiling, which was grating on Sunstreaker's nerve wires even worse. Was she seriously that dense?
"If you don't want to, you don't have to," she said simply, infuriatingly patient. "There are so many cool bots here already, I can't blame you for not being all that interested in plain old me."
"I don't think you're plain," Bluestreak piped up.
The femme's smile flickered just slightly. Sunstreaker's optics narrowed; he didn't know what it was, but something about that flicker, that darting of her optics, the twitch in her smile, gave him the sense that Bluestreak talking had thrown her off for a moment. But it should not have been that strange at all… unless she had known about his former muteness.
'Just who the slag are you supposed to be?' he wondered.
"You don't, huh?" she asked, tilting her head to the side as she addressed the smallest youngling.
"No," Bluestreak said in simple honesty. "I think you're really pretty."
The femme didn't seem to have expected that. She straightened a bit as if surprised, her smile falling into a small 'o' shape. She stared at Bluestreak, her optics slowing growing wider and wider, like a sparkling looking at something sweet and tasty.
Bluestreak sunk a little deeper into his seat.
"Um…wh-why are you looking at me like that?"
"Elita leant her out to us for the mission because of her extensive experiences and training in assisting younglings, something that was hugely useful when it came to evacuating the families, with a double bonus of her working in the Contingent's security since she enlisted," Smokescreen was saying as he followed Prowl down the hallways. "She's not a psychologist or a therapist exactly, but between the two of use we'll hopefully be able to cover all the bases."
"For as long as you are able to remain," Prowl finished.
Smokescreen shrugged. "Better than nothing."
"You sure I need t' be here?" Jazz asked from the back of the line. "'Cause I don't wanna crowd Blue or anythin'."
"Bluestreak would rather see you first than a pair of strangers," Prowl told him. "Until we have decided on a proper course of action, I don't see the need to rush any meetings with anyone, even with psychologists and social workers. Speaking of which, Smokescreen, where did you say she would be?"
"Last I knew she was looking for your Communications Room to send an update to Elita One about what happened," Smokescreen answered. "You might be able to catch her there later."
"Are you certain of her credentials?" Prowl asked as they approached the waiting room door.
"If you don't believe me, you can always ask Elita One herself. She's known her since before the war blew up. She's nothing if not sensitive, intelligent, and above all, professional."
The door slid open.
"YOU ARE SO CUUUUTE!"
"Put him down, you psycho!"
"I got him I got him I – don't got him!"
The three mechs froze.
In the middle of the waiting room, a black and blue femme was pirouetting madly around with a wildly confused Bluestreak in her arms. The mechling was facing outwards, with the femme's arms under his and going across his chest, centrifugal force swinging his lower body out. Around them ran Sunstreaker and the now awake Sideswipe, arms ups and yelling and trying to catch Bluestreak as if afraid he would go flying at any moment. Considering how fast the obliviously happy femme was spinning him around, it was probably justified. The femme herself, from the glimpses that could be caught of her face, looked almost ecstatically happy, like a femmeling who just found a stray, loveable turbo-pup.
Which, come to think of it, was probably exactly what happened.
"Professional, you say?" Prowl deadpanned.
"She really loves younglings."
The femme stopped pirouetting and snuggled the dizzy Bluestreak up like a beloved oversized doll, her optics closed in blissful happiness.
"You are so sweet and adorable, I could just eat you up!" she gushed.
"I would rather you did not," Prowl said.
The femme's optics snapped open, joy flipping to blank surprise with the abruptness of a thrown switch. She straightened up, and saw the three new mechs standing in front of her: a stone faced Praxian, the familiar and grinning Smokescreen, and a visored mech who looked like he was trying exceedingly hard not to burst out laughing.
"Oh," she said quietly, gently dropping Bluestreak to the floor. Sideswipe kept a hand on his shoulder while he regained his senses.
Smokescreen slid up so he was between her and Prowl, gesturing grandly with his hands as he presented them to each other. "Prowl, I'd like you to meet Sparklight, the Contingent's in-training Security Director and former Social Worker for the Youth Sectors. Sparklight, meet Prowl. I'm pretty sure you still remember Jazz."
"Pleasure to meet you," the femme – Sparklight – said with a slight bow that, conveniently, helped to hide her darkening, madly blushing optics. Now that she wasn't imitating a spinning top, Prowl was able to get a good look at her.
Her coloring was primarily black and blue, as he had noticed already, but she also had streaks of white here and there as highlights. She was rather small, about a head shorter than Prowl himself (who wasn't that terribly tall to begin with), but her most distinct features were the sensor panels spreading outwards from her shoulders. She was not Praxian – the panels were too narrow and rounded at the corners, her chassis was too streamlined and she lacked the chevron – but from the way they twitched slightly, they probably emoted about as well as his own did. Considering that she had worked in the Youth Sectors, Prowl guessed that for her, the panels' primary focus was keeping track of lots of small, moving bodies.
A youngling's worst nightmare: an adult with optics on the back of their heads.
"Well at least nobody has t' worry 'bout you gettin' along with the little ones," Jazz commented merrily.
The mech's distinct voice snapped Bluestreak out of his daze. His optics flew open and his panels perked up at attention. As soon as he laid sight on Jazz, he broke out in the biggest smile his face could hold.
"Hey little guy, come n' say hi t' me!" Jazz said merrily as he stepped up, ready for his customary hug.
Not about to disappoint, Bluestreak shrugged off Sideswipe's steadying hand and ran over to Jazz's waiting arms.
"Jazz!" he exclaimed happily as he leapt into waiting arms.
Said waiting arms were frozen stiff in shock. Prowl crossed his arms and had the unique, rare sensation of wanting to smirk.
"Bluestreak…" Jazz said slowly. "Did you just… speak?"
The mechling craned his head back to beam up at Jazz. "Yeah huh!"
"With your own voice and everything?"
"Not really. Sideswipe's letting me borrow his today."
Prowl wondered if perhaps Bluestreak had been spending a bit too much time with the twins as of late.
Jazz snapped out of his shock with an almost crazy laugh. Without warning shock flipped to ecstatic, laughing joy as Jazz lifted Bluestreak up and swung him around, the mechling laughing in surprise at the impromptu ride. Prowl stepped off to the side as Jazz danced around with Bluestreak, fit to bursting and seeming to revel in every little sound Bluestreak made, now that his silence was broken.
Sparklight slid up to stand next to him with a little smile of her own. "Warms your spark, doesn't it?" she commented as she watched Jazz pull the giggling Bluestreak in for a tight hug. "It's always wonderful whenever an orphaned youngling comes to love their Caretaker so much."
Prowl started to nod, then tensed.
"Actually, I am Bluestreak's designated Caretaker," Prowl corrected, his tone sharper and harsher than he had meant.
Sparklight whirled at him, optics deepening in another mortified blush.
"What? Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean, um, sorry, I just assumed, since Bluestreak was so happy… no one had time to tell me who exactly was the Caretaker, so I just assumed…"
Sparklight's ramblings trailed off as Bluestreak's giggles morphed into sobs.
"Hey hey, what's wrong?" Jazz asked, clearly alarmed but trying to offer gentle comfort.
Bluestreak didn't answer. He only tightened his grip around Jazz's neck and buried his face deeper under his chin, as if trying to meld with the mech. Tears fell openly from his optics, and while he was not a loud crier, in the dead silent room his soft cries seemed to thunder.
Prowl could see that Bluestreak was crying. It was the first time he had seen him actually cry since being brought back from Praxus. Bluestreak was upset, he needed to be comforted, he needed someone to gently ask him what was wrong, he needed to be assured that whatever it was that had him so emotionally vulnerable, everything was still going to be alright…
"It's probably stress," she said, as she came around so she could speak to Jazz face to face. Jazz hefted the mechling a little higher with one arm, rubbed his back in slow circles with the other, and (along with Prowl and everyone else) gave Sparklight his rapt attention.
"Considering everything that's happened since this morning, the relief of seeing someone he cares about come home safe was probably the release he needed," Sparklight said. Her optics dimmed momentarily as she checked her chronometer.
"It's getting late anyway. If he hasn't refueled yet this evening, I would like to suggest you go ahead and grab some energon and try to get some rest. That goes for you too, Prowl; after so much chaos and upheaval today, what he really needs is a sense of security, and as his Caretaker he's going to be looking to you to give it. Tomorrow, make sure you stick as much to your regular routine as you can – it'll also help with that security and peace of mind."
Prowl could only nod.
Sparklight turned her attention to Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, the former looking severely frustrated, the latter mostly awkward and not knowing what he was supposed to do.
"I'm not going anywhere, and neither is Sideswipe," Sunstreaker snapped before Sparklight could say anything.
"Of course not," she said smoothly. "I was just wondering if you and your brother were starting to feel a little hungry – you don't exactly want to pass out from energy depletion before your brother can wake up, after all. Everyone already has their own duties, so I'm afraid you'll have to retrieve it yourself from the rec room."
Sunstreaker didn't say anything.
"It won't even take a breem," Sparklight added. "You're not going to miss anything."
Sunstreaker wanted to be stubborn, if only for the sake of being obstinate. But… well, his tanks had been yelling at him for the last half joor, and it was getting harder to ignore.
"Sure, why not," Sunstreaker muttered, moving past them all.
"I'll go too," Sideswipe said suddenly, hurrying after his brother. If everyone else was going to leave anyway, he didn't want to have to wait in the wide, empty room by himself with just his thoughts and memories.
As they disappeared, Jazz looked at Sparklight.
"Y'know, I could've brought them cubes a little later," he pointed out.
"True, but at least this way they get to leave the waiting room, get some exercise, and hopefully talk to a few bots and get their minds off of their brother on the operating table. They desperately needed the break from waiting and contemplating worst case scenarios, and this was just the easiest way to get them to take a short one."
"Clever," Jazz commented. "Prowler, you wanna take Blue back t' your room?"
"No!" Bluestreak exclaimed, tightening his hold on Jazz even more. Jazz rocked his head back slightly in surprise. Prowl did not even flinch at the sharp stab in his spark.
"Jazz, I think it would be best if you took him for now," he said evenly.
"That sounds like a good idea," Sparklight interjected with a smile. "Perhaps Prowl can grab him a cube from the rec room as well. And if you don't mind me tagging along, I'd really appreciate it if you could point me to the Communications room on the way."
Prowl experienced a brief but intense flash of annoyance at the femme's constant interjections and how she kept manipulating the situation. But since there was nothing wrong with what she said, and all her suggestions were only beneficial for Bluestreak, the feeling passed quickly in favor of simple pragmatism. So when Jazz glanced at him, Prowl simply nodded once in approval.
"Sure Sparky, it'll just be two steps outta the way," Jazz said to the femme.
And so everyone filed out of the waiting room for their separate destinations. Bluestreak did not look up from Jazz's neck, and Prowl fought off the temptation to look back.
It didn't escape Prowl's ever keen sense of observation that Smokescreen was following him.
"Jazz kinda pulled me out of a middle of a card game," he said by way of explanation.
Prowl had no comment.
Due to the width of the hallway and their own sensor panels, Prowl and Smokescreen didn't have the room to walk side by side. But Smokescreen was content to follow Prowl by a step, and Prowl didn't feel the need to look at him when he finally spoke.
"What is it that you want?"
"To go back to the rec room and salvage what's left of my game," Smokescreen said cheerfully.
Prowl turned his head to look back at the other Praxian. "I can surmise that Sparklight wanted to follow Jazz so she can talk to Bluestreak a little and learn more about him. Since you already admitted to having more experience with adults than children, I can also guess you're going to try observing me."
Smokescreen didn't even look embarrassed at be caught out. "Aren't you at least going to give me a point for trying to be subtle?"
"I would prefer you asked your questions now and not waste my time." Prowl said coolly, turning his head forward again.
Smokescreen held his hands in mock defense. "Alright, alright, I get it, you like getting straight to the point. Alright, let me lay it out for you: we've got four orphaned mechlings of various ages with entirely too much first hand war experiences who are going to be needing a lot of help coming to terms with it. Sparklight and I are the best choices they've got right now, and we're going to be needing everyone's cooperation to give it to them."
Prowl frowned. Bluestreak, Sunstreaker, Sideswipe…"Who's the fourth mechling?"
"A 15-vorn old named Hot Rod. He was separated from his relatives and wound up getting trapped in 'Con territory. Our mission was his rescue, and Springer's been keeping him under his wing until we're able to track down the rest of his family. Poor kid nearly has a panic attack any time he's left completely alone or if anyone other than Springer tries to come too close to him. It's like he's expecting a 'Con to jump up and shoot him around every corner."
Prowl flashed back to a deca-orn earlier and a much younger mechling with terror in his optics and a constant, trembling grip.
"Sparklight's the one who really gets younglings, but I was hoping to get a chance to talk to them all too," Smokescreen admitted. "Not in an office with a couch or anything. Something more relaxed, like over a game in the rec room, where they might be a little less guarded. Sunstreaker at least didn't strike me as the type who'd readily open up to a psychologist if he could help it."
Prowl turned his head so he could pin Smokescreen with one cold blue optic.
"I understand your reasoning, Smokescreen, but you and Sparklight are both still strangers to me. I am not about to surrender a large portion of Bluestreak's care until I have sufficient information about the both of you, and I don't appreciate either of your attempts to insert yourselves into his life so quickly without consulting me first."
Smokescreen bowed his head as he accepted the criticism.
"Sorry, Prowl. I didn't mean to come across as pushy or rude. I'm only trying to present what I believe are the best options. And frankly, what with the insane upheaval all the mechlings have been through lately, they're going to need lots of friendly, familiar faces. Bluestreak and the twins at least are going to be handed over to the Contingent eventually, and if they can get to know Sparklight ahead of time it'll make the transition easier."
"She's not taking Bluestreak away just yet either," Prowl said sharply.
Smokescreen nearly tripped over his own feet. The contrast between the unexpectedly harsh words to Prowl's formerly near-placid monotone was as jarring as a verbal fortress wall on a highway. Confusion was short lived, however, and he took a few seconds to compose himself until he could stop grinning.
The grin faded away naturally as Prowl's tone changed again, to something quieter. Subdued. Smokescreen might even venture to call it 'sad.'
"Still," Prowl repeated, "you make a point I cannot refute. I do what I can, but I am objective enough to recognize that I fall short in too many capacities as a Caretaker. If it hadn't been for Jazz, Bluestreak would probably still be hiding in my shadow, afraid of every mech who came too close and constantly afraid that I would disappear if I so much as left the room."
Unconsciously, Smokescreens panels lowered minutely in sympathy.
"Ever wonder if maybe you're just not giving yourself enough credit?" Smokescreen asked. "I don't see Optimus assigning anyone to be Bluestreak's Caretaker if he wasn't absolutely sure he could do it, even if it's just temporary. And there is nothing wrong for asking for help when you need it. Sparklight's worked in the Youth Center for vorns, and she can tell you stories about adoptions that didn't go nearly as smooth as what you and Blue have going on."
"Bluestreak accepted me because I found him first, and because I was another Praxian like him," Prowl countered as they stopped in front of the lift. "He associated me with safety early on, and has ever since. I can shelter him, provide his physical needs, but I can't…"
Crystal blue tears running tracks down his cheeks, burying his face in Jazz's neck as he held on, as if afraid he would disappear the moment he let go. Panels trembling with the force of his silent, thundering sobs. He was watching, unable to think, move, act. Frozen. Helpless.
"…provide for his emotional ones."
The doors slid open and Prowl stepped through quickly. When the doors shut, he realized that Smokescreen was looking at him, almost as if he was studying him. But his expression was so carefully neutral Prowl couldn't fathom what he was thinking. It… unsettled him a bit, and he kept his own gaze steadfastly forward so he wouldn't have to look at him
"You know, Prowl, if the folks at Youth Centers only accepted perfect bonded pairs to adopt or foster orphans, I don't think they'd ever place another youngling again," Smokescreen said. "I don't think you really get just how much help you've been to little Blue already."
"Considering that you've never met Bluestreak before today and you've only known me for a breem, neither do you," Prowl pointed out. "Sparklight spent the entire orn thinking Jazz was the Caretaker. You probably did too until Jazz introduced us."
A smile tugged on the corner of Smokescreens lips. "Well, I can't say you're wrong. But that's partly Jazz's fault, really. I guess he's so used to everyone already being in the know about you and Bluestreak, he honestly forgot to clarify it for the rest of us. Sparklight asked Jazz if he could tell us a little about him, and once we got him going Jazz couldn't stop going on and on about him. He really does adore him, you know, just like he was his own sparkling almost. It's no wonder Bluestreak has coped as well as he has – between the two of you, it's like he has a two parent family unit again."
Prowl gave Smokescreen an extremely odd look.
Smokesreen ignored it completely.
"In any case, Jazz outlined a fairly detailed picture of Bluestreak's state when you first found him, and I could compare that description to what I saw in front of me today," he went on. "I don't know how you did it, but I don't think I've ever seen anybody come to terms with survivor's guilt so quickly, let alone someone so young."
"What makes you so sure of that?" Prowl asked.
Smokescreen gave Prowl a significant look. "Because for someone who saw the destruction of his home city and spent two orns honestly believing he was the last bot alive on Cybertron just a deca-orn and a half ago, he's incredibly well adjusted. Primus Below, do you realize he completely ignored me, another Praxian, in favor of Jazz?"
"You consider that significant?"
"For someone in his position? Pit yes. You would think he would make a bigger fuss at finding other surviving Praxians, considering he was the only survivor of the Praxus Attack."
"True. But Bluestreak doesn't know that."
Smokescreen's expression went blank.
The lift doors opened up, and Prowl exited. It took Smokescreen an extra klick or two to snap out and catch up.
"Bluestreak was traumatized enough as it was when we first found him," Prowl explained as he led the way again. "No one wanted to make it even worse by explaining the details about how he lost his home and family."
"So what in the name of Primus have you been telling him?" Smokescreen questioned incredulously.
"I planned on telling him the general truth when he was ready," Prowl said. "I believed that he would ask me himself when the time was right, and that I would be able to answer him as truthfully as I could, depending what I believed at that time he was capable of handling. Since it hasn't come up, I haven't broached the topic myself yet."
Prowl took another four or five steps before he realized that Smokescreen had stopped dead in his tracks.
"Not once?" he repeated hoarsely. "Not once? He's never asked where his creators are, his friends, why he can't go home, why the attack happened… he hasn't asked anything?"
Prowl turned around to face Smokescreen again.
"What are you saying?" he asked slowly.
Smokescreen shook his head, more in disbelief than denial, and trotted up to Prowl to close the distance before he spoke again.
"I don't know," he admitted. "Jazz told me about his fragmented memories, but since no one's tried taking him through what's left, I can't even speculate what's going on in his head right now. Maybe he's afraid to find out, or for some reason is afraid of asking. It's just a little… disquieting that he's accepted everything that's being thrown at him so easily without once questioning it."
"Do you feel there is something wrong?" Prowl asked just as neutrally as before.
Smokescreen shrugged. "Like I said, I can't even begin to guess what's going on inside his head before I have a chance to even talk to him. That's why Sparklight wanted to set up a tutoring program for as long as she's here."
The sudden shift in topic almost threw Prowl off. But he caught on quick.
"She plans to take on tutoring duties, so that she might develop a relationship with the younglings on an individual basis and discreetly observe their emotional progress and mental states, then."
Smokescreen had stopped being surprised by Prowls annoyingly accurate deductions. "That's the gist of it. But the most important part is that it'll put them on a consistent schedule and give them something productive to do when you and everyone else are busy with work. Hopefully, it'll also help make them feel more comfortable, having a reliable routine like school again. They'll have to be tested first so we can figure out where they stand, but getting the tests and home schooling aids shouldn't be too hard."
"So long as any schooling schedule is sent to me first for approval, that is acceptable," Prowl said.
He entered the rec room doors, and stopped dead in his tracks.
Nearly the entire room, about a dozen mechs in all, was gathered around one table. Some were standing at the edge, some were reclining in chairs as they sipped their drinks, and still others were literally on the edge of their seat, their cubes forgotten in their hands. Sitting at the front of the crowd, Prowl could see the backs of Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, and the side of a predominately orange and red mechling with conspicuous yellow wings (Hot Rod?) who was clearly captivated by the story. Since the twins were seated cross legged on the floor next to the taller youngling in front of the chairs and were stiller than Prowl had ever seen the energetic pair before, they probably were feeling much the same as Hot Rod.
And what was it that had captured everyone's interest so completely?
"I remember the dust was so thick on Beta-4 you had to use wipers on your optic sensors. And then from out of the dust storm this gigantic Ikyak came tromping and stomping down the mountain, flames spewing out of its nostrils."
Prowl had always respected Kup for his experience and insight, though he hadn't had a chance to spend much time with him. But seeing the old and sometimes crotchety mech tell a story to a captive audience, completely with animated hand movements as he described the Ikyak, was a tad jarring for the more stoic mech.
"Well at least now we can tell Sparklight her distraction plan was an unexpected success," Smokescreen noted gleefully.
The blue Praxian stepped around Prowl and sauntered over to the gathering, grabbing a spare chair on the way. The cards lay abandoned at a separate table, and this looked more interesting anyway.
Shaking his head at Kup's ability to turn his experiences into high adventure tales, Prowl bypassed the crowd and simply retrived two cubes of energon, one for Bluestreak and one for Jazz, in case the spy hadn't had a chance to properly refuel since he got back. Granted, Jazz didn't have the unfortunate habit of neglecting his health for the sake of work as a certain tactician occasionally did, but just in case.
Now that Prowl was bereft of company, the long walk to his quarters left him time to think. And, naturally, his train of thought picked up where he and Smokescreen had left off.
Up until now, Prowl hadn't given any thought to Bluestreak's lack of curiosity. It had actually been a bit of a relief, because while he had long ago outlined what he would say and how he would explain what had happened when or if Bluestreak ever brought up Praxus, that didn't make it a conversation he relished having. But Bluestreak hadn't asked, and Prowl thought nothing of it because, quite frankly, he had about a dozen more pressing and time sensitive assignments he needed to monitor and complete in any given joor.
Should he have realized something was off? Had Bluestreak been giving signs that Prowl had missed, or chose to ignore because he didn't have time? Did he give the impression that Bluestreak had to wait until Prowl spoke to him before he could say anything? Did he, by his actions, teach him he was not allowed to initiate anything with Prowl, and that it all had to be one way? Did he impress upon him that there was nothing he had to say that was important enough to warrant Prowl's attention in the midst of his busy schedule and duties?
Did he fail him again?
A small but sharp pain bit the inside of the back of his head, as it usually did when Prowl's thoughts started running in circles with nowhere to go. He took the hint and stopped all thoughts, giving himself a quiet moment to compose himself again.
This wasn't helping anyone. It would be more productive to bounce his thoughts off of someone else. Someone who was familiar with the situation, who might have picked up on something he himself missed and be able to bring new observations, a fresh perspective. Someone who would take his concerns seriously and help allay them, or come up with a way to tackle them.
No, he had his own duties. Prowl shouldn't be selfish and pull him away from that. Then again, he did to go put Bluestreak down in his quarters. If Jazz was still there, perhaps Prowl could catch him, just for a moment or two to help clear his head. He trusted Jazz's judgment above almost anyone else's, and there wasn't anyone else he could think of he would rather discuss something this important with.
Thirteen joors straight of surgery later and Socket was fully prepared to crawl under the nearest table and stay there for the rest of the deca-orn. But their efforts paid off – the patient was alive and stable, albeit comatose what with all the chemicals they had to pump him with, and being monitored by a half dozen sensitive machines as his body rested and recalibrated themselves to integrate the new parts and repairs the three medics had poured into him.
"We could've built a whole new mech with the materials we used to save your aft," Socket joked.
The patient had no comment.
Ratchet had left orders for Socket to monitor the patient and to call him if there were any changes before Patch practically pushed him out the door to get some recharge already. Slagging workaholic. The only reason Ratchet agreed to go lie down at all was because Socket and Patch kept insisting they could smell burning wires every time the CMO walked past. That, and because Ratchet made a deal with Patch that he'd go get some recharge as well. Considering that Patch had been swaying slightly on his feet at the time, he wasn't in a position to argue.
So with a cursory reminder to update the twin mechlings on their older brother's condition whenever they got back, Socket was left alone in the med bay.
Humming an old tune to himself, Socket picked up a hand-held injector and slipped a vial of green liquid into the slot on the back, pressing down until it snapped in with a hiss and a click. Satisfied, he turned back on the unconscious red and white mech on the table. With practiced ease Socket used his free hand to unlatch, flip over, and slide back the multitude of armor and dermal plating layers that protected the more delicate internal systems.
Socket always liked this part best. The fiercest, strongest, biggest mechs, absolute nightmares on the field and nigh untouchable to the common rabble, yet in a mere handful of clicks Socket exposed their deepest vulnerabilities. Their strength meant nothing against the medic's superior skills and finesse. In this moment, he held the power to harm or heal as he saw fit.
It was a heady sensation, almost addictive sensation. One he doubted Ratchet or Patch would approve of.
Once the fuel tanks were exposed, Socket hefted the injector up as he traced a finger along the tanks seams, feeling for a good injection site. But he froze when he felt a shudder pass up through his digit.
"What was that?" he wondered aloud.
It was all the warning he ever got.